Kleptocracy Rising: The Short Eventful Life of the Corporate State of Trumplandia

Just about every Trumpeted nominee for high office has obvious conflicts of interest with upholding the public trust, no less the United States Constitution. At the core of the problem is their basic attitude toward government itself. They furtively frame their intentions in the most patriotic sounding rhetoric they can muster. However, they are corporatists; they would prefer that corporations run the country, not heaven forbid the people or our representatives. Don’t get me wrong; we have plenty of problems with our “representative democracy” itself.

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Trump Orders Greatness

As it is, the corporations pay our legislative representatives to work for them, not for us. We pay their comfortable salaries, generous health insurance and pensions, but the corporations pay for what really counts – the right to write or at least dictate the writing of laws. Corporatists are inherently anti-democratic. They want the government to work in their interests alone, thereby maximizing their power. They used to call that fascism, which is synonymous with corporate tyranny.

Simply put, the Trumpeted nominees oppose the fundamental purposes for which the institutions they want to administer were established. Moreover, their core values directly contradict the very concept of public service. The obvious analogy to these Trumpist Trolls running the government would be putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. They want to eat the hens and tear down the henhouse. Plunder is their preference.

Most entrepreneurs are at least somewhat predatory. They seek opportunities to profit from the conditions around them. In doing so, they often build great companies providing great products to the public, or perhaps to the Defense Department – because it is profitable. Trump’s Trolls are a cut below…

The Trumpeting of Inauthenticity

Predatory corporatists are a different breed. They want a stable system that they can control. They have no interest in producing anything other than greater power for themselves – certainly not the public interest. Nothing is sacred to them, including ethics, other than acquiring more money and power. Only their self-righteousness matches their evil. These highly skilled opportunists are super-predators.

As if that were not enough, most of these Trumpists are corporate crooks or shills, with an occasional congressional bribe-taker or self-dealer thrown in. Of course, their outlook fits perfectly with that of their new boss. Their Trumpery is nearly transparent. I need not go into much detail here; they are all over the nomination-hearings news. The shortest way to summarize this attempted robbery of the commonwealth is this:

trumpery-dictionary-definition

Trumpery Defined

In each case, one form or another of the protection of the public from corporate predators is now under direct attack by the corporate kleptocracy itself, by Trump assigning activist predators the task of blatantly taking over – in order to disempower or destroy them – the institutions that were put in place to protect us from them. An anti-environmental activist will oversee environmental protection. A billionaire fundamentalist privatizer will oversee public education. The long-term CEO of Exxon-Mobile, poised to cut deals for petroleum profits at the expense of the health of the people and planet, will run the State Department. Rick Perry is to head the Department of Energy, which, although he could not remember its name at the time, he wanted to abolish, until nominated to direct it. The list goes on.

From One Great Transformation to Another

In 1944, Karl Polanyi explained in his now classic economic history of the rise of industrial capitalism, that the industrial revolution constituted a Great Transformation of society. A fundamental transformation of the relationship between society and economic activity was central to the process of industrialization.

Industrial capitalists invested large amounts in building factories in towns and cities. Industrial capital financed the “enclosure” of small traditional farms in the British Isles, combining them into larger tracts for the new industrialized agricultural operations, much of which would produce wool and other products for export. They simply evicted people who had worked the land for many generations under relations of mutual obligation with their land owners. People would have to buy the food they had formerly produced for themselves. The enclosures destroyed landed communities, their culture and traditions, along with their means of livelihood. Seeking new work to survive forced them to migrate near the new factories. This transformed society and caused great suffering along with increased production.

Polanyi pointed out that from the beginning, governments made efforts to protect society and its people from the damaging effects of predatory capital, beginning with the British poor laws. Later, in the U.S., the classic defense of the people against predatory capital was the New Deal and its legal protections from destructive speculation by the financial elites, which had crashed both the stock market and the economy with it. Those protections lasted until repealed by corporatist politicians like Clinton and Bush, who brought in Wall Street executives to run the U.S. Treasury and direct government economic policy. When it all collapsed in the Great Recession of 2008, their first and only impulse was to bail out the banks and other financial manipulators, not their victims, who were mere citizens.

It took a couple of centuries of the growth of industrial capital, but now we are at the culmination of the first Great Transformation, even as we feel the beginnings of a New Great Transformation that we have yet to properly recognize no less try to control. The system of predatory extractive capital driving an industrial-consumer society has reached its peak. Its sources of power are beginning to fade as resources deplete and the climate destabilizes. The industrial-consumer economy will either fade away or go out with a flash, in an accelerated race for what’s left of the planet’s resources, leaving its accumulated electronic funny-money increasingly worthless.

The Narcissist and the Other

It is perversely fitting, though tragic, that a narcissistic sociopathic predatory capitalist with pretentions of royalty should take the helm of the political system at this critical juncture in history. In the U.S., politics once formed the bulwark of protection of citizens and their land from the damage caused by the predations of extractive-industrial capital. That is what the New Deal, the poverty programs and the environmental protection laws were all about. However, the ascendancy of Trump and his Trolls does suggest that the financialized system of predatory corporate economic growth will more likely go out in a flash than simply fade away.

As Polanyi pointed out, economic activity had always conformed to cultural norms until the industrial revolution inverted the relationship between economy and society. Human values constrained economic behavior until the industrial revolution. The rule of industrial capital over society has grown stronger ever since. Now, the predatory economic system dominates even more powerfully, distorting culture and suppressing human rights. The corporate state compels society to fit its interests and its illusion of endless growth and power, bolstered by the fake science of mainstream economics. The utopian dreams of neoliberal economic theory, promoted in academia and the mass media, and funded by corporate benefactors, have penetrated the thinking of many people today. Such are the dreams of narcissistic sociopathy.

In the eyes of the Great Narcissist, we are all the Other; we are the Muslim, we are the immigrant, we are the racial or gender minority, we are the presumptively dangerous refugee, we are the Other America, we are the evil journalist who would dare to challenge “alternative facts.” We are all the Stranger, the Outsider, because we are merely the people. Remember, narcissism involves lack of empathy. Insensitivity to the needs of others breeds paranoia.

But a New Great Transformation has already begun. The damage done by the omnipresent economic machine has already reached proportions that make the continuation of that leviathan impossible beyond just a few more decades. Climate destabilization, along with financial crises, armed conflicts around the world, crop failures, droughts, floods, forced migrations of a magnitude unimagined by the xenophobic anti-refugee Trumpeteers of today, will bring it all down rather soon. Either the New Great Transformation will produce a new form of ecological human communities or it will spiral down into chaos and societal collapse. Right now, the odds are not looking good.

All the immigrant hating, racist, sexist, homophobic, disability-ridiculing, xenophobic, misogynistic, violence-encouraging demagoguery, we have seen before. It did not end well then and with the addition of the perverse denial of global warming and its imminent catastrophic consequences made into public policy, it will not end well now. Unless, of course, citizens everywhere rise up as they have in recent days at airports across the U.S. in outrage against persecutory anti-immigrant policies of disturbingly indecent and unconstitutional character.

The current kleptocracy will not likely survive very long. But will chaos and societal collapse be its legacy? Only if we let it.

What is Wrong with Economic Growth?

I read a report in Forbes Magazine on the sluggish character of the current recovery from the 2008 financial crash, which lamented its exceptionally weak economic growth. Apparently, we continue slogging along in the weakest recovery since 1949. Since the Great Recession technically ended in 2009, average GDP growth has averaged only 2.1%. In the September 13, 2016 issue, Forbes staff writer Rich Kalgaard reports that the current “expansion” is more constrained than any similar period since 1949. Why is this, and what is the meaning and importance of such a slow recovery?

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Kalgaard offers “three clues” as to why post-recession expansions have steadily gone downhill, if erratically, for over a half century. He blames the fact that “the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S.” He claims that the U.S. abandonment of the gold standard in 1971, is part of the problem. Finally, he offers that routine corporate allegation that “the explosion in federal regulation” has stifled economic growth. He is wrong on all three counts.

Such claims by any writer attached to Forbes should not surprise us. Explanations for economic woes from corporate utopian dreamers will always blame the federal government for poor performance of the economy. They will also project causes of slow growth onto some outside force – certainly never to corporate malfeasance or distortions of the “free markets” they worship. Never will the internal flawed logic of extractive capital or the phantom financialization of the economy come into question.

The Great Transformation

In 1944, Karl Polanyi exquisitely explained the origins and the utopian illusion of free market capitalism in his book The Great Transformation. That great transformation of human societies was what we call the industrial revolution. He also forecast the inevitable damage to society caused by the inherent flaws in the unregulated market system no longer embedded in society. The logic of its economic theory, which emerged as the intellectual justification for today’s global political economy, was deeply flawed.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, diverse societies have attempted to protect themselves from the damage done by market liberalism (the theory that if left to their own devices, markets will “self-regulate” and somehow produce the best result for society). The classical economists of the eighteenth century, such as Adam Smith, believed in two ideas that just never panned out in real economies.

First, they assumed that all human behavior is “rational.” That is, people will always act in economically rational ways, seeking their own best economic advantage in all their behavior. In fact, many exigencies and values in everyday life influence behavior. Economic advantage is just not the only important thing in life.

Second, the classical economists believed that markets would “regulate” themselves if allowed to do so, resulting in the best outcome for all. Adam Smith’s metaphor, the “invisible hand,” captured the essence of that belief.  Economic elites have both exploited and distorted it ever since. Due to the economic and political power of corporate and financial elites, the academic field of economics has retained those theories under the guise of pseudo-scientific analytics. All the while, “free-market” economies have failed to live up the theories of economists. Yet those theories continue to dominate economic thinking.

Utopian Dreams and Corporate Control

The theories that have controlled economics throughout the industrial era have held to these failed assumptions for centuries now, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. We now call such theories “neo-classical” economics, “neo-liberal” economics, or just plain “mainstream” economics. Despite their failings, the propaganda of the corporate media continues to glorify them as the scientific answer to all our economic problems. Corporations today routinely fight for regulations that favor their growing power, all the while claiming to seek less regulation of the markets they try to control. They never consider the social control of markets, for the benefit of society rather than for that of economic elites, as an option.

The consequences of the great transformation that subordinated society to its economic elites, as Polanyi predicted, continue to plague us today. Only this time the economic crisis converges with the climate crisis leading to global destabilization of access to resources, disrupted production and distribution of food, and escalating conflicts worldwide, all amplified by climate destabilization.

The utopian dream of endless economic growth may be the world’s greatest social illusion. However, it is also an imaginary vision that sustained itself in the centuries since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, despite repeatedly failing the test of time. Never have “free markets” operated without causing serious social damage. In each case, society has tried to protect itself from the excesses and destruction of speculative capital, with varying success.

Overcoming Illusion

In cases such as the poor laws in industrializing England or the New Deal responding to the economic and social collapse of the Great Depression, political responses protected the people from the damage caused by unregulated markets. In cases such as the communist revolutions in Russia and China, the abolishment of free markets led to their replacement by cumbersome command economies that ultimately resulted in a state capitalism unable to respond to the damage caused by its bureaucratic control of markets.

Corporatist attempts to explain the flaws of the market system, like Kalgaard’s, implicitly assume the success of a failure. Their blaming of government and outside forces disrupts any attempt to protect society from the failures of a market system in desperate need of overhaul. Promoters of the corporate economic status quo like Kalgaard demonize as “wasteful spending” or simply “socialism,” any political attempt to require the economy to serve human society rather than only itself. They are mere corollaries to the failed neo-liberal economic utopianism promoted by global power elites for their own shortsighted gain. Some serious re-thinking is in order.

Dumbing Down America Degrades the Nation and More

An article in Psychology Today, posted by Ray Williams on July 7, 2014, delineated a long list of indicators of the decline and fall of culture and education in the U.S. in recent decades. Diverse measures of that decline led the author to conclude that, as I would rather put it, “American Exceptionalism” is in fact a particularly degraded concept describing the downwardly spiraling status of our culture.

The loss of respect for education, teachers, science, and intellect, contrasts sharply with the cultures of Japan and Europe, for just two examples, where these cultural features are highly valued. Ridicule of intellectual accomplishment is quite popular. This has led to the fall of the U.S. in its ranking on various measures of competence in science and the humanities. Even more important, the anti-intellectualism and anti-science mentality that accompanies the insecurities of ignorance, can have a disastrous effect on our chances for survival as a species. No small problem.

Training for Exclusion

For many decades now, the education of Americans has been transformed into the training of potential workers for the degrading dull jobs with little creativity that remain available. At the same time, the outsourcing of well paid jobs to poor nations with extremely low wages, has forced many middle class workers into the ranks of the poor. This causes a great deal of personal insecurity and anger, especially among the formerly privileged class of white male workers.

A few bright software engineers and developers create products with increasingly meaningless connection to actual life in the modern world. It is all about distraction and disorientation to life with any intellectual content. The young are taught to respond impulsively to images and emotions in the online game culture and social media. Who now reads books and contemplates their meaning?

Among the many implications of the turn away from intellect and toward impulsive response to images and associated emotions, the reality of politics has detached itself from the reality of life in the nation and on the planet. Shocking percentages of the population hold beliefs that contravene massive evidence that they either fail on the facts or simply have no particular connection to reality. This cultural situation is ripe for demagogic exploitation.

Political Degradation

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False Front

Despite the flaws of Hillary Clinton, the attraction to the demagoguery of the certifiable megalomaniacal sociopathic business cheat that is Donald Trump boggles the imagination of any modestly informed citizen. The man maintains a vast store of ignorance of most matters related to national security and domestic government, with the possible exception of how to work the income tax system. His international entanglements and personal nature of his business and political connections with disreputable characters in Russia and elsewhere, make the concept of putting his financial interests in a blind trust (administered by Ivanka!) something less than laughable.

It is difficult to grasp the extent of ignorance out there. Nor is it easy to understand the widespread indifference to information in favor of impulse and emontion. No point in going on about all that; either you are paying attention to basic verifiable facts or you are a victim of confirmation bias — the common defense mechanism where any evidence that contradicts prior beliefs is simply ignored in preference to self-delusion consistent with beliefs held closely.

Ignorance or Survival

More importantly, the fate of the nation, and possibly the planet, hinges on the necessity of immediate and comprehensive actions to stave off the very worst impacts of climate destabilization. Things are so bad that not even the feigned climate-action promises of Hillary Clinton could make a significant difference in responding to this global crisis.

Species Extinction and Human Population_USGS_1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_nWhich ever U.S. presidential candidate “wins” the election in November, little hope for the kind of change we must have seems to be in the offing. The probability of adequate societal response to the emerging crises of global financial collapse and global climate collapse is very low indeed. Something very different from conventional politics or its current deranged deviations must arise in some form of broad social mobilization demanding the actions not even conceivable by our distorted, corrupt, “politics as usual.”

The Democratic Party Needs Only One Platform Priority

Recently, I listened to Cynthia Sharf, the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate expert, summarize the dire situation indicated by the latest scientific findings on a range of

The Burning Planet Calls for Political Revolution Now.

measures of global warming and its extant and rapidly growing disastrous effects. Then I saw posted on the AParallelWorld.com website, Senator Keith Ellison’s Survey seeking priorities from Bernie supporters to aid Ellison’s work on the Democratic Presidential Platform Committee. The struggle within the Democratic Party for how the platform will set policy priorities is no small matter. The Sanders supporters are expected to work hard for inclusion of the key policies Bernie has promoted throughout his campaign, and many hope, beyond his run for the presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is about changing the political process itself and redirecting the nation to respond to the converging catastrophic crises of our time. Sanders’ proposals are directed to addressing those crises, the most urgent — because it is global and local and affects the entire human population as well as all living earth systems — the Climate Crisis.

Despite the fact that as a sociologist I have conducted many surveys and sometimes don’t want to ever see one again, I was both curious and concerned. Bernie’s primary influence on the presidential race and on U.S. policy if HRC is elected, may be initially felt through his supporters on the platform committee. Of course, party platforms don’t necessarily dictate actions, but they at least reflect putative intentions. We must all push HRC as hard as possible to move much further toward a sustainable political position, particularly regarding the CLIMATE CRISIS. Yes, it is a crisis now and we dare not ignore its immediacy any more.

Here are the “topics” Senator Ellison offered as choices to rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, as priorities for the Democratic Presidential Party Platform:

Raising the minimum wage

Civil rights

Making college more affordable

Protecting women’s health care choices

Immigration reform

Protecting and expanding Social Security

Overturning Citizens United

Reducing economic inequality

Wall Street accountability and consumer protection

Common-sense gun reform

Affordable housing

Criminal justice reform

Other

 

Here are the questions and my responses to the survey:

1st Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 1st priority below:

It is shocking that the ACTION on the CLIMATE CRISIS is not listed among the above priorities for the Democratic Party Platform. Achieving a stable ecologically balanced relationship to our environment is the MOST CRITICAL human, therefore political, priority going forward. Most of the above topics either 1) can contribute to reducing the human carbon footprint [environmental, social, political, and economic justice all imply transforming the extremely unjust system that is concentrating wealth among the richest and the giant corporations, while squeezing everyone else] by leading to an ecologically balanced low-energy-waste society; or 2) cannot be achieved without also transforming the extractive plunder-capital system to stave off climate destabilization [before it is too late] and avoid the catastrophic convergence of extreme drought and flooding, crop loss, starvation, armed violence, mass migration that makes the current problem look like a picnic, and widespread social destabilization and accelerated ecological disintegration, all leading to massive loss of life.

2nd Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 1st priority below:

See Priority 1.

Action on all the listed “priorities” must be undertaken in such manner to drastically reduce carbon emissions, now. I cannot emphasize “now” enough. According to the latest scientific findings, as summarized two days ago by Cynthia Scharf, Senior Climate Officer for UN secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, we barely have five years to make radical changes to reduce carbon emissions to near zero or we will have passed the point of no return to climate stability. All measures of climate destabilization are accelerating far faster than predicted. Each IPCC report has underestimated the changes documented in the next report. All political priorities must be framed in this context — we must NOT mistake them for separate competing issues.

3rd Priority (select topic):   OTHER

Tell us more about your 3rd priority below:

See Priority 2.

The climate crisis is NOW. The lag between emissions and climate destabilizing effects deceives us into thinking the crisis is somehow a future event. It is not. In this context it is pointless to rank the important goals you list. They must all be integrated into a policy of extreme carbon-emissions reduction that simultaneously strives for justice implied in those goals while striving to save humanity from joining the Sixth Mass Extinction already underway.  When the bear is chasing you, it is good to be paranoid.

If your top priorities were not listed, or if you’d like to tell us more, please use the space below (optional):

My priority is clear from the above comments. My greatest concern is the luke-warm genuflection of HRC to the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. It is most important that Bernie’s POLITICAL REVOLUTION is taken to every corner of this nation, within and outside of government policy. Only if masses of citizens continue to be mobilized to demand and achieve it, will the U.S. be able to set the gold standard for global climate action. After all, we are the greatest cumulative carbon polluter nation.

Politics being what they are, the greatest chance for significant immediate action is to mobilize people in their own communities to take personal, family, and organized community action to immediately achieve local sustainable life. That means major reductions in corporatist consumption and shifting all purchasing choices to ecologically sustainable products and services. This is what AParallelWorld.com is attempting to do by helping green consumers connect with sustainable vendors of all kinds in their local area.

Local communities around the world are organizing to resist the destruction of extractive capital, replace moribund political hierarchies dominated by corporate industrial and financial interests, and become resilient by taking steps to mitigate their own contributions to carbon emissions and to adapt to the increasingly unstable conditions we will experience, even if we achieve the unlikely but necessary limits to global warming proclaimed by the nations that met in Paris last winter.

~ ~ ~

A slightly shorter version of this article was posted on my “Diary of a Mad Jubilado” at http://www.aparallelworld.com.

To build a sustainable world, academics need to tear down the Ivory Tower

Avoiding societal collapse means building bridges between science and the rest of the world.

[Please note: This article is republished with permission from the site, ensia.com. It was accessed at: http://ensia.com/voices/to-build-a-sustainable-world-academics-need-to-tear-down-the-ivory-tower.]

Anthony D. Barnosky
@tonybarnosky Professor of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley

Elizabeth A. Hadly
@LizHadly Stanford professor and global change scientist

Paul R. Ehrlich President, Center for Conservation Biology and Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

Elementa wordmarkEditor’s note: This Voices piece is published in collaboration with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050,” a peer-reviewed article published March 15 as part of Elementa’s Avoiding Collapse special feature.

Until recently, Earth was so big compared with humanity’s impacts that its resources seemed limitless. But that is no longer the case. Thanks to rapid growth in both human population and per capita consumption, we are now on the edge of irrevocable damage to our planetary life support systems. If we want to avoid locking in long-lasting impacts, it is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.

The Challenges

Most pressing among these today is climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have produced most of the energy we need by burning fossil fuels. This has added carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at a pace 200 times faster than what was normal for Earth’s pre-industrial carbon cycle. As a result, we are now changing climate faster than people have ever experienced since our ancestors became Homo sapiens. Already the changing climate is manifesting as more frequent floods, wildfires and heat waves that kill thousands of people annually; rising sea levels that displace communities and cost hundreds of billions of dollars for coastal infrastructure building and repair; and increasingly acid oceans, which in some places are becoming so acidic that oyster and scallop fisheries are beginning to collapse.

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world.

With no change in course, present emissions trajectories will likely, by mid-century, heat the planet to a level that humans and most other contemporary vertebrate species have never experienced, inhibiting food production and greatly multiplying other climate-change problems, including exacerbating global conflict and national security concerns. Indeed, if the present climate-change trajectory continues to 2100, Earth will be hotter than it has been in at least 14 million years, and large regions will be too hot to support human life outdoors.

Meanwhile, human consumption of natural resources is creating a plethora of other types of pollution as well. More than 6 million people die each year from the health effects of air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Our solid waste — increasingly plastic and electronic — has created burgeoning landfills and massive trash gyres in the middle of the oceans. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world. Whales and polar bears harbor toxins in their tissues; Arctic lakes far from any human settlements exhibit elevated nitrogen levels.

The harm we’re doing to nature is coming back to haunt us in the form of infectious disease risk as well. Increasing encroachment of humans into previously little-touched ecosystems is leading to more frequent and severe “spillovers” of disease from nonhuman to human communities. Climate change is further increasing the odds that novel diseases will crop up in humans and the plants and animals on which we depend: Many of the world’s diseases are tropical in origin, and as we build roads and destroy habitats in the tropics, we increase the probability of exposure. Reverse spillover from humans to animals is an issue as well — an increasing number of animals are afflicted with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria.

Finally, meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. This ecosystem transformation, along with poaching, overfishing and generally exploiting nature for short-term profit, has accelerated the extinction rate of wild animals and plants to levels not seen since the dinosaurs died out. The result has been tremendous loss of ecosystem services such as water filtration, pollination of crops, control of pests and emotional fulfillment. Should present rates of extinction continue, in as little as three human lifetimes Earth would lose three out of every four familiar species (for example, vertebrates) forever.

Overarching Challenges

Contributing to all of these are two overarching challenges: the number of people in the world and our ecological footprints — especially the excessively large per capita ecological footprints in high-income countries.

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea.

Human population has nearly tripled in just one lifetime, and almost a quarter of a million more people are being added every day. Best-case scenarios indicate that by 2050 the planet will have to support at least 2 billion to 3 billion people more than it does today.

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea. There simply isn’t enough productive land left to accomplish that, or enough of the species we like to eat left in the ocean, especially in the face of climate stresses that agriculture and aquaculture have not yet witnessed.

Maintaining present rates of consumption — let alone raising standards of living for billions of poor people today — is similarly problematic. Continuing currently accepted norms of manufacturing goods and services into the future would dramatically increase what already are dangerous levels of environmental contamination worldwide and deplete water and other critical natural resources we depend upon today.

Beyond Breakthroughs 

How can science and society solve these intertwined problems and avoid environmental tipping points that would make human life infinitely more difficult?

Solutions will require scientific and technological breakthroughs — but breakthroughs will not be enough. On a global scale, obstacles include political, economic and social factors, including inequalities in economic opportunities and land tenure rights, or poor distributional infrastructure — problems science alone can’t solve. In addition to science, solutions will require effective collaboration of environmental and physical scientists with social scientists and those in the humanities.

In other words, we must recognize the interrelated facets of seemingly distinct issues. We must actively exchange information among practitioners in academics, politics, religion and business and other stakeholders to connect different pieces of the solutions puzzle that are emerging from different specialties.

In addition, people outside the scientific community must recognize and accept that the problems are serious and that solutions are at hand.

That means we within academia must link our work with stakeholders in ways that elicit significant action. This is especially important, since guiding the planet for the future will likely require some fundamental changes — not just in human economic and governance systems, but also in societal values. Engagement with religious leaders, local communities and businesses, subnational groups, and the military and security sectors of society is critically important to further these necessary conversations and impel action.

It is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable.

The good news is we are already making progress in both areas. Scientists and others are coming together to propose and pursue solutions. And three initiatives have been constructed specifically to bridge the science-society divide. The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere was founded specifically to connect scientists, humanists, activists and civil society in order to foster positive global change. The Consensus for Action provides a venue for policy-makers to quickly digest why it is essential to immediately address the issues described here; for scientists to communicate to policy-makers throughout the world the importance of dealing with these key environmental issues; and for members of the public to voice their support to policy-makers for taking action. And Mapping the Impacts of Global Change: Stories of Our Changing Environment as Told By U.S. Citizens provides rapid and locally relevant information to everyone, from the general public to political leaders, about how these threats to humanity’s life support systems play out.

In summary, it is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable for both human civilization and the biosphere. To implement knowledge that arises from basic research, we must establish dialogues and collaborations that transcend narrow academic specialties and bridge between academia, industry, the policy community and society in general.

Now is the time to rise to these scientific and communication challenges. The trajectories of population overgrowth, climate change, ecosystem loss, extinctions, disease and environmental contamination have been rapidly accelerating over the past half-century. If not arrested within the next decade, their momentum may prevent us from stopping them short of disaster. View Ensia homepage

Comment:

Robert M. Christie  Mar. 19th, 2016
This is the most precise and concise delineation of the elements of the contemporary human-planetary predicament I have yet heard. If allowed, I will republish it on my little blog, TheHopefulRealist.com. My only qualification is that the ultimate obstacle to the solution is the global political economy and its power over culture and consequently public and political awareness. We are confronted with the necessity of performing the next, and perhaps final, Great Transformation of humanity’s relationship to the earth systems upon which it depends and which it is destroying. All that is said here is true, but moot if a path to the transformation of the extractive system of industrial growth to a truly ecological economy is not found and rapidly pursued.

Individual Climate Ethics and Social Action

Climate action: can we do it ourselves? If we recycle everything we can, take shorter showers, and install some solar panels, will that prevent the looming climate chaos? We could buy an electric car and low-emissions consumer products, maybe even go “off the grid.” But would that be enough to avoid climate catastrophe? Sorry. Absolutely not.

The problem is far deeper than that. Global warming and the climate destabilization it causes result from systemic defects endemic to industrial civilization itself. Changing middle class consumer “lifestyle” choices is only one small, though necessary, part of the whole solution. Alone, it would be far too little and much too late. That means, in some sense, everything must change and change quickly. The massive changes required are a very uncomfortable prospect for middle and upper class sensibilities. Most of the remaining middle class (and above) believe that the “climate problem” can be fixed with new energy technology, better consumer choices, and recycling, but it cannot. the flaws endemic to a system cannot be fixed by tinkering with its symptoms.

So, how can change adequate to this rapidly advancing climate crisis be accomplished? That is the big politically unacknowledged question left largely unaddressed. False promises abound. I have read too many emissions reduction targets to count (you know, 20% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, etc.). The reasons for choosing the baseline year are never explained, but they are arbitrary and politically self-serving. Why are the CO2 levels at the beginning of the industrial revolution not the baseline?

The politicians never specify the source of the numbers touted. They appear unrelated to any findings of climate science. Nor do they specify how or fr.om what industrial process emission reductions can be obtained – they mean nothing. They are no more than feeble political gestures meant to dodge the questions the elites don’t want to answer. The non-binding “commitments” made at the latest UN climate conference, COP21 in Paris, 2015, have been promoted by governments and corporate media as a major breakthrough. Yet they lack substance, being devoid of any specific actions to reduce energy use by industries or consumers, as emissions continue unabated.[1] We are awash in data on every kind of emission from every kind of economic activity, both historical and current.  And we have lots of data on every form of ecological and climate disturbance, including evidence of their accelerating expansion. We are also awash in vacuous platitudes and abstract “plans.”

The Crisis is Now

From dozens to two hundred species are variously estimated to be going extinct every day now. The sixth great mass extinction is well underway and thoroughly documented.[2] Its primary cause is indisputably the ecological havoc produced by industrial civilization. In the U.S., new car sales are booming, as is consumer finance debt, yet in the past five years, the share of electric vehicles has yet to exceed ¾ of 1%. Some coal-fired power plants are slowly being replaced by natural gas, which, because it is extracted by fracking, now produces as much in carbon pollution as coal. Other coal-fired plants are being replaced by utility-scale solar power. At the same time, solar credits for homeowners and businesses are being cut back or eliminated as investor owned utility companies desperately try to hold on to their economic power by exerting political influence.

The environmental damage and total emissions from natural gas, when the toxic waste and methane leakage of fracking are considered, are well documented. They are at least as bad as those from the coal-fired plants they replace. Nuclear power, a miserable financial and environmental failure, is still touted as a zero-emissions option. Corporate nuclear power interests still seek government subsidies for construction and insurance that corporate underwriters will not write. Nothing is being done about the vulnerabilities and inefficiencies of the national power grid; it could be taken down not just by a terrorist attack, but by its own internal weaknesses.[3] Actual security of power grids can only be achieved by distributed power generation. Smart metering and local power management would allow automatic isolation of failed components. All of this is technically feasible now. Only the political power of corporate financial and energy elites prevents the needed changes from being implemented. None of this is affected by individual consumer lifestyle choices.

There are so many ecological fronts on which climate destabilization is accelerating that it is nearly impossible to keep up. It is no less difficult to mount the massive changes required of us to actually make a difference. Euphemisms continue to trump direct confrontation of difficult political and economic policy decisions. Given the inaction of moribund national institutions, it seems only some kind of mass social movement can put enough pressure on those institutions to act in the public and planetary interests. Public resistance to the status quo is necessary – think 350.org’s rapidly growing fossil-fuel divestment movement. Rapid replacement of institutionalized fossil-fuel energy production is required – think accelerated installation of distributed solar and wind technologies for power production. Also think universal upgrading of insulation and weather stripping on existing buildings and net zero energy efficiency for all new construction – not just showy demonstration projects. We don’t need Bill Gates’ pie-in-the-sky technological innovation to feed his venture capital; we need to take the critical steps that present no technical problems, are available today, and have the most near-term chance to mitigate the current trajectory of climate destabilization.

The building of local and regional institutions and community actions must create resilience, not just by adapting to increasingly dire rapidly deteriorating conditions. The best way to adapt to the climate disruptions that are already happening and accelerating is to mitigate them both locally and nationally. That will require significant curtailment of excessive and superfluous production, consumption and unnecessary waste. To do these things we must radically changing our relations to the institutions – collectively best described as the corporate state – that perpetuate the problem while issuing political platitudes and false hopes.

What if the true costs of extraction-production-transportation-consumption-waste had to be paid at the big-box checkout line? Or better, let each currently “externalized” cost be paid at its respective point of extraction, manufacture, transportation, or consumption. The total of such payments should reflect the full environmental cost and be deposited in a public trust to be applied directly to mitigating the causes of global warming. The culture of consumerism would be significantly dampened if the true costs of industrial society had to be paid up front. Again, this is entirely beyond the reach of individual ethical action.

Individualism and Collective Action

For those of us who already take climate disruption seriously we must directly address one of the most important factors that contribute to weakening the climate movement. We must not fall into the complacency of doing something personal and feeling that we have done our part and that is that. When it comes to climate mitigation, self-satisfaction is a very dangerous vice. Individual action by those who are aware of the planetary crisis and care, while necessary, will never be enough. Widespread individual action will not happen by itself. We could each recycle everything we can, and the industrial juggernaut would still march on to climate collapse and social chaos. Your withdrawal from profligate consumerism, or even going off the grid, while admirable, remains a typically American form of ethical individualism. It will not solve our collective problem of the headlong rush of the industrial leviathan continuing its spread of carbon into the atmosphere. The paradox of individual and collective action will remain as long as individuals do not organize to produce large-scale collective action.[4]

The extant momentum of the economic growth machine alone – even if we assume some plausible level of individual withdrawal from the consumerist culture – will take the climate well past the tipping point of no return to climate stability. Some argue that it already has – all the more reason to take maximum collective action to minimize the damage. The change we need is systemic and it is now. That will not happen until a social movement even broader than the political revolution Bernie Sanders hopes for can mobilize at a vast scale.

Only a mass social movement can force the economic and political elites to transform the extractive industrial economy (or get out of the way) so that an ecological society can be built. Such a movement is emerging in part from such actions of resistance as the movement for fossil-fuel divestment by universities, retirement funds, and government agencies, initiated by 350.org. Movements of resistance are also growing at the local level in some initially small ways all across the U.S., as well as around the world. Particularly committed and active are indigenous groups whose lands and ecosystems extractive industries threaten. Only when these and other local movements take off, will the societal level changes we need be possible. That is why collective action at every level possible is necessary in diverse ways.

Much more is needed and on a much larger scale than has so far occurred. One might suggest the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s or Gandhi’s movement for Indian independence from colonial Great Britain as models for a new climate movement. Numerous other examples of non-violent political movements could be cited. However, the kind of change required by the climate crisis is of a very different order. It is vastly more complex and involves deep structural changes, especially in the industrialized nations, that remain yet to be started or even fully envisioned. The U.S. civil rights movement forced some major changes in public behavior toward Black citizens; it is now clear that the more complex and deeper cultural change sought remains far from achieved. Today, it is not just freedom from oppression for individual groups that we need; it is the total transformation of the global political economy.

Transformative Action

The needed transformation is not unrelated to current struggles of diverse oppressed groups around the world. It is, after all, the capital-driven process of industrialization that has caused most of the poverty and oppression so widespread in the world today. The Black Lives Matter movement, despite fairly broad support by individuals in the white middle class, is unlikely to make significant progress in itself. Until the politics that created a militarized police across the U.S. is transformed into a democratic government whose priorities are guided by a commitment to the quality of life of the people, police will still act in the interests of the corporate state. Similarly, government climate policy will continue to favor corporate techno-industrial false solutions until forced to do otherwise. So far, climate politics favor the conveniences demanded by wealth. They do not reflect the needs of the people or the planet. Instead, a strong commitment to human values and wellbeing must guide climate policy. It is currently guided by corporate financial interests. Only a massive social movement for democracy can change that.

At the same time, we must all do whatever we can do individually, knowing it is not nearly enough. We must do what we can and not be satisfied by our limited personal actions; we must forge alliances to organize larger socially transformative actions that can penetrate the shield of corporate wealth. Most importantly, we must join any effort we can in our local communities and regions to make the changes that will help turn the larger system away from its path that will otherwise add human extinction to the rapidly growing list of other species already destroyed.

[1] Sara Nelson, “The Slow Violence of Climate Change,” points to James Hansen’s assessment that the COP21 accords are “just worthless words.” She also points out that current national commitments, in the unlikely event that they would be realized, would add up to a 2.7 degree Celsius global temperature rise, which would, by sea-rise alone, annihilate many of the world’s major cities as well as island nations, producing massive climate induced population displacements. Accessed at:  http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/35293-the-slow-violence-of-climate-change.

[2] Details of the currently accelerating mass extinction and previous such events can be found in The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals by Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015) and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Picador, 2015) by Elizabeth Kolbert.

[3] Ted Koppel, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath (New York: Crown, 2015) points to the vulnerabilities of the national power grid, discusses responses to an attack or failure. But he never questions the centralized structure of the grid or how it can be decentralized to distribute power production, increase efficiency, and reduce vulnerability. Koppel’s book does, however, provide a sobering view of the devastating consequences of a widespread power outage as it would occur with our current power grid.

[4] The recent article by Peter Kalmus, “How Far Can We Get Without Flying?” Yes! Magazine, illustrates the dilemma of individual vs. collective action. Kalmus, a climate scientist, decided to stop flying to cut his carbon emissions and became aware of some of the implications of a post-oil future. But neither all climate scientists, nor the general public, will stop flying or engaging in other climate-destructive consumer behavior on their own. It will take a large scale social movement to change the culture of consumerism that feeds the industrial leviathan. Accessed at: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/life-after-oil/how-far-can-we-get-without-flying-20160211  Reposted at:  http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-02-16/how-far-can-we-get-without-flying

The Politics of Disinfotainment: Anything But Real Issues

The 1960s and 1970s were the peak years for a small magazine called “The Realist,” published and edited by Paul Krassner. It was filled with hilariously funny satire on the absurdities of American politics, economics, and culture. Along with Krassner, contributors included the likes of Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, Woody Allen, and Mort Sahl, among other respected writers. Cutting-edge comedy was merged with the most caustic of satirical social criticism. The one thing that stuck with me more than anything else Krassner wrote was his construction of the neologism, “disinfotainment.” That term always comes to mind, of course, when I think of contemporary politics. “Distract, misinform, and entertain the people, so we won’t have to talk about the real issues that matter to them and are a threat to us,” think the politicians who serve the plutocrats. Oh, so here we go again, now for the 2016 electoral season…

Candidates or Issues, Policy or Entertainment

If we are going to talk about actual ISSUES, we might have to deal with Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Most of the issues Bernie raises are those he has fought for over the decades he has been in politics. To the dismay of the Corporate-Democrat politicians and the party’s national committee, Bernie’s issues poll exceptionally well with the majority of the American people. Break up the Big Banks. Make the corporations pay their fair share of taxes on their income, including on the revenue they hide overseas. Establish free university tuition in all state institutions. Expand social security instead of pretending it is in trouble and has to be reduced. Move from Obama Care to real universal health care. Vote down those international trade agreements that give up national sovereignty over labor, health, and environmental protections. Etc.

But the corporate media, being the disinformation ministry of the corporatocracy, does not want to directly deal with these issues. It is so easy to promote disinformation through entertainment – disinfotainment. So, they mock Bernie Sanders and characterize him as “out of the mainstream,” and as unable to win the nomination or the election, and therefore irrelevant. Never mind that Bernie’s issues pole so well with the majority of Americans. Instead, the media focus on Hillary, her Bengazi and email troubles – trumped up by the Republican Right as they are – and take seriously her vague and ambiguous “policy” statements that dance around the issues about which Bernie talks so directly.

But, of course, for the corporate media politics is supposed to be all about personalities and the “horse race” between “mainstream” (corporate approved) candidates. For the corporate mass media, something or someone is “politically impossible” if he/she/it reaches outside the corporate-approved idea box. For the network and cable news and Sunday talk shows, the focus is whether The Donald’s trash-talk is as trashy as his hair, whether the billionaire is an “outsider,” and who might be able to challenge his captivation of some disgruntled Americans. I almost gagged when I watched Chuck Todd pander to Trump on his private jet, as he asked Trump about his draconian Walled-America Hispanic-exodus racist immigration “policy.” If we want to know something about a candidate’s actual policy plans –what s/he might actually do – we may have to step back, put our thinking caps on and also demand answers to real policy questions. If the people make it clear enough that someone who really does talk about the critical issues of our time IS RELEVANT, how will that play out in the “mainstream” corporate media’s political coverage?

The Cult of Personality and the Avoidance of Issues

It’s time to get over the cult of personality in American politics. Look what happened with Obama’s perpetuation of Bush’s perpetual war. Sure, the racist congress kept the Black President from doing some moderately ‘liberal’ things, by denying his legitimacy in office and just saying no to everything. But Obama did perpetuate the neo-con model of world domination and the Wall Street model of plutocracy. FOLLOW THE MONEY!!! That’s where it is taking Hillary too.

No, Bernie is not our savior. But at least he has been consistently a fighter for the rights of citizens rather than the privileges of the corporations and their wealthy elites. Nor can he make the change we need, alone. If the Senate and House are not turned around, he probably could not get much more done in the public interest than Obama has, but at least he will have tried. Ultimately, it is not about any of these political “personalities,” it is about the issues that nobody but Bernie among the “candidates” of either party has consistently faced. It is indeed a ramshackle world we live in. Without breaking the corporate monopoly on politics in the form of the Repugnicrat two-part party monolith, change we can benefit from will not happen. But change we cannot live with will happen. That change will be climate chaos making economic and social chaos inevitable as it becomes impossible for large numbers of people around the world to survive where they now live, here as well as elsewhere. Mother Nature does not negotiate with special interests.

New Reality and Urgent Necessity

At minimum, Bernie is providing a great service. His candidacy embodies a wake-up call for the people to recognize that the “lesser evil” will neither get us a fair society or a livable planet. Politics as usual — and Hillary is just that as agent for her super-rich backers — has become the road to ruin. Special-interest politics will never lead to taking the steps necessary to avoid climate chaos and societal collapse. Even someone like Bernie Sanders being elected president would not assure climate security. Massive international cooperation of a kind hard to imagine in today’s political climate is necessary, but unlikely. The U.S. must be not only a key player in such a worldwide effort; it must be a primary contributor of technology and implementation resources for massive climate action.

Nobody can say for sure who “cannot” win the presidential nomination, though the pundits pretend to; Bernie Sanders can, and he might or might not. Grave and urgent planetary and national circumstances constitute a new reality not recognized by business-as-usual establishment politics. But if Bernie does win the nomination, the rockier road will be the Repugnicrats’ attempts to destroy him with the kinds of disinfotainment they are so good at. It is not about the personalities, it’s about survival. The American people are already beginning to recognize that fact well before the two wings of the political elite are willing to acknowledge it.