"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Anarchy And Near Term Extinction

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2014 at 3:34 am

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Oldspeak: “…militarists make a fundamental error in assuming that current forms of hierarchical organization will continue on indefinitely. Institutional hierarchy has only existed for about 1% of our time on Planet Earth. There is every reason to believe that hierarchical organization, far from being inevitable, is actually unnatural for human beings insofar as it creates massive social dysfunction…In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate statistically that more equal societies “enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher math and literacy scores, higher stands of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and few people in prison.”…Equally interesting, the psychological malaise caused by hierarchy extends to the men and women at the top of society’s pyramid. In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, psychotherapist Graham Music notes that “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behave… Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict.”… If the assumptions inherent to state capitalism continue to be shared by majorities or large minorities, environmental collapse will likely entail an increase in intra-species violence, exactly as the militarists predict; however, as our rulers are quick to point out in their internal literature, in crisis there is opportunity. Environmental degradation may also force people to examine alternative ways of living, including those currently deemed “utopian.”…. War, poverty, environmental collapse and other catastrophes of modern existence are inextricably linked. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” states capitalist ideologue Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.” ” -Scott Noble

“Strong case for transitioning to a decentralized anacro-syndicalist socio-political system and doing away with the failing, ecocidal hierarchical system humans have only operated in for 1% of their time on this planet, yet have managed to bring about Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. We have to ask ourselves why we’re so accepting of a such an unnatural, dysfunctional, debilitating system dependent on conflict, competition, untruth and violence to function at the expense of fully half of humanity and innumerable other lifeforms? Why are we allowing the state to “function as an artificial surrogate for real community“? Why have we abandoned ways of being that were sustainable, balanced regenerative for millions of years, and replaced them with ways of being that are suicidal, imbalanced, extractive and unsustainable for all life on this planet?” Why is Anarchy constantly being equated with violent chaos, when the reality is it’s the closest thing to pure democracy? (Probably because our rulers are mortally TERRiFiED of a rulerless, self-governed society) We’ve born witness to the violent chaos bred by hierarchy. Our hierarchical system is rapidly deteriorating. it is unsustainable. it is unhealthy. it must be retired before the worst comes.” -OSJ

By Scott Noble @ Dissident Voice:

It is often said that the invention of terrible weapons of destruction will put an end to war. That is an error. As the means of extermination are improved, the means of reducing men who hold the state conception of life to submission can be improved to correspond.

– Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1849)

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

– Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (1989)

According to the theory of Near Term Extinction (NTE) the human race is about to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Though polls on the subject are scarce, it is safe to assume that the majority of humanity disagrees. Most of us remain at least cautiously optimistic about our long term survival prospects. Notable exceptions can be found amongst various apocalyptic cults, whose followers anticipate near term divine intervention, as well as trans-humanists, who anticipate the rise of post-humans due to exotic new technologies. In contrast to these worldviews, NTE is not rooted in religion or science-fiction but a pessimistic reading of the environmental sciences, probability theory and the law of unintended consequences. Nor is NTE limited to the fringe. A growing number of scholars, including highly visible figures like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, have suggested that near term extinction is plausible, though certainly not inevitable (predictions range from years to decades to centuries). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental crises such as climate change have supplanted global thermonuclear war in the pessimist’s hierarchy of doom. Yet these threats are not mutually exclusive. A leaked 2004 report by the Pentagon on global warming anticipates increased risk of “Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting…Once again, warfare [will] define human life.”1 Though such predictions are self-serving – environmental crises are deemed yet another threat that can only be contained by militarism – they are also rational. Under state capitalism, competition for diminishing resources may exacerbate violent conflict, creating a feedback loop not unlike global warming itself. This essay will argue that if the human race is to survive, anarchic systems based on participatory democracy must replace top down models of state rule.

Realpolitik

In his book The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer portrays rationalism as a paradox: highly rational models frequently produce highly irrational outcomes.2 The modern workplace, where we spend most of our waking hours, provides a familiar illustration: rationalist modes of production based on efficiency, calculability, predictability and control have reduced large swathes of humanity to human resources, disposable entities afforded little in the way of self-determination and dignity. In Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), the Little Tramp himself becomes part of the assembly line, compelled forward by gears and pulleys, sliding through the bowels of the machine.

When it comes to international affairs, rationalist models generally fall under the heading realpolitik, a term used to denote both cynical amorality and unflinching “realism” by political leaders acting for a perceived greater good. Unlike idealist interpretations of the state, which focus extensively on ethics, realpolitik is primarily concerned with power. The Italian philosopher and diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote, “How we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that [the ruler] who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation.”3 Since the ruler’s primary objective is to maintain power, immoral behaviour is not only acceptable but necessary.

Machiavelli did not usher in in a new political philosophy; he merely articulated what had always been understood by rulers anywhere and everywhere. In 1934, British historian A.J.P. Taylor suggested that the principles we associate with realpolitik are “a series of assumptions, with which statesmen have lived since their earliest years and which they regard as so axiomatic as hardly to be worth stating.”4 Nevertheless, Machiavelli remains scandalous to this day. His brutal practicality is summed up in Chapter 18 of The Prince – people ought either to be “well treated or crushed.”3

The 19th Century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin agreed with Machiavelli’s cynical understanding of power but came to very different conclusions about how humanity should proceed. He bitterly praised the Italian philosopher for exposing the state with “terrible frankness,” and demonstrating that “crime… is the sine qua non of political intelligence and true patriotism,” yet rejected the notion that such crime was inevitable. “We are the sons of the revolution… We believe in the rights of man, in the dignity and necessary emancipation of the human species.”5 The state – as well capitalism – should be abolished.

Up until the mid-twentieth century, and with the exception of a few rogue philosophers who advocated world government, self-government or no government at all, near-constant warfare between competing states has been viewed as an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of international relations. The invention of the nuclear bomb changed that – or would have, if the idealists were correct. American military strategist Bernard Brodie was overly optimistic when, in 1946, he wrote, “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.”6

The military establishment, soon to be termed the military industrial complex by President Eisenhower, did in fact have another purpose, namely to expand American power through imperialism. Tolstoy was proven correct: not even the creation of the most “terrible weapons of war” would put an end to the state’s quest for dominance.

Few people who consider themselves rational would advocate for the disarmament of the state apparatus in which they live. Yet in the age of nuclear weapons, it is precisely this insistence on “national security” through state power that is most likely to kill us. If, as Bakunin argued, “small states are virtuous only because of their weakness,”5 powerful states demonstrate an ineluctable tendency toward dominating others. The result is militarism.

MAD

The history of civilization is sufficiently blood-soaked that many modern intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, have argued that competitive state frameworks must be abandoned if the human race is to survive.

Following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein implored:

A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on a clear-cut constitution which is approved by the governments and nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons.7

It is doubtful that a world government such as envisioned by Einstein – which allowed for the centralization of “offensive weapons” – would have eliminated the nuclear threat, let alone war, if for no other reason than secessionist movements and other power struggles would have remained a constant concern (we will return to this subject at the essay’s closing).

In any case, Churchill, Truman and Stalin would carve up most of Europe at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, creating the foundation for the Cold War. As if to underscore the improbability of world government, the three leaders had an argument over who would enter the Potsdam conference room first; they eventually decided that they would enter at precisely the same time through three separate doors.8

The new paradigm was MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. Because man is a rational being, he would not risk annihilation by attacking his foe. Game theorists at the Rand Corporation, a Pentagon think tank, provided the theoretical basis. According to the prisoner’s dilemma, both players had to assume the other was rational.

While most nuclear strategists took it for granted that the point of the game was to maintain peace between the super-powers, others believed, quite logically, that the point of the game was to win it.

Among those who embraced the “winner takes all” view was General Curtis Lemay, purported model for the character “Jack the Ripper” in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Best known for masterminding the massive bombing campaign against Japan during WWII (which resulted in half-a-million dead and about five million homeless), Lemay headed up the Strategic Air Command and served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.

Lemay drew up a war plan which involved dropping “the entire stockpile of atomic bombs in a single massive attack” on the Soviet Union. The Washington Post later quoted the General as stating, “Every major American city – Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles – will be reduced to rubble. Similarly, the principal cities of the Soviet Union will be destroyed.”9

According to then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, Lemay was “absolutely certain” that “the US was going to have to fight a nuclear war with the Soviet Union” and that “we should fight it sooner rather than later.”9

Equally disturbing as the super-hawks at the Pentagon were the numerous academics – people who considered themselves highly rational – who advocated a similar strategy. Most found their home at the Rand Corporation.

One of Rand’s most notorious strategists was Herman Kahn. He believed that the US atomic arsenal was a wasting resource. So long as the Soviet Union continued to build its own arsenal, America’s would decrease in value. For Kahn, nuclear weapons were like a precious commodity in danger of depreciation on the global marketplace. Though he did not explicitly advocate a first strike, Kahn believed that a nuclear war was “winnable.”10

Breaking the Chain of Command

MAD is widely regarded as a triumph of both rationalism and hard-nosed realpolitik. The missiles stayed in their silos. We didn’t go extinct. Starry-eyed idealists who rejected Ronald Reagan’s belligerence and exorbitant military spending were proven wrong.

What few realize is that we escaped destruction primarily due to a handful of individuals who rejected the chain of command – and even the logic of their computer screens – in order to embrace the better angels of their being.

In my documentary film The Power Principle, I explore several of the biggest “close calls” during the Cold War.

The most serious event occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the midst of the conflict, a group of United States Navy Destroyers began dropping practice-depth charges on a Soviet submarine positioned near Cuba in order to force it to the surface. The sub commanders believed WWIII was underway.

According to Soviet military protocol, the commanders had previous permission to launch missiles if all three reached consensus. Two said yes – one said no. Then “an argument broke out among the three, in which only Vasili Arkhipov was against the launch.” Thomas Blanton, a director of the National Security Archive, later remarked, “A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”11

In 1983, a computer malfunction at a nuclear warning facility near Moscow falsely indicated a nuclear attack by the United States. The probability indicator was at level 1.

The man in charge, Stanislav Petrov, did not have the ability to launch a retaliatory strike. However, were he to pass on the information to the top command, the Soviet leadership would have only had a few minutes to decide on whether to launch a counter-attack. According to Bruce Blair, a Cold War nuclear strategist, “the top leadership, given only a couple of minutes to decide, told that an attack had been launched, would [have made] a decision to retaliate.” Petrov broke military protocol, and waited.

It turned out that the computer malfunction was caused by “a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and satellites.”12

The third biggest close call occurred in the same year when NATO began a war exercise; the scenario – an all out nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It was codenamed Able Archer.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union during WWII, they did so under the guise of a war game. Alarmed by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric, as well as America’s deployment of Pershing II strategic missiles in Europe, hard-liners in the Kremlin became convinced that history was about to repeat itself. In the run up to the exercise, the Soviets secretly mobilized all key components of their military forces, including nuclear submarines. One mistake by either side and a holocaust would have resulted.

There are other examples, though not quite as hair-raising. A report by the Nuclear Files Foundation lists over 20 “close calls” during the Cold War.13

The greatest danger has never been a rogue commander in the vein of “Jack the Ripper” – though that threat is real enough – but accidental nuclear war caused by incompetence and/or technical malfunction.14

Former Defence Sectary Robert McNamara, who was present in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis, eventually came to a stark conclusion: “It can be confidently predicted that the combination of human fallibility and nuclear arms will inevitably lead to nuclear destruction.”15

Unlike most of the public, US military leaders are well aware of the numerous close calls of the Cold War. The same is presumably true of most men and women who (along with military leaders) formulate current US policy. If their goal was the survival, let alone health, of the human race, the United States would have long since abandoned aggressive war. A fraction of the US military budget could eliminate poverty worldwide,16 and in doing so drain the swamp of resentment and rage that provides the lifeblood of the “terrorist threat.”

For critics of American foreign policy, the failure of US leaders to pursue a peaceful path following the collapse of the Soviet Union is often attributed to a uniquely American belligerence or depravity. Yet a cursory glance through the history books shows that the American empire, while exceptional in terms of global reach and technology, is anything but exceptional in terms of base motivation; it is behaving in a remarkably similar fashion to every empire that preceded it. We can only conclude that powerful states – and the people to tend to wield great power within them – share peculiar forms of logic that are alien to most of their citizenry.

The Power Principle

The dominant view amongst anthropologists is that we have lived in relatively peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian societies for 99% of our history. In the words of anthropologist Christopher Boehm, “Humans were egalitarian for thousands of generations before hierarchical societies began to appear.”17 Many of the behaviours we now celebrate – “success” through the hoarding of wealth, for example – were traditionally considered socially deviant. Ethnographies of extant nomadic foragers reveal that they are “all but obsessively concerned with being free from the authority of others. That is the basic thrust of their political ethos.”18

The Utku in the Canadian Arctic have an extreme intolerance for “displays of anger, aggression, or dominance.”19 The Pintupi Aborigines insist that “One should assert one’s autonomy only in ways that do not threaten the equality and autonomy of others” (Myers).20 Among the Wape tribe in New Guinea, “A man will not tolerate a situation where a neighbour has more than he has. A man should not possess either goods or power to the disadvantage of others” (Mitchell).21

In both egalitarian and hierarchical societies, power is jealously guarded. For egalitarians, the goal is to maximize freedom through group solidarity; for despots, the goal is to maximize the “freedom” of rulers to oppress the majority.

Among political philosophers, only anarchists have seriously considered the threat posed by hierarchy in human affairs. For this reason they have been labeled “utopian.” Yet it may be that idealized notions of benevolent hierarchies are not only unrealistic but wildly implausible. Just as systems of domestic law have proven incapable of preventing tyranny, so too have international laws utterly failed to prevent war.

For anarchists, the reason for this is self-evident: the logic of power is power. There is no law or principle so compelling that it will not be tossed aside at the first sign that those who hold power are in danger of losing it. Hunter-gatherers are able to prevent social dominance hierarchies because they act in a group wide coalition; under the state apparatus, with its entrenched hierarchies, this ability is severely curtailed.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of political philosophers, the idea that a select minority should rule over the mass is taken for granted. James Madison, the “father of the American constitution,” argued that a primary purpose of government was to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” His great fear was “levelling tendencies,” in other words, real democracy.22

If nation states existed in a vacuum, incapable of waging war against other states, minority rule would perhaps be tolerable, depending on the disposition of the men and women who happen to rule over the majority at a given time. The problem is that states are not content to rest on their laurels. Schopenhauer’s famous quote about wealth – that it is “like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we get” – applies equally to power itself. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson explained the phenomenon in terms of “optima” and “maxima”: “the ethics of optima and the ethics of maxima are totally different ethical systems. The ethics of maxima knows only one rule: more.”23

Egalitarian societies are able to maintain optima due to a low center of gravity. In large hierarchical societies, wherein power becomes centralized, leaders or entire social classes can easily become despotic. Lord Acton’s famous quote that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” was more vividly expressed by the great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut: “Human beings are chimpanzees who become crazy drunk on power.”

Austrian political scientist Leopold Kohr, who described himself as a “philosophical anarchist,” regarded powerful states as the most dangerous expression of the maxima principle:

There could be no gentler peoples on earth today than the Portuguese, the Swedes, the Norwegians, or the Danes. Yet, when they found themselves in possession of power, they lashed out against any and all comers with such fury that they conquered the world from horizon to horizon. This was not because, at the period of their national expansion, they were more aggressive than others. They were more powerful.24

Great powers may temporarily “check” one another, to the point where – depending on the global power configuration – some powerful states may seem positively benign; nevertheless, by their very nature, states must exist in an environment of perpetual conflict; when a “critical quantity of power” is reached by one state in relation to others, war is a likely result. For these and other reasons, Bakunin believed that international law is always destined to fail.

There is no common right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility. War would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human survival.

Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction.5

Universal Hostility

When NATO was created in 1949, its ostensible purpose was to protect Europe from the Soviet Union. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO did not; in fact, it expanded.

Speaking in 2005, American military geostrategist Thomas Barnett boasted that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, “demand for our services has increased 4-5 times.”14 Instead of the “peace dividend” promised by Bill Clinton, aggressive war by the United States actually escalated.

Twenty years after Perestroika, Gorbachev lamented that his concessions – rather than creating more peace and harmony – had produced a “winner’s complex” among the American political elite.25 Gorbachev had envisioned for post-Soviet Russia a social democracy similar to the Scandinavian nations. What actually followed were a series of brutal “free market” reforms engineered by technocrats from the Chicago school of economics. It took decades for Russia to regain some semblance of stability. Now that it has – and despite the vanished pretext of an ideological battle between capitalism and communism – the Cold War is back with a vengeance.

When Gorbachev allowed for the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union, he was promised by George H.W. Bush that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east.”14 Instead, NATO has expanded to much of the world – including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic and Central Asia. Coinciding with these aggressive policies of expansion and encirclement, the US has insisted on establishing anti-missile systems in Poland designed to eliminate Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

The theoretical basis behind America’s treatment of post-Soviet Russia crosses party lines. Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush, wrote in Defence Planning Guidance (1992): “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.”26 Similarly, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard that control of Eurasia – to the exclusion of Russia – is the key factor in ensuring American primacy:

Failure to widen NATO… would shatter the concept of an expanding Europe… Worse, it could reignite dormant Russian political aspirations in Central Europe… Europe is America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead in Eurasia… A wider Europe and an enlarged NATO will serve the short-term and longer-term interests of U.S. policy.27

In February 2014 the democratically elected albeit corrupt government of Ukraine was overthrown in a right-wing putsch supported by the United States, prompting Vladimir Putin to engineer a referendum in Crimea allowing for its annexation into Russia. Long before the crisis, and in response to previous provocations on Russia’s borders, Putin delivered a speech to the Kremlin in which he stated:

Their [U.S.] defence budget in absolute figures is almost 25 times bigger than Russia’s. This is what in defence is referred to as ‘their home — their fortress’. Clever… Very clever. But this means that we also need to build our home and make it strong and well protected. We see, after all, what is going on in the world. Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat, as the saying goes. It knows whom to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems.14

In Putin’s portrayal of America as a ravenous wolf we see an echo of Bakunin’s maxim that states must “devour lest [they] be devoured.”

The desire by Russian leaders to retain control of their Black Sea port in Crimea and to project power into neighbouring (NATO-affiliated) states is a classic expression of the cordon sanitaire or “quarantine line.” In state-craft, the term is defined as a protective barrier against a potentially aggressive nation or dangerous influence.

Putin has not been without his own forays into military violence, such as the brutal subjugation of Chechnya in the mid-90′s (during which the capital, Grozny, was largely reduced to rubble). Nevertheless, the Russian leader has focussed most of his attention on building economic alliances, most notably that of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Following the first BRICS summit in 2009, member nations called for a new global reserve currency (rather than the US dollar) that would be “diversified, stable and predictable.”28

Apart from the small matter of nuclear weapons, it is in the economic realm that Russia is considered most dangerous. Russia provides the European Union with about a third of its gas, remains one of Germany’s largest trading partners, and has arranged a massive natural gas supply deal with China.

In the same way that NATO has attempted to encircle Russia, the Pentagon’s “Asia pivot” seeks to quarantine China militarily. China has responded by announcing a new Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, overlapping disputed territories with Japan. In April, the US established a new “Defence” pact with the Philippines.

Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed US-sponsored Security Council Resolutions that would have allowed for the legal bombing of Syria (which houses one of Russia’s last foreign military bases outside of the former Soviet Union). Yet this has not prevented the United States from attempting to subvert the Syrian government through semi-covert means. The CIA, the British SAS, Saudi Arabia, and NATO member Turkey have been training and supplying Syrian rebels in Jordan and elsewhere since the beginning of the insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.29 Syria, in turn, has a mutual defence pact with Iran.

As always in the recent history of the Middle East, the wild card is Israel.

The destruction of Iran remains Israel’s primary foreign policy objective. Although Hezbollah has sensibly warned that an attack against Iran would “set the entire middle east ablaze.”30 Israeli leaders perceive Iran as a potential counter-check to Zionist power. In addition to geopolitical concerns, Israeli leaders embrace a peculiar military strategy known as the “Mad Dog” doctrine. First articulated by Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, it calls for Israel to behave “like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”31 North Korea seems to have embraced a similar strategy, though to considerably less effect.

The most disturbing manifestation of this strategy is the so-called “Samson option.” Named after the biblical character Samson, who pushed apart the pillars of a Philistine temple, thereby killing both himself and his captors, the Samson option calls for destroying much of the world in response to an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld explains: “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions… We have the capability to take the world down with us.”32

The Samson option, and Israel’s behaviour in general, has led the American political scientist Norman Finkelstein to describe the country as a “lunatic state.”33

In his article “Marching as to War,” American paleoconservative author Pat Buchanan expresses incredulity over American Vice President Joe Biden’s post-Ukraine-coup trip through the former Soviet bloc countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. During the junket, Biden reiterated America’s commitment to “protect” these nations: “our word” is “solemn” and “iron clad.” According to Buchanan, Biden was “affirming war guarantees General Eisenhower would have regarded as insane.”34

Here we may say that while Biden’s actions may have been insane during the Eisenhower administration, they are perfectly logical under the Obama administration. In keeping with the theory of the Power Principle, or Kohr’s notion of “critical quantities of power,” the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated the primary check to the American empire. The dogs of war could be fully unleashed. Now that Russia is resurgent, and the US declining economically, there is a great deal of barking going on.

On April Fool’s Day, 2014, NATO Sectary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated:

NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do. We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.35

Rasmussen is nothing if not worldly, considering that “his” people evidently include populations from countries as varied as Albania, Croatia, Canada, France, Iceland, Italy, Romania, the UK and the USA.

The illegal bombing of Serbia by the Clinton administration may be regarded as the starting point in the New Cold War, for it was during the assault that NATO began its eastward shift.

The destruction of Yugoslavia was “rational,” argues historian Michael Parenti, because “Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order… Yugoslavs were proud of their postwar economic development and of their independence from both the Warsaw pact and NATO.”36

Considerably less rational was the behaviour of US General Wesley Clark during the conflict. According to British pop singer James Blunt (best known for his song “You’re beautiful”), who commanded 30,000 NATO troops in Bosnia, he was instructed by the US General to attack a squadron of Russian soldiers at the Pristina Air Base.

The direct command [that] came in from Gen Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as ‘destroy’ came down the radio.37

Like Vasili Arkhipov during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Stanislav Petrov during the 1983 nuclear-warning “computer glitch,” James Blunt disobeyed orders. He was backed up by British General Sir Mike Jackson. Said Jackson: “I’m not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III.”38

In contravention of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which demands “good-faith” efforts to work toward nuclear disarmament, the United States is projected to spend 1 trillion maintaining and expanding its nuclear weapons systems over the next 30 years39 – assuming we survive that long.

Rationalizing War

No state, no matter how powerful or totalitarian, is capable of engaging in aggressive war absent ideological justification. These justifications typically take on two forms: a noble cause that the public can relate to and a cause that – though it would seem brutal and even immoral to the public – is deemed rational by members of a particular ruling class.

The celebrated American political philosopher Rienhold Neibuhr claimed that “rationality belongs to the cool observers.” Elites should recognize “the stupidity of the average man,” who must be ideologically manipulated via “emotionally potent oversimplifications.”40 Walter Lippmann, the “Father of modern journalism,” agreed, arguing that the “masses” are a “bewildered herd” who should be “spectators” in the affairs of state but not “participants.”40

Very often, a casus belli (or war pretext) will be manufactured by leaders to coerce a peaceful population into accepting war, though intensive propaganda is often sufficient. In the modern age, covert agencies like the CIA have allowed for a more cost-effective and PR-friendly alternative to transparent military aggression. Black operations are especially useful for the United States because the over-arching propaganda narrative (“freedom,” “democracy,” “human rights”) is diametrically opposed to the brutal realities of American foreign policy. Eisenhower’s concept of the Military Industrial Complex is better described as the Military Industrial Intelligence Complex.

The vast gulf between propaganda and realpolitik can be seen in various internal memos by figures like US Cold Warrior and State Department official George Kennan. While American leaders publicly warned of an existential threat to democracy posed by the Soviet Union, Kennan’s 1948 memo to the Secretary of State cooly observes:

We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.41

Kennan helped to establish the Office of Policy Coordination inside CIA.42 Despite its intentionally bland title, the OPC specialized in black operations: assassinations, torture, coups, false flags. Its officers did in the dark “what would have never stood the light of day”43 in a self-proclaimed democracy committed to freedom and human rights. After the attacks of 9/11, these tactics were brought out into the open – a dangerous gambit that has undermined America’s moral legitimacy both at home and abroad.

According to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the “neoconservatives” who would come to dominate the George W. Bush and Obama administrations were described by fellow analysts – in the 1970′s/80′s – as “The Crazies.”44 The neocons openly argued for war as a way of life, and for the projection of American power into every corner of the globe.

“Ideas do not succeed in history by virtue of their truth,” writes sociologist Peter Berger, “but by virtue of their relationship to specific social processes.”45 Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and coinciding with the increasing power of the Israeli Lobby, the neocon philosophy suddenly became not so crazy after all. It now had utility, and was widely accepted.

The philosophical “Godfather” of the neoconservative movement was the philosopher Leo Strauss. Born in Germany of Jewish parents, he emigrated to the United States and took up a teaching political science at the University of Chicago. Despite his lineage, Strauss’ teachings bear a disturbing similarity to those of the Nazis.

Shadia Drury, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, writes that Strauss believed in “perpetual war” and “an aggressive, belligerent foreign policy… Following Machiavelli, [Strauss] maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured.”46

For liberals and progressives, neoconservatism is the current Bete noir of American politics. In alleged contrast to the realist school, neoconservative are deemed idealistic, irrational, even insane, yet also uniquely ruthless and cunning.

In his book Reclaiming Conservatism, Mickey Edwards of the Aspen Institute argues that “Neoconservatives are driven by theoretical objectives, and by a moral or ethical compass that fails to take into account the complexities of world politics, [whereas] adherents to a Realpolitik foreign policy often seem to have no moral compass at all.”47

Apart from different propaganda narratives, the reader can be forgiven for failing to notice a significant difference between the neocons and their alleged ideological opponents in the American power structure. In terms of real world outcomes, what we actually find is a remarkable degree of uniformity between “realists” and “neoconservatives,” Democrats and Republicans, with foreign policy differences amounting to a friendly disagreement over exactly how to go about maintaining and expanding US hegemony. Increasingly, Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton are being described as “neocons” despite having no historical attachments to Strauss or his philosophy. This indicates a certain level of cognitive dissonance amongst the party faithful; unable to come to terms with the failure of the state capitalist model, they attribute the American empire not to structural factors but a diabolical clique that has usurped American power from its proper guardians.

A much more compelling and historically consistent explanation for the remarkable continuity between Democrat and Republican regimes has already been provided: the logic of power is power. For the half-a-million Iraqi children who perished under the sanctions program of Democrat Bill Clinton, or the similar number who perished under the Republican George W. Bush, the distinctions between philosophies of empire are meaningless. The ideological framework for imperialism may change, but the game remains the same.

In Love with Death

The Power Principle demands that the class that holds power attempts to retain and expand that power. Therefore, ruling classes within one nation find themselves in conflict not only with domestic populations but other nation states. The greatest fear of those who hold power is Anarchy – the loss of control by those who exercise it.

For neoconservatives like Irving Kristol, the 60′s counter-culture was an outbreak of “moral anarchy,” which, if it had been allowed to continue, would have led to the collapse of “ordered liberty.”48

Externally the same principles apply. “Realist” Zbigniew Brzezinski argues: “America’s withdrawal from the world… would produce massive international instability. It would prompt global anarchy.”49

When I asked the late historian Howard Zinn what he thought of the word “anarchy” being used as a synonym for chaos, he suggested that anarchic systems are actually much more stable than hierarchical systems. Anarchism is based on horizontal principles of free association and mutual aid, whereas hierarchical systems demand coercion and violence. “Our political systems are in chaos,” Zinn stated. “International relations are in chaos.”14 In the desire to dominate others in order to prevent chaos, chaos is the result.

It is by no means certain that chaos is considered undesirable by military strategists, provided it serves to weaken the opposition. In his “Strategy for Israel in the 1980′s,” Israeli strategic planner Oded Yinon advocated the fomenting of civil war throughout the entire middle east. Arabs would be turned against one another on the basis of nation, religion and ethnicity in order to increase Israel’s relative power.50

In countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya (or indeed Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia and Vietnam) we see the fruits of such strategies. Genocidal violence is not merely an unfortunate byproduct of well-intentioned plans for regime change but a goal in and of itself. It weakens competitors, and is therefore deemed justified. Human life has neither a positive nor a negative value, it is simply irrelevant – another number in the calculus of power.

Former Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, the so-called “architect of the Vietnam war,” was obsessed with mathematics. “He was so impressed by the logic of statistics that he tried to calculate how many deaths it would take to bring North Vietnam to the bargaining table.”51 Millions of Vietnamese people were slaughtered by bullets and bombs, burnt with napalm, poisoned by Agent Orange; yet for the man who helped design the war, they were little more but numbers on a chalkboard. McNamara argued that US violence in Vietnam was preferable to the “complete anarchy” that might otherwise result.14

The psychologist Eric Fromm suggested that the desire to control and dominate may produce a necrophilous orientation. Such people are “cold, distant, devotees of ‘law and order’”52 who are excited not by love but death.

The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things…

He is deeply afraid of life, because it is disorderly and uncontrollable by its very nature. To the necrophilous person justice means correct division, and they are willing to kill or die for the sake of what they call justice. ‘Law and order’ for them are idols, and everything that threatens law and order is felt as a satanic attack against their supreme values.

…People are aware of the possibility of nuclear war; they are aware of the destruction such a war could bring with it – and yet they seemingly make no effort to avoid it. Most of us are puzzled by this behaviour because we start out from the premise that people love life and fear death. Perhaps we should be less puzzled if we questioned this premise. Maybe there are many people who are indifferent to life and many others who do not love life but who do love death.52

That many of our most beloved military figures had or have a necrophilous orientation is plainly evident. Observing the corpses and ruined architecture following a battle during WWII, George Patton remarked, “I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life.”53

The actor Richard Burton, who played Sir Winston Churchill in a television drama, became repulsed by the figure:

In the course of preparing myself… I realized afresh that I hate Churchill and all of his kind. I hate them virulently. They have stalked down the corridors of endless power all through history… What man of sanity would say on hearing of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against British and Anzac prisoners of war, ‘We shall wipe them out, everyone of them, men, women, and children. There shall not be a Japanese left on the face of earth’? Such simple-minded cravings for revenge leave me with a horrified but reluctant awe for such single-minded and merciless ferocity.54

In Churchill’s desire to “wipe out” the “Japanese race” we sense a sort of mania bordering on sadistic perversion. Indeed, on the other side of the conflict, Imperial Japan took sadistic perversion in warfare to horrifying extremes. Hitler brought sado-masochism into his bedroom; a coprophiliac, he was sexually aroused by having young ladies defecate on his face. In so doing he became, in the words of historian Robert Waite, “the personification of [his own] depraved self, as the persecutor who attacks a part of himself in his victims.”55

Hitler believed that it was in doom that art reached its highest expression. Consumed by sado-masochism and narcissism, hiding at last in his bunker, he devoutly wished for all of Germany to die with him. Afforded the opportunity, Western military leaders may well opt for global conflagration rather than conceding a diminution in their power.

The Tyranny of Borders

For Cold War General Curtis Lemay and nuclear strategist Herman Khan, it seemed perfectly logical to risk the annihilation of the human race in order to “win” the game against the Soviet Union. Missing in their analysis was that the game itself was insane.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that climate change could pose an irreversible, existential threat to civilization.56 Among the few American military strategists who commented on the report was retired Army Brig. Gen Chris King. Echoing the conclusions of the Pentagon’s leaked 2004 report on global warming, King emphasized that increased military conflict would seem to be the inevitable outcome of environmental collapse: “This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years… You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”56

Another American military figure, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, commented on the report:

You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.56

I began this essay by noting that under the rules of state capitalism, it is rational to regard climate change and other environmental crises as probable force multipliers for interstate conflict. At the same time, militarists make a fundamental error in assuming that current forms of hierarchical organization will continue on indefinitely. Institutional hierarchy has only existed for about 1% of our time on Planet Earth. There is every reason to believe that hierarchical organization, far from being inevitable, is actually unnatural for human beings insofar as it creates massive social dysfunction.

In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate statistically that more equal societies “enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher math and literacy scores, higher stands of child wellbeing, less bullying in schools, lower obesity rates, and few people in prison.”57

Equally interesting, the psychological malaise caused by hierarchy extends to the men and women at the top of society’s pyramid. In The Good Life: Wellbeing and the New Science of Altruism, Selfishness and Immorality, psychotherapist Graham Music notes that “The higher up the social-class ranking people are, the less pro-social, charitable and empathetically they behave… Those with more materialistic values consistently have worse relationships, with more conflict.”58

If the assumptions inherent to state capitalism continue to be shared by majorities or large minorities, environmental collapse will likely entail an increase in intra-species violence, exactly as the militarists predict; however, as our rulers are quick to point out in their internal literature, in crisis there is opportunity. Environmental degradation may also force people to examine alternative ways of living, including those currently deemed “utopian.”

War, poverty, environmental collapse and other catastrophes of modern existence are inextricably linked. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” states capitalist ideologue Thomas Friedman. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15.”59

“Globalization” has entailed a dual tendency: increased border militarization combined with the growth of powerful supranational institutions. While capital is increasingly liquid – penetrating borders with the mere click of a mouse – 99% of humanity remains confined within nation states. The dominant media has portrayed this process as one of increased border erasure, yet the reality is that borders have never been more militarized. The logic of increased “border security” in the era of elite globalization is explained by the anthropologist David Graeber:

If it were not possible to effectively imprison the majority of people in the world in impoverished enclaves, there would be no incentive for Nike or The Gap to move production there to begin with. Given a free movement of people, the whole neoliberal project would collapse. This is another thing to bear in mind when people talk about the decline of ‘sovereignty’ in the contemporary world: the main achievement of the nation-state in the last century has been the establishment of a uniform grid of heavily policed barriers across the world. It is precisely this international system of control that we are fighting against, in the name of genuine globalization.60

Though David Rockefeller is often accused of conspiring to engineer a “world government,” he remarked in a 2007 interview with Benjamin Fulford that be believed states are necessary, and that he does not view World Government as likely nor desirable.61 Nevertheless, in his memoirs, Rockefeller clearly states that he is a proud “internationalist.”

Rockefeller’s brand of internationalism is consistent with the rise of supranational institutions like the EU, the IMF and World Bank. The goal is not the elimination of borders but the elimination of any semblance of democratic control over elites. The state has come to function as the ultimate divide and conquer mechanism, reducing the human species to a series of artificial, warring tribes serving a decidedly unpatriotic transnational ruling class.

Government as Constant Reconquest

Thus far I have conceived of warfare primarily in terms of external competition. But internal competition is at least as important. The American dissident philosopher Randolph Bourne believed that war is not only a primary function of the state but the health of the state. At the outbreak of WWI he wrote:

The nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Loyalty – or mystic devotion to the State – becomes the major imagined human value. Other values, such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.62

The domestic repercussions of war are typically regarded as an unintended consequence or happy accident for the ruling class; in the process of engaging in imperialism, or defending a population against imperialism, the state must neutralize subversive elements.

Neoconservative philosopher Leo Strauss believed the opposite: domestic control is the imperative, war the effect:

Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed… Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people.46

In 1984, Orwell also conceived of war in terms of domestic utility:

In some ways she was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep the people frightened.’63

Viewed through a macroscopic lens, the perceived separation between “domestic” and “foreign” is an illusion. There is no race except the human race, no nation except the world.

Does this mean we should embrace a world state?

Before examining the question, we should ask ourselves exactly what the state is.

In contrast to coercion theories of state formation, which argue that the first states were only beneficial to a privileged minority, and were achieved through a process of violence, conservative theories argue that the state was brought about through a process of “mutual benefit” and “consent of the governed.” Though understandably popular amongst apologists for state violence, conservative models are easily dismissed. As noted by the anthropologist James C. Scott:

…all ancient states without exception were slave states. The proportion of slaves seldom dropped below 30 per cent of the population in early states, reaching 50 per cent in early South-East Asia (and in Athens and Sparta as much as 70 and 86 per cent)…slaving was at the very centre of state-making.64

The state is a new phenomenon in the human experience. But what of warfare itself?

In his book A Terrible Love of War, American psychologist James Hillman argues that war “is the father of all things,” “the first of all norms” and “the ultimate truth of the cosmos.”53 For militarists, this view is a comfortable one: war is inevitable, it has always existed and always will. Another prominent psychologist, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, has also advanced a “Constant warfare” theory of human evolution, suggesting that civilization and the state have actually diminished war, pacifying our instinctually savage, warlike ways. Like conservative theories of state formation, Pinker’s theories are easily debunked.65

In Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, and the Origins and Intensification of War, Ferguson analyzes worldwide evidence of violence before 10,000 years ago. He finds that while violence certainly existed, it was comparatively rare, and in no way indicative of war. Thus, a study of all skeletons available from 100,000-10,000 in southwestern France finds that only 2.5% show any signs of fractures – and even these could have been caused by accidental injury. In the Middle East, amongst 370 skeletons from the Natufian (10,800-8,500 BC), only 2 showed signs of trauma.66 Similar patterns are evident throughout the world:

Warfare is largely a development of the past 10,000 years. The multiple archaeological indicators of war are absent until the development of a more sedentary existence and/or increasing sociopolitical complexity, usually in combination with some form of ecological crisis and/or steep ecological gradients.67

Ethnographies of extant nomadic hunter-gatherers help to explain why war would have made little sense to our forebears. Anthropologist Douglas P. Fry writes:

The very nature of nomadic-band social organization makes warfare, slavery, or despotic rule well-nigh impossible. The small social units lack the ability to engage in large-scale slaughter—and since positions of authoritative leadership are also lacking, there is nothing to plunder, tools and weapons are rudimentary, and population density is extremely low. The archaeological facts speak clearly, showing for particular geographic areas exactly when war began.  And in all cases this was recent, not ancient activity—occurring after complex forms of social organization supplanted nomadic hunting and gathering.68

The cause of hierarchy and warfare is disputed, but a common explanation is the shift from nomadic bands to sedentary tribes; when these new domesticated forms combined with technological innovation and increased social complexity, the result was the state. Engels long ago suggested that agriculture was a primary determinant; it allowed for surplus, which in turn gave rise to social classes. In The Evolution of Political Society, Morton Fried points out that extreme social stratification is inherently unstable; thus, in any large hierarchical society, an organization with a monopoly on “warfare and killing” is required.69

The state has attempted to effect a reconciliation between different classes by arrogating to itself a monopoly on “legitimate” violence. Yet violence alone is not sufficient. Ideologically, the “religion” of the state is nationalism. In lieu of class analysis, nationalism is successful because it appeals to primal human desires for solidarity and belonging, as well as fear of the unknown (“outsiders”). Fear of outsiders is deliberately cultivated by rulers in order to mystify the real cause of the people’s discontent (namely rulers themselves), especially during times of economic/environmental crisis. Ultimately, the state has come to function as a sort of artificial surrogate for real community.

The textbook A Short History of War, provided to students at the US Army War College, is surprisingly candid about the state’s role as surrogate not only for community but spirituality and even “God”:

The aggregation of large numbers of people into complex societies required that those living within them refocus their allegiances away from the extended family, clan, and tribe, and toward a larger social entity, the state. This psychological change was facilitated by the rise of religious castes that gave meaning to the individual’s life beyond a parochial context. Organized belief systems were integrated into the social order and given institutional expression through public rituals that linked religious worship to political and military objectives that were national in scope and definition. Thus, the Egyptian pharaoh became divine, and military achievements of great leaders were perceived as divinely ordained or inspired.70

The role of state as surrogate helps to explain why the popularity of state leaders tends to rise – often dramatically – during times of war. George W. Bush began his presidential term with an approval rating of 50%; following 9/11, that number skyrocketed to 92% (the highest number ever recorded for an American president since modern polling began).71 The “rally around the chief” effect is no secret, and has been satirized in several Hollywood films such as Canadian Bacon and Wag the Dog.

Though egalitarianism alone is not sufficient to bring about peace (sedentary tribal societies often engaged in war, albeit on a far lesser scale than state societies), it is a necessary precondition for the simple reason that the perceived interests of rulers are often radically different – and even diametrically opposed – to those of their subjects. Nowhere is this more apparent than during times of violent conflict. Leaders are celebrated and aggrandized even as their subjects are oppressed and slaughtered. Indeed, Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson has gone so far as to suggest that hierarchy may be the the most fundamental cause of war.

…My view is that in most cases — not every single one — the decision to wage war involves the pursuit of practical self-interest by those who actually make the decision. The struggle can be joined over basic subsistence resources, but it can just as easily erupt over goods available only to elites.
…Not only do these leaders experience vastly different costs, benefits and powers in war, leaders may literally require successful war to establish and maintain rule.72

In Ferguson’s view, the problem is not limited to competition over resources but the manner in which such competition – or lack thereof – is expressed.

Since a world government would constitute the apotheosis of hierarchical organization, such an entity could not possibly put an end to war (which is, after all, simply organized killing by one group of humans against another). If a world state came into existence, propaganda models could simply be reconfigured to reflect the new cultural dynamic: internal enemies would replace external enemies, creating something akin to civil war on a global scale.

The Austrian philosopher Leopold Kohr, who was especially concerned with the problem of size in human social structures, found the prospect of world government positively chilling:

The process of unification, far from reducing the dangers of war, seems the very thing that increases them. For, the larger a power becomes, the more is it in a position to build up its strength to the point where it becomes spontaneously explosive. But not only does unification breed wars by creating war potentials; it needs war in the very process of its establishment. As states did not come into existence by natural development but by conquest, so they cannot maintain themselves except by conquest – the constant reconquest of their own citizens through a flow of patriotic propaganda setting in at the cradle and ending only at the grave.73

Kohr rejected the idea of artificial unity in favour of harmony, which he regarded as the natural order of the universe. The unity of a world government would need to be imposed, if for no other reason than consensus between different regions would be impossible (imagine, for a moment, attempting to create a system of law incorporating the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest; the people of Waco, Texas; the Inuit; and the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan). The result would not be the end of war but the constant reconquest of the global citizenry.

Conceivably, as technology advances, a logical solution for the ruling class to the “problem” of cultural differentiation, “surplus population” and rebellion may be the deliberate culling of the human race. This seems to have been one of the great fears of the brilliant yet homicidal primitivist Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber), who wrote:

Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses and because human work will no longer be necessary, the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system; if the elite is ruthless, they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity.74

There is no question that our elite is “ruthless” (over a thousand children die every day due to easily treatable diseases) so we can put aside moral conundrums. Interestingly, the quotation of Kaczynski has been cited by leading trans-humanists such as Ray Kurzweil, who currently works as Google’s Director of Engineering. Bill Joy of Wired magazine also cites the quote in his article “Why the Future doesn’t need us,” sub headed, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nano tech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species”.74

The Path to Peace: Correcting the Power Imbalance

Now that we have examined what won’t work, we can start imagining real alternatives to the present system of state competition.

As we have seen, the greatest fear of world leaders in anarchy.

Though the term is falsely equated with violent chaos, Anarchy is defined by Noam Chomsky as “the closest you can get to pure democracy.”14 Chomsky also interprets anarchism as a “set of principles” rather than an a pure ideology. The word itself derives from the Greek Anarkos meaning “without rulers.” Rather than electing a politician who makes decisions for you, anarchists believe that decision-making capacities should lie with the people affected by those decisions.

It is often said that if politicians had to fight in wars, there would be no more war. By the same measure, if the CEO of a company polluting a water source was forced to drink that water daily, he or she would presumably be much less likely to dismiss concerns about water pollution. A key issue is accountability. Under our present system, our “leaders” have none. Indeed, we have managed to create a system whereby we begrudgingly elect the most depraved, venal individuals in society to rule over us.

In 2012, The Atlantic published an article entitled, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths.” Noting that “Psychopathy is a psychological condition based on well-established diagnostic criteria, which include lack of remorse and empathy, a sense of grandiosity, superficial charm, cunning and manipulative behaviour, and refusal to take responsibility for one’s actions, among others,” the article goes on to state that psychopaths may in fact be “particularly well suited” for careers in politics.75

Debates continue over whether what we call psychopathy is bio-genetic or culturally programmed (or some combination of the two), but there can be no disputing the fact that when it comes to the well-being of the majority, our “leaders” are at best disinterested and very often downright malevolent. This is well understood, even in the United States. Polls demonstrate that the Congress – which is imagined by orthodox political scientists to be a “check” on power – has an approval rating roughly on par with cockroaches.76

Instead of centralized power and competition, anarchists advocate decentralization and cooperation. Decentralized communities can be federated horizontally, thus ensuring stability through a low center of gravity rather than the precarious, ever-shifting power configurations of top-down rule. Anarchism does not demand a “one size fits all” model, and therefore embraces the organic rather than the mechanical.

Above all, anarchism demands equality; human beings should not be permitted to dominate their fellows.

In The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society, Sam Dolgoff writes:

Federation is the coordination through free agreement – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. A vast coordinated network of voluntary alliances embracing the totality of social life, in which all the groups and associations reap the benefits of unity while still exercising autonomy within their own spheres and expanding the range of their freedom.77

Paradoxically, for some “small a” anarchists, the state itself may be a tool. It can be used to protect the public against private power, create more equitable social conditions, and help facilitate horizontal power through participatory democracy. Some Latin American anarchists have described this process as “expanding the floor of the cage.”78

Other anarchists want little or nothing to do with the state, and believe in acting outside of official political channels. This is the traditional tendency amongst anarchists, and requires no explication.

The concepts of anarcho-pluralism and Pan-Secessionism seek “radical localism” and “the simple territorial withdrawal withdrawal of regions and localities and renunciation of the central state by secessionists.”79

Though anarcho-X-adjective strategies differ significantly, in common with all anarchists is a desire to prevent social dominance hierarchies whereby a privileged class is permitted to oppress the majority. Viewed globally, such oppression takes on the form of genocide and war.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit that there is a problem. For the majority, the state and its armies are viewed as a necessary evil. They are imagined to be required, at minimum, to defend populations from aggression by other states. This seemingly rational belief has produced the irrational consequence of possible near term extinction. Once we begin – as a global community – to conceive of states, as well as capitalism, as unnecessary and indeed harmful constructs, we can start to build alternatives from the bottom up. A pessimist view would regard such radical change as unlikely absent a massive global awakening. Yet such an awakening is not far-fetched, if for no other reason than current socio-economic models are unsustainable. Even a fatalist interpretation offers hope – that if humanity survives the coming calamities, our descendants may not automatically repeat the mistakes of our hierarchical, violent age. Anarchism will return us to our basic survival mechanisms as a species – cooperation, equality and peace.

  1. Mark Townsend and Paul Harris, “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us” The Observer (22 February 2004). []
  2. George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1998): 12. []
  3. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1513): Chapter 15. [] []
  4. John Bew, “The Real Origins of Realpolitik.” []
  5. Mikhail Bakunin, “The Immorality of the State.” [] [] []
  6. Gregory G. Brunk, Donald Secrest, Ioward Tamashiro, Understanding Attitudes about War (University of Pittsburg Press, 1996): 37. []
  7. Nicholas Hagger, The World Government (John Hunt Publishing, 2010): 30. []
  8. Brad MacDonald, “President Obama and the Phone Call that Endangered America” The Trumpet (17 October 2013). []
  9. Paul Lashmar, “Stranger than ‘Strangelove’: A General’s Forays into the Nuclear Zone,” Washington Post (3 July 1994): C9. [] []
  10. Louis Menand, “Fat Man: Herman Kahn and the Nuclear Age” The New Yorker (27 June 2005). []
  11. Marion Lloyd, “Soviets Close to Using A-Bomb in 1962 Crisis, Forum is Told” Boston Globe (Retrieved 7 August 2012): A20. []
  12. Burrell’s Information Service, “War Games,” Dateline NBC (November 12, 2000). []
  13. Alan F. Philips, “20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War.” []
  14. The Power Principle. Directed by Scott Noble (Metanoia Films, 2012). [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  15. J. Peter Scoblic, “Robert McNamara’s Logical Legacy.” []
  16. Bo Filter, “Slaying Goliath: Give David a Stone.” []
  17. Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behaviour (Harvard University Press, 2009): 5. []
  18. Boehm, 68. []
  19. Boehm, 50. []
  20. Boehm, 74. []
  21. Boehm, 98. []
  22. Noam Chomsky, “Consent Without Consent.” []
  23. Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Cornell University Press, 1981): 506. []
  24. Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression,” Panarchy. []
  25. Claire Shipman, “Gorbachev: ‘Americans Have a Severe Disease’,” ABC News (21 July 2006). []
  26. “Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan: ‘Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival’,” New York Times (8 March 1992). []
  27. Mike Whitney, “Showdown in Ukraine.” []
  28. “BRIC wants more influence,” Euronews (21 June 2009). []
  29. Greg Miller, “CIA ramping up covert training program for moderate Syrian rebels,” Washington Post, (2 October 2013). []
  30. “Hamas will not come to Iran’s aid in a case of war with Israel: official,” Al Arabiya (13 April 2014). []
  31. Jonathan Cook, “‘Mad dog’ diplomacy: A cornered Israel is baring its teeth.” []
  32. Felicity Arbuthnot, “Attack Iran? Nuclear Insanity,” Dissident Voice. []
  33. Norman G. Finkelstein, “Israel is Now a Lunatic State.” []
  34. Patrick Buchanan, “Marching as to War.” []
  35. NATO takes measures to reinforce collective defence, agrees on support for Ukraine.” []
  36. Michael Parenti, “The Rational Destruction of Yugoslavia.” []
  37. “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III’,” BBC (14 November 2010). []
  38. “Singer James Blunt ‘prevented World War III’” BBC (14 November 2010). []
  39. Robert Dodge, “Budgets as Moral Documents.” []
  40. Noam Chomsky, “Force and Opinion.” [] []
  41. Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Interventions in Central America (South End Press, 1985): 48. []
  42. Sarah-Jane Corke, “George Kennan and the Inauguration of Political Warfare.” []
  43. See Bill Moyers, “The Secret Government.” []
  44. American Intelligence Analysts Have a Patriotic Duty to Speak out and Transcend the Cult of Secrecy: An Interview with Ray McGovern,” Dissident Voice. []
  45. Peter Berger, “Towards a Sociological Understanding of Psychoanalysis,” Social Research, 32 (Spring 1965): 32. []
  46. Jim Lobe, “Leo Strauss’ Philosophy of Deception.” [] []
  47. Mickey Edwards, Reclaiming Conservatism (Oxford University Press, 2008): 141. []
  48. Ira Chernus, “Ukraine plus Flight 370 = Bad news for Neocons.” []
  49. Chris Erenesto, “The Eurasian Chessboard: Brzezinski Mapped Out ‘The Battle for Ukraine’ in 1997.” []
  50. Israel Shahak, “Greater Israel: The Zionist Plan for the Middle East.” []
  51. David K. Shipler, “Robert McNamara and the Ghosts of Vietnam,” New York Times Magazine (10 August 1997). []
  52. Eric Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil: 37. [] []
  53. Gracy Trosclair, “War’s Attraction: Love or Fascination?.” [] []
  54. Howard Zinn, Howard Zinn on War (Seven Stories Press, 2001): 194. []
  55. Robert G.L. Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler (Da Cap Press, 1993): 241. []
  56. Eric Holthaus, “‘Climate Change War’ Is Not a Metaphor,” Slate. [] [] []
  57. Richard Wilkinson, “In Defence of Equality.” []
  58. Tanya Gold, “How Materialism Makes us Sad.” []
  59. John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World (Verso, 2002): 114. []
  60. David Graeber, “The New Anarchists,” New Left Review (January-February 2002). []
  61. Benjamin Fulford Interview with David Rockefeller. []
  62. Randolph Bourne, “War is the Health of the State” (1918). []
  63. George Orwell, 1984 (1949): 127. []
  64. James C. Scott, “Crops, Towns, Government.” []
  65. See Brian Ferguson, “Pinker’s List.” []
  66. Comments on Pinker’s History of Violence.” []
  67. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Reality Denial: Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence,” Dissident Voice. []
  68. Douglas P. Fry, “Peace in Our Time.” []
  69. Keith F. Otterbein, How War Began (Texas A&M University Press, 2004): 100. []
  70. Richard A. Gabriel and Karen S. Metz, A Short History of War (Professional Readings in Military Strategy, No. 5, 1992): Chapter 1. []
  71. Behind the Numbers: Approval Highs and Lows,” Washington Post. []
  72. R. Brian Ferguson, “The Birth of War.” []
  73. Leopold Kohr, “The Power Theory of Aggression.” []
  74. Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired. [] []
  75. James Silver, “The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as Psychopaths” The Atlantic (31 July 2012). []
  76. Congress somewhere below cockroaches, traffic jams, and Nickelback in Americans’ esteem,” Public Policy Polling, 2013. []
  77. Sam Dolgoff, The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society (AK Press, 1 Jan 1989). []
  78. “Expanding the floor of the cage: Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamiam,” Z Magazine (April 1997). []
  79. Keith Preston, “Anarcho-Pluralism and Pan-Secessionism: What they are and what they are not.” []

 

 

 

Anthropogenic Climate Change Setting The Stage For Worldwide Wars Over Decreasing Food & Water

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Oldspeak: ““Gradual warming of the globe may not be noticed by most, but everyone – either directly or indirectly – will be affected to some degree by changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as green-house gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.”

Scientists are already cognizant of how badly a warming Arctic impacts subsistence, for example, according to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group: “The weather extremes … are causing real problems for farmers… World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.”

“The nexus between climate change, human migration, and instability constitutes … a transcendent challenge. The conjunction of these undercurrents was most recently visible during the Arab Spring, where food availability, increasing food prices, drought, and poor access to water, as well as urbanization and international migration contributed to the pressures that underpinned the political upheaval.

As for example, Syria suffered from devastating droughts in the decade leading up to its rebellion as the country’s total water resources cut in half between 2002 and 2008. As a result, the drier winters hit Syria, which, at the time, was the top wheat-growing region of the eastern Mediterranean, thereby, exacerbating its crisis.” -Robert Hunziker and Jack Hunziker

Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year… We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events… Global grain consumption has exceeded production in 8 of the last 13 years, leading to a drawdown in reserves. Worldwide, carryover grain stocks—the amount left in the bin when the new harvest begins—stand at 423 million tons, enough to cover 68 days of consumption. This is just 6 days more than the low that preceded the 2007–08 grain crisis, when several countries restricted exports and food riots broke out in dozens of countries because of the spike in prices…. Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research centre in Washington, says that the climate is no longer reliable and the demands for food are growing so fast that a breakdown is inevitable, unless urgent action is taken.Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations. We are on the same path. Each country is now fending for itself. The world is living one year to the next.” We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity,” says Brown. “The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil.”His warnings come as the UN and world governments reported that extreme heat and drought in the US and other major food-exporting countries had hit harvests badly and sent prices spiralling. “The situation we are in is not temporary. These things will happen all the time. Climate is in a state of flux and there is no normal any more. “We are beginning a new chapter. We will see food unrest in many more places.”  Armed aggression is no longer the principal threat to our future. The overriding threats to this century are climate change, population growth, spreading water shortages and rising food prices,” Brown says.” -John Vidal, U.K. Observer.

“Look beyond the propaganda. The “Arab Spring”, Unrest in Venezuela, Ukraine, and dozens of other countries on all continents are not about “freedom” and “democracy” and “people rising up against dictators”. it’s about food. And the shrinking availability of it as a result of Anthropogenic Climate Change. We are consuming more than we are producing and with less water available as temperatures rise and droughts and other extreme weather worsens, you can expect food production to continue to fall. With human population continuing to rise, this is a recipe for disaster. Our food production systems are unsustainable and toxic to the ecology. And they are practically certain to fail as ever rising food demands far outsize falling production. Then what?” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker and Jack Hunziker @ Dissident Voice

The “warming of the Arctic” could become one of the greatest catastrophes in human history, even exceeding the notoriety of Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan. Likely, it will impact more people than the combined effect of those brutal leaders. In fact, global warming may eventually be categorized as the greatest threat of all time, even greater than the Black Death’s 75-to-200 million dead, circa 1350.

The integrity of Arctic sea ice is essential to prevent the risks of (1) methane outbreak and/or (2) fierce, damaging weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Regrettably, the Arctic “sea ice area” registered a seasonal record low on March 10, 2014 at 12.95 million square kilometers. Whereas, ‘maximum ice growth’ is usually expected in March, not all-time seasonal lows immediately preceding the onset of summer.1

Extreme weather events, as a consequence of the warming Arctic, will likely wreak havoc over the entire Northern Hemisphere, causing severe droughts, freezing cold spells, and widespread flooding (some early evidence of this is already at hand.)

These combinations of extreme weather events have the potential to rival the damage of the great mythical floods. Already, Eastern Europe had a taste of extreme climate change in 2013 when a once-in-500-year flood hit hard, wiping out vast swaths of cropland.

In the future, when shortages of food and water become more commonplace because of extreme climactic change, it is probable that desperate groups of roughnecks will battle for food and water, similar to the dystopia depicted in Mad Max (Warner Bros. 1979) the story of a breakdown of society where bandit tribes battle over the last remaining droplets of petroleum.

Over time, climate change is setting the stage for worldwide wars over food & water.

Origin of Food and Water Wars

Research conducted by Jennifer Francis, PhD, Rutgers University – Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, shows that Arctic sea ice loss, with its consequent warming, impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation, radically distorting jet streams above 30,000 feet, which adversely affects weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere.2

“Gradual warming of the globe may not be noticed by most, but everyone – either directly or indirectly – will be affected to some degree by changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as green-house gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.”2

Scientists are already cognizant of how badly a warming Arctic impacts subsistence, for example, according to the Arctic Methane Emergency Group: “The weather extremes … are causing real problems for farmers… World food production can be expected to decline, with mass starvation inevitable. The price of food will rise inexorably, producing global unrest and making food security even more of an issue.”3

“The nexus between climate change, human migration, and instability constitutes … a transcendent challenge. The conjunction of these undercurrents was most recently visible during the Arab Spring, where food availability, increasing food prices, drought, and poor access to water, as well as urbanization and international migration contributed to the pressures that underpinned the political upheaval.”4

As for example, Syria suffered from devastating droughts in the decade leading up to its rebellion as the country’s total water resources cut in half between 2002 and 2008. As a result, the drier winters hit Syria, which, at the time, was the top wheat-growing region of the eastern Mediterranean, thereby, exacerbating its crisis.

In 2009 the UN and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported that more than 800,000 Syrians lost their entire means of livelihood because of drought.5

In the recent past, ferocious weather conditions have struck all across the planet, for example: a once every 500-year flood in Eastern Europe, a once in 50-year drought in the U.S. Midwest, the worst drought in 200 years in China, affecting more people than the entire population of North America; the worst flooding in Pakistan in 100 years (a continuous deluge lasting for over a month); the most costly flash flood damage in Canada’s modern history; Syria’s drought has been classified as the worst in the history of the Fertile Crescent while Brazil is experiencing it’s worst drought in decades, the list goes on, and on, and on.
Merciless weather is lashing out with torrential storms and embedded droughts like never before. No other period of time in modern history comes close.

The reason behind the weather dilemma has everything to do with global warming in the Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet. In turn, the Arctic, which serves as the thermostat for the entire Northern Hemisphere, is disrupting the jet streams, which, as a result, influences weather patterns throughout the hemisphere, causing droughts and torrential storms to become “embedded or stalled” for long duration, e.g., Colorado’s torrential downpour and massive flooding in 2013, which was as fierce as superabundant coastal tropical storms but not at all like mid-latitude, middle America storms.

History Repeats

Once food and water shortages become widespread as a result of a more extreme and unpredictable climate behavior, it is highly probable that people all across the planet will become so disgusted and distraught that they’ll be looking for blood.

In that regard, history shows that, during such times, desperation overrides prudence. Therefore, hiding behind security gates and armed troops won’t make a difference, similar to the late 18th century French Revolution when masses of citizens used pitchforks, stones, and sticks to overwhelm the king’s formidable armed forces. At the time, France was one of the mightiest forces in the world, but like toy soldiers, its army fell at the hands of its own citizens.

In the end, civilizations cannot, and have not, survived the forces of desperation born of starvation.
In the case of Paris, two years of poor grain harvests because of bad weather conditions set the stage for revolution. On June 21, 1791 the king, queen, and their attendants fled their Paris residences, whisked away in carriages, as masses of enraged, starving protestors swarmed the city streets.

The forewarnings had been there years beforehand. On August 20, 1986 Finance Minister Calonne informed King Louis XVI that the royal finances were insolvent (because of costly foreign wars- like the U.S. today) Hard times hit (also similar to U.S. today) Six months later the First Assembly of Notables met, resisting imposition of taxes and fiscal reforms (similar to the U.S. right wing today) It was nearly three years later April 27th, 1789 when the Reveillon Riot in Paris, caused by low wages (like U.S. wages today, Wal-Mart, McDonalds) and food shortages (not in U.S. yet), led to 25 deaths by troops.

Thereafter, the public’s anger grew to a fever pitch. On July the 14th rioters stormed the most notorious jail for political prisoners in all of France, the Bastille. By July 17th the “Great Fear” had begun to taken command of the streets as the peasantry revolted against their socio-economic system.

One of their prime targets was Queen Marie Antoinette, the Dauphin of the world’s most powerful monarchy, whose last spoken words were delivered to Henri Sanson, her executioner, as she accidentally stepped on his foot upon climbing the steps of the scaffold: “Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose,” before losing her head in front of tens of thousands of cheering Parisians, screaming “Vive la Nation!

Flash forward in time into the future, and imagine the backlash in the country if food shortages hit America because of the failure of the government to set policies to convert fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. As such, the US could have led the entire world to conversion to renewable sources of energy. As things stand, it is a “missed opportunity.”

In stark contrast to America’s reluctance, Scotland’s energy sources are already 40% renewables and will be 100% by 2020.

Food and Civil Disturbances

According to a landmark study, “Food insecurity is both cause and a consequence of political violence.” Henk-Jan Brinkman and Cullen S. Hendrix, Food Insecurity and Conflict, The World Development Report 2011.
The link between high grain prices and riots is well established. For example, according to The Economist magazine (December 2007), when high grain prices sparked riots in 48 countries, the magazine’s food- price index was at its highest point since originating in 1845.

As for a more current situation, the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 brought political and economic issues to the forefront, but behind the scenes, climate stress played a big role.

According to Marco Lagif of the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) in Technology Review, MIT, August 2011, the single factor that triggers riots around the world is the price of food. The evidence comes from data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called Food Price Index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

On December 13, 2011, four days before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, sparking the Arab Spring riots, NECSI contacted the U.S. government, warning that global food prices were about to cross the tipping point when almost anything can trigger riots.

Accordingly, the NECSI study was presented, by invitation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos and was featured as one of the top ten discoveries in science in 2011 by Wired magazine.

“Definitely, it is one of the causes of the Arab Spring,” says Shenggen Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute. As well, it is increasingly clear that the climate models that predicted the countries surrounding the Mediterranean would start to dry out are correct.6

As for Syria, it is a prime example of the drama of changing climatic conditions and the consequences. The country’s farmlands north and east of the Euphrates River constitute the breadbasket of the Middle East. Unfortunately, up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced one of the worst droughts on record from 2006-11.
In Syria’s northeast and the south, nearly 75 percent suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost 85 percent of their livestock. According to the UN, 800,000 Syrians had their livelihoods totally wiped out, moving to the cities to find work or to refugee camps, similar to what happened in Paris in the late 18th century.

Furthermore, the drought pushed three million Syrians into extreme poverty. According to Abeer Etefa of the World Food Program, “Food inflation in Syria remains the main issue for citizens,” eerily similar to what occurred in France in the late 18th century just prior to it’s revolution.
The French Revolution Redux, in America?

As countries like the United States hastily continue their pursuit of policies dedicated to ‘energy independence’ by fracking, using extreme pressure to force toxic chemicals underground to suck up every last remnant of oil and gas, the warming of the Arctic is elevated, and the jet streams become more distorted, resulting in extremely harsh, deadly and unpredictable weather systems, pummeling the entire Northern Hemisphere.

Eventually, the outcome leads to shortages of food, and like a flashback of 18th century France, people starve or fight.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Source: NSIDC, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO. []
  2. Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus, Evidence Linking Arctic Amplification to Extreme Weather in Mid-Latitudes, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 39, L06801, 17 March 2012. [] []
  3. Source: Arctic Methane Emergency Group. []
  4. Michael Werz and Max Hofman, Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, Climate and Security Correlations Series, Feb. 2013. []
  5. Robert F. Worth, Earth is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived, New York Times, Oct. 13, 2010. []
  6. “Human-Caused Climate Change Already a Major Factor in more Frequent Mediterranean Droughts,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, October 27, 2011. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Jack Hunziker is a composer and critic of music. He attended Crossroads School in Santa Monica and is an on-and-off student at UCLA. Read other articles by Robert Hunziker and Jack Hunziker.

Abnormal is The New Normal: Connecting The Dots On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

ENSO temp influence

Oldspeak: “Even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out thattoday we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.” -Guy McPhereson

“Was watching environmental activist Bill McKibben on Bill Moyers the other day. He was peddling this “there’s a global movement to solve the climate crisis” bullshit. i don’t know why a man who founded 350.org to draw attention to the fact that we needed to keep atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 350 parts per million to have a chance at a livable planet when CO2 concentrations are currently at 400 parts per million and rising, would continue to spew this nonsense. Focusing so much energy and time on things that don’t matter, like protesting, marching,  getting arrested and appealing to leaders bought and paid for by fossil energy producers. He like many others have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change. The basic fact of the matter is whatever actions needed to be taken to avert extinction of most life on earth needed to be taken 40 years ago.  We are just beginning to see the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change as conditions continue to worsen. it’s a safe bet that in the next 29 years humans will emit many more extinction inducing emissions than it has in the last 436 years as developing nations burn more fossil energy and dirtier fossil energy is extracted; that is of course if we last 29 years.” -OSJ

Guy McPhereson @ Nature Bats Last:

I’m routinely accused of cherry picking information about climate change. I plead guilty, with the following 1,000-word disclaimer.

I’ll start with a line from recently deceased professor emeritus and long-time teacher Albert Bartlett: “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” When I speak and write about climate change, most members of the audience are stuck in fifth grade, unaware that nature often exhibits non-linearity.

I pick cherries because I see nobody else connecting the dots on climate change. I see nobody else making an honest effort to describe our predicament. So, by default, I’m The Connector. I collate, summarize, and synthesize information about climate change. And in the process of serving as host for the finest reality show on the Internet, I connect people, too.

In return, I’m the dark-horse candidate for Golden Horseshoe liar of the year award. No, really: You can read all about it. This planet has become so Orwellian that those who collate the facts and pass them along are hated as liars.

I see plenty of support for denying the obvious. According to a December 2013 paper in Climatic Change, the climate change counter-movement is funded to the tune of nearly a billion dollars each year. That’s just in the United States, where we continue to brag about our prowess in destroying the living planet long after a few of us recognized the irony in the following advertisement from Life magazine in 1962. The story is similar in other countries.

humbleoilad

How obvious is ongoing climate change induced by anthropogenic global warming? If you’re unwilling to look outside, consider the following graph from Climate Central.

10 warmest years on record

And even as abnormal is the new normal, we’re just getting started. Bruce Melton, writing for Truthout in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker, points out that “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years.” In other words, the four-decade lag between emissions of greenhouse gases and consequences of those emissions is not complete. But it’s on the way, and there is nothing to be done today to undo what we did during the last 40 years. And, as pointed out with numerous scientific articles at my comprehensive summary dating back to February 2003 from the folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, abrupt and dramatic changes in climate aren’t out of the question.

This knowledge brings with it horror and relief. I’m horrified by what’s to come, which includes the near-certainty of human extinction by 2030 as we surpass 4 C above baseline. I’m relieved to know that today’s consequences result from emissions dating to the 1970s, when I was excitedly learning to drive an automobile. I experience no teenage guilt from youthful, ignorant actions.

I recognize that collapse of industrial civilization leads to a world 2 C warmer than baseline within a few days post-collapse. Where I live, in the southwestern interior of a large continent in the northern hemisphere, that means we’re headed for ~5 C locally shortly after collapse is complete. And that means no habitat for humans: Welcome to the dust bowl that never ends within a matter of months post-collapse.

Yet, seemingly contrary to these simple, easy-to-reach conclusions, I work toward collapse. Largely unafflicted by the arrogance of humanism, I work on behalf of non-human species. Industrial civilization is destroying every aspect of the living planet, and I know virtually nobody who wants to stop the runaway train. Yes, collapse will kill us. But our deaths are guaranteed regardless, unless I missed a memo.

I’ve given up on civilized humans making any effort to take relevant action. Never mind our stunning myopia: The money to be made is clearly more important than the extinctions we cause, including our own.

As pointed out in March 2012 in Nature Climate Change, several psychological reasons explain why people have a hard time dealing with the stark reality of climate change (David Roberts comments at length in his article at Grist:

1. To the extent that climate change is an abstract concept, it is non intuitive and cognitively difficult to grasp.

2. Our moral judgement system is finely tuned to react to intentional transgressions — not unintentional ones.

3. Things that make us feel guilty provoke self-defensive mechanisms.

4. Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking, so the lack of definitive prognoses results in unreasonable optimism.

5. Our division into moral and political tribes generates ideological polarization; climate change becomes politicized.

6. Events do not seem urgent when they seem to be far away in time and space; out-group victims fall by the wayside.

At considerable risk of pummeling the dead equine, I’ll reiterate a couple paragraphs I pointed out before:

Leading mainstream outlets routinely lie to the public. According to a report published 11 January 2014, “the BBC has spent tens of thousands of pounds over six years trying to keep secret an extraordinary ‘eco’ conference which has shaped its coverage of global warming.” At the 2006 event, green activists and scientists — one of whom believes climate change is a bigger danger than global nuclear war — lectured 28 of the BBC’s most senior executives.

Mainstream scientists minimize the message at every turn. As we’ve known for years, scientists almost invariably underplay climate impacts. I’m not implying conspiracy among scientists. Science selects for conservatism. Academia selects for extreme conservatism. These folks are loathe to risk drawing undue attention to themselves by pointing out there might be a threat to civilization. Never mind the near-term threat to our entire species (they couldn’t care less about other species). If the truth is dire, they can find another, not-so-dire version. The concept is supported by an article in the February 2013 issue of Global Environmental Change pointing out that climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama.”

In other words, science selects for conservatism (aka picking cherries long after they are ripe). Science, after all, is merely the process of elucidating the obvious. Climate-change scientists routinely underestimate impacts “by erring on the side of least drama” (aka looking for the cherries long after they’ve fallen off the tree, onto the ground, and been consumed by rodents).

The feedbacks are too numerous, the inertia too strong. We fired the clathrate gun by 2007 or earlier, coincident with crossing the point of no return for climate change. The corporate media and corporate governments of the world keep lying, and too few hold them accountable.

____________

This essay is permalinked at Seemorerocks, Speaking Truth to Power and Before It’s News.

____________

With an eye to improving my “bedside manner” when I deliver presentations, I’ve recently become a certified grief-recovery counselor. A brief summary of the program, which I learned about from a contact on Facebook, is here.

I was extremely impressed by the workshop. In fact, I told the facilitator it was about a thousand times better than I expected halfway through the first of four emotionally wrenching days. The facilitator was among the best teachers I’ve ever seen.

I learned about my own grief, and how to deal with it. I learned dealing with grief is a process that requires practice. I learned that some losses associated with individuals represent opportunities to move on from the relationship.

I have suffered many of the usual and customary losses typically associated with grief, along with a few others. Who knew there are more than 40 kinds of losses? These include moving, losing a job, divorce, death of a loved one, and many others. I suffered considerable grief when I left the university: the loss of ego, friends, and colleagues was enormous, as was the sudden inability to teach.

I also learned a little bit about helping others deal with their own grief. That in itself is a big deal for a left-brained, science geek. I recommend this workshop to almost anybody who is willing to put themselves into the position of eager, heart-wide-open student.

I’m still working through the tools I picked up at the workshop. I suspect the process will continue for a long time. Like, as long as I have.

______________________

Please join me in supporting our friend OzMan as he literally walks away. Click here for more information.

____________

Thursday, 6 February 2013, 7:00 p.m., West End Cultural Centre, 586 Illice Avenue at Sherbrook, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, “Straight Talk About Climate Change”

Thursday, 20 February 2014, 5:15 p.m., Singer room, Eugene Public Library, 100 West 10th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Friday, 21 February 2104, 7:00 p.m., Vancouver Public Library, 901 C Street Vancouver, Washington, “Climate Chaos & Resistance to Ecocide: Talks by Guy McPherson and Deep Green Resistance”

Saturday, 22 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Bellingham Public Library, 210 Central Avenue Bellingham, Washington, “Climate Chaos”

Monday, 24 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., Odd Fellows Hall, 112 Haven Road, Eastsound, Washington (on Orcas Island), “Climate Chaos”

Wednesday, 26 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., San Juan Island Library, 1010 Guard Street, Friday Harbor, Washington

Thursday, 27 February 2014, 7:00 p.m., location to be determined, Tacoma, Washington

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 7-day seminar, 24-31 May 2014, Moho Creek, Belize, Central America.

The Next Step: Living Courageously in a World of Transition, a 14-day seminar, 12-25 June 2014, Izabal, Guatemala, Central America.

____________

Going Dark is available from the publisher here, from Amazon here, from Amazon on Kindle here, from Barnes & Noble on Nook here, and as a Google e-book here. Going Dark was reviewed by Carolyn Baker at Speaking Truth to Power and by more than 15 readers at Amazon.

Walking In An Anthropocene Wonderland

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:In the Anthropocene Epoch, in our manic flight from consequence and accountability and our attendant estrangement from empathic imagination, we have come to regard all the things of the world as fodder for our empty appetites, as commodified, meretricious objects that exist to distract us and then be discarded. By our actions, we are destroying the living things of the world by caprice. The fetishization of mechanization and its concomitant soulless and habitual reductionism has mortified our psyches inflicting alienation that we attempt to remedy with the palliative of perpetual media distraction…

Self-absorption, hubris and ignorance are traits that Unnecessary Death finds irresistible thus moves in for the seduction. The air is redolent with the intoxicating perfume of self-deception. When possessed by feelings of indestructibility, one feels immortal while dancing on the precipice overlooking a yawning abyss. Intoxicated: The rules of gravity don’t seem applicable. Yet the delusion of being imbued by the immortal makes consummation with Death inevitable. This is the manner that an addict is dispatched from the world. A compulsion to remain high provokes a jealous fury from the spurned ground and she smothers the errand consort in an endless embrace….

To avoid this lamentable fate, we, as a species, must listen to the earth’s entreaties. To demur, we invite our undoing. Ecocide should be regarded with the same sense of abhorrence as genocide, for the two abominations align to the same destination: The world shattered beyond recognition; mountains of corpses looming over a hideous and forsaken valley of denial.” -Phil Rockstroh

“Was watching Bill Moyers the other day. He was interviewing historian Richard Slotkin about the history of guns and violence in america. He says in his book gunfighter nation “Violence is an essential and necessary part of the process through which American society was established and through which its democratic values are defended and enforced” This ethos permeates all aspects of society. Violence, structural and a myriad of other forms of violence are necessary to the continuation of globalized capitalism. How do we rationalize the madness we have wrought?  Moyers cristalized it perfectly when he said: “…we create myths to help us organize our beliefs against the reality that we cannot factually deny.” Our genius at creating myths enables us to regard global, industrial scale ecocide with a bored yawn and an indifferent shrug. We are a mutant, locust like horde of “Happiness Machines” consuming ever more shit we don’t need to make us happy.  it enables us to continue, with brutal efficiency, cutting down tress; a vital part of our life support system, ornamenting them with toxic substances and piling piles of planned obsolescent trinket capitalism crap around their rootless trunks to celebrate a religious holiday that in all probability is one of the world’s greatest and most destructive myths.  Our myths enable our headlong rush to extinction. Our myths are unsustainable. The Great Mother  will make us fatally aware of that fact before long.” -OSJ

By Phil Rockstroh @ Dissident Voice:

According to a recent, exhaustive study commissioned by the US Department of Energy and headed by a scientific team from the U.S. navy, by the summer of 2015, the Arctic Ocean could be bereft of ice, a phenomenon that will engender devastating consequences for the earth’s environment and every living creature on the planet.

Yet, recently, Chuck Hagel, US Defense Secretary, said (in defiance of common sense and even a modicum of sanity) that the US military will escalate its presence in the Arctic, due to the fact that “[the] potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas.”

Secretary of Defense? More like Commissar of Mass Suicide.

This situation is like a family of self-destructive drunks inheriting a brewery.

Sans hyperbole, it is exactly like making the choice to exist as fatally self-involved consumers as opposed to multidimensional human beings possessed of heart, mind and soul.

I mean, just what kind of suicidal clowns flounce through life gibbering on about bacon straws, cupcakes, online images of kitty cats, and the latest Playstation model when the specter of extinction looms and their psychotic leaders are doubling down on the criteria of doom?

This is like giving Charles Manson the codes to nuclear missile silos.

In the Anthropocene Epoch, in our manic flight from consequence and accountability and our attendant estrangement from empathic imagination, we have come to regard all the things of the world as fodder for our empty appetites, as commodified, meretricious objects that exist to distract us and then be discarded. By our actions, we are destroying the living things of the world by caprice. The fetishization of mechanization and its concomitant soulless and habitual reductionism has mortified our psyches inflicting alienation that we attempt to remedy with the palliative of perpetual media distraction.

Devoid of the musk and fury of true communal engagement, this communion with electronic phantoms only exacerbates our alienation and decimates one’s ability to evince empathy, when, conversely, empathy is the quality required to feel the suffering that hyper-capitalist industrialization has wrought. If we are to pull back from the brink of extinction, we must lament what has been lost to cupidity.

Yet, one must resist the temptation to become intoxicated by grim prophesy. It is possession of the qualities of sadness and gravitas that separates an individual bearing accurate augury from false prophets. The tears of the world will saturate the soul of an individual who lives in the truth of our era of Climate Chaos and global-wide ecocide.

“And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking,
But I’ll know my song well before I start singing…” — Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain Gonna Fall”

Allow the images of thinning polar icecaps, of oceanic acidification and depletion, and of the 150 to 200 species of plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals that become extinct on a daily basis to permeate your heart and mind. Thus, you will know the tears at the heart of things.

Then decide what your song will be, arrange it according to your individual talents, and start to sing. Because we must end this paradigm or it will end us.

The changes we yearn for must be first glimpsed and nurtured in the heart. Creative expression (e.g., art, poetry, fiction, inspired prose) serves as the quickening agent of dreams. Language constellates from the quanta of possibility, where it gains scope and shape, so that ideas can become manifested by means of action and form.

The heart must be allowed to dream, grief, and yearn before the world itself even becomes possible.

When thwarted, life becomes seized with the quality of a reoccurring nightmare. Due to the ongoing, relentless destruction of the earth’s biosphere, the next episode of the planet’s periodic, epoch-ending Great Die Offs will not be caused by an earth-decimating comet but an earthbound (and apparently equally mindless) source i.e., us. Although we have been graced with life with all its possibilities and abundance, it has become apparent, we have fallen in love with Extinction.

Self-absorption, hubris and ignorance are traits that Unnecessary Death finds irresistible thus moves in for the seduction. The air is redolent with the intoxicating perfume of self-deception. When possessed by feelings of indestructibility, one feels immortal while dancing on the precipice overlooking a yawning abyss. Intoxicated: The rules of gravity don’t seem applicable. Yet the delusion of being imbued by the immortal makes consummation with Death inevitable. This is the manner that an addict is dispatched from the world. A compulsion to remain high provokes a jealous fury from the spurned ground and she smothers the errand consort in an endless embrace.

To avoid this lamentable fate, we, as a species, must listen to the earth’s entreaties. To demur, we invite our undoing. Ecocide should be regarded with the same sense of abhorrence as genocide, for the two abominations align to the same destination: The world shattered beyond recognition; mountains of corpses looming over a hideous and forsaken valley of denial.

Late capitalism’s putrefying paradigm has but one remedy for the devastation reaped by the system…insanely, more production and more consumerism. Bafflingly, despite the vast carnage inflicted and multiple promises betrayed, why does the storyline of the capitalist/consumer state still resonant with so many? Consumerism, in the US and elsewhere, is one of the few activities in the capitalist paradigm whereby fantasy and human libido merge (albeit a facsimile thereof). The mall, the big box store, even upscale stores and department stores are phantasmagoric agoras, much like the fairways of old style roving carnivals wherein the modus operandi of carnies was to bamboozle gullible, repressed rubes by bait-and-switch scams involving the commodification of curiosity and desire.

The social repression, attendant atomization and ennui inherent to existence in the corporate/consumer age give rise to a form of a pent-up longing for release. And that is where the bait-and-switch comes in, vis-à-vis Edward Bernay’s and his mercenary misappropriation of his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s theories regarding the dreamscape of desire (i.e., Eros). When we approach the dominion of Eros, we enter the realm of both beauty (Eros’ mother Aphrodite) and soul, Psyche (Eros’ eternal mate). Although the union of Eros and Psyche is fraught with mistrust, betrayal, outside interference (both human and divine), estrangement, struggle, the lover’s shattered bond wends, ultimately, toward rapprochement. (Familiar tumult to anyone who has pursued art and surrendered to love.)

In short, to survive the exploitation of the consumer paradigm, it becomes imperative to regain one’s soul. First step: the reclamation of beauty. Hint: The quality cannot be found in a retail outlet.

Beauty reveals herself in the longings of the heart. Tell me what you long for and I will tell you who you are. Hint: You are not the sum total of your consumer preferences.

Living things are closer to works of art: never finished, yet ever alluding to something hidden, subtle, and sublime — an immense and deathless quality within that we long to quantify, but remains elusive. This is what we concretize — despoil — when we seek consumer gratification.

Eric Hoffer summarized the hapless state of being thus: “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”

That is why the following incantation cast by the dark magicians of the consumer paradigm seizes the psyche, literally steals one’s soul: “No one can eat just one.”

Attention: Consumer State shoppers: The world was never your oyster — nor your salt-spiked snack food. Beware, although you believe you possess the consumer item, in reality, the consumer item possesses you.

The heart is untamable. It is not a poor creature in a circus that can be goaded and bribed into performing demeaning tricks. When we attempt to dominate and coerce it into accepting the dishonest, the artificial, and the demeaning, the heart will lash out, sink into sorrow, or even damage its host.

My heart grieves yet will not cease to yearn that we, as a species, will begin to resist, heart, mind and spirit, the reckless course that the economic elite have set us upon. We do not have the luxury of acting as though the carnage wrought by the Anthropocene Epoch is not upon us. We cannot deceive ourselves that the crisis can be ignored.

By choosing to retreat from the challenge, one exiles oneself from the heart’s landscape — a state of being comprised of angst and ashes. In this limbo of destiny deferred, the heart turns away from you. Your face will have become unrecognizable to it. Yet the moment one calls it by its name a rapprochement can begin.

How not to be a bystander in your own life:

Be attentive to the things of the world that evoke within you quicksilver enthusiasm or roil you with apprehension.

Remain open, allow yourself to be remade by the interplay of innocence and experience…by transitory wonders and eternal forms.

Tell the story of it all, in your own time and in your own way, and whenever and wherever you can.

Never bore your audience.

The above can be achieve by telling an honest tale. In short, like an inspired storyteller who appropriates artifice to limn reality, you will be able to lie the truth. If you do so, people will be moved or angered — but they will not be bored.

Before us, the denizens, operatives, propagandists and enforcers of the old order grow more certain of their convictions in direct proportion to its accelerating rate of decay. Stoned-faced phalanxes of soldiers and bristling clutches of militarized cops stand guard before the entrances of shoddy, swaying towers. But lies cannot be built to last. The lipless grins of a billion skulls mock the illusory staying power of deceit, while the perennial yearnings of the heart and its perpetual coupling with the eternal present endure. Love songs ring out among the rot of empires.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at phil@philrockstroh.com and FaceBook. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil’s website.

Welcome To The Desert Of The Real: The Inevitability Of Radical Climate Change

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm
http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/09/columbia-glacier-2006-2012-990x450.jpg

The Columbia Glacier in Columbia Bay, Alaska photographed in 2006 (left) and again in 2012. When Balog first photographed the debris-streaked Columbia Glacier, its face had retreated 11 miles since 1980. That pace compelled him to launch the Extreme Ice Survey, installing cameras at 18 glaciers to witness climate change. Iceberg-choked Prince William Sound reveals that the retreat of the Columbia Glacier is accelerating: It’s lost two more miles of ice in six years. And since 1980 it has diminished vertically an amount equal to the height of New York’s Empire State Building.

Oldspeak: “Radical climate change is already upon us, and it will only get worse, decade-by-decade, because world governments refuse to address the issue in a meaningful and corrective manner. Climate talks amongst nations (19 meetings, so far) are merely gabfests where a bunch of dignitaries meet to pontificate but never achieve… Meanwhile, the world’s climate is  radically changing right before our eyes, but like all issues outside of mainstream news, the clairvoyance of the few (scientists) is seldom heeded by the many.” -Robert Hunziker

“Just saw “Chasing Ice” with acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog, if you’ve not seen it I highly recommend it.  Powerful work.  Incontrovertible visual evidence that our planetary air conditioner is being ever more quickly disintegrated by warming that has resulted from human caused environmental and climate change.  The rate of glacial melting the past 10 years has been equal to that of the previous 100. Once the air conditioner is broken, it’ll be all she wrote. The most damaging Greenhouse gas, methane is venting into the atmosphere globally, from more and more previously frozen ice shelves and deep-sea beds at an ever-increasing rate. These feedbacks are irreversible.  it’s only a matter of time before enough methane is vented to trigger catastrophic runaway climate change. We need to come to terms with the inevitable decline and demise of the virulent and ecocidal industrial civilization that wrought this destruction.” -OSJ

By Robert Hunziker @ Dissident Voice:

Readers of this article will likely live to see climate change so disruptive and damaging that it will alter the Western world’s standard of living. In fact, the onset of radical climate change is already evident. It has already started. This article will examine the incipience of this far-reaching event, which will change the world forever.

Radical climate change is already upon us, and it will only get worse, decade-by-decade, because world governments refuse to address the issue in a meaningful and corrective manner. Climate talks amongst nations (19 meetings, so far) are merely gabfests where a bunch of dignitaries meet to pontificate but never achieve.

One after another, after another, public treasuries spend millions to send delegations to climate talks without success, and it is becoming crystal clear that the developing nations and the developed nations will never harmonize until radical climate change is so obviously destructive that there is no choice but to come to terms. Then, they’ll meet and come together with a plan, but it will be too late.

Meanwhile, the world’s climate is  radically changing right before our eyes, but like all issues outside of mainstream news, the clairvoyance of the few (scientists) is seldom heeded by the many.

Indisputable Evidence of Radical Climate Change in the Ocean

The impending dangers of climate change are mostly hidden from public view. This may explain why the problem is under-appreciated and under-reported. From the Arctic to Antarctica climate abnormalities are dangerously lurking on the surface and in the water.

For example, one extremely serious problem starts at the base of the food chain in the ocean. This is the result of acidification because of the ocean absorbing excessive quantities of carbon dioxide (30% of CO2 emissions) caused by burning fossil fuels, as well as excessive amounts of heat (90% of the planet’s heat.) In consequence, marine phytoplankton, of which there are 5,000 species, are negatively affected, thus, threatening the base of the food chain. As well, and regarding humankind, phytoplankton is responsible for half of the Earth’s oxygen; every other breath you take comes from these mysterious, wondrous organisms.

Here are some examples of acidification at work: Elevated levels of domoic acid, the agent of Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning, have been reported in the coastal waters of Southern California. And, along the U.S. West Coast scientists are witnessing, in real time, the devastating impact of acidification in oyster fisheries.

According to Jane Luchenco, former director of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the effects of acidification are already present in some oyster fisheries, like the West Coast of the U.S.  According to Luchenco, “You can actually see this happening… It’s not something a long way into the future. It is a very big problem.”

In the Southern Ocean, scientists, using electron microscopes, have measured severe shell dissolution of Pteropods, which are at the base of the food chain and a food source for everything from krill to large whales.

And, off the Northern Coast of California scientists are finding water that’s acidic enough to start dissolving seashells. As a consequence, the base of the marine food chain is already in the early stages of a struggle to reproduce and survive because of acidification caused by fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

“If the current carbon dioxide emission trends continue… the ocean will continue to undergo acidification, to an extent and at rates that have not occurred for tens of millions of years… nearly all marine life forms that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons studied by scientists thus far have shown deterioration due to increasing carbon dioxide levels in seawater.” 1

According to an article, Ocean Acidification, National Geographic, April 2011, “… in 2008 a group of more than 150 leading researchers issued a declaration stating that they were deeply concerned by recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry, which could within decades severely affect marine organisms, food webs, biodiversity, and fisheries.” Alas, this is already happening.

Moreover, coral reefs around the world are under attack. Again, the problem is excessive levels of CO2: When atmospheric CO2 levels increase and absorb into the ocean carbonate ions become scarcer in the water. Studies reveal that coral skeleton growth has been shown to decline linearly as the carbonate concentration declines because of excessive CO2 levels.

Coral reefs are as crucial to marine life as food, water and air are to humans. Up to nine million marine species live on or around coral reefs. Worldwide, twenty percent (20%) of coral reefs are already gone and another fifty percent (50%) are on the verge of total collapse.

According to Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, OneWorld (UK) Video, August 2011: “I think if we continue on the current trajectory, we are looking at a mass extinction of marine species even if only coral reef systems go down, which it looks like they will certainly by the end of the century.”

Along these lines, scientists are only too aware of how damaging excessive amounts of fossil fuel emissions are to the ocean, and they have repeatedly expressed alarm. Nevertheless, the general public and mainstream media only see the surface of the water, which never changes. However, according to the International Programme on the State of the Ocean d/d October 3, 2013, “The next mass extinction may have already begun.”

Methane & Altered Jet Streams

Methane, which has been trapped in hydrates and permafrost for millennia, is only now starting to escape into the atmosphere in enormous quantities because of the dramatic climatic changes in the Arctic, which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet. This poses a serious threat of runaway global warming, leading to a sweltering planetary environment.

Additionally, the climate change abnormalities in the Arctic are altering the jet streams, which, in turn, negatively impacts weather patterns all across the Northern Hemisphere. This is happening in real time right now.

“Could the World be in Imminent Danger and Nobody is Telling?” (An assessment by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG): 
”Uniquely and fearlessly AMEG has studied key non-linear trends in the Earth-human System and reached the stunning conclusion that the planet stands at the edge of abrupt and catastrophic climate change as a result of an unprecedented rate of change in the Arctic.” Furthermore, according to AMEG, here’s the risk: “An extremely high international security risk of acute climate disruption followed by runaway global warming.”

Methane (CH4) is over twenty times more powerful, over a 100-year period, per molecule, than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Or, put another way, methane is more effectual than carbon dioxide at absorbing infrared radiation emitted from the earth’s surface and preventing it from escaping into space. Methane, during its first few years upon entering the atmosphere, is 100 times as powerful as an equal weight of CO2.

As it happens, it appears excessive levels of methane are just now starting to seriously impact the Earth’s atmosphere in a big way!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, as of February 2013, methane levels in the atmosphere are measured at 1,874 ppb (parts per billion). This level, in an historical context, is more than twice as high as any time since 400,000 years before the industrial revolution. In the past, methane has ranged between 300-400 ppb during glacial periods and 600-700 ppb during warm interglacial periods.

“There are three huge reservoirs of Arctic methane till recently safely controlled by the Arctic freezing cold environment. They are now all releasing additional methane to the atmosphere as the Arctic rapidly warms.” (Arctic Methane, Arctic Methane Emergency Group).

As of a couple of years ago, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev, surveying 10,000 square miles of sea off the coast of Eastern Siberia, made a terrifying discovery of “fountains” of methane one-half mile across erupting from Arctic sea ice, coming to surface like a boiling pot of water on a stove top. The research team located more than 100 fountains, and they believe there could be thousands. These are methane fields on a scale never before witnessed by scientists.

In stark contrast to these warnings by scientists, the climate denialists or cooling crowd have been crowing just recently about a revival of the Arctic sea ice in 2013, but their calculations only measure the  “extent” of sea ice. Au contraire: Sea ice “extent” is a two dimensional measurement. Whereas, three dimensions, including thickness, gives volume (the Arctic has already lost 40% of its volume) and on this basis the sea ice is decreasing by the year, every year for 30 years. However, the final numbers for 2012-13 are not yet known for certain, and may have gone up for one year, as occasionally happens in any given year.

There is, however, evidence of continued ice loss during the most recent season, according to Mass Balance Buoy readings conducted by the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory; here are two actual (real) Mass Balance Buoy readings of ice thickness (gain or loss) during the 2012-13 Arctic ice melt season: (#1) 2012D-ID Code: 300025010123530 in Multi-Year Ice in Beaufort Sea from 8/27/2012 ice thickness of 335cm to 8/28/2013 ice thickness 157cm, a loss of six (6’) feet; (#2) 2012M – ID Code: 300025010206570 in Multi-Year Ice at Fram Straight (Deployed by Norwegian Polar Institute) 8/29/2012 ice thickness 250cm to 9/02/2013 ice thickness 121cm, a loss of four (4’) feet.

Additionally, the ice melt and warming at the Arctic instigates a critical climatic problem; i.e., disruption of the jet streams. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University has presented research to the scientific community that demonstrates that Arctic sea ice loss and warming impacts upper-level atmospheric circulation such that, “… slowing its winds and increasing its tendency to make contorted high-amplitude loops. Such high-amplitude loops in the upper level wind pattern (and associated jet stream) increase the probability of persistent (that is, longer-duration) weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere potentially leading to extreme weather due to longer-duration cold spells, snow events, heat waves, flooding events, and drought conditions.” And, isn’t this exactly what has been happening?

In fact, the results of this phenomenon of the warming Arctic disrupting the jet streams, which are found at the top of the troposphere at 35,000-40,000 feet (7-9 miles high), have shown up in disturbingly abnormal weather patterns all across the hemisphere.

For example, a slow-moving jet stream was behind a blocking weather pattern in the U.S. in 2012, causing the worst drought in 50 years; Syria’s embedded drought from 2006-11 is the most severe set of crop failures ever in the Fertile Crescent; India had two major droughts in four years with rainfall levels 70% below normal in the Punjab breadbasket; in 2010 then-PM Putin halted grain shipments by Russia because of drought conditions (worst in 40 years); China’s four-year drought is affecting 400 million people; China has the most severe drought conditions in the world (the worst in 200 years), and the list goes on and on.

And, the floods caused by embedded jet streams: Colorado in 2013 (once in 100-year flooding), Eastern Europe in 2013 (worst in 500 years); UK in 2012 (wettest since 1766); Canadian extreme flash floods (worst in 50 years), massive flooding in Pakistan (a once in 100-year flood) lasting for over one month, and the list goes on and on.

These extreme weather conditions, as a result of radical climate change, are normally classified as once-in-one-hundred-year events, but they’re happening yearly.

The world food supply is threatened by extreme drought and extreme flooding, and according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “… when you see rapidly rising food prices, of course it leads to instability. We’ve seen [this] in the last five years across many countries, and you see rising food prices translate almost directly into street protests.” 2

“Nations reliant on food imports, including Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan are especially vulnerable to unrest, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council… More than 60 food riots erupted worldwide from 2007 to 2009.” 3

Water Supplies Threatened as Glaciers Melt Around the World

The sudden appearance of Ötzi the Iceman frozen in the Alps (1991) may have been an early harbinger of the threat to water supplies around the world because glaciers are one of the world’s largest and most dependable water sources for billions of people, but the glaciers are melting very rapidly. Over time, the losses of glacial water supplies will likely lead to panic, political unrest, and ground wars.

In the high altitudes of South America 1,600 years of ice formation melted in 25 years according to a recent scientific expedition, which found extraordinarily large portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap melting away in just 25 years. Quelccaya is world’s largest tropical ice sheet.

Meredith A. Kelly, glacial geomorphologist (Dartmouth College), calculates the current melting at Quelccaya at least as fast, if not faster, than anything in the geological record books since the end of the last ice age.

“Throughout the Andes, glaciers are now melting so rapidly that scientists have grown deeply concerned about water supplies for the people living there.” 4

According to a study by the European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM), from 2000 to 2010, Alpine glaciers, on average, each lost more than 32.5 feet of thickness. Samuel Nussbaumer of World Glacier Monitoring Service, University of Zurich says the rate of shrinkage is increasing by the year, and he claims rising temperatures are the main explanation. “These ice giants could disappear literally in the space of a human lifetime, or even less,” according to Sergio Savoia of the WWF’s Alpine office.

The Alpine glaciers serve as Europe’s water tower, similar to how the Tibetan Plateau, the “Third Pole,” serves as the water tower for India and China and neighboring countries. And, Chinese scientists report significant measured glacial melting over the past 30 years. As well, the glaciers feed the big, commercial rivers like the Yangtze, Rhone, Po, and the Danube. And, India and China are both dependent upon the glaciers for crop irrigation for a couple billion people.

The fallout from radical global climate change, on a worst-case basis, will result in society reverting to a Paleolithic economy like the hunter-gatherer societies around 500,000 B.C. with war-like factions composed of roughshod groups taking matters into their own hands, as desperate people resort to desperate measures when fighting for survival. After all, by then, lame governments will have proven ineffective; why not take matters into one’s own hands, as marauding thugs crash through the gates.

Solution

The inevitability of an era of radical climate change, altering every aspect of life, is nearly baked into the cake. Here’s why: Coal! Between China and India alone there are 1,200 new coal burning plants on the drawing boards, which is the easiest, cheapest way to produce electricity and power industrial plants, even though non-polluting renewables are equally up to the task, but more costly.

Already, China consumes as much coal as the U.S., the European Union, and Japan combined. And, consider this: According to David Mohler, Duke Power’s chief technology officer: “… China is preparing, by 2025, for 350 million people to live in cities that don’t exist now… They have to build the equivalent of the U.S. electrical system— that is, almost as much added capacity as the entire U.S. grid—by 2025. It took us 120 years.” 5

The only practicable solution to this festering problem of radical climate change is to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible by switching to renewable energy sources. However, it is extremely unlikely this will happen soon enough.

Both of the major U.S. political parties are gloating over upcoming “American Energy Independence” as the result of the use of hydraulic fracking recovery techniques for oil and gas whereby they utilize extreme high pressure to forcibly inject a concoction of fluids containing toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground.

Yes! They forcibly inject toxic carcinogenic chemicals underground!

  1. Dr. Richard Feely and Dr. Christopher Sabine. Oceanographers, “Carbon Dioxide and Our Ocean Legacy”, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, April 2006. []
  2. Isobel Coleman/Interview, “U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices”, Council on Foreign Relations, August 2, 2012. []
  3. Tony C. Dreibus & Elizabeth Campbell.  “Global Food Reserves Falling as Drought Wilts Crops”, Bloomberg News, August 9, 2012. []
  4. Justin Gillis, “In Sign of Warming, 1,600 Years of Ice in Andes Melted in 25 Years”, The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, April 4, 2013. []
  5. James Fallows.  “Dirty Coal, Clean Future“, The Atlantic, December. 2010. []

Robert Hunziker (MA in economic history at DePaul University, Chicago) is a former hedge fund manager and now a professional independent negotiator for worldwide commodity actual transactions and a freelance writer for progressive publications as well as business journals. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.

 

 

Breaking Free Of The Unholy Trinity: Time, Money & Ownership

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Oldspeak: “As I have come to integrate the reality of NTE, (Near Term Extinction) I realize the mental predicament for many people. If we accept that we are creating destruction of the Earth’s living systems with industrial civilization, and realize that our daily survival depends on this industrial civilization, a patriarchal system of enslavement of life, enforced with the concepts of time, money, and ownership — and religion (which requires an essay unto itself) — and, we also realize that there is little to nothing we can do to change any of that, well, that is often too painful to ponder any further. So most people just don’t…. I always hoped the destruction would end, hoped we could change, that we as a species would turn things around and finally protect and honor life. Now that hope is gone, so I simply chose to live in reality, to be one with the whole of life, and to help others who are willing and able to do the same.” -Christy Ceraso

By Christy Ceraso @ Nature Bats Last:

Author’s note: All of the women in this essay are highly intelligent, relatively independent thinking, remarkably creative, alternatively-minded women whom I admire. Hence they demonstrate the awful tenacity of the mental traps of time, money, and ownership I will be elucidating with these stories. Names have been changed.

A few months ago I was sitting on the couch thinking about life, and I said to my closest friend, “Jackie, private property is not real.” And her reflexive response was, “But, how would you live, I mean, what about your house?” She was referring to the home, and the small area of earth around the house, that my family occupies, for which we pay a monthly mortgage, with interest, to a bank, along with property taxes and several kinds of required insurance. I said, “Jackie, I don’t know how to undo the structures of our society. I am only saying that they are based on illusions, deceptions, and I think we all need to start talking openly about that. Because we all know it’s true — we know that no one owns the Earth — and yet we all go along with the system to protect our survival within it. However, we cannot begin to dismantle it, or in any way to be free of it, if we are not even going to admit that it’s a bunch of lies.” She looked at me and didn’t say another word. She really didn’t want to go there.

For her, and I think most people, it is very difficult to hold the two perceptions in understanding simultaneously: I am participating in a societal structure based on false concepts which dictate my life and upon which I depend on for my survival, and, there is nothing in the immediate or any foreseeable future that I can do to change that. This is hard to accept because the implication is that we are not free beings — we are enslaved, or, imprisoned, within a deceptive socio-economic system. This is a very unsavory circumstance to become aware of. So most people just don’t.

I hate to pick on my sweet friend again, because she is really one of my favorite people, but she is such a perfect illustration of our predicament, that I cannot resist. Jackie is always busy. She runs around town, from errand to errand, from job, to store, to child’s lessons, to mother’s classes, to doctor’s appointments, to therapist’s offices … on and on. Meanwhile, she wistfully dreams of retreating to a little cabin in the mountains, to be quiet, in no hurry, with no driving and no schedule, just her, her daughter, and nature. But there is her giant mortgage to pay, and her daughter’s private school tuition, and her husband and mother to look after, and on and on. Her entire day, almost every single day, is fixed, according to the clock. Like most people, she is chained to clock-time.

A couple of nights ago I sat “guard” outside a cave with a a woman, Sabrina, while her lover went into a lava tube for an overnight vision quest. The quester was planning to come out before dawn. Since it would be pitch black in the cave she could end up sleeping all day in there. So she had set her “alarm clock” to wake herself. (Why does waking up have to be alarming? The definitions of alarm from my Mac computer’s dictionary app are: fear, anxiety, apprehension, trepidation, nervousness, unease, distress, agitation, consternation, disquiet, perturbation, fright, panic. Do we really need to wake up and be alarmed by clock-time?)

As we settled into our sleeping bags Sabrina asked me if I had a time piece on me, and I replied that I had my cell phone, turned off. I gathered she wanted to set an alarm to coordinate waking up before dawn. I ignored the implication. Then she said, “Well, I told her to just wake me up.” The time dilemma solved, we moved on from the subject.

I didn’t sleep much, so in the morning I was awake well before sunrise. In the predawn light I started to pack up my gear. Sabrina expressed her curiosity about the time. “Well”, I said cheerfully, “I know its morning!” We walked some of our things over to the cars. As we moved among the quiet trees we absorbed moisture like moss in the misty rain that fell. Sabrina mentioned the time again. In response I wondered aloud at the plethora of mushrooms popping up everywhere. Finally, standing at the car, glaring evidence of our chain to industrial civilization, she asked me directly if I would check the time. So, I did. Snagged! Even when we had no schedule we had to adhere to, no place we had to be in the near future, even though we were doing this otherworldly shamanic thing, she had to know the frigging time! We walked back to the cave and met up with the quester who was just emerging. What difference in our experience did “knowing the time” make? None whatsoever! We can’t even take the shackles of clock-time off when we have the physical freedom to do it. We have all been well trained to keep the mental chains of clockocracy on ourselves at-all-times!

Yesterday I brought a few edible hibiscus cuttings to my son’s school and gave them away. I offered one to the teacher’s assistant, a single mother with a one-year-old baby, and she said “I’d take it but I don’t own … I don’t have anywhere to put it anyway.” Now, the reader must understand that this community is not an urban environment. The perennial plant I offered simply requires it’s thick, woody stem to be screwed into moist earth in the sun or partial shade. The edge of a forest facing south works great. Since it rains almost every day here, it is ridiculously easy to grow. A little mulch (ever-falling coconut palm leaves, or fresh kitchen scraps, really anything will do) and presto: healthy green food. For free. So I stood there a little baffled as she walked away, trying to make sense of her response. Now I can articulate my confusion: What does “owning” have to do with having food, anyway? In reality, nothing! But we don’t usually live in reality. Since she doesn’t “own” “private property” she either feels she doesn’t have the right to plant any food, or she doesn’t want to “invest” in something she may not have control over, and therefore access to, later. So, like most people, she has to have money so she can get her and her baby’s food from the store. The idea of private property has us chained to the money system, because we will not grow food or medicine unless we “own” the land where we live. However, buying land also requires money. So, unless we inherit land or money to buy it, there is little “free time” or physical energy left to “spend” to grow food when you have work to “make money” to pay just to live somewhere on the Earth.

Last weekend, at the end of a permaculture design class, a woman participant was in a lot of pain and could hardly stand. A small bug bite on her ankle that she had scratched had gotten infected, and the infection was suddenly spreading up her leg. It was Sunday evening so there were no doctors, except at the hospital emergency room, were available to her. My husband is a Traditional Chinese Medicine student, and I am a witch from way back, so I brought her home with me and we gave her everything we had and knew to help her. Some people die from jungle infections so this was not a joke. She got a lot better by morning and thankfully didn’t need a middle-of-the-night, three-hour emergency room run for antibiotics.

This woman expressed her deep gratitude to us for the healing help, but even more so for the hospitality. She is a young traveler working at a nearby retreat center, and when this happened she had no identification, no money, and no phone on her person, and no car, close family or friends anywhere nearby to call on. She was scared and alone and we gave her shelter, food, warm clothing, transportation, medicine, a comfortable place to sleep, reassurance, and love. I was more than happy to offer her whatever we had. From her response, it is clear that our kindness in itself was a form of healing for her. She is quite an independent, strong, warrior-woman and this was a vulnerable and humbling experience for her to be in such need. To have all of her needs met out of no-where by caring strangers was like a revelation. “We are all in this together,” I told her, because we are.

So, lately I began to remove the shackles of clock-time, money and ownership as much as possible. I have had practice doing this from an earlier, less fettered, pre-parenthood phase of my life. Back then it was easier, since I didn’t have a regular job, a fixed locale, debt, or monthly bills of any kind! Those were the days … if only I had not succumbed to the pressure to be “normal”!

I have begun in earnest to make the mental adjustments to reality within my present life circumstances. I recently missed some work appointments, but I gave myself plenty of slack for that, because I know that I actually am in reality free of clock-time, I know I want to live the freedom of reality as much as I possibly can, and I am trying to find the farthest limit. You see, I still have pay the mortgage, buy gas for the car, pay the student loans, and purchase food, clothing, and electricity for the family. I still have to pay attention to clock-time so I can have money, which I know is not real either, so I can survive within the prison of this patriarchal system called modern civilization. I cannot fully walk away from clock-time, money, or ownership any more than Guy McPherson can walk away from empire. Not yet.

But I can get greater and greater mental distance from the fuzzy blanket of deception, and I can create experiences of freedom and power in which I live in reality. Experiences in which I do not look at a clock, and I forget about clock-time for as long as possible. I know it isn’t real, so why should I think about it? Do you keep track of time, or does time keep track of you?

I am also beginning to create experiences in which I offer cuttings and seeds to people willing to plant them. At first I tried to work with the county to incorporate edible landscaping in a public park being developed. I got a lot of boro-cratic resistance and eventually gave up. (I later found out that the county had elicited community input for the development of this park, and that a group of people had spent many hours developing edible landscaping designs, which were duly discarded in subsequent drafts.) I will also be planting food and medicine — everywhere, permaculture style — not just in the gardens around the house I live in. I am beginning to plant the seeds of inspiration in others to do the same — guerrilla gardening. Food and medicine for everyone. For free.

I am creating experiences in which I welcome strangers and friends into my home to eat and sleep and be nurtured, making it their home too for as long as they are here. I sometimes stay the night at a friend’s place, or camp somewhere in a forest, or sleep on a beach, because I want to connect with the community of life all around me, and feel the freedom from the shackles of illusory ownership. I go on mini-walkabouts. Each flowing, unmeasured moment in which I walk, sit, swim, dance, squat and lay on the earth, I know that I am always home.

As I have come to integrate the reality of NTE, I realize the mental predicament for many people. If we accept that we are creating destruction of the Earth’s living systems with industrial civilization, and realize that our daily survival depends on this industrial civilization, a patriarchal system of enslavement of life, enforced with the concepts of time, money, and ownership — and religion (which requires an essay unto itself) — and, we also realize that there is little to nothing we can do to change any of that, well, that is often too painful to ponder any further. So most people just don’t.

I would guess that most people who are aware of NTE, and who accept that it has been unavoidably initiated, are people who have been feeling it, watching it, knowing it is coming, for most of their lives. I read George Orwells’s 1984 in 6th grade; it was 1979 and I was nine years old, and I could see that it was all happening already. At nine I also read a 600-page historical novel of the life of Sacagewea, and I began to learn what had been done to the native peoples of Turtle Island, and with what treachery the United States was founded. I identified with this indigenous woman who struggled to maintain her dignity and her sense of sanity while being used and abused by various men, trapped in the death culture of patriarchy. When I was nine I went into a depression, a semi-secret sorrow that never really left me. I have continued to witness the brutality unfold all around the world throughout the rest of my life. I have tried to help, in my own ways. Eventually I came to realize that I myself had been partially crushed from the very start, and that the wounded were going to endlessly stumble off the battlefield onto my bodywork table.

I always hoped the destruction would end, hoped we could change, that we as a species would turn things around and finally protect and honor life. Now that hope is gone, so I simply chose to live in reality, to be one with the whole of life, and to help others who are willing and able to do the same.

However, the human disposition typically includes an inability to quickly integrate extremely traumatic information. We usually try to make things “okay” even when they aren’t, so we can go on. We dissociate, we divert our attention, we create fantasies, another whole reality if we have to. Our individual nervous systems have varying degrees and types of resilience to pain and trauma. If you are able to look at reality now, especially at the reality of NTE, you probably have been doing so already to some extent or another, for a long time. You are probably able to integrate more pain than the average person. Personally, I always want as much reality as I can handle, because my observation is that when I am able integrate experiencing that much pain, it means I can also feel that much love. And, vice-versa. I suppose that could be called a blessing in disguise.

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Christy Ceraso is a bodyworker and counselor by profession, specializing in trauma resolution. In the face of near-term human extinction, she is coming out of the closet as a writer, speaker, and singer/songwriter. She lives on and with Hawaii island.
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McPherson’s latest essay for The Good Men Project was published Friday, 15 November 2013. It’s here.

McPherson was interviewed by Greg Moffitt for Legalise Freedom radio. The show was broadcast 15 November 2013, as described here.

McPherson was interviewed for an Algerian publication. The essay appeared today, 17 November 2013, and it’s here (in French).

McPherson’s work is featured in the full-length film embedded below.

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“I don’t know how to describe what I saw, it’s horrific… It’s like the end of the world”: Super Typhoon Haiyan Kills At Least 10,000, Makes 620,000 Climate Refugees

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm
A boy carrying a plastic bottle of water walks past a car which slammed into damaged houses after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, central Philippines November 10, 2013. REUTERS-Romeo Ranoco

Oldspeak: “Expect the death toll to rise significantly. Many of the worst affected areas have yet to be heard from. We are unable to adequately prepare for these increasing in frequency and devastating natural disasters. Rebuilding in devastated areas is folly. Extreme weather events will only get stronger and more devastating in the future. We’re still nibbling around the edges. We have to fundamentally change the way in which we organize our civilization. Profit and growth can no longer supersede the environment and climate. We must focus all our energy on creating climate resilient,environmentally co-existent, sustainable, low-growth, resource conserving communities. All old socioeconomic paradigms are no longer valid.” -OSJ

Related Story:

Typhoon Haiyan: at least 10,000 reported dead in Philippine province

By Manuel Mogato & Roli Ng @ Reuters:

TACLOBAN, Philippines (Reuters) – Rescue workers struggled to reach ravaged towns and villages in the central Philippines on Monday as they tried to deliver aid to survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced more than 600,000.

The United Nations said some survivors had no food, water or medicine. Relief operations were hampered because roads, airports and bridges had been destroyed or were covered in wreckage, it said.

President Benigno Aquino, facing one of the biggest challenges of his three-year rule, deployed soldiers to the devastated city of Tacloban to quell looting and said he might impose martial law or a state of emergency to ensure security.

Super typhoon Haiyan destroyed about 70 to 80 percent of structures in its path as it tore through Leyte province on Friday, said police chief superintendent Elmer Soria. After weakening, the storm headed west towards Vietnam.

Huge waves from one of the strongest storms ever recorded swept away coastal villages. Some officials likened the destruction to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who was in Tacloban, Leyte’s capital, before the typhoon struck.

“I don’t know how to describe what I saw. It’s horrific.”

The Philippines government and disaster agency have not confirmed the latest estimate of the number of deaths from the storm, whose sustained winds reached 195 miles per hour (313 km per hour) with gusts of up to 235 mph.

Soria, quoting local officials, said the estimated death toll so far was 10,000. That could climb once rescuers reach remote villages along the coast.

Nearly 620,000 people were displaced and 9.5 million “affected” across nine regions, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement. Local officials observed one mass grave of between 300 to 500 bodies in one area of Tacloban alone, it added.

About 300 people died in neighboring Samar province, said an official of the provincial disaster agency.

Across Tacloban, men, women and children walked carefully over splintered remains of wooden houses, searching for missing loved ones and belongings. Not one building seems to have escaped damage in the coastal city of 220,000 people, about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila.

Witnesses and officials described chaotic scenes. The city and nearby villages were flooded, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes.

Survivors queued in lines, waiting for handouts of rice and water. Some sat and stared, covering their faces with rags to keep out the smell of the dead from one of the worst disasters to hit the typhoon-prone Southeast Asian nation.

One woman, eight months pregnant, described through tears how her 11 family members had vanished, including two daughters. “I can’t think right now,” she said. “I am overwhelmed.”

U.S. MARINES ON WAY

About 90 U.S. Marines and sailors headed to the Philippines in a first wave of promised military assistance for relief efforts, U.S. officials said. President Barack Obama said the United States was ready to provide additional aid.

U.S. aid groups also launched a multimillion-dollar relief campaign. One group, World Vision, said a shipment of blankets and plastic tarpaulins would arrive from Germany on Monday as a first step in its plan to help 400,000 people.

An official of World Vision based in Cebu Province said there were early reports that as much as 90 percent of northern Cebu had been destroyed.

An aid team from Oxfam reported “utter destruction” in the northern-most tip of Cebu, the charity said.

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said it was rushing emergency supplies to the Philippines.

“Reaching the worst affected areas is very difficult, with limited access due to the damage caused by the typhoon to infrastructure and communications,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi said in a statement.

Most of the storm deaths appeared to have been caused by surging sea water strewn with debris that many said resembled a tsunami. Tacloban lies in a cove where the seawater narrows, making it susceptible to storm surges.

AQUINO SENDS IN TROOPS

Aquino said the government had deployed 300 soldiers and police to restore order in Tacloban.

Looters rampaged through several stores in the city, witnesses said. A TV station said ATM machines were broken open.

Mobs attacked trucks loaded with food, tents and water on Tanauan bridge in Leyte, said Philippines Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.

“Tonight, a column of armored vehicles will be arriving in Tacloban to show the government’s resolve and to stop this looting,” Aquino said on Sunday.

Aquino has shown exasperation at conflicting reports on damage and deaths. One TV network quoted him as telling the head of the disaster agency that he was running out of patience.

“How can you beat that typhoon?” said defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, when asked whether the government had been ill-prepared.

“It’s the strongest on Earth. We’ve done everything we can, we had lots of preparation. It’s a lesson for us.”

The U.N.’s OCHA said aerial surveys showed significant damage to coastal areas with heavy ships thrown ashore, houses destroyed and vast tracts of agricultural land “decimated”.

The destruction extended well beyond Tacloban.

Officials had yet to make contact with Guiuan, a town of 40,000 people that was first hit. Baco, a city of 35,000 in Oriental Mindoro province, was 80 percent under water, the U.N. said.

There were reports of damage across much of the Visayas, a region of eight major islands, including Leyte, Cebu and Samar.

Many tourists were stranded. “Seawater reached the second floor of the hotel,” said Nancy Chang, who was on a business trip from China in Tacloban City and walked three hours through mud and debris for a military-led evacuation at the airport.

“It’s like the end of the world.”

Six people were killed and dozens wounded during heavy winds and storms in central Vietnam as Haiyan approached the coast, state media reported, even though it had weakened substantially since hitting the Philippines.

Vietnam authorities have moved 883,000 people in 11 central provinces to safe zones, according to the government’s website. ($1 = 43.1900 Philippine pesos)

(Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Karen Lema in Manila and Phil Stewart and Charles Abbott in Washington. Writing by Dean Yates; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Mark Bendeich)

Sleepwalking To Extinction: Capitalism And The Destruction Of Life On Earth

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Smoke stacks.Oldspeak: “The world’s climate scientists tell us we’re facing a planetary emergency. They’ve been telling us since the 1990s that if we don’t cut global fossil-fuel greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 we will cross critical tipping points and global warming will accelerate beyond any human power to contain it. Yet despite all the ringing alarm bells, no corporation and no government can oppose growth. Instead, every capitalist government in the world is putting pedal to the metal to accelerate growth, to drive us full throttle off the cliff to collapse… We all know what we have to do: suppress greenhouse gas emissions. Stop overconsuming natural resources. Stop the senseless pollution of the Earth, its waters and its atmosphere with toxic chemicals. Stop producing waste that can’t be recycled by nature. Stop the destruction of biological diversity and ensure the rights of other species to flourish. We don’t need any new technological breakthroughs to solve these problems. Mostly, we just stop doing what we’re doing. But we can’t stop because we’re all locked into an economic system in which companies have to grow to compete and reward their shareholders and because we all need the jobs… Most of us, even passionate environmental activists, don’t really want to face up to the economic implications of the science we defend. That’s why, if you listen to environmentalists such as Bill McKibben or Al Gore, for example, you will get the impression that global warming is mainly driven by fossil-fuel-powered electric power plants, so if we just “switch to renewables” this will solve the main problem and we can carry on with life more or less as we do now. Indeed, “green capitalism” enthusiasts like Thomas Friedman and the union-backed “green jobs” lobby look to renewable energy, electric cars and such as “the next great engine of industrial growth” – the perfect win-win solution. This is a not a solution. This is a delusion, because greenhouse gasses are produced across the economy, not just by or even mainly by power plants… What this means is that, far from launching a new green-energy-powered “industrial growth” boom, barring some tech-fix miracle, the only way to impose “immediate and severe curbs” on fossil fuel production and consumption would be to impose an emergency contraction in the industrialized countries: drastically retrench and in some cases shut down industries, even entire sectors, across the economy and around the planet – not just fossil-fuel producers, but all the industries that consume them and produce GHG emissions – autos, trucking, aircraft, airlines, shipping and cruise lines, construction, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fabrics, cosmetics, synthetic fiber and fabrics, synthetic fertilizer and agribusiness CAFO operations, and many more. Of course, no one wants to hear this because, given capitalism, this would unavoidably mean mass bankruptcies, global economic collapse, depression and mass unemployment around the world… Given capitalism, today, tomorrow, next year and every year, economic growth will always be the overriding priority… Most of us, really, don’t want to face up to the economic implications of the need to put the brakes on growth and fossil-fuel-based overconsumption. We all “need” to live in denial and believe in delusions that carbon taxes or some tech fix will save us because we all know that capitalism has to grow or we’ll all be out of work. And the thought of replacing capitalism seems so impossible, especially given the powers arrayed against change. But what’s the alternative? In the not-so-distant future, this is all going to come to a screeching halt one way or another – either we seize hold of this out-of-control locomotive and wrench down this overproduction of fossil fuels, or we ride this train right off the cliff to collapse.” -Richard Smith

“i am reluctant to agree with the author’s call for a ‘one world government’ on environmental issues.  Anachro-syndicalism would be effective in addressing environmental issues on a global scale. Monoculture,  in any endeavour, but especially one that is global, is not feasible. Natural & environmental and all other forms of variation must be accounted for. And our focus should not just be on saving the humans, but to saving as much of life on earth as we can. Creating conditions for all life to be sustained in all encompassing balance. Focusing on humans exclusively, as though we and our needs are somehow separate from the the rest of our environment is what got us into this mess in the first place. Otherwise, spot on analysis of existing conditions and what needs to be changed for the betterment of all.  if we hope to ensure our survival, we must heal our Mother. ” -OSJ

By Richard Smith @ Real World Economics Review:

When, on May 10, 2013, scientists at Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii announced that global CO2 emissions had crossed a threshold at 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years, a sense of dread spread around the world – not only among climate scientists.

CO2 emissions have been relentlessly climbing since Charles David Keeling first set up his tracking station near the summit of Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958 to monitor average daily global CO2 levels. At that time, CO2 concentrations registered 315ppm. CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations have been climbing ever since and, as the records show, temperatures rises will follow. For all the climate summits, the promises of “voluntary restraint,” the carbon trading and carbon taxes, the growth of CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations has not just been relentless, it has been accelerating in what scientists have dubbed the “Keeling Curve.”

In the early 1960s, CO2ppm concentrations in the atmosphere grew by 0.7ppm per year. In recent decades, especially as China has industrialized, the growth rate has tripled to 2.1ppm per year. In just the first 17 weeks of 2013, CO2 levels jumped by 2.74ppm compared to last year — “the biggest increase since benchmark monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa began taking measurements in 1958.”[1] Carbon concentrations have not been this high since the Pliocene period, between 3 million and 5 million years ago, when global average temperatures were 3 degrees or 4 degrees Centigrade hotter than today, the Arctic was ice-free, sea levels were about 40 meters higher, jungles covered northern Canada and Florida was under water – along with coastal locations we now call New York City, London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney and many others.

Crossing this threshold has fueled fears that we are fast approaching “tipping points” – melting of the subarctic tundra or thawing and releasing the vast quantities of methane in the Arctic sea bottom – that will accelerate global warming beyond any human capacity to stop it: “I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat,” said Scripps Institute geochemist Ralph Keeling, whose father, Charles, set up the first monitoring stations in 1958: “At this pace, we’ll hit 450 ppm within a few decades.”

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a unit of Columbia University.[2]

Why are we marching to disaster, “sleepwalking to extinction” as The Guardian‘s George Monbiot once put it? Why can’t we slam on the brakes before we ride off the cliff to collapse? I’m going to argue here that the problem is rooted in the requirements of capitalist reproduction, that large corporations are destroying life on Earth, that they can’t help themselves, they can’t change or change very much, that so long as we live under this system we have little choice but to go along in this destruction, to keep pouring on the gas instead of slamming on the brakes.

The only alternative – impossible as this may seem right now – is to overthrow this global economic system and all of the governments of the 1% that prop it up and replace them with a global economic democracy, a radical bottom-up political democracy, an ecosocialist civilization. I argue that, although we are fast approaching the precipice of ecological collapse, the means to derail this train wreck are in the making as, around the world, we are witnessing a near-simultaneous global mass democratic “awakening,” as the Brazilians call it, almost a global uprising from Tahir Square to Zuccotti Park, from Athens to Istanbul to Beijing and beyond such as the world has never seen.

To be sure, like Occupy Wall Street, these movements are still inchoate, still mainly protesting what’s wrong rather than fighting for an alternative social order. Like Occupy, they have yet to clearly and robustly answer that crucial question, “Don’t like capitalism? What’s your alternative?” Yet they are working on it, and they are for the most part instinctively and radically democratic. And in this lies our hope. I’m going to make my case in the form of six theses:

1. CAPITALISM IS, OVERWHELMINGLY, THE MAIN DRIVER OF PLANETARY ECOLOGICAL COLLAPSE

From climate change to resource overconsumption to pollution, the engine that has powered three centuries of accelerating economic development revolutionizing technology, science, culture and human life itself is today a roaring, out-of-control locomotive mowing down continents of forests, sweeping oceans of life, clawing out mountains of minerals, drilling, pumping out lakes of fuels, devouring the planet’s last accessible resources to turn them all into “product” while destroying fragile global ecologies built up over eons.

Between 1950 and 2000 the global human population more than doubled from 2.5 billion to 6 billion. But in these same decades, consumption of major natural resources soared more than sixfold on average, some much more. Natural gas consumption grew nearly twelvefold, bauxite (aluminum ore) fifteenfold. And so on.[3]

At current rates, Harvard biologist E.O Wilson says, “half the world’s great forests have already been leveled, and half the world’s plant and animal species may be gone by the end of this century.” Corporations aren’t necessarily evil – although plenty are diabolically evil – but they can’t help themselves. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to do for the benefit of their shareholders. Shell Oil can’t help but loot Nigeria and the Arctic and cook the climate. That’s what shareholders demand.[4] BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and other mining giants can’t resist mining Australia’s abundant coal and exporting it to China and India. Mining accounts for 19 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product and substantial employment even as coal combustion is the worst driver of global warming. IKEA can’t help but level the forests of Siberia and Malaysia to feed the Chinese mills building its flimsy, disposable furniture (IKEA is the third-largest consumer of lumber in the world). Apple can’t help it if the cost of extracting the “rare earths” it needs to make millions of new iThings each year is the destruction of the eastern Congo – violence, rape, slavery, forced induction of child soldiers, along with poisoning local waterways. [5] Monsanto and DuPont and Syngenta and Bayer Crop Science have no choice but to wipe out bees, butterflies, birds and small farmers and extinguish crop diversity to secure their grip on the world’s food supply while drenching the planet with their Roundups and Atrazines and neonicotinoids. [6] This is how giant corporations are wiping out life on Earth in the course of a routine business day. And the bigger the corporations grow, the worse the problems become.

In Adam Smith’s day, when the first factories and mills produced hat pins and iron tools and rolls of cloth by the thousands, capitalist freedom to make whatever they wanted didn’t much matter because they didn’t have much impact on the global environment. But now everything is produced in the millions and billions – then trashed today and reproduced all over again tomorrow. When the planet is looted and polluted to support all this frantic and senseless growth, it matters – a lot.

The world’s climate scientists tell us we’re facing a planetary emergency. They’ve been telling us since the 1990s that if we don’t cut global fossil-fuel greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 we will cross critical tipping points and global warming will accelerate beyond any human power to contain it. Yet despite all the ringing alarm bells, no corporation and no government can oppose growth. Instead, every capitalist government in the world is putting pedal to the metal to accelerate growth, to drive us full throttle off the cliff to collapse. Marxists have never had a better argument against capitalism than this inescapable and apocalyptic “contradiction.”

2. SOLUTIONS TO THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS ARE BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS, BUT WE CAN’T TAKE THE NECESSARY STEPS TO PREVENT ECOLOGICAL COLLAPSE BECAUSE, SO LONG AS WE LIVE UNDER CAPITALISM, ECONOMIC GROWTH HAS TO TAKE PRIORITY OVER ECOLOGICAL CONCERNS OR THE ECONOMY WILL COLLAPSE AND MASS UNEMPLOYMENT WILL BE THE RESULT

We all know what we have to do: suppress greenhouse gas emissions. Stop overconsuming natural resources. Stop the senseless pollution of the Earth, its waters and its atmosphere with toxic chemicals. Stop producing waste that can’t be recycled by nature. Stop the destruction of biological diversity and ensure the rights of other species to flourish. We don’t need any new technological breakthroughs to solve these problems. Mostly, we just stop doing what we’re doing. But we can’t stop because we’re all locked into an economic system in which companies have to grow to compete and reward their shareholders and because we all need the jobs.

Take Climate Change … 

James Hansen, the world’s pre-eminent climate scientist, has argued that to save the humans, “Coal emissions must be phased out as rapidly as possible, or global climate disasters will be a dead certainty. … Yes, [coal, oil, gas] most of the fossil fuels must be left in the ground. That is the explicit message that the science provides.”

Humanity treads today on a slippery slope. As we continue to pump greenhouse gases in the air, we move onto a steeper, even more slippery incline. We seem oblivious to the danger – unaware of how close we may be to a situation in which a catastrophic slip becomes practically unavoidable, a slip where we suddenly lose all control and are pulled into a torrential stream that hurls us over a precipice to our demise. [7]

But how can we do this under capitalism? After his climate negotiators stonewalled calls for binding limits on CO2 emissions at Copenhagen, Cancun, Cape Town and Doha, President Obama is now trying to salvage his environmental “legacy” by ordering his EPA to impose “tough” new emissions limits on existing power plants, especially coal-fired plants.[8] But this won’t salvage his legacy or, more importantly, his daughters’ future. How much difference would it make, really, if every coal-fired power plant in the United States were to shut down tomorrow when US coal producers are free to export their coal to China, which they are doing, and when China is building another coal-fired power plant every week? The atmosphere doesn’t care where the coal is burned. It only cares how much is burned. Yet how could Obama tell American mining companies to stop mining coal? This would be tantamount to socialism. But if we do not stop mining and burning coal, capitalist freedom and private property is the least we’ll have to worry about.

Same with Obama’s “tough” new fuel-economy standards. In August 2012, Obama boasted that his new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards would “double fuel efficiency” in the next 13 years to 54.5 mpg by 2025, up from 28.6 mpg at present – cutting vehicle CO2 emissions in half, so helping enormously to “save the planet.” But as the Center for Biological Diversity and other critics have noted, Obama was lying as usual. First, his so-called “tough” new CAFE standards were so full of loopholes, negotiated with Detroit, that they actually encourage more gas guzzling, not less.[9] That’s because the standards are based on a sliding scale according to “vehicle footprints” – the bigger the car, the less mileage it has to get to meet its standard. So, in fact, Obama’s “tough” standards are (surprise) custom-designed to promote what Detroit does best – produce giant Sequoias, mountainous Denalis, Sierras, Yukons, Tundras and Ticonderogas, Ram Chargers and Ford F series luxury trucks, grossly obese Cadillac Escalades, soccer kid hauler Suburbans, even 8,000-pound Ford Excursions and let these gross gas hogs meet the “fleet standard.” Many of these ridiculously oversized and overaccessorized behemoths are more than twice the weight of cars and pickup trucks in the 1950s.[10] These cars and “light” trucks are among the biggest-selling vehicles in America today (GM’s Sierra is No. 1), and they get worse gas mileage than American cars and trucks half a century ago. Cadillac’s current Escalade gets worse mileage than its chrome-bedecked tailfin-festooned land yachts of the mid-1950s![11] Little wonder Detroit applauded Obama’s new CAFE standards instead of damning them. Secondly, what would it matter even if Obama’s new CAFE standards actually did double fleet mileage – when American and global vehicle fleets are growing exponentially? In 1950 Americans had one car for every three people. Today we have 1.2 cars for every American. In 1950 when there were about 2.6 billion humans on the planet, there were 53 million cars on the world’s roads – about one for every 50 persons. Today, there are 7 billion people but more than 1 billion cars. And industry forecasters expect there will be 2 billion to 2.5 billion cars on the world’s roads by midcentury. China is expected to have 1 billion.[12] So, at the end of the day, incremental half-measures like CAFE standards can’t stop rising GHG missions. Barring some technical miracle, the only way to cut vehicle emissions is to just stop making them – drastically suppress vehicle production, especially of the worst gas hogs. In theory, Obama could at least simply order GM to stop building its humongous gas guzzlers and switch to producing small economy cars. After all, the federal government owns the company! But of course, how could he do any such thing? Detroit lives by the mantra “big car big profit, small car small profit.” Since Detroit has never been able to compete against the Japanese and Germans in the small-car market, which already is glutted and nearly profitless everywhere, such an order would only doom GM to failure, if not bankruptcy (again), throw masses of workers onto the unemployment lines (and devalue the GM stock in the feds’ portfolio). So given capitalism, Obama is, in fact, powerless. He’s locked in to promoting the endless growth of vehicle production, even of the worst polluters – and lying about it all to the public to try to patch up his pathetic “legacy.” And yet, if we don’t suppress vehicle production, how can we stop rising CO2 emissions?

In the wake of the failure of climate negotiators from Kyoto to Doha to agree on binding limits on GHG emissions, exasperated British climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows at the Tyndall Centre, Britain’s leading climate change research center, wrote in September 2012 that we need an entirely “new paradigm”: government policies must “radically change” if “dangerous” climate change is to be avoided:

We urgently need to acknowledge that the development needs of many countries leave the rich western nations with little choice but to immediately and severely curb their greenhouse gas emissions. … [The] misguided belief that commitments to avoid warming of 2 degrees C can still be realized with incremental adjustments to economic incentives. A carbon tax here, a little emissions trading there and the odd voluntary agreement thrown in for good measure will not be sufficient. … Long-term end-point targets (for example, 80% by 2050) have no scientific basis. What governs future global temperatures and other adverse climate impacts are the emissions from yesterday, today, and those released in the next few years.[13]

And not just scientists. In its latest world energy forecast released on November 12, 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns that despite the bonanza of fossil fuels now made possible by fracking, horizontal and deepwater drilling, we can’t consume them if we want to save the humans: “The climate goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade is becoming more difficult and costly with each year that passes. … No more that one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degree C goal. … ” [14] Of course the science could be wrong about this. But so far climate scientists have consistently underestimated the speed and ferocity of global warming, and even prominent climate change deniers have folded their cards.[15]

Emergency Contraction or Global Ecological Collapse

Still, it’s one thing for James Hansen or Bill McKibben of 350.org to say we need to “leave the coal in the hole, the oil in the soil, the gas under the grass,” to call for “severe curbs” in GHG emissions – in the abstract. But think about what this means in our capitalist economy. Most of us, even passionate environmental activists, don’t really want to face up to the economic implications of the science we defend. That’s why, if you listen to environmentalists such as Bill McKibben or Al Gore, for example, you will get the impression that global warming is mainly driven by fossil-fuel-powered electric power plants, so if we just “switch to renewables” this will solve the main problem and we can carry on with life more or less as we do now. Indeed, “green capitalism” enthusiasts like Thomas Friedman and the union-backed “green jobs” lobby look to renewable energy, electric cars and such as “the next great engine of industrial growth” – the perfect win-win solution. This is a not a solution. This is a delusion, because greenhouse gasses are produced across the economy, not just by or even mainly by power plants. Globally, fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation accounts for 17 percent of GHG emissions, heating accounts for 5 percent, miscellaneous “other” fuel combustion 8.6 percent, industry 14.7 percent, industrial processes another 4.3 percent, transportation 14.3 percent, agriculture 13.6 percent, land-use changes (mainly deforestation) 12.2 percent.[16] This means, for a start, that even if we immediately replaced every fossil-fuel-powered electricity-generating plant on the planet with 100 percent renewable solar, wind and water power, this would reduce global GHG emissions only by around 17 percent. What this means is that, far from launching a new green-energy-powered “industrial growth” boom, barring some tech-fix miracle, the only way to impose “immediate and severe curbs” on fossil fuel production and consumption would be to impose an emergency contraction in the industrialized countries: drastically retrench and in some cases shut down industries, even entire sectors, across the economy and around the planet – not just fossil-fuel producers, but all the industries that consume them and produce GHG emissions – autos, trucking, aircraft, airlines, shipping and cruise lines, construction, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fabrics, cosmetics, synthetic fiber and fabrics, synthetic fertilizer and agribusiness CAFO operations, and many more. Of course, no one wants to hear this because, given capitalism, this would unavoidably mean mass bankruptcies, global economic collapse, depression and mass unemployment around the world. That’s why in April 2013, in laying the political groundwork for his approval of the XL pipeline in some form, President Obama said “The politics of this are tough.” The Earth’s temperature probably isn’t the “number one concern” for workers who haven’t seen a raise in a decade, have an underwater mortgage, are spending $40 to fill their gas tank, can’t afford a hybrid car and face other challenges.”[17] Obama wants to save the planet. But given capitalism, his “number one concern” has to be growing the economy, growing jobs. Given capitalism, today, tomorrow, next year and every year, economic growth will always be the overriding priority – until we barrel right off the cliff to collapse.

The Necessity of Denial and Delusion

There’s no technical solution to this problem and no market solution either. In a very few cases – electricity generation is the main one – a broad shift to renewables could indeed sharply reduce fossil-fuel emissions in that sector. But if we just use “clean” “green” energy to power more growth, consume ever more natural resources to produce more and more junk we don’t need, then we would solve nothing and still would be headed to collapse. Agriculture is another sector in which reliance on fossil fuels could be sharply reduced – by abandoning synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and switching to organic farming. And there’s no downside there – just the resistance of the agribusiness industrial complex. But for the rest of the economy – mining, manufacturing, transportation, chemicals, most services (including construction, tourism, advertising, etc.), there are no such easy substitutes. Take transportation. There are no solar-powered ships or airplanes or trains on anyone’s drawing boards. Producing millions of electric cars instead of millions of gasoline-powered cars, as I explained elsewhere, would be just as ecologically destructive and polluting, if in somewhat different ways, even if they were all run on solar power.[18] Substituting biofuels for fossil fuels in transportation just creates different but no less environmentally destructive problems: Converting farmland to raise biofuel feedstock pits food production against fuels. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands to produce biofuels releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than the fossil fuels they replace and accelerates species extinction.[19] More industrial farming means more demand for water, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. And so on. Cap-and-trade schemes can’t cut fossil fuel emissions because, as I explained elsewhere,[20] business understands, even if some environmentalists do not, that “dematerialization” is a fantasy, that there’s no win-win tech solution, that capping emissions means cutting growth. Since cutting growth is unacceptable to business, labor and governments, cap-and-trade has been abandoned everywhere.[21] Carbon taxes can’t stop global warming either because they do not cap emissions. That’s why fossil fuel execs like Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil (the largest private oil company in the world) and Paul Anderson, CEO of Duke Energy (the largest electric utility in the United States), support carbon taxes. They understand that carbon taxes would add something to the cost of doing business, like other taxes, but they pose no limit, no “cap” on growth.[22] Exxon predicts that, carbon tax or no carbon tax, by 2040 global demand for energy is going to grow by 35 percent to 65 percent in the developing world and nearly all of this is going to be supplied by fossil fuels. ExxonMobil is not looking to “leave the oil in the soil” as a favor to Bill McKibben and the humans. ExxonMobil is looking to pump it and burn it all as fast as possible to enrich its shareholders. [23]

James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Barack Obama and most of us, really, don’t want to face up to the economic implications of the need to put the brakes on growth and fossil-fuel-based overconsumption. We all “need” to live in denial and believe in delusions that carbon taxes or some tech fix will save us because we all know that capitalism has to grow or we’ll all be out of work. And the thought of replacing capitalism seems so impossible, especially given the powers arrayed against change. But what’s the alternative? In the not-so-distant future, this is all going to come to a screeching halt one way or another – either we seize hold of this out-of-control locomotive and wrench down this overproduction of fossil fuels, or we ride this train right off the cliff to collapse.

Same with Resource Depletion

We in the industrialized “consumer economies” are not just overconsuming fossil fuels. We’re overconsuming everything. From fish to forests, minerals to metals, oil to fresh water, we’re consuming the planet like there’s no tomorrow.[24] Ecological “footprint” scientists tell us that we in the industrialized nations are now consuming resources and sinks at the rate of 1.5 planets per year. That is, we’re using natural resources like fish, forests, water, farmland and so on at half-again the rate that nature can replenish them.[25] According to the World Bank, the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s people accounts for almost 60 percent of consumption expenditures and the top 20 percent accounts for more than 76 percent of global consumption, whereas the bottom 40 percent of the world’s population account for just 5 percent. Even the bottom 70 percent of the world’s population accounts for barely 15.3 percent of global consumption expenditures.[26] Needless to say, the 70 percent wants and deserves a higher material standard of living. Yet if the whole world were to achieve this by consuming like Americans, we would need something like five more planets of natural resources and sinks for all of that.[27] Think what this means.

Take the case of China. Columbia University’s Earth Policy Institute predicts that if China keeps growing by around 8 percent per year, it’s current rate, Chinese average per capita consumption will reach current US level by around 2035. But to provide the natural resources for China’s 1.3 billion-plus to consume like America’s 330 million, the Chinese, roughly 20 percent of the world’s population, will consume as much oil as the entire world consumes today. They also will consume 69 percent of current world grain production, 62 percent of the current world meat production, 63 percent of current world coal consumption, 35 percent of current world steel consumption, 84 percent of current world paper consumption. (See Table 1.) Well, where on earth are the Chinese going to find the resources (not to mention sinks) to support all this consumption? China certainly doesn’t have the resources. That’s why the Chinese are buying up the planet. And that’s just China. What about the other four-fifths of humanity? What are they going to consume in 2035?

2013.11.10.Table1

Already, as resource analyst Michael Klare reviews in his latest book, The Race for What’s Left, around the world existing reserves of oil, minerals and other resources “are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.” This is driving miners and drillers to the ends of the earth, the bottom of oceans, to the arctic. We’re running out of planet to plunder so fast that serious people like Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have partnered with film director James Cameron to make life imitate art, to explore the possibility of mining asteroids and near planets. Avatar – the perfect capitalist solution to resource exhaustion (but the Marines will be Chinese). [28]

China’s Capitalist Environmental Nightmare

As Beijing has been choking on smog this year, Deutsche Bank analysts gloomily conclude that, barring extreme reforms, Chinese coal consumption and increased car ownership will push pollution levels 70 percent higher by 2025. They say that even if China’s economy slowed to 5 percent growth per year, its annual coal consumption still would rise to 6 billion tons by 2022, from the current 3.8 billion tons. Car ownership is expected to increase over the years to 400 million in 2030 from the current 90 million. For China to meet its goal of reducing PM2.5 particulate matter to 35 micrograms of per cubic meter by 2030, the government would have to take drastic steps – shut down large numbers of coal-fired power plants, sharply reduce the number of vehicles on the roads, and shut down many other polluting industries.

2013 1110-3a

Even then, air pollution would still be above the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (25 micrograms of PM2.5 particulates per cubic meter). The current national average is 75 micrograms per cubic meter. In January, PM2.5 levels in Beijing reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter.[29] But here again, the problem is that ever since China turned onto the “capitalist road” and made its economy and employment ever-more dependent upon market success like the Western capitalist economies Deng Xiaoping sought to emulate, it can no more subordinate growth to the environment than can Barack Obama or ExxonMobil. Instead, China’s commie capitalists, like regular capitalists everywhere, have no choice but to put the pedal to the metal, do all they can to accelerate humanity’s collective drive to suicide.[30]

“Wild facts” and Unquestioned Assumptions

In mainstream discourse it is taken as an absolutely unquestioned given by scientists like James Hansen, environmentalists like George Monbiot, not to mention CEOs and presidents, that demand for everything must grow infinitely, that economies must grow forever. That’s why Hansen, Monbiot, James Lovelock and others tell us that, Fukishima notwithstanding, we “have to” go nuclear for energy production. In their view, the human population is headed for 9 billion to 10 billion. All these billions want to consume like Americans, so we will need more power for their washing machines, air conditioners, iPads, TVs and (electric) SUVs. We can’t burn more fossil fuels to produce this power because it will cook the planet. Renewables are great but can’t reliably meet relentlessly growing “base load” demand for electricity 24/7. Therefore, they tell us, we have no choice but to turn to nuclear power. (Besides, what could go wrong with the “newest,” “safest,” “fourth generation” reactors? What indeed?)[31]

But not one of these people stops to ask the obvious question: Where are all the resources going to come from to support insatiable consumption on a global scale? In the capitalist lexicon, there is no concept of “too much.” The word overconsumption cannot be found in Econ. 101 text books except as a temporary market aberration, soon to be erased as “perfect competition” matches supply to demand and shortages and surpluses vanish down the gullet of the consumer. The fact that we live on one small planet with finite resources and sinks is just beyond the capitalist imagination because, as Herman Daly used to say, the “wild facts” of environmental reality demolish their underlying premise of the viability of endless growth on a finite planet. So inconvenient facts must be denied, suppressed or ignored. And they are. When, on May 10,2013, climate scientists announced the latest “wild fact” that the level of heat-trapping CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere had passed the long-feared milestone of 400 ppm, an event fraught with ominous consequences for us all, this was met with total silence from the world’s economic and political elites. President Obama was busy preparing his own announcement – that he was clearing the way for accelerated natural-gas exports by approving a huge new $10 billion Freeport LNG facility in Texas. Obama’s Department of Energy gave Freeport LNG the green light because it “found the prospective benefits from exporting energy outweighed concerns about possible downsides.” No surprise there. Freeport LNG chief Michael Smith wasn’t anticipating downsides or any change in Obama’s priorities. He said: “I hope this means that more facilities will get approval in due time, sooner than later. The country needs these exports for jobs, for trade and for geopolitical reasons. … “[32] That’s why, even though, at some repressed level, most Americans understand that fracking the planet is disastrous, even suicidal for their own children in the long run, yet still for the present they have to make the mortgage payments and fill the gas tank. So they have little choice but to live in denial and support fracking.[33] And so we go, down the slippery slope.

No one stops to ask “what’s it all for?” Why do we “need” all this energy? Why do we “need” all the stuff we produce with all this energy? It’s high time we start asking this question. Economists tell us that two-thirds of America’s own economy is geared to producing “consumer” goods and services. To be sure, we need food, clothing, housing, transportation, and energy to run all this. But as Vance Packard astutely observed half a century ago, most of what corporations produce today is produced not for the needs of people but for the needs of corporations to sell to people. From the ever-more obscene and pointless vanities of ruling class consumption – the Bentleys and Maseratis, the Bergdorf Goodman designer collections, the penthouses and resorts and estates and yachts and jets, to the endless waste stream of designed-in obsolescence-driven mass market fashions, cosmetics, furniture, cars, “consumer electronics,” the obese 1000 calorie Big Macs with fries, the obese and overaccesorized SUVs and “light trucks,” the obese and ever-growing McMansions for ever-smaller middle class families, the whole-house central air conditioning, flat screen TVs in every room, iThings in every hand, H&M disposable “fast fashion” too cheap to bother to clean, [34] the frivolous and astonishingly polluting jet and cruise ship vacations everywhere (even Nation magazine cruises with Naomi Klein!), and all the retail malls, office complexes, the packaging, shipping industries, the junk mail/magazine/catalog sales companies, the advertising, banking and credit card “industries” that keep this perpetual consumption machine humming along, not to mention the appalling waste of the arms industry, which is just total deliberate waste and destruction, the vast majority – I would guess at least three quarters of all the goods and services we produce today just do not need to be produced at all. It’s all just a resource-hogging, polluting waste. My parents lived passably comfortable working class lives in the 1940s and 50s without half this stuff and they weren’t living in caves. We could all live happier, better, more meaningful lives without all this junk — and we do not need ever-more energy, solar or otherwise, to produce it. We could shut down all the coal-powered electric generators around the world, most of which, especially in China, are currently dedicated to powering the production of superfluous and disposable junk we don’t need and replace them with — nothing. How’s that for a sustainable solution? Same with nuclear. Since the 1960s, Japan built 54 nuclear power plants. But these were built not so much to provide electricity for the Japanese (their population is falling) as to power Japan’s mighty manufacturing export engine producing all those disposable TVs and Gameboys and Toyotas and Hondas the world does not need and can no longer afford to consume.

Endless growth or repair, rebuild, upgrade, recycle?

So, for example, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, we don’t really need a global automobile industry. At least we don’t need an industry cranking out hundreds of millions of new cars every year, because the industry is built on the principle of designed-in obsolescence, on insatiable repetitive consumption, on advertising and “cash for clunkers” programs to push you to crush your perfectly good present car for a “new,” “improved,” “bigger,” “more luxurious” model that is, in reality, trivially different, sometimes even inferior to the one you just junked. What we need is a different approach to transportation. To build a sustainable transportation system, we would have to divert most resources from auto production to public transportation, trains, buses and bicycling. But, of course, bikes and public transport aren’t feasible everywhere and for every task, particularly for those who live in the suburbs or the country or in the mostly rural developing world. So we would still need some cars and trucks – but many fewer if we “degrow” the economy to produce just what we need instead of for profit. As the VW ads below point out, properly designed and engineered cars can be sturdy but simple, economical to drive, easily serviceable and repairable (even DIY), perpetually rebuildable and upgradable as needed. I’m not suggesting an ecosocialist society should produce this particular “peoples’ car.” We need something with modern safety features. But to the extent that we would need cars in a sustainable society, we could save immense resources and GHG emissions by producing massively fewer cars and keep them running for decades, if not practically forever. Reducing global car production to something like, say 10 percent of current production – and sharing those – would not only save vast resources and eliminate massive pollution but also free up labor and resources for other uses. Let us shorten the working day – and take longer vacations.

The same goes for all kinds of industries.

Apple easily could build you iPhones and iMacs, in classic timeless designs that could last for decades, that could be upgraded easily. This would save mountains of resources, not to mention the lives of Congolese kids and Foxconn assembly workers. But how much profit is there in that? Apple could never justify such a humane and environmentally rational approach to its shareholders because shareholders (who are several stages removed from the “sourcing” process and don’t really care to know about it) are capitalists rationally looking to maximize returns on their portfolios, not to maximize the lifespan of the company’s products, let alone the lifespan of Congolese or Chinese. So to this end, you have to be convinced that your G4 phone is not good enough, that you “need” an iPhone5 because you need a phone that streams movies, that talks to you and more, and next year you will need an iPhone6. And even if you own an iPad3 you will soon “need” an iPad4, plus an iPad Mini, and how will you live without iTV? This incessant, exponentially growing demand for the latest model of disposable electronic gadgets is destroying societies and the environment from Congo to China and beyond.

IKEA easily could manufacture beautifully designed, high-quality, sturdy and durable furniture that could last a lifetime, that could be handed down to your children or passed on friends or antique shops for others. That would save a Siberia’s worth of trees, lakes of toxic dyes and finishes, and vast quantities of other resources. But why would it do that? IKEA is not in business to make furniture or save the planet. IKEA is in the business to make money. As Ingvar Kamprad, founder and CEO of IKEA (and Nazi symp), long ago discovered, the way to maximize profits (besides employing semi-slave forced prison labor in Stalinist regimes and moving his “Swedish” company from high-tax Sweden to low-tax Holland and Switzerland)[35] is to relentlessly cheapen production by, among other tactics, building flat-pack disposable particle-board furniture in accordance with the Iron Law of Marketing to sell “the cheapest construction for the briefest interval the buying public will tolerate” so IKEA can chop down more Siberian birch trees and sell you the same shoddy $59 bookcase all over again that will last you as long as the first one did – perhaps a bit longer this time if you don’t actually load many books of those flimsy shelves. As an IKEA commercial, directed by Spike Jonze, tells us: “an old lamp (or bookcase or table) doesn’t have any feelings; any piece of furniture can and should be replaced at any time.” The ad, and the whole IKEA approach, suggests that objects have no lasting meaning or value. They’re disposable; when we tire of them, we should just throw them out.[36] This is how IKEA got to be the third-largest consumer of wood in the world, most of it from East Europe and the Russian Siberia, where, according to the World Bank, half of all logging is illegal even by the Russian kleptocracy’s standards of legality. IKEA’s wholly owned Swedish subsidiary Swedwood has even been condemned by Russian nature conservancy organizations and the Global Forest Coalition for clear-cutting 1,400 acres a year of 200- to 600-year-old forest near the Finnish border, a process that “is having deep ramifications on invaluable forest ecosystems.”[37] This is how IKEA’s business plan based on endless “repetitive consumption” is wiping out life on Earth. Here again, the capitalist freedom to make such junk wouldn’t matter – if it weren’t costing the Earth.[38]

Given capitalism, there’s no way to “incentivize” GM to stop producing new cars every year, IKEA to stop making its disposable furniture, Apple to stop pushing you to lose your iPhone 4 and buy a 5. That’s what they’re invested in. Companies can’t change, or change much, because it’s too costly, too risky, shareholders won’t allow it. And given capitalism, most workers, most of the time, have no choice but to support all this suicidal overconsumption because if we all stop shopping to save the planet today, we’d all be out of work tomorrow. Ask your nearest 6-year-old what’s wrong with this picture.

Capitalism and Délastage in the Richest Country of Poor People in the World

Yet even as corporations are plundering the planet to overproduce stuff we don’t need, huge social, economic and ecological needs – housing, schools, infrastructure, health care, environmental remediation – go unmet, even in the industrialized world, while most of Third World lacks even basic sanitation, clean water, schools, health care, ecological restoration, not to mention jobs.[39] After 300 years of capitalist “development” the gap between rich and poor has never been wider: Today, almost half the world, more than 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day, 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. This while the world’s richest 1% own 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The richest 10 percent own 85 percent of total global assets, and half the world barely owns 1 percent of global wealth. And these gaps have only widened over time.[40] Tell me again where Karl Marx was wrong? In Congo is one of the lushest, most fertile countries on the planet, with untold natural wealth in minerals, lumber, tropical crops and more. Yet its resources are plundered every day to support gross overconsumption in the north while poverty, hunger and malnutrition are so widespread that Congo is now listed dead last on the 2011 Global Hunger Index, a measure of malnutrition and child nutrition compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute. While European and American corporations loot its copper and cobalt and coltran for iPhones and such, half the population eats only once a day and a quarter less than that. Things have reached such a state that in places like the capital Kinshasha parents can afford to feed their children only every other day. Congolese call it “délastage” – an ironic takeoff on the rolling electrical blackouts that routinely hit first one neighborhood then the next. In this context it means “Today we eat! Tomorrow we don’t.”

“On some days,” one citoyen told a New York Times reporter, “some children eat, others do not. On other days, all the children eat, and the adults do not. Or vice versa.” [41] This, in the 21st century, in one of the resource-richest countries on Earth, and brought to them by an economic system that capitalist economists never tire of telling us is “the best system humanity can come up with.”

Contraction or Collapse

If there’s no market mechanism to stop plundering the planet, then, again, what alternative is there but to impose an emergency contraction on resource consumption? This doesn’t mean we would have to de-industrialize and go back to riding horses and living in log cabins. But it does mean that we would have to abandon the “consumer economy” – shut down all kinds of unnecessary, wasteful and polluting industries from junk food to cruise ships, disposable Pampers to disposable H&M clothes, disposable IKEA furniture, endless new model cars, phones, electronic games, the lot. Plus all the banking, advertising, junk mail, most retail, etc. We would have completely redesign production to replace “fast junk food” with healthy, nutritious, fresh “slow food,” replace “fast fashion” with “slow fashion,” bring back mending, alterations and local tailors and shoe repairmen. We would have to completely redesign production of appliances, electronics, housewares, furniture and so on to be as durable and long-lived as possible. Bring back appliance repairmen and such. We would have to abolish the throwaway disposables industries, the packaging and plastic bag industrial complex, bring back refillable bottles and the like. We would have to design and build housing to last for centuries, to be as energy-efficient as possible, to be reconfigurable and shareable. We would have to vastly expand public transportation to curb vehicle use but also build those we do need to last and be shareable like Zipcar or Paris’ municipally owned “Autolib” shared electric cars. These are the sorts of things we would have to do to if we really want to stop overconsumption and save the world. All these changes are simple, self-evident, no great technical challenge. They just require a completely different kind of economy, an economy geared to producing what we need while conserving resources for future generations of humans and for other species with which we share this planet.

3. IF CAPITALISM CAN’T HELP BUT DESTROY THE WORLD, THEN WHAT ALTERNATIVE IS THERE BUT TO NATIONALIZE AND SOCIALIZE MOST OF THE ECONOMY AND PLAN IT DIRECTLY, EVEN PLAN MOST OF THE GLOBAL INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY?

With 7 billion humans crowded on one small planet running out of resources, with cities disappearing under vast clouds of pollution, with the glaciers and ice caps melting and species going extinct by the hour, we desperately need a PLAN to avert ecological collapse. We need a comprehensive global plan, a number of national or regional plans, and a multitude of local plans – and we need to coordinate them all. When climate scientists call on governments to cut CO2 emissions to stay within a global “carbon budget” if we want to keep a livable planet, isn’t that, in effect, calling for “planning,” indeed, planning on a global scale? When governments pump money into research projects like nuclear power or biotech or the Internet or clean energy projects, isn’t that planning? When scientists say that we need to massively reduce and limit consumption of oil, coal, trees, fish, all kinds of scarce resources or stop dumping chemicals in the world’s oceans – isn’t that, in effect, physical planning and rationing? And don’t we want that? Indeed, because we all breathe the same air, live in the same biosphere, don’t we really want and need something like a “one-world government” at least on environmental issues? How else can we regulate humanity’s collective impact on the global biosphere? How else can we reorganize and reprioritize the economy in the common interest and environmental rationality except in a mostly planned and mostly publicly owned economy?

What Would We Have To Do To Save the Humans?

If we want a sustainable economy, one that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” then we would have to do at least some or all of the following:

  1. Put the brakes on out-of-control growth in the global North – retrench or shut down unnecessary, resource-hogging, wasteful, polluting industries like fossil fuels, autos, aircraft and airlines, shipping, chemicals, bottled water, processed foods, unnecessary pharmaceuticals and so on. Abolish luxury-goods production, the fashions, jewelry, handbags, mansions, Bentleys, yachts, private jets etc. Abolish the manufacture of disposable, throw-away and “repetitive consumption” products. All these consume resources we’re running out of, resources that other people on the planet desperately need and that our children and theirs will need.

  2. Discontinue harmful industrial processes like industrial agriculture, industrial fishing, logging, mining and so on.

  3. Close many services – the banking industry, Wall Street, the credit card, retail, PR and advertising “industries” built to underwrite and promote all this overconsumption. I’m sure most of the people working in these so-called industries would rather be doing something else, something useful, creative and interesting and personally rewarding with their lives. They deserve that chance.

  4. Abolish the military-surveillance-police state industrial complex, and all its manufactures because this is just a total waste whose only purpose is global domination, terrorism and destruction abroad and repression at home. We can’t build decent societies anywhere when so much of social surplus is squandered on such waste.

  5. Reorganize, restructure, reprioritize production and build the products we do need to be as durable and shareable as possible.

  6. Steer investments into things society does need, like renewable energy, organic farming, public transportation, public water systems, ecological remediation, public health, quality schools and other currently unmet needs.

  7. Deglobalize trade to produce what can be produced locally; trade what can’t be produced locally, to reduce transportation pollution and revive local producers.

  8. Equalize development the world over by shifting resources out of useless and harmful production in the North and into developing the South, building basic infrastructure, sanitation systems, public schools, health care, and so on.

  9. Devise a rational approach to eliminate or control waste and toxins as much as possible.

  10. Provide equivalent jobs for workers displaced by the retrenchment or closure of unnecessary or harmful industries, not just the unemployment line, not just because workers cannot support the industry we and they need to save ourselves.

 “Necessary,” “Unnecessary” and Who’s the “Decider”?

Now we might all agree that we have to cut “overconsumption” to save the humans. But who’s to say what’s “necessary” and “unnecessary?” How do we decide what to cut? And who’s to decide? Under capitalism goods and services are rationed by the market. But that’s not sustainable because the market can’t restrain consumption, the market can only accelerate consumption. So we need a non-market approach. I don’t claim to have all the answers. This is a big question and I’m sure there are others better qualified than me to figure out solutions. But I would think the short answer has to be a combination of planning, rationing and democracy. I don’t see why that’s so hard. The US government planned significant parts of the US economy during World War II and rationed many goods and services. And we managed just fine. Actually, far form suffering unduly, Americans took pride in conservation and sharing. Besides, what’s the alternative? What other choice do we have? There are only so many ways to organize a modern industrial economy.

The challenges of physically planning the world economy in the interests of the 99% instead of for the 1% – reorganizing and reprioritizing the world economy to provide every person sufficient, nutritious, safe and delicious food, providing every human with high-quality, pleasurable, and aesthetically appealing housing, consolidating our cities to maximize the feasibility of public transportation, building great schools to enable every student to reach her or his fullest potential, providing top-notch health care for everyone on the planet, reorganizing and reprioritizing work so that everyone can find constructive, enjoyable, interesting, challenging and rewarding work, work that’s rewarding in many ways beyond simple remuneration, providing fun, enlightening and inspiring entertainment, reducing the workday so people can actually have time to enjoy themselves and pursue other pleasures, while, not least, how to limit our collective human impact on the planet so as to leave space and resources to all the other wonderful life forms with which we have the pleasure of sharing this unique and amazing planet – all these are no doubt big challenges. They’re very big political challenges. But they’re not an economic challenge. This is not Soviet Russia in 1917. I’m not proposing Maoist austerity. Today, there’s more than enough wealth and productive capacity to provide every person on earth a very satisfactory material standard of living. Even more than half a century ago, Gandhi was right to say then that “there’s more than enough wealth for man’s need but never enough for some men’s greed.” I doubt that it would even be much of a technical challenge. Google’s Larry Page predicts that the virtually everyone in the world will have access to the Internet by 2020. Quantifying human needs, global resources and global agricultural and industrial capacities is, I would think, a fairly pedestrian task for today’s computers, with all their algorithms.

Planning Can’t Work? 

Right-wing economists like Milton Friedman denied the very possibility of planning any economy, equating all planning with Stalinism. I don’t buy that. The question is this: Planning by whom, for whom? Stalinist central planning was planning from the top down, by and for a totalitarian bureaucracy. It completely shut out workers and the rest of society from the planning process. So it’s hardly surprising that planning didn’t work so well in the Soviet Union. But I don’t see what that tells us about the potentials of planning from the bottom up, of democratic planning. Besides, capitalists indirectly plan the national and global economies all the time. They meet every year at Davos to shape the world market for their benefit. They conspire to privatize medicine, schools, public transportation, force us to buy “their” water or eat GMO foods. They use the IMF and World Bank to shackle countries with debt then open them up to U.S. corporate takeover. They’ve been using their states for centuries to expropriate peasants and tribes, even to exterminate them when necessary as in the Americas, to steal and privatize common lands, break up pre-capitalist societies, reorganize, replan whole continents to set up the right “business climate” for capital accumulation. Late developers like Japan and South Korea used their state-backed MITIs and Chaebols to hothouse their own industries, protect them and strategically plan their integration into the world market. Capitalists are very good at planning – for their own interests. So why can’t we plan the economy for our own interests?

Government “Can’t Pick Winners”?

Disengenuous capitalist apologists like the Wall Street Journal are quick to condemn any perceived government funded “failures” like the recent bankruptcy of solar startup Solyndra Corporation bankrolled by the Obama administration as proof that “government can’t pick winners.” But Solyndra didn’t fail because solar is a losing technology. It failed because, ironically, capitalist Solyndra could not compete against lower-cost, state-owned, state-directed and state-subsidized competitors in China. Besides, since when do capitalists have a crystal ball? CEOs and corporate boards bet on “loser” technologies and products all the time. Look at the recent collapse of electric car startup Fisker Automotive, or Better Place, the Israeli electric vehicle charging/battery swapping stations venture.[42] These join a long list of misplaced private bets from Sony’s Betamax to Polaroid, Ford’s Edsel, Tucker Autonobilie, DeLorean Motor Company and all the way back to White Star Lines Titanic and the Tulip Mania. CEOs and boards not only pick losing technology and products, they also lose money for their shareholders and even drive perfectly successful companies into bankruptcy every day: Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Enron, WorldCom, Pan Am, SwissAir and on and on. Who knows if Facebook or Zipcar or Tesla Motors will ever make money? Government-backed Solyndra lost $500 million. But when Jamie Dimon lost $12 billion for JPMorgan, I don’t recall the Journal howling that capitalists “can’t pick winners.” When Enron collapsed I don’t recall hearing any blanket condemnation of the “inevitable incompetence” of the private sector. Hypocrisy is stock and trade of capitalists, lazy media and fact-averse capitalist economists who want to make the facts fit their simple-minded model no matter the truth. That’s why it’s entirely in character that the Wall Street Journal has never bothered to applaud government when it picked indisputable winners: when government-funded, government-directed applied research produced nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, radar, rockets, the jet engine, the transistor, the microchip, the Internet, GPS, crucial breakthroughs in biotechnology, when government scientists and government industries launched the Apollo spacecrafts that put men on the moon, when government-developed and produced ballistic missiles terrorized the Soviets and government-designed and operated bombers bombed the Reds in Korea and Vietnam to “contain Communism” and secure American dominance of the Free World for corporate subscribers of the Wall Street Journal to exploit – where then was the cri de coeur that “government can’t pick winners”? And what about those government-run drones? Anti-government bigmouth Rand Paul filibustered for a whole day against the threat of swarms of government drones over American cities but I didn’t hear him complain that government drones don’t work. That wasn’t his problem. And when, after an eight-year, mind-bogglingly difficult, complex and risky 150 million-mile journey, NASA’s government-built Curiosity spaceship landed a (government-built) state-of-the art science lab the size of a Mini Cooper within a mile and a half of its target on the surface of Mars – then it immediately set off to explore its new neighborhood – even the Ayn Rand-loving government-hating Republicans in Congress were awed into silence. As David Sirota’s headline in Salon.com read on August 13, 2012, just after Curiosity set down on the red planet: “Lesson from Mars: Government works!” And right now, as I’m writing this in April 2013, most of a year later, that government-run Mars explorer is happily roving around drilling core samples to find out if there is now, or used to be, water and possibly even life on Mars. All this while, back home, Shell Oil’s private capitalist-run arctic drilling platform ran aground in an arctic storm and is now being towed away to Asia for repairs while Shell Oil’s shareholders are having second thoughts about their CEO’s wisdom in “picking winners” by squandering $5 billion on this fools errand of drilling for oil under Artic ice.[43]

One Planet, One People, One Economy for the Common Good

For better or worse we are well into what scientists call the “Anthropocene.” Nature doesn’t run Earth anymore. We do. So if we are, after all, just “one people on one planet,” it’s time we begin to make conscious and collective decisions about how our economic activity affects the natural world – and I don’t mean “geoengineering” the planet by wrapping glaciers in tinfoil to slow their melting while capitalism goes right on cooking and pillaging the planet. Since the rise of capitalism 300 years ago, more and more of the world has come to be run on the principle of market anarchy, on Adam Smith’s maxim that every individual should just maximize his own interest – “look out for No. 1″ – and the “public interest,” the “common good” would take care of itself. Well, that hasn’t worked out so well. It was always a dumb theory, but it’s worked OK for the 1% who could mostly manage without the commons. For the rest of us, the more capitalism, the more the common good gets trashed. And now globalized market anarchy is destroying not just humanity and society but even life on Earth.[44] The problem with Smith’s theory is that the aggregate of private interests don’t add up to the public interest. The problems we face with respect to the planetary environment and ecology can’t be solved by individual choice in the marketplace. They require collective democratic control over the economy to prioritize the needs of society, the environment, other species and future generations. This requires local, national and global economic planning to reorganize the world economy and redeploy labor and resources to these ends. And it requires an economy of guaranteed full employment because if we would have to shut down ExxonMobil and GM and Monsanto[45] and Walmart and so on to save the world, then we have to provide equal or better jobs for all those laid-off workers because otherwise they won’t support what we all need to do to save ourselves.

Ecosocialism and the Salvation of Small Businesses

This does not at all mean that we would have to nationalize local restaurants, family farms, farmers markets, artisans, groceries, bakeries, repair shops, workers co-ops and the like. Small-scale self-managed producers based on simple reproduction are not destroying the world. Large-scale capitalist investor-owned corporations based on insatiable accumulation are destroying the world. So they would have to be nationalized, many closed down, others scaled back, others repurposed. But an ecosocialist society would rescue and promote small-scale, local, self-managed businesses because we would need them. Indeed, we would want many more of them whereas, today, capitalism is driving them out of business everywhere.

4. RATIONAL PLANNING REQUIRES DEMOCRACY: VOTING THE BIG QUESTIONS

Solar or coal? Frack the planet, or work our way off fossil fuels? Drench the world’s farms in toxic pesticides or return to organic agriculture. Public transportation or private cars as the mainstay? Let’s put the big questions up for a vote. Shouldn’t everyone have a say in decisions that affect them all? Isn’t that the essential idea of democracy? The problem with capitalism is that the economy isn’t up for a vote. But it needs to be. Again, in Adam Smith’s day it mattered less, at least for the environment, because private decisions had so little impact on the planet. But today, huge decisions that affect all of us, other species, and even the fate of life on Earth are all still private decisions, made by corporate boards on behalf of self-interested investors. Polls show that 57 percent of Chinese feel that protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the expense of economic growth, and only 21 percent prioritize the economy over the environment.[46] But, obviously, the Chinese don’t get to vote on that or anything else. Polls show Americans opposed to GMO foods outnumber supporters nearly two to one and 82 percent of Americans favor labeling of GMO foods.[47] But Americans don’t get to vote on whether we get GMOs in our food or get told about it. Well, why not? Corporate boards vote to put GMOs and all kinds of toxic chemicals in our food. We’re the ones who consume this stuff. We can’t avoid GMOs simply by refusing to purchase them – the “market solution” – because they’re everywhere. They’re in 80 percent of the foods we consume, and Monsanto and the rest of the GMO-industrial complex bribe politicians and regulators with campaign contributions and lucrative revolving-door jobs to make sure you don’t know what foods to avoid.[48] Well, why should we accept this? Why shouldn’t we have a say in these decisions? We don’t have to be experts; corporate boards aren’t composed of experts. They’re mainly made up of major investors. They discuss and vote on what they want to do, then hire experts to figure out how to implement their decisions. Why can’t we do that – for humanity’s interests?

Every Cook Can Govern

From Tunisa to Tahir Square; Zuccotti Park to Gezi Park; Madison, Wisconsin, to Kunming Yunnan, Songjian Shanghai, Shifang Sichuan, Guangzhou and thousands of sites and cities and towns all over China, ordinary citizens demonstrate remarkably rational environmental sense against the profit-driven environmental irrationality and irresponsibility of their rulers.[49] In Turkey, “Sultan” Erdogon’s decree to tear up Istanbul’s last major park to replace it with an Ottoman-style shopping mall provoked mass outrage. Protesters complained, as one put it: “When were we asked what we wanted? We have three times as many mosques as we do schools. Yet they are building new mosques. There are eight shopping malls in the vicinity of Taksim, yet they want to build another. … Where are the opera houses? The theaters? The culture and youth centers? What about those? They only choose what will bring them the most profit without considering what we need.”[50] When, in a bid to mollify the protesters, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) floated the excellent idea of a public referendum on the issue saying, “We might put it to a referendum. … In democracies only the will of the people counts,” Erdogon considered this option for a moment. But when protesters doubted his sincerity, he proved them right by calling in his riot squads to crush the protests instead.[51] In Brazil, on the heels of the Turkish protests, mass protests erupted over announced bus fare hikes but soon morphed into more sweeping social protest as hundreds of thousands of Brazilians turned out in cities across the country to denounce the irresponsible waste of public funds on extravagant soccer stadiums in the run-up to the World Cup in 2014, when schools, public transportation, hospitals, health care and other public services are neglected: “People are going hungry, and the government builds stadiums,” said Eleuntina Scuilgaro, a pensioner. “I love soccer, but we need schools,” said Evaldir Cardoso, a firemen at a protest with his 7-month-old son. “These protests are in favor of common sense, argued protester Roberta da Matta. “We pay an absurd amount of taxes in Brazil, and now more people are questioning what they are getting in return.”[52]

If corporations and capitalist governments can’t align production with the common good and ecological rationality, what other choice is there but for society to collectively and democratically organize, plan and manage most production themselves? To do this we would have to establish democratic institutions to plan and manage our social economy. We would have to set up planning boards at local, regional, national/continental and international levels. Those would have to include not just workers, the direct producers, but entire communities, consumers, farmers, peasants, everyone. We have models: the Paris Commune, Russian soviets, Brazil’s participatory planning, La Via Campesina and others. Direct democracy at the base, delegated authority with right of recall for higher-level planning boards. What’s so difficult about that? [53]

As Greg Palast, Jarrold Oppenheim and Theo MacGregor described in Democracy and Regulation: How the Public Can Govern Essential Services (2003), it is a curious and ironic fact that the United States, foremost protagonist of the free market, possesses a large and indispensable sector of the economy that is not governed by the free market but instead, democratically, by public oversight – and that is utilities: the provision of electricity, heating fuel, water and sewerage, and local telephone service. Not only that but these are the most efficient and cheapest utility systems in the world. The authors note that British residents pay 44 percent more for electricity than do American consumers, 85 percent more for local telephone service and 26 percent more for natural gas. Europeans pay even more, Latin Americans more than Europeans. They write that “Americans pay astonishingly little for high-quality public services, yet low charges do not suppress wages: American utility workers are the nation’s industrial elite, with a higher concentration of union membership than in any other private industry.” Palast, Oppenheim and MacGregor attribute this to the fact that, unlike Britain and most of the rest of the world, utilities are not unregulated free-market corporations like ExxonMobil or Monsanto or Rio Light or British Water. Instead, they are tightly regulated industries, mostly privately owned, but many publicly owned by local municipalities. Yet even when utilities are privately owned like Con Edison in New York or Green Mountain Power in Vermont or Florida Power and Light (to take some East Coast examples), it’s really hard to call this “capitalism.” It’s more like state capitalism, even quasi-socialism. Either way, public- or investor-owned, they are highly regulated, subject to public oversight, involvement and control:

Unique in the world (with the exception of Canada), every aspect of US regulation is wide open to the public. There are no secret meetings, no secret documents. Any and all citizens and groups are invited to take part: individuals, industrial customers, government agencies, consumer groups, trade unions, the utility itself, even its competitors. Everyone affected by the outcome has a right to make their case openly, to ask questions of government and utilities, to read all financial and operating records in detail. In public forums, with all information open to all citizens, the principles of social dialogue and transparency come to life. It is an extra-ordinary exercise in democracy – and it works. … Another little-known fact is that, despite the recent experiments with markets in electricity [the authors published this book in 2003, just three years after the Enron privatization debacle], the US holds to the strictest, most elaborate and detailed system of regulation anywhere: Private utilities’ profits are capped, investments directed or vetoed by public agencies. Privately owned utilities are directed to reduce prices for the poor, fund environmentally friendly physical and financial inspection. … Americans, while strongly attached to private property and ownership, demand stern and exacting government control over vital utility services.[54]

The authors are careful to note that this is “no regulatory Garden of Eden.” It has many failings: regulation is constantly under attack by promoters of market pricing, the public interest and the profit motive of investor-owned utilities often conflict with negative consequences for the public, and so on. [55] But even so, this long-established and indisputably successful example of democratic public regulation of large-scale industries offers us a real-world practical example of something like a “proto-socialism.” I see no obvious reason something like this model of democracy and transparency could not be extended, expanded, fully socialized and replicated to encompass the entire large-scale industrial economy. Of course, as I argued above, to save the humans, we would have to do much more than just “regulate” industries. We would have to completely reorganize and reprioritize the whole economy, indeed the whole global industrial economy. This means not just regulating but retrenching and closing down resource-consuming and polluting industries, shifting resources out of them, starting up new industries and so on. Those are huge tasks, beyond the scope of even the biggest corporations, even many governments. So who else could do this but self-organized masses of citizens, the whole society acting in concert, democratically? Obviously, many issues can be decided at local levels. Others like closing down the coal industry or repurposing the auto industry, require large-scale planning at national if not international levels. Some, like global warming, ocean acidification, deforestation, would require extensive international coordination, virtually global planning. I don’t see why that’s not doable. We have the UN Climate Convention, which meets annually and is charged with regulating GHG emissions. It fails to do so only because it lacks enforcement powers. We need to give it enforcement powers.

5. DEMOCRACY CAN WORK ONLY IN CONTEXT OF ROUGH SOCIO-ECONOMIC EQUALITY AND SOCIAL GUARANTEES.

When in the midst of the Great Depression, the great “people’s jurist” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can’t have both.” He was more right than he knew. Today we have by far the greatest concentration of wealth in history. So it’s hardly surprising that we have the weakest and most corrupt democracies since the Gilded Age. If we want democracy, we would have to abolish “the great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.” That means abolishing not just private property in the means of production, but also extremes of income, exorbitant salaries, great property, and inheritance. Because the only way to prevent corruption of democracy is to make it impossible to materially gain by doing so – by creating a society with neither rich nor poor, a society of basic economic equality.

Does that mean we would all have to dress in blue Mao suits and dine in communal mess halls? Hardly. Lots of studies (Wilkinson and Pickett’s Spirit Level, the UK’s New Economics Foundation studies, and others) have shown that people are happier, there’s less crime and violence and fewer mental health problems in societies where income differences are small and where concentrated wealth is limited. We don’t have five planets to provide the resources for the whole world to live the “American Dream” of endless consumerism. But we have more than enough wealth to provide every human being on the planet with a basic income, with a good job at pay sufficient to lead a dignified life, with safe water and sanitation, quality food, housing, education and health care, with public transportation – all the authentic necessities we really need. These should all be guaranteed as a matter of right, as indeed most of these already were declared as such in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Freeing ourselves from the toil of producing unnecessary or harmful commodities – the three-quarters of current US production that’s a waste – would free us to shorten the work day, to enjoy the leisure promised but never delivered by capitalism, to redefine the meaning of the standard of living to connote a way of life that is actually richer, while consuming less, to realize our fullest human potential instead of wasting our lives in mindless drudgery and shopping. This is the emancipatory promise of ecosocialism.[56]

6. THIS IS CRAZY, UTOPIAN, IMPOSSIBLE, NEVER HAPPEN

Perhaps. But what’s the alternative? The specter of planetwide ecological collapse and the collapse of civilization into some kind of Blade Runner dystopia is not as hypothetical as it once seemed. Ask the Chinese. China’s “capitalist miracle” already has driven that country off the cliff into headlong ecological collapse that threatens to take the whole planet down with it. With virtually all its rivers and lakes polluted and many depleted, with 70 percent of its croplands contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins, with undrinkable water, inedible food, unbreathable air that kills more than a million Chinese a year, with “cancer villages” metastasizing over the rural landscape and cancer the leading cause of death in Beijing,[57] China’s rulers face hundreds of mass protests, often violent, around the country every day, more than 100,000 protest a year. And even with all their police-state instruments of repression, they know they can’t keep the lid on forever (indeed, hundreds of thousands of Communist Party kleptocrats can see the writing on the wall through the smog and are moving their families, their money and themselves out of the country before it’s too late). Today the Chinese and we need a socialist revolution not just to abolish exploitation and alienation but to derail the capitalist train wreck of ecological collapse before it takes us all over the edge. As China itself demonstrates, revolutions come and go. Economic systems come and go. Capitalism has had a 300-year run. The question is, will humanity stand by let the world be destroyed to save the profit system?

The Specter of Eco-Democratic Revolution

That outcome depends to a great extent on whether we, on the left, can answer that question – “What’s your alternative?” – with a compelling and plausible vision of an eco-socialist civilization – and figure out how to get there. We have our work cut out for us. But what gives the growing global eco-socialist movement an edge in this ideological struggle is that capitalism has no solution to the ecological crisis, no way to put the brakes on collapse, because its only answer to every problem is more of the same growth that’s killing us. “History” was supposed to have “ended” with the fall of communism and the triumph of capitalism two decades ago. Yet today, history is very much alive. And it is, ironically, capitalism itself that is being challenged more broadly than ever and found wanting for solutions. Today, we are very much living in one of those pivotal world-changing moments in history, indeed it is no exaggeration to say that this is the most critical moment in human history. We may be fast approaching the precipice of ecological collapse, but the means to derail this train wreck are in the making as, around the world, struggles against the destruction of nature, against dams, against pollution, against overdevelopment, against the siting of chemical plants and power plants, against predatory resource extraction, against the imposition of GMOs, against privatization of remaining common lands, water and public services, against capitalist unemployment and precarité are growing and building momentum. Today we’re riding a swelling wave of near-simultaneous global mass democratic “awakening,” almost global mass uprising. This global insurrection is still in its infancy, still unsure of its future, but its radical democratic instincts are, I believe, humanity’s last best hope. Let’s make history!

The original version of this story appeared in the Real World Economics Review.


[1] Tom Bawden, “Carbon dioxide in atmosphere at highest level for 5 million years,” The Independent, May 10, 2013 .

[2] Justin Gillis, “Heat-trapping gas passes milestone, raising fears,” The New York Times, May 10, 2013. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Scripps News, April 23, 2013 .

[3] Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left (New York: Picador 2012), p. 24 Table 1.1. Jeffrey Sachs calculates that in value terms, between 1950 and 2008 the global human population rose from 2.5 billion to 7 billion, so less than tripled, while global GDP multiplied eight times. Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), p. 19.

[4] On Shell’s impact on Africa, see Nimo Bassey, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa (Cape Town: Pambazuka Press 2012).

[5] Delly Mawazo Sesete of Change.org, writing in The Guardian newspaper says, “I am originally from the North Kivu province in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a deadly conflict has been raging for over 15 years. While that conflict began as a war over ethnic tension, land rights and politics, it has increasingly turned to being a war of profit, with various armed groups fighting one another for control of strategic mineral reserves. Near the area where I grew up, there are mines with vast amounts of tungsten, tantalum, tin, and gold – minerals that make most consumer electronics in the world function. These minerals are part of your daily life. They keep your computer running so you can surf the Internet. They save your high score on your Playstation. They make your cellphone vibrate when someone calls you. While minerals from the Congo have enriched your life, they have often brought violence, rape and instability to my home country. That’s because those armed groups fighting for control of these mineral resources use murder, extortion and mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, which helps them secure control of mines, trading routes and other strategic areas. Living in the Congo, I saw many of these atrocities firsthand. I documented the child slaves who are forced to work in the mines in dangerous conditions. I witnessed the deadly chemicals dumped into the local environment. I saw the use of rape as a weapon. And despite receiving multiple death threats for my work, I’ve continued to call for peace, development and dignity in Congo’s minerals trade.” “Apple: time to make a conflict-free iPhone,” The Guardian, December 30, 2011. For more detail see conflictminerals.org. See also: Peter Eichstaedt, Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World’s Deadliest Place (Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2011).

[6] Lauren McCauley, “Herbicides for GMOs driving monarch butterfly populations to ‘ominous’ brink,” Common Dreams, March 14, 2013.

[7] James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren (New York: Bloomsbury 2009), pp. 70, 172-173,

[8] John M. Broder, “Obama readying emissions limits on power plants,” The New York Times, June 20, 2013.

[9] Center for Biological Diversity, “New mileage standards out of step with worsening climate crisis,” press release, August 28, 2012. Also, Common Dreams staff, “New mileage standards encourage more gas-guzzling, not less: report,” Common Dreams, August 28, 2012.

[10] A full-size 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air weighed 3,100 pounds. A ’55 Ford F-100 pickup truck also weighed 3,100 (3,300 with the optional V-8 motor). Even a 1955 Cadillac El Dorado, icon of 1950s conspicuous consumption, weighed only 5,050 pounds – chrome bullets, tailfins and all. By comparison, today even a compact Toyota Prius weighs 3,274 pounds (could it be the batteries?) while your typical full-size Ford Taurus weighs more than 4,300 pounds, pickup trucks and big SUVs start at around 6,000 pounds and go up from there to 7,000 to 8,000 pounds. Even though the occasional honest driver will concede he or she doesn’t really “need” all this bulk and horsepower to load up at the mall, as a cheerful Texas Ford salesman noted, “We haven’t found a ceiling to this luxury truck market.” Joseph B. White, “Luxury pickups stray off the ranch,” Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2012.

[11] Your typical 4,428-pound 1955 Cadillac Coupe DeVille got 12.9 mpg in city driving, according to Motor Trend magazine, whereas your typical 5,963-pound 2013 Cadillac Escalade gets 10 mpg in the city (12 mpg “combined” city and highway). Your typical 2013 Chevrolet Silverado K15 truck gets just 9 mpg hauling those heavy bags of groceries home from the mall. This is after six decades of Detroit fuel economy “improvements” – and Obama says Detroit is going to “double its fleet mileage in 20 years.” Good luck on that. Mileage figures for the Cadillac are from Cadillac History 1955. For the Silverado at www.fuel economy.gov.

[12] For forecasts of China’s vehicle fleet and its implications see Craig Simons, The Devouring Dragon (New York: St. Martins Press, 2013), p. 200.

[13] “A new paradigm for climate change,” Nature Climate Change, Vol. 2 September 2012, pp. 639-640 (my italics).

[14] IEA, World Energy Outlook 2012 Executive Summary (November 12, 2012), p. 3 .

[15] For a recent summary of the peer-reviewed literature see Glenn Scherer and DailyClimate.org, “Climate science predictions prove too conservative,” Scientific American December 6, 2012 . Prominent ex-denier Richard A. Muller published his mea culpa on the op-ed page of The New York Times: “The conversion of a climate-change skeptic,” July 28, 2012.

[16] World Resources Institute, WRI Navigating the Numbers, Table 1. pp. 4-5 .

[18] See my “Green capitalism,” op cit. pp. 131-133.

[19] Eg. David Biello, “The false promise of biofuels,” Scientific American, August 2011, pp. 59-65.

[20] Smith, “Green capitalism,” op cit. pp. 117-122.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] ExxonMobil, The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 (December 2012) . See also, Jon Queally, “BP’s Big Plan: Burn it. Burn it all,” Common Dreams, January 17, 2013.

[24] Eg. John Parnell, “World on course to run out of water, warns Ban Ki-moon,” The Guardian, May 22, 22013. Gaia Vince, “How the world’s oceans could be running out of fish,” BBC News Online, September 12, 2012 . And as tropical forests, biodiversity is being sacrificed even in nominally protected areas at an alarming rate. See William F. Laurance et al. “Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas,” Nature, no. 489 September 12, 2012 pp.  290-294. “Widespread local ‘extinctions’ in tropical forest ‘remnants’ ” Also, ScienceDaily, August 14, 2012 .  On minerals and oil, see Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left (New York: Picador 2012).

[25] Ecological “footprint” studies show that today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we have only one. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological “overshoot” depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend. See the Global Footprint Network.

[26] World Bank, 2008 World Development Indicators, p. 4 Table 1J .

[27] Worldwatch Institute, 2010 State of the World: Transforming Cultures From Consumerism to Sustainability (New York: Norton, 2010) pp. 3-7ff. Also Alan Durning, How Much is Enough? (New York: Norton 1992). Avatar.

[28] Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left, p. 12. AP, “Tech tycoons in asteroid mining venture,” The Guardian, April 20, 2012.

[29]China’s environmental nightmare,” China Digital Times, March 12, 2012 . Lily Kuo, “China’s nightmare scenario: by 2025 air quality could be much much worse,” posted March 12, 2013 on Quartz.

[30] See eg. Sam Wade, ” ‘Growth first’ mentality undermines war on pollution,” China Digital Times, June 5, 2013 .

[31] Hansen, Storms, chapter 9. Independent Voices: “James Lovelock: Nuclear power is the only green solution,” Independent, May 24, 2004 . George Monbiot, The Guardian columnist, has argued this in many venues but see, in particular, his blog piece: “The moral case for nuclear power,” August 8, 2011 . Also, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, “Going green? Then go nuclear,” Wall Street Journal op-ed, May 23, 2013.

[32] Keith Johnson and Ben Lefebvre, “U.S. approves expanded gas exports,” Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2013.

[33] John Vogel, “Methane gas ‘fracking:’ 3 polls show public leaning to toward yes,” American Agriculturalist, April 9, 2013 . Karen DeWitt, “Poll shows increased support for fracking,” North Country Public Radio, September 13, 2012 .

[34] Clothing designer Eliza Starbuck says of ultra -cheap producers like H&M “It’s throwaway fashion or ‘trashion.’ If their prices are that cheap that people are throwing their disposable income at them – only to find that the clothes fall apart on the hangers after a wash or two – they’re just creating garbage. … It takes such a huge amount of human energy and textile fibers, dyes and chemicals to create even poor-quality clothes. They may be offering fashions at a price anyone can afford in an economic crunch, but they’re being irresponsible about what happens to the goods after the consumers purchase them.” Jasmin Malik Chua, “Is H&M’s new lower-priced clothing encouraging disposable fashion?” ecouterre, September 28, 2010 . And H&M takes “disposable” literally. As The New York Times reported in 2012, H&M’s employees systematically slash and rip perfectly good unsold clothes before tossing them in dumpsters at the back of the chain’s 34th Street store in Manhattan – to make sure they can’t be sold but thus adding pointlessly to landfills rather than donating them to charity. It is little remarked that capitalism is the first economic system in which perfectly serviceable, even brand new goods from clothes to automobiles (recall the “cash for clunkers” rebates) are deliberately destroyed so as to promote production of their replacements. I’ll explore this interesting theme further elsewhere. See Jim Dwyer, “A clothing clearance where more than just the prices are slashed,” The New York Times, January 5, 2010. Also, Ann Zimmerman and Neil Shah, “Taste for cheap clothes fed Bangladesh boom,” Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2013.

[35] Juan O. Tamayo, “STASI records show Cuba deal included IKEA furniture, antiques, rum and guns,” McClatchy Newspapers, May 9, 2012. James Angelos, “IKEA regrets use of East German prisoners,” Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012. Kamprad’s soft spot for prison slave labor fits very well with his deep past as a Swedish Nazi recruiter and long-time sympathizer as detailed in a recent book by Elisabeth Asbrink. See “Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad’s Nazi ties ‘went deeper,’ ” BBC News online August 25, 2011 .

[36] I am quoting here from Stephanie Zacharek’s excellent “IKEA is as bad as Wal-Mart,” Salon.com, July 12, 2009: 12:11 PM. Reviewing Ellen Ruppel Shell, Cheap: The High cost of Discount Culture (New York: Penguin, 2009), chapter 6.

[37] Ida Karisson, “IKEA products made from 600-year old trees,” Inter Press Service, May 29, 2012  Common Dreams.org.

[38] Eg. Fred Pearce, “Ikea – you can’t build a green reputation with a flatpack DIY manual, Guardian, April 2, 2009. Also: Greenpeace, Slaughtering the Amazon, July 2009 . Alfonso Daniels, “Battling Siberia’s devastating illegal logging trade,” BBC news online, November 27, 2009.

[39] Michael Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso 2006).

[40] World Bank Development Indicators 2008, cited in Anup Shah, Poverty and stats, Global Issues, January  7, 2013 . World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN cited in James Randerson, “World’s richest 1% own 40% of all wealth, UN report discovers,” The Guardian, December 6, 2006. As for trends, in 1979 the richest 1% in the U.S. earned 33.1 percent more than the bottom 20 percent. In 2000 the wealthiest 1% made 88.5 percent more than the poorest 20 percent. In the Third World, polarization has grown even worse, especially in China which in 1978 had the world’s most equal incomes while today, it has the most unequal incomes of any large society. Who says capitalism doesn’t work?!

[41] Adam Nossiter, “For Congo children, food today means none tomorrow,” The New York Times, January 3, 2012.

[42] Isabel Kershner, “Israeli venture meant to serve electric cars ending its run,” The New York Times, May 27, 2013. Ronald D. White, “One owner, low miles, will finance: sellers try to unload Fiskers,” Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2013. Rachel Feintzeig, “Electric-car maker Coda files for bankruptcy,” Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2013.

[43] Kenneth Chang, “Mars could have supported life long ago, NASA says,” The New York Times, March 12, 2013. And Shell Oil isn’t the only company having second thoughts about what its brilliant CEO thought was a sure thing: Clifford Krauss, “ConocoPhilips suspends its Arctic drilling plans,” The New York Times, April 11, 2013.

[44] Citing a recent study by an international team of researchers in Nature Climate Change in May 2013, the BBC reports that if “rapid action” is not taken to curb greenhouse gases, some 34 percent of animals and 57 percent of plants will lose more than half of their current habitat ranges. Dr. Rachel Warren, the lead scientist of the study said that “our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides. There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling and eco-tourism.” Matt McGrath, ” ‘Dramatic decline’ warning for plants and animals,” BBC News Online, May 12, 2013 .

[45] On the existential threat Monsanto Corporation poses to humanity and the planet, see the Green Shadow Cabinet: “What must be done about Monsanto corporation, and why,” May 23, 2013 .

[46] Gallup, June 8, 2012 .

[47] Huffington Post, “GMO poll finds huge majority say foods should be labeled,” March 4, 2013 .

[48] See again, Green Shadow Cabinet, “What must be done about Monsanto, and why?” op cit.

[49] Eg. Jennifer Duggan, “Kunming pollution is the tip of rising Chinese environmental activism,” The Guardian blog post May 16, 2013.

[50] Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Peaceful protest over Istanbul park turns violent as police crack down,” The New York Times, May 31, 2013.

[51]Turkish government moots referendum on Gezi Park,” Deutsche Welle, June 12, 2013 .

[52] Simon Romero, “Protests grow as Brazilians blame leaders,” The New York Times, June 19, 2013.

[53]  For further exploration of these themes see the superb piece by Michael Lowy: “Eco-socialism and democratic planning,” Socialist Register 2007 (New York: Monthly Review 2007), p. 294-309.

[54] Greg Palast, Jerrold Oppenheim, and Theo MacGregor, Democracy and Regulation: How the Public can Govern Essential Services (London: Pluto, 2003) pp. 2-4. The authors point out yet another irony of this system of public regulation, namely that it was created by private companies as the lesser evil to fend off the threat of nationalization: “Modern US utility regulation is pretty much the invention of American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) and the National Electric Light Association (NELA) – the investor-owned telephone and electric industries at the turn of the twentieth century. They saw regulation as protection against Populist and Progressive movements that, since the economic panic of 1873 and later disruptions, had galvanized anti-corporate farmer and labor organizations. By the turn of the twentieth century, these movements had galvanized considerable public support for governmental ownership of utilities. … ” p. 98.

[55] In the case of nuclear power plants, local public regulation often has been subverted and overridden by the federal government in its zealous drive to push nuclear power even against the wishes of the local public. Thus in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, social scientists Raymond Goldsteen and John Schorr interviewed residents around Three Mile Island about the history of the power plant, why it was built, what voice they had in the decision to build it and the decision to restart the plant after the accident. It turns out that, as one resident, a Mrs. Kelsey, put it, they had no choice. They were virtually forced to accept it: “They [Met Ed the utility, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission] keep saying we need this nuclear. They keep pounding that into our heads with the news and everything. We need it. We need it. We can’t do without it.” Residents told Goldstein and Schorr that the surrounding communities petitioned against restarting the plant after the accident but lost again. Another resident, Mrs. Boswell, said, “We don’t want to be guinea pigs. … I still think that we should have a say, too, in what goes on. I really do, because we’re the victims.” Mrs. Brown: “The company just wants [to reopen the plant for] the money. … ” Mrs. Carmen: “No, they’re going to do what they want. … I don’t think [community feelings] would bother them at all.” Mrs. Hemmingway: “I feel very angry about it really, because I just feel that there is so much incompetence on the part of the utility, on the part of the NRC, on the part of the local governments. … ” Residents said that if they had been informed honestly about the risks and if they had had a choice, they would have investigated other technologies and chosen differently. Mrs. Hemingway again: “It just seems to me there are so many alternatives we could explore. … We obviously need alternate energy sources, but solar could provide heating for houses and water [and so on].” Residents said they would have preferred other choices even if it meant giving up certain conveniences: Mrs. Caspar: “I don’t really mind conserving all that much. If people can conserve gas [for cars], why can’t they conserve energy? Now I don’t mean I want to go back to the scrubboard … but I don’t dry my clothes in the dryer. I hang them … on the line … and I do try to conserve as far as that goes.” (pp. 181-183,212).  One of the most interesting results of this study, which is well worth reading in full, is that it illustrates how ordinary citizens, given the chance, would make more rational decisions about technology, safety and the environment than the “experts” at the utility, Met Ed, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It’s not that they were more knowledgeable about the technology than the experts but that the experts were not impartial. They were representing the industry and profits and the NRC, not the public, so they could not help but systematically make wrong decisions, decisions that in this case not only violated the public trust and but put huge numbers of lives in danger. Raymond L. Goldsteen and John K. Schorr, Demanding Democracy After Three Mile Island (Gainsville: University of Florida Press 1991).

[56] See again, Michael Lowy op. cit.

[57] Edward Wong, “Air pollution linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China,” The New York Times. April 1, 2013. Johnathan Kaiman, “Inside China’s ‘cancer villages,’ ” The Guardian, June 4, 2012.

Richard Smith is an economic historian. He wrote his UCLA history Ph.D. thesis on the transition to capitalism in China and held post-docs at the East-West Center in Honolulu and Rutgers University. He has written on China, capitalism and the global environment and on related issues for New Left Review, Monthly Review, The Ecologist, the International Journal of Ecological Economics and Statistics, Real-World Economics Review, Adbusters magazine and other publications. He book To Save the Planet, Turn the World Upside Down will be published in 2014.

“Off the charts” 195 Mph Monster Super Typhoon Haiyan “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history” Breaks The Philippines

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

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Oldspeak: ” Less than 2 months after Hong Kong was hit with “the strongest storm on earth“, we witness the wrath of “the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history”. it’s not a matter of if the east coast of the U.S. will be hit with storms more destructive and devastating than Katrina or Sandy, but when. Our technology will not save us from the slow motion and full speed cataclysms to come.  When will we stop plunging headlong into our planet and civilization’s demise?” -OSJ

Related Story:

Super Typhoon Haiyan Tears into The Philippines

By Eric Holthaus @ Quartz:

Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines at 4am local time today with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, according to satellite estimates. That astounding claim will need to be verified by actual measurements at ground level, which should be collected over the coming days.

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The storm (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) has officially maxed out the Dvorak scale, which is used to measure strong strength using satellites. That means Haiyan has approached the theoretical maximum intensity for any storm, anywhere.  From the latest NOAA bulletin:

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DVORAK TECHNIQUE MAKES NO ALLOWANCE FOR AN EYE EMBEDDED SO DEEPLY IN CLOUD TOPS AS COLD [AS THIS]

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Put another way, the most commonly used satellite-based intensity scale just wasn’t designed to handle a storm this strong. At its peak, one real-time estimate of the storm’s intensity actually ticked slightly above the maximum to 8.1 on an 8.0 scale. This meteorologist, for one, has never seen that before.

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Thousands were evacuated in the Philippines as the disaster-weary country prepared for impact. Ten regions in the central part of the country were under a Signal 4 warning, the nation’s highest typhoon alert level.

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Just last month, an area just south of Haiyan’s predicted path suffered a massive M7.2 earthquake, resulting in more than 100 deaths and widespread damage. That same region will experience strong winds and heavy rain from this typhoon.

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According to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, at landfall, the storm packed sustained winds of 195mph (310kph). Gusts reached a mind-blowing 235mph (380kph). That’s good enough to rank Haiyan as almost assuredly the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

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The Philippines is the most typhoon-ridden nation on Earth, getting walloped or enduring close calls on average of 19 times per year.

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It’s nearly inconceivable that any weather station would survive such conditions for very long to verify, so we may never know exactly how strong this storm was. There have only been a handful of storms anywhere on Earth (pdf) that have reached this estimated intensity—and only three since 1969. Such strong storms usually remain out at sea where wind speed verification is impossible without aircraft.

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If verified, the storm’s wind speed at landfall would top the sitting world record holder, the Atlantic’s Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969 with 190 mph winds.

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That’s certainly foreboding enough, but the humanitarian disaster that may unfold in the storm’s aftermath could be immense. Haiyan passed very near Tacloban, a city of a quarter million people, and Cebu, a city of nearly one million people:

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The country’s meteorological service, PAGASA, also supports a storm surge prediction model (appropriately named project NOAH) that estimates storm surge could have been up to 5.2 meters (17 feet) in Leyte, where the storm first made landfall. A storm surge of this magnitude—rare for the Philippines—would be especially devastating for coastal areas.

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Heavy rain, expected to approach 16 inches (400mm), will almost assuredly cause mudslides over the mountainous islands of the Philippines.

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“Q: Is Earth Fucked? A: More Or Less.”- How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm
Texas.

Waste land: large-scale irrigation strips nutrients from the soil, scars the landscape and could alter climatic conditions beyond repair. Image: Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/ Flowers, London, Pivot Irrigation #11 High Plains, Texas Panhandle, USA (2011)

Oldspeak: “Global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response… research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability…. challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe…. we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else… Climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony…. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes.” -Naomi Klein

“Yep. Business as usual, Limitless growth, ever higher toxic emmissons, relentless barrier free resource extraction, are a certain recipe for global systems failure. Systems that supersede those of GDP, Profit, Politics, national boundaries, policy.  The whole length and breadth of contrived reality we’re being led to believe is real must be done away with. it’s just no longer sustainable or feasible. irreversable non-linear feedbacks have already begun. The warmest September on record just passed. The pacific ocean is warmer than it’s been in 144,000 years. We need to revolutionarily change our global systems that have caused the malfunctions in our global ecological and environmental systems, to have an inkling of a chance to avert a coming unlivable climate. Radical & immediate de-growth strategies are critical for all wealthy nations. There is no profit on a dead planet.” -OSJ

By Naomi Klein @ The New Statesman:

Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions.

In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012, Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreed upon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

 . . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

Naomi Klein, the author of “The Shock Doctrine” and “No Logo”, is working on a book and a film about the revolutionary power of climate change. You call follow her on twitter @naomiaklein

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