Light Bulbs and Straws vs. Human Survival

If we can Save the Banks, We can Save the World.

~ Greta Thunberg

During Elizabeth Warren’s segment on the CNN Climate Forum on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Chris Cuomo asked her whether the government should dictate the kinds of light bulbs and straws we use. It was typical of mass-media-pundit questions, which so often implicitly incorporate a climate-denialist trope. During the prior debates among the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates, both questions and answers seemed to acquiesce defensively to right-wing Republican definitions of “political reality.” Cuomo’s question framed the climate crisis as a simple matter of individual choice versus government intrusion into our private lives.

Warren Overcomes

Elizabeth.Warren_CNN.ClimateHowever, Elizabeth Warren would have none of it. She immediately recognized that she was being set up to accept the individualization of an inherently collective, even global problem. Why should the citizens of America submit themselves to government dictates regarding what kind of light bulbs we must buy? What if we prefer plastic straws to the paper ones, which sometimes soften and grow flimsy before we finish our diabetes-encouraging high-fructose corn-syrup infused 20 oz. soda? Warren pointedly asserted that the corporate elites deploy millions of dollars each year to keep us distracted by desires for individual convenience and comfort.

Isn’t the right to choose a sacred value of American Individualism? Well, corporate propaganda regularly confirms its application to industrial consumer behavior, anyway. However, the white nationalists and religious fundamentalists who demand total conformity to the sacred imaginaries of their madness, even as they assert “individualism” in the abstract, do not allow it. Nor do their political enablers. The corporate culture works very hard to exploit such madness to keep the public discourse focused on individual behavior, not institutional corruption. Yet, the force of the climate emergency is gradually making inroads into the “normal politics” that sustain corporate hegemony over industrial civilization until it collapses from the weight of excess.

Warren answered Cuomo’s loaded question by pointing out that such redefinitions of global problems as issues of individual choice rather than matters of public purpose, are exactly what the fossil-fuel industries and their allies and lobbying agents want us to focus upon. The power of the electricity-generation, the fossil-fuels and construction industries produces about seventy percent of global carbon emissions. We participate, of course, by using and wasting the energy and products these institutions produce. The inordinate power of the corporate state has enabled, indeed caused, the national denial of climate chaos.

The Life and Death of Denialism

We can see that denialism fading even as the remaining ten candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, up the ante on their mostly ambiguous “climate plans.” Sure, their vision is incomplete and their tendency to stay within the lines of business-as-usual remains. Yet, the voices of reason and fact are gaining strength.

Greta Thunberg on SailboatThe very fact that a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained an international following, having merely started a personal School Strike for Climate at her high school demonstrates that the tide is turning. We have no idea whether the climate action movements will be able to move whole societies to transform themselves, but there is hope.

A recent public presentation and discussion by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein, among other climate activists, reflected the essence of all this. The Intercept organized the event, which is well worth watching and listening to as it demonstrates the wisdom of youth focused on facts.

Getting Real: How to Constrain Climate Chaos for a Livable World

Can we get there from here? That is an open question. It all depends on what we do, and if we do. So far, we have done almost nothing in comparison with what we must do to retain a livable world into the Anthropocene.

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian ~ Extra Energy from Warm Seas

Overwhelming evidence on global warming and its effects destabilizing the key components of the Earth System – the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the geosphere, and the biosphere – requires that humans cut our carbon emissions to net-zero in the next decade or so. Otherwise, increasingly erratic and extreme weather will destroy food production around the world and cause extreme destruction to coastal cities, island nations, and lowland farms everywhere.

The End of the Industrial Age

Unless the extractive industrial consumer global corporate-growth economy is severely constrained, anthropogenic ecosystem destruction will undercut the very sources of sustenance that humans have always depended upon for survival. To achieve this, a New Great Transformation of industrial-consumer societies is necessary. Neither political authorities nor environmentalists will talk about that. It is too big a challenge for them to contemplate.

So far, international agreements to constrain carbon emissions have focused on idealistic limits on global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels and the relative responsibilities of fully industrialized and not so industrialized nations to achieve them.

How can we reach targets for limiting the heating of the planet? Most put their faith in new technologies for sequestering carbon while continuing business-as-usual economic growth. That will not work any better than applying a Band-Aid to a compound fracture. We must close the barn door before all the horses escape.

extractive industries

Extraction-Destruction

We must stop unrelenting carbon emissions at the source – the extraction of industrial materials and fossil fuels from the Earth. Extremely constrained extraction, of course, means that the technosphere – that complex adaptive system whose sole purpose is to grow – must shrink radically, as Dmitri Orlov argues. Yet, abandoning that complex of extractive, industrial, transport, and consumption, will throw the entire society into chaos through the collapse of the corporate global economy that we are all a part of, and that the planet can no longer tolerate.

At the same time, the growing institutional disorder seems driven by instabilities in the globalized growth economy itself. Climate and ecological destabilization will only exacerbate the growing political-economic instabilities around the world.

Facing the Trauma of Societal Transformation

These documented destructive forces lead to some seemingly untenable but inevitable conclusions. First, a New Great Transformation, far more complex than the industrial revolution that caused humanity to overshoot the capacity of the Earth System to carry the load of human expansion, is ending the industrial age.

Second, societal collapse is inevitable unless we rapidly constrain climate chaos and ecological collapse by radically reorganizing our relations to the Earth System and with each other.

Third, the faint gestures toward constraining carbon emissions without fundamental societal transformation are futile. Business-as-usual platitudinous United Nations’ “sustainable development goals” are unattainable. The global neoliberal corporate-growth economy is the problem. Therefore, we must replace it with local-regional ecologically restorative communities that exclude fossil-fueled technologies in favor of human-powered means of sustenance.

Globalized economic and population growth drive species extinction, climate chaos, and ecological destruction, and will soon force depopulation and societal collapse.  Refusing to give up on economic growth, aspirational Earth-heating limits of “climate policy” fail to consider how to achieve extreme carbon-emissions reductions. This existential predicament requires an entirely new political-economic regime. That has not yet reached the level of public discussion.

These uncomfortable conclusions rest on the facts of complex-systems science, global trends, and social analysis. For decades, political and economic elites have denied the facts and avoided facing the existential threat caused by their expansionist compulsion. For that reason, now only the “creative destruction” of unprecedented societal reorganization driven by globally networked indigenous and local-regional movements offer humanity a chance for survival. We must transform communities for ecosystem restoration by deploying appropriate technologies to form ecologically sustainable economies.

Is “The Wall” Performance Art?

For some time now, I have wondered what it is about the images of The Wall on the U.S. southern border that seems to disturb not only my political cognizance but also my aesthetic sensibility. Most of the images I have seen show it as what I would have to call a high steel fence stretching over long distances, imposing itself upon the desert. But what does it mean? Continue reading

Earth Manifesto, any time soon?

The idea of an Earth Manifesto reaches way beyond “normal politics.”

The pressures that diverse interest groups place on democratic institutions drive politics. Right? Well, that is what the power elites that dominate political institutions have claimed for a long time.

Nevertheless, politicians feel the power of great wealth and giant corporations every day. The public discourse is constrained through bias in the mass media. These are the forces that actually drive politics today. Continue reading

To Live and Die in the Anthropocene

The debate over whether or not it is too late to “save the planet” from the human industrial-consumer juggernaut misunderstands the issue of the role of humanity and our future into the Anthropocene. An important flaw in the thinking of traditional “environmentalists” is that they partake in the errors of the culture they seek to reform.

Many would apply technological fixes like “geoengineering” to the symptoms of the system they cannot give up. They hold to the mostly unconscious image of humans separate from a thing called “our environment.” They fail to think in terms of the actual complex adaptive systems that comprise the entire Earth System, of which we are all a part. We are not “in” the environment; we are active agents within the Earth System.

Death is more Certain than Taxes

Regardless of the odds of human species survival in an increasingly unstable and dangerous world, the human predicament remains the same. Will we live and die with some semblance of dignity as one of the many species engaged in the dance of life? Or will we go down in a spiral of denial and resistance to the very forces that give us life, insisting on human, even American, “exceptionalism” to the end?

To avoid the latter path of self and system destruction, a major transformation in consciousness and practice must sweep across humanity and lead us toward ecological harmony. Yes, that does seem unlikely, especially in the short time we have to stave off at least some of the worst consequences of our former and current destructive practices.

Can we live and die well, as individuals, communities, and societies? Can we find ways to live well in the context of approaching societal collapse? Can we live well in the face of extinction? Only with courage and realism can we shape our lives well in the face of death.

Living Well instead of Denying Death

What, after all, constitutes living well in a deadly post-affluenza world? Moderns define living well by their consumption and by the accumulation of wealth, as a means of denying death. The post-modern predicament of impending collective death reminds me of the prophetic words of the old Plains Indian chief, Old Lodge Skins (played by Chief Dan George) to Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie, “Little Big Man,” just before a big battle,

“Today is a good day to die!”

It is not that one intends to die now. Some say we begin to die right after birth. Yet, the inevitable outcome is always a matter of timing. The advocates of “deep adaptation” recognize the grave prospects for human survival into the Anthropocene. They would have us accept our species extinction now in order to mourn properly our collective passing as new swings of Earth System instability make life increasingly intolerable. However, even the strong possibility is not a certainty. We must live until we die.

I am also reminded of Chris Hedges statement, “I do not fight fascists because I will win; I fight fascists because they are fascists!” The will to go on in the face of likely defeat or death has formed an important human value for centuries. Samurai warriors took it to the extreme, glorifying self-inflicted death itself as a respectable way to protect their honor.

Roy Scranton draws on his experience facing death on a daily basis deployed in Iraq and finds hope in living as if already dead, expressed in his book, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. Scranton reflects on how we might live best in facing the grim realities of impending societal collapse as climate chaos increases the likelihood of human extinction.

I fight for the survival of human and other species not because I will succeed; I fight because I am still alive.

The Sustainability Conundrum

Sustainable This, Sustainable That; Green This, Green That. What exactly is the point? The “sustainability” meme seems to have gone culturally viral. Promoters use it to give any action or proposal at all a sheen of environmental respectability. But what does it actually mean?

I am afraid that “sustainability” has come to mean nothing at all, other than functioning to evoke a politically correct gloss over whatever the speaker (or advertisement) is promoting. It has gone the way of “green” as an emotionally evocative signal that everything will be just fine, as long as you do not look behind the curtain, behind which you may find the shocking truth. (One notable exception is “The Green New Deal.”)

Talk is cheap

Most “sustainability” talk is constrained by assumptions it deeply embeds in the very same extractive industrial consumer culture and practices that can no longer be sustained. “Sustainable” usually implies that a practice can continue indefinitely because it relies on renewable resources, energy and/or “responsible” methods of extraction, harvest, or production.

Open Pit Mining-in-Tazania1

Open Pit Mining ~ Tanzania

However, industrial-consumer economies cannot sustain current levels of extraction, production, and consumption without forcing extreme levels of climate chaos, ecological destruction, and resource depletion. The industrial-consumer economy will no longer be able to sustain the overgrown populations that depend on it. The limits of growth have arrived; economic growth itself is no longer sustainable.

Words and Deeds

The global industrial-consumer economy can sustain some practices for a long time, yet contribute significantly to climate chaos, ecological destruction, and eventually societal collapse. More broadly, the “technosphere” itself (the techno-industrial complex that sustains and is driven by the endless growth economy) is not sustainable simply because it is destroying the core living Earth systems upon which we all rely for survival.

Physics is not negotiable. Faith in technological innovation and economic growth as the drivers of human progress is no longer a viable belief system. Physical Earth System parameters constitute impassible boundaries to reckless techno-industrial economics. Those who live in the ephemeral world of such utopian dreams hold to their untenable beliefs, but cannot persuade the Earth System to passively accept the plunder and pollution we have put upon it. We have set in motion self-amplifying processes that we have little if any remaining ability to control.

Deadly Decisions

Continuing on our present path of impossible endless economic growth will force the collapse of society itself following both the destabilization of the complex dynamic living Earth systems on which it all depends. Also, the internal major sub-system breakdowns we have already experienced, such as in the 2008 global financial meltdown, all indicate growing system instability leading to an accelerated collapse.

A New Great Transformation, vastly more complex than the industrial revolution that started the now-dying industrial era, is upon us. Yet, we have done little to mitigate or adapt to the catastrophic disruptions of economy, ecology, and climate that it has caused.

The dominant concept of “sustainability” fails to consider the limits of extraction-production-consumption and waste on our finite. The globalized corporate economy has overshot the Earth System’s capacity to carry the ecological load of a

ecological-community-18

population of industrial consumers. What is actually sustainable is so different from the pseudo-sustainable industrial-consumer practices still promoted, that it is hard for most to imagine. Survival of the human species will depend on our ability to shape new local/regional ecological communities that embed their economies within and harmonize with the ecosystems they inhabit.

Asking how to assure “sustainable development,” or worse, “sustainable growth,” is a way of denying the fact that the current trajectory of political economy is itself unsustainable.

Overcoming Trumpery and the Technosphere

~ Another entry in the Mad Jubilado series ~

Palpable fear, justified if misdirected anger, and xenophobic demagoguery have Trumped American democracy, even in its degraded form within the corporate state.

With the powerful influence of the fossil-fuel industry, largely through Koch-brothers’ and similar front groups, neo-fascists and white supremacists have penetrated the U.S. politics and that of other industrial nations as well. Driven by extreme racist nationalism, they are manipulated by the corporate powers that dominate democratic institutions at national and state levels of government. These extremists have made significant inroads.

What’s a Mad Jubilado to do? What is anyone with a semblance of democratic values to do to redirect politics to serve the public interest when the corporate elite has exerted so much power across the nation? Citizens remain all caught up in the oppressive if comfortable industrial consumerism that supports what Dmitri Orlov calls the “technosphere” in his book, Shrinking the Technosphere: Getting a Grip on the Technologies that Limit Our Autonomy, Self-Sufficiency, and Freedom.

The Technosphere and its Illusions

Orlov writes with biting sarcasm and stark realism about the global techno-industrial system run wild. The technosphere is an “anti-Gaia,” self-perpetuating artificial non-organic complex adaptive system. It is driven by its own growth imperative and the need to replace the biosphere with itself. Of course, unless we overcome the technosphere it will destroy the biosphere and its human creators and slaves as well, as its growth surges toward collapse.

Tech.MeaningCredit: Zooky World – WordPress.com

 Orlov grew up in Leningrad, USSR, and emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s, so he has a special sense of oppressive systems. Combined with his experience in computer engineering, linguistics, high-energy physics, internet commerce, network security, and advertising, his mindfulness of human-produced self-aggrandizing systems is unique.

Some artificial intelligence (AI) experts believe that AI-controlled automated systems can eventually reproduce, eliminating the need for their human inventors. Famed technologist Ray Kurzweil even asserts an inevitable technological transcendence of human biology in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Such minds live entirely in the technosphere. In contrast, Orlov hopes that humanity can gradually shrink the technosphere to bring it back under control so that the biosphere, including us, can survive.

Grounding Communities in the Biosphere

National politics is now a pawn of Trumpery and all the Earth System plunder that entails. Even liberal opponents retain their faith in the technosphere as a harbinger of progress. Therefore, to realize Orlov’s hope and our own, we must turn to the remaining spheres of power over which we can exert some control. Many who fear the growing tyranny of the technosphere, as well as its political anti-Nature enabler, Trumplandia, are turning to local electoral politics and civic action.

Their efforts focus on influencing the passage of local ordinances that can protect communities and ecologies from the destructive actions of the technosphere. Their efforts would replace extractive industrial high-energy technologies with human-scale appropriate technologies that can work in harmony with the ecosystems they inhabit.

More on asserting the rights of community and Nature over destruction by the technosphere in a subsequent post.