The Apple Core: Machine Meets Fruit

I just bought an apple corer- peeler-slicer, a mechanical devise you attach to a counter top to core and peel apples or pears in preparation for canning or cooking. It is an interesting technology. It has multiple moving parts, and it is all hand-powered. It has no digital controls and it is constructed it entirely from metals. Only the pad at the end of the screw that holds it to the kitchen counter top and the crank handle are plastic.

Apple.Mate.3

It cores! It peals! It slices!   Photo: R. Christie

I suspect someone designed and patented it in the late nineteenth century and that the patent has long run out. I found no patent notice in the paperwork, or on the box, or machine itself. Oh, there is the “Made in China” label! Could I be less surprised? All that international shipping and it is still only twenty-eight bucks. I bought it at a local upscale cookery store.

You will probably not find such devises at big-box stores, which are only interested in mass-appeal items. Who now processes their own fruit? Besides, mass consumer culture demands that all appliances by digitally controlled and electrically powered. Some might consider my new gadget an archaic throwback. Surely, one could have designed an automated electricity-driven device to perform the same function without my hand cranking it.

But why?

Apple.Harvest

Our apple Harvest, 2017.   Photo: R. Christie

We have only a couple of fruit trees, one apple and one pear. Several years after planting them, they finally have begun to bear fruit, beyond the one or two seen in recent years until last year and this. Suddenly, in mid-summer we now face baskets full of ripe apples and pears. We have a wine and root cellar, so we can store the fruit for a while as we prepare to can and cook with what we didn’t give away to our friends. Last year, we peeled and cored by hand all the fruit we canned, using kitchen knives for the work. That proved immensely “labor-intensive” and time consuming, so we decided to mechanize the process this year, mostly to save time.

Innovation in technology has played a central role in driving industrial development and economic growth for the past two centuries. The invention of complex mechanical tools and devices allowed craftsmen to make many products efficiently by hand, without steam or fossil-fuel power in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Then came the steady onslaught of increasingly automated machinery driven by fossil-fueled engines or fossil-fuel driven electrical motors.

The latest innovations have achieved remarkable success in microelectronics and the miniaturization and acceleration of the speed of electronic technology in processing information. Computer Aided Design (CAD) feeds Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM), now implemented abroad, where the remaining needed human labor is cheapest. We see it everywhere. Automated information processing drives much of industrial production. Industry needs less labor and more intellect to produce more and more consumer products. Those products, in turn, involve more and more abstract engagement of the user with images and symbols built into the product. Products themselves are increasingly detached from the material world, although some involve more and more control at a distance, as in the case of drones.

We know deep down that this cannot last. We are rapidly reaching the material, ecological, and climate limits of fossil-fueled economic growth. Economic growth itself is near terminal. The road ahead requires massive downsizing of energy production, use, and waste. Those who adapt to the use of new as well as clever old technologies driven by human power for human use are far more likely to survive in relatively comfortable and interesting engagement with the real world than those who insist on living in an automated bubble of shrinking life expectancy.

Climate Crisis Confusion: Mitigation or Adaptation

I ran across a publication on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website the other day. It seemed useful on one level and very disturbing on another level. Its title is, “Community-Based Adaptation to a Changing Climate.” [1] The eight-page document by the EPA Office of Policy, describes various effects of global warming on local community services. It also suggests ways a community might “adapt” to those effects in order to better sustain community services. In a number of ways it states the obvious. It could be viewed as an educational narrative for the uninformed. On the other hand, it could also be a distraction from the central problem of global warming.

Suggestions and examples are given for climate-disruption effects on various community resources and services: water resource management, clean air, waste management and exposure to chemicals, emergency response to “heat events,” transportation, natural and environmental resources, and cultural resources. Suggestions are made for “protecting people most at risk” as well as for “comprehensive planning.” For example, regarding “heat events,” the article states:

“What are some heat event adaptation strategies?
• Develop an emergency heat plan to prepare city services for a heat event
• Establish cooling centers to reduce heat stress and heat-related deaths and illnesses
• Provide emergency notification and well-being checks to protect the most vulnerable
• Incorporate heat island reduction strategies – such as green or cool roofs, cool pavements, or increased vegetation and trees – into long-term planning efforts to help lower urban temperatures”[1]

The suggestions seem over-general and not all that practical. No “how to,” just “do it.” But examples of actions already taken by community and city planners are also given, where “climate action plans” had been developed. The question does arise, are such plans realistic? Well, some are and some are not. Of course, plans mean nothing without their implementation. If implemented, would they be enough? These are not easy questions to answer.

To be clear, we must understand the distinction between mitigating and adapting to climate disruptions as they intensify in the coming years. NASA defines them thus:

“Because we are already committed to some level of climate change, responding to climate change involves a two-pronged approach:
1. Reducing emissions of and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (“mitigation”);
2. Adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline (“adaptation”).”[2]

It is also important to understand how mitigation and adaptation are related to each other and how they may be mutually supportive or counterproductive for one another.

Deep Mitigation

The steady flow of scientific information confirms the increasing pace of carbon emissions. Many studies, whether they document unexpectedly rapid polar ice melt or accelerated species extinction, foretell dismal prospects for a stable climate. Many climate-driven disruptions of earth systems interact with others. Some disruptions, such as melting tundra trigger others, such as methane releases from melting tundra. Many other examples could be listed, most of which involve interacting accelerated disruptions of natural systems resulting from the destabilization of other related systems. Cascading deadly effects of local and regional climate disruptions on diverse species are now common.

The urgency of taking immediate and major actions to mitigate (counteract) climate disruption is simply undeniable. One of the false narratives opposing climate action is that “we” cannot afford it. Well, “we” cannot afford to not take critical climate actions immediately. The underwriters of climate denial do not want to “afford” climate action. The economic interests of the Koch brothers, Chevron, Shell, BP, and others who profit from the fossil fuel industries, as well as their political affiliates, directly conflict with the public interest (the human interest) in a secure climate future. None of us can afford to live on a planet where the earth systems we depend upon are destabilized.

The science is quite clear; the politics are dreadfully confused. In the present political climate, despite the fact that the plausibility of climate denial is ebbing, the false narratives around mitigation continue unabated. The techno-industrial culture continues to focus on developing new technology to interfere with earth systems. That is, of course, what got us into this mess. Yet we already have the technologies to address the human necessity to come back in harmony with nature. What we lack are the ecological consciousness and political power to reorganize our life-ways to re-establish that harmony with the environment that sustains us.

False Narratives and Stupid Ideas

Techno-idealists are people who believe that all problems of humanity can be fixed by some new technology. Faced with depleting sources of materials needed in an industrial process, they assure us a technological solution will arise. They believe we can invent technologies to use existing fuels without emitting carbon or invent new fuels to do so. They fully partake of the mythology of human omnipotence in confronting the exigencies of nature. But they are wrong. Human survival will depend on our ability to reconnect and achieve a new balance with nature – not extract what we want from it and destroy the living systems of which it is comprised. To do otherwise is to deny our place in the natural world.

Attempts to compensate for carbon emissions by carbon-capture systems are like schemes to block the sun to lower temperatures – both avoid attacking the source of global warming. They are really forms of denial. So called “geo-engineering” is an artifact of the system of industry and capital growth that are the very source of our problems. A fundamental failure of techno-industrial culture has been its inability to grasp the complex-systems nature of nature. That failure is at the heart of a number of stupid ideas labeled “geo-engineering.”

Such ideas are stupid because they attempt to change one variable in a very complex system without any concern for the many unknown consequences of forcing such a change. Geo-engineering is always about fixing the damaging effects of climate disruptions by attacking symptoms, not the cause. The cause is two hundred years of huge quantities of carbon being dumped into the atmosphere. Attempts to suppress any of the effects of that cause will be, even if temporarily successful, futile because they cannot re-stabilize the system itself. It is the exact same failure that so often characterizes modern medicine – symptom suppression by means of very profitable technology while failing to understand the basic process in need of healing. Earth systems are urgently in need of healing. Geo-engineering schemes are feeble attempts to extend the hubris of the waning petro-industrial era.

Under the present conditions, the politically safe focus for the EPA is to talk of adaptation to the inevitable greater disruptions ahead. The EPA is a mixed bag. Sometimes it seems to be in bed with industry. But it has also developed rules for constraining emissions from coal-fired power plants. That is good. But piecemeal actions will never be adequate to address the larger crisis. The problem, of course, is that without a full-scale planetary program of emissions mitigation, climate disruptions will become so severe that no adaptive measures will be adequate to the severity of the consequent constraints on planetary life. That is why adaptations must also mitigate the causes of climate disruptions.

Adapting to what?

Adaptation to climate disruptions that are inevitable results of our past and present failures to take strong mitigating actions is unquestionably necessary (if not sufficient). However, adaptation without mitigation is doomed to failure. There are limits to adaptation – there is no way to adapt to the hangman’s noose. But we must adapt to the conditions that have already begun, at the same time we try to mitigate further climate disruption. We must defend against the threats of drought, floods, rising sea levels, food-crop losses, etc., that we know are coming. The essence of the climate confusion – forgetting the foolishness of the tread-worn denial gambit – is the false choice between mitigation and adaptation. We must find a balance but have not yet done so. As a NASA online document put it:

In the absence of national or international climate policy direction, cities and local communities around the world have been focusing on solving their own climate problems. They are working to build flood defenses, plan for heat waves and higher temperatures, install water-permeable pavements to better deal with floods and storm water and improve water storage and use. [2]

Simply put, such adaptations are absolutely necessary; but they are absolutely not sufficient. In the absence of strong international climate mitigation actions, local community adaptations must do everything possible to solving their own carbon-emissions problems. Local communities must also organize themselves to take strong steps to reduce local emissions even if strong international agreements are reached in Paris this winter. Top-down international agreements will be slow in their implementation nationally and regionally, as well as locally. The last thing humanity needs is to wait for leaders who need to be pushed. The international climate action and justice movement is doing the pushing. Local communities everywhere need to act locally while international momentum builds.

Everyone must begin to adapt to the climate disruption already “in the pipeline,” in any way we can. But we cannot tolerate continued emissions of greenhouse gasses leading to disruptions so severe that we will not be able to adapt to them sufficiently to survive. Nobody will be able to “solve their own climate problems” by adaptation alone. That fact is not mentioned in the EPA document cited above. Communities must make mitigating actions their first priority. We must all take adaptive actions locally that are needed to respond to the climate disruptions that affect us most. But those actions must be taken using techniques that minimize the burning of fossil fuels. That means making major changes in our ways of living.

Adapting to Mitigation

So, like adapting to climate disruptions for short-term survival, mitigation of their cause is absolutely necessary. But most important, the necessity of mitigation is absolutely paramount. Without mitigation, adaptation will quickly become futile. Adaptation alone will only temporarily defend against increasingly unsurvivable climate disruptions. Adaptations must also work to mitigate the cause of the disruptions to which we adapt. That is why fundamental ways of living – including actions adapting to climate disruption – must abandon fossil-fuel energy consumption.

The various forms of climate disruption – epic droughts and floods, rising sea levels, massive crop failures, starvation, migration, and ensuing armed conflict – all interact, especially in their effects on humans. Their interactions further aggravate the problem of human survival in a destabilized world. This could become intractable, particularly in light of the fact that human populations have already surpassed the planet’s carrying capacity. Inevitably, people in many places will be forced to flee their homes to avoid the life-threatening local effects of climate disruption. Without massive mitigation efforts directed at the causes of climate disruption, attempts to only adapt to such disruptions will ultimately relegate humans to a place in the sixth great extinction. Many species are already going extinct at unprecedented rates due to climate disruption. [3] Using fossil-fuel energy intensive technologies to stem the tide of climate disruption would be a fatal contradiction of purpose – doomed to failure.

At this point, we have had tragic decades-long delays in adopting serious carbon-emissions mitigation measures. International and domestic politics continue down the path of complacency with marginal hope for serious international action in Paris this winter. We are already experiencing major disruptions of the very earth systems that are so necessary for local and regional human populations to survive where they live. Compounded by wars supplied with arms by the industrialized nations whose emissions are greatest, the inevitable survival-motivated migrations have already begun. Drought was a major contributing factor resulting in the war in Syria. It also contributes to the conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. When adaptation is no longer feasible, people naturally flee the regions where prospects for survival are hopeless. So far, this has happened primarily in the “belt of economically battered post-colonial states girding the planet’s mid-latitudes.”[4] Only comprehensive climate action to stop global carbon emissions can constrain the coming stages of the climate crisis and the human chaos sure to accompany them.

It would be far wiser for local communities, particularly in the high-emissions developed world, to focus on their own carbon-emissions mitigation measures than to ignore them in favor of adaptations that will soon become insufficient. A delicate balance must be achieved; that will be very difficult. The dilemma is that both are necessary, but only the most difficult combination of the two will be sufficient. Adapting to a world that is very different as a result of climate disruption and simultaneously taking the necessary measures to curb carbon emissions will be the most difficult large scale human effort ever. But it is no less necessary for its difficulty. We must adapt to mitigation.
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[1] Office of Policy, United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Community-Based Adaptation to a Changing Climate.” EPA-230-f-15-001. (June 2015) Accessed at: http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P100MVEO.PDF?Dockey=P100MVEO.PDF
[2] NASA, Global Climate Change Newsletter, accessed at: http://climate.nasa.gov/solutions/adaptation-mitigation/
[3] Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer, “Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction.” Science Advances 19 Jun 2015: Vol. 1, no. 5. Accessed at: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253
[4] Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, 2001. p. 8.

The Ideology of Predatory Capital: Social Illusions and Planetary Reality

With the fall of the Soviet Union and various other communist states, the victory of capitalism seemed assured. Ronald Reagan took on a God-like aura, anointed by Margaret Thatcher. The “Iron Lady” affirmed that there was no such thing as “society,” and there was no alternative to unfettered growth of neo-liberal capitalism. All was well in the West, or so it was said.

Now, all sorts of things were possible with the “peace dividend.” The triumph of American Individualism over Soviet totalitarianism was expected to yield huge savings resulting from the end of the arms race that had been required by the “cold war.” Yet, somewhere on the way to peace and prosperity, the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower had warned us against, just kept growing bigger and bigger. We were warned against potential new forms of conflict for which we must be prepared.

That growth relentlessly consumed more and more of the federal budget. The pursuit of military goals to assure the continued supply of energy from the Middle East left little money for “domestic programs” throughout the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. The pursuit of endless wars of choice into the twenty-first century created widespread international resentments. “Freedom fighters” in their own minds, growing numbers of “terrorists” and “insurgents” defended against indiscriminant U.S. invasions and occupations. Such groups grew much more rapidly than they ever had before nine-eleven. The costs of these military adventures have been mostly off-budget, yet have continued to bloat the national debt, their funding appropriated from nowhere. Meanwhile the congress continues to focus on cutting corporate taxes and domestic programs and subsidizing fossil-fuel extractive industry. Small government for the people, big government for the Empire.

The Ideology of Economic and Military Predation

In tandem with aggressive U.S. foreign policy, the growing dominance of neo-liberal economics – formerly called “Laisse Faire” – meant increasing control of the U.S. economy by international corporations. So called “free markets” and “free trade” operated as ideological cover for ever-increasing corporate domination of both domestic and international economies. The story was always, let individual entrepreneurs and small businessmen – the mythical “job creators” – be freed of government regulation and Adam Smith’s “indivisible hand” will assure the best outcome for all. But the hard economic reality has been quite different.

Capitalist economies work best for their people when markets are regulated to control the worst excesses of the power of capital itself. The free-market ideologists carefully neglect to admit to the power of power to accrue more power. The question, “free for whom?” is neither asked nor answered. That is exactly how the mega-corporations have ideologically controlled polity, economy, and society. The corporatists, whether pundits on CNBC or the politicians bought and paid for by the corporate and financial elites, have clear expectations and intentions. Only by reducing taxation on corporate profits and eliminating “onerous regulations” needed for public health, workplace safety, and the environment, as well as those evil “entitlements,” can the capitalist economy work best – well, best in fact for the corporations and worst for the people.

Of course, corporate taxes are at all-time lows and deregulation of financial markets has been fully achieved by the Republi-crat one-party corporate state. The result is the starving of federal and state budgets and destruction of middle-class employment. Deregulation of financial markets, aided by the power of electronic computing, has allowed corporate malfeasance on a scale never before imagined. This has driven both U.S. and international economies to financial crises on a scale not seen since the great depression of the 1930s.

Deregulation of production and labor markets has released large corporations from any responsibility for environmental damage, abuses of labor, increased health risks to citizens, or unfair competition. Their domination of politics, economics, and society was thereby assured. Their control of politics and the mass media have kept at bay any serious discussion or action to counter the climate crisis that fossil-fuel driven extractive capital has created. The corporate state propels us toward the sixth great extinction while its elites grab their short-term profits.

Illusions of Separation and Dominion

All this is sustained by massive social illusions about the nature of human society and the nature of nature itself, all promoted by the power elites’ propaganda. The social illusion that the capitalism we have is what we need is promoted and sustained by the financial, corporate, and military elites who benefit economically from its unrestrained damage to people and planet. The problem, of course, is that almost all political discussion, deeply grounded in illusions and propaganda imposed through the media they control, flatly excludes reality. The power of mass media control is the power to ignore.

It is not only interesting but very important to note that the illusions fostered by the power elite about society are the same illusions promoted about nature. The perspective is atomistic and reductionist. But contrary to the pseudo-science of economics, the natural world is the world in which we live, and it is a complex living system, not a simple mechanistic causal chain. It and we are complex interdependent living systems. Despite any illusions we hold about our dominion over nature, we are inescapably part of it.

To think clearly about humanity and its place among the other complex living systems on earth, we must purge the old ideological schism over capitalism vs. socialism. (It is all internal to society anyway and the ideological debate ignores nature while assuming human domination over the earth.) Roosevelt tried to save the capitalism of the early twentieth century by modifying its destructive tendencies – it worked for awhile. Later, communism collapsed from its own dead weight. Neither was much cognizant of the natural world – that would have been anti-industrial and thereby unacceptable.

Despite the limitations imposed on him, Roosevelt did a pretty good job – the “New Deal” reforms kept U.S. Capitalism alive for almost a century. The former extreme boom-bust cycle was dampened by the regulations he imposed on banking – separating speculative investment banking from commercial depository banking. The result was “the business cycle” where relatively mild recessions between periods of growth replaced the severe crashes previously experienced. Social Security, unemployment insurance, and later programs dampened socioeconomic instabilities. But in the post Reagan-Thatcher era of deregulation, we have regressed to extreme risk of financial collapse and social chaos resulting from the abolition of those reforms. Our situation is not unlike the past, but amplified by the electronic speed of today’s financial transactions and the much greater size and power of today’s corporations.

If we continue on this path of self-delusion about economic and planetary realities, the next financial collapse will be far more severe and will reverberate throughout the world in the form of social chaos. If we continue with the self-delusions of the extractive predatory capitalism we have, not only will the world economy collapse, but the unmitigated climate disruptions produced by the delusional endless-growth economic system will put the planet over the brink, ultimately – and soon – leading to full-on climate collapse, extreme crop failures, mass starvation and uncontrollable migrations, widespread armed violence, and untold human suffering.

Interdependent Reality

The underlying reality of both human society and living earth systems resides in the fact of interdependence. Some elements of the idea of personal independence and freedom are important and true and lead to cultural creativity in a variety of ways, within a context of inherent societal and ecological interdependence.

Yet the ideology of American independence, unfettered capital markets, and “free” trade, as promoted by the power elites, is rapidly becoming deadly in its consequences for both human society and large numbers of living species, as well as the living earth systems of which we are a part.

Ecological Reality and Political Illusions

So, Bernie Sanders is a “democratic socialist,” or, in the European term, a “social democrat.” From the perspective of the ideology of the U.S. power elites, that is a political horror of horrors. That is why the mass media try to ignore Sanders. Besides, the unreality of “The Donald” is so “entertaining.” After all, the social programs Bernie Sanders advocates would disrupt their near total power over the economy. But from the perspective of a desire to secure the future against the ravages of unfettered predatory extractive capital hell-bent to destroy the living earth in favor of the next quarterly report, Bernie is a rather mild-mannered moderate. He would institute many of the same sorts of programs that Roosevelt did to save capitalism from itself. But today there is a big difference.

It is no longer a matter of fixing our socially and environmentally dysfunctional version of capitalism; now it is a matter of replacing the disaster capitalism we have with a new ecological economy never before seen on the planet, except in miniature among indigenous peoples. We must create local indigenous economies at planetary scale. That is a daunting but necessary task that must be accomplished in very short order if we are to avoid much more severe social and ecological chaos in the wake of economic collapse as well as climate collapse. The system we have is destabilizing all sorts of natural systems that have been in relative balance for a very long time. Oscillations in disturbed systems tend to amplify toward system collapse. This is why tipping points are so important. The economic and climate oscillations are accelerating.

It is not just poverty, racism, unemployment, or the extreme accumulation of phantom wealth in the delusional financial markets that are at stake – as if they were not enough. Now it is a matter of social and ecological survival. The living interdependence of multiple species in multiple ecologies around the world is being disrupted on a massive scale. We are only partly aware of the complex ways humans depend on these even more complex ecological inter-relationships. Many such interdependencies are being exposed as we careen toward mass extinction. Scientists know this; politicians are not listening. We are all at extreme risk. Only massive cooperation among people, neither corporate competition nor the corporate state, will make the difference between a forming a new ecological society and our present path to an accelerated extinction of many more species, including our own.

Culture Hack: The Clash of Capital with the Natural World

The entire edifice of today’s system of predatory extractive capitalism rests on a foundation of not mere sand but a major destabilizing false premise. Economics in denial seems to be driving the world economy to a terminal collapse. The most fateful and flawed fiction of modern life is the idea of Man pitted against Nature, wresting control over the material world. But Nature bites back.

To the extent that environmentalists and progressives attempt to succeed in “changing the system” without overthrowing this fatal fiction and its consequences, they will fail. Reducing the negative effects of the system is not nearly enough. For most of the course of the industrial era, the entire culture has been shaped around the presumptive necessity for Man [gender intended] to control nature through science and technology. This has been achieved through the imposition of a failed theory of the role of capital in driving economic “innovation” and production in the world. Some innovations are better than others – for the whole system.

Science, by understanding the world, facilitates the invention of technologies to control it. But the analytical models of technology provide little understanding of the larger systems in which they operate. Capital invested in technical control of some elements in a system can cause imbalances in the whole system. The industrial sub-system of human endeavor operates within the confines of the whole interconnected complex of systems in Nature, but only as long as it does not “mess with Mother Nature.”

War on Nature
War has been a convenient means used by kings, emperors, and presidents to dominate political-economic environments and all who would challenge that dominion. After all, war is the ultimate means used to control the conditions that determine one’s dominion over the natural and social worlds. But it all plays out in the biosphere. By extracting materials from the earth and forging them into the most effective tools of control, one can exercise dominion over man and parts of Nature – for a time, always just for a time. The ability to cause death and destruction is the ultimate gauge of that control…up to a point.

Business is the application of the fruits of science – invention and technology – to control some sector of the world. In late capitalist nations of the 21st century, war and its industrial preparations have become the most profitable business of all, aside from fossil fuel production, which of course drives the engine of the war machine. The sale and expenditure of munitions has become more important than “winning” any particular conflict. War, in this context, might be considered the extension of business from economics to physical force. But even more important, war is the extreme extension of an economy that must grow to survive. That very growth has engendered a process of destruction of the environment it needs to continue. End Game approaches.

Earth Information
The fundamental hubris of “modern man” has resulted from the illusion that Nature is something that is separate from us and has to be controlled. This is also an illusion of independence. Technology is mis-perceived as giving us independence from Nature. But it is actually a kind of dependency on nature. The power of funding aside, curiosity drives much of science, but technology is driven by the need to control some aspect of the world we live in and sustain that illusion. However, the law of unintended consequences speaks.

Social systems contain within themselves a momentum that propels them forward. They are not closed systems, so they need continual re-supply of all the material and organizational means to continue. Those, of course, must come from the environment that sustains the system. It is now abundantly clear that the world system of predatory extractive capitalism is reaching an end. It needs ever increasing supplies of the means for the expansion that its foundational illusion requires but cannot perpetuate. But both materials and ecosystem are approaching their limits. As those limits are reached, the ecological stability that sustains it all is failing. Something’s gotta give, and it won’t be Mother Nature.

Capital could be organized differently, of course. But it is not. We have to deal with what is, and what is cannot be sustained. It must be changed, but the dominant economic ideology has left little room for new ideas. Because of the great power and ubiquity of this failing system, a great transformation is inevitable and a “hard landing” very likely. The danger, of course, is that the result may very well be collapse into chaos. That is not necessary or inevitable, but without massive human intervention overriding the failing system, it is increasingly likely. Such intervention will require huge mostly unanticipated cultural and structural change.

The Ecological Hack
The progress of industrial society – until recently – has been nothing short of amazing. In a world of unlimited resources, lots of lands and peoples to conquer, and imperturbable ecologies, it could go on indefinitely. But in the real world we are now at an impasse. The fundamental flaw underpinning the teetering system must be addressed and surmounted. The trajectory of endless economic growth through extracting endless supplies of resources for endlessly expanding technological innovation is quickly ending. The knowledge of that path had limited scope but developed as if there were no limits. Survival requires a vastly different paradigm. We must hack into industrial era culture and reprogram it to be ecologically effective.

Earth Ecology – the whole system – has within it vastly more knowledge than all that has been compounded throughout the history of humanity. Indigenous cultures have foundational knowledge we need to tap into (before it is destroyed) in order to survive as a species. Only then can we re-balance our complex relations with the Earth so that we can reset the ecological harmonies we have already severely disrupted.

The Ecological Hack of industrial culture is being worked on by numerous hackers of the culture and biosphere in a variety of ways. Most of the work is yet to be done. A successful Great Transition to an ecological economy will require many cultural-ecological hackers and “open-source everything.”[1] It won’t come from “the top.”
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[1] Robert David Steele, The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth & Trust. Berkeley, CA: Evolver Editions, 2012.

What It Will Take: Living in a World We Made But Never Expected to See, Part I

For most of us the world we see around us is “normal.”  We see little difference between the natural, social, and economic worlds – they are mostly one experience.  We are born into cities, suburbs, small towns, and (rarely anymore) farms.  We see history through the limited scope of textbooks once read as required and through the pop-history of the mass media.  Large historical changes are not easily seen in our everyday lives.  We view the past as quaint times when people didn’t know much or have much.  Yet, increasing numbers of things don’t seem to be quite so normal anymore.

Today we are inundated with technological change and the material “progress” that is made possible by the ever-expanding application of debt and capital to technical innovation and industrial production.  The smart-phone, the iPad, and mobile connectivity, along with all the previous technical innovations that have changed the world of employment as well as social life, are all quickly absorbed into our view of the natural order of things, which is, however, heavily dependent on the pervasive culture of corporate consumerism and an endless supply of materials for their production.  “Server farms” and “the cloud” are vague images of the information age no clearer in our minds than the National Security Agency’s “data mining” of everyone’s phone calls, email messages, and credit card records.  The dominant culture of debt-driven economic growth and the rise of the “security-surveillance state” have become culturally detached from, yet remain completely physically dependent on Nature.

We have lived most of our lives surrounded by rapid change (at least as compared with previous eras in human history).  We are accustomed to the changing conditions that have resulted from the economic-growth imperative that has driven our world since the dawn of the industrial revolution – though we are largely aware of only the present and very recent past as represented by our personal experience and the mass-media shaped “reality” constantly presented to us at various stages of our lives.

We are not paid to engage in critical thinking or to reflect on the course of human history beyond the roles we play – or roles we have lost to “outsourcing” – in the growth economy.  Yet we know that something is terribly wrong.  The contradictions between what we are told and what we experience keep growing.  We know that the “financial crisis” continues as a giant pyramid scheme; we know that natural resources are being used up rapidly; we know that the progress we expected in the form of “The American Dream,” is just not happening for “the 99%.”  We know that while profits grow exponentially, stagnant wages and longer work hours buy less and less of the endless array of the products of economic growth.  Most now realize that it’s time to set aside the propaganda of the industry-funded “climate denial” propaganda and face the known scientific facts of how the biosphere works and is being disrupted by the emissions from fossil-fuel combustion.  And, we have now begun to experience directly the climate disruptions that scientists have been forecasting for a couple of decades and we recognize that something has to be done.

But what is most difficult to imagine is what it will take to avoid the catastrophic results of even a 2º Celsius increase in average temperature on the planet.  Look around.  Where do you see infrastructure that is not dependent on fossil-fuel based technology?  Survival requires that most of that infrastructure be eliminated or somehow converted.  But what will replace it?  The ‘political’ answer is to do more research on “alternate fuels,” which simply dodges the question.  But many alternative technologies for producing and conserving energy already exist and new ones are emerging.  These need to be implemented now.  To describe them all and how they might be implemented rapidly would take a book-length discussion.  But the coming “great transformation” will require that we reorganize the ways we use energy from the local to the national level.  That means reorganizing the way we live.

Even climate advocates rarely talk of the massive societal reorganization needed to achieve their goal of returning to 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere needed to re-stabilize the climate.  Speculations are desperately needed on the actual changes in people’s lives and on how to transform social relations and institutions required to meet the challenge of climate disruption so that the biosphere can be stabilized and we can survive on the planet.  It is hard to forecast the future; many have tried and failed.  But it is even more difficult to imagine what everyday life will be like when climate disruptions force humans to drastically reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  A viable response must be comprehensive ecologically, which means we will have to change the way we want to continue living and others (in the third world) want to live.

The societal implications of radical reductions in fossil-fuel consumption and conversion to carbon-neutral and carbon-negative ways of living will take very different kinds of innovations than we are used to – including major cultural change for a new ecological economy.  Those innovations must come in the form of both appropriate technology and appropriate social organization.  Part II of this essay will consider what seem to be some of the key logical necessities and possible strategies for the coming greatest transformation of all time.