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

Posts Tagged ‘Secondary Sociopathy’

Ecological Crisis And The Tragedy Of The Commodity

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2015 at 12:23 pm

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71dS90SbtPL.jpg

Oldspeak:”The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste. It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts.”-Brett Clark and Richard York

“Yep. The above statement delineates the folly of market-based “green economy” responses to global warming and climate change. De-growth is not an option. Infinite growth and accumulation are immutable imperatives.This is the inherent and terminally destructive nature of the system of Global Industrial Capitalist Civilization which has played a major role in bringing about Earth’s 6th Mass extinction. Commodifying All has a price; and it is the end life on earth. The piece ends with a hopium-laced “sustainable” way forward, that artfully prescribes an end to capitalism, replacing it with an anacro-syndicalist, decentralized and democratized sociocultural system. Great idea. Far too late to matter as our proverbial goose is cooked.” -OSJ

Written By

We live in an era of ecological crisis, which is a direct result of human actions. Natural scientists have been debating whether the current historical epoch should be called the Anthropocene, in order to mark the period in which human activities became the primary driver of global ecological change.[1]

Initially, it was proposed that this new epoch, corresponding with the rise of modern capitalist and industrial development, began in the eighteenth century. The growth imperative of capitalism, as well as other sociocultural changes, is a primary factor generating major environmental problems that culminate in ecological crisis.[2]

It has become increasingly clear that humans face an existential crisis. The environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben explains:

Earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived…. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has—even if we don’t quite know it yet. We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet…. This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thoroughgoing than anything we can read in the records of man, on a par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.[3]

Many modern ecological problems are referred to as a tragedy of the commons, a concept developed by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s to describe the overexploitation or despoliation of natural resources.[4] We contend that they are actually associated with the tragedy of the commodity. While an obvious play on Hardin’s concept, this approach offers, we argue, a much more comprehensive and historically appropriate analysis of the drivers of ecological degradation.

The classic illustration of the tragedy of the commons used by Hardin involved the dynamic of herders and their livestock. He claimed that each herder will act primarily in his or her own interest by adding additional livestock to common grazing land when it served to increase individual benefits. Therefore, Hardin argued, each herder would attempt to acquire the benefits offered by the commons, while socializing the costs to all. For example, by adding an extra animal to the pasture the herder reaps all the benefit, but pays only a fraction of the environmental costs, such as depletion of the grazing land. Each actor, motivated by individual maximization of benefits, increasingly introduces grazing animals into a finite system of resources, leading to the tragic destruction of the land. With this Hardin concludes “freedom in commons brings ruin to all.”[5] For Hardin, and many others who have adopted this perspective, expanding private property is offered as a leading policy solution for avoiding ecological tragedies.[6]

The tragedy of the commons theory explains the behaviors of individual actors in given social circumstances. However, it does not address how historical conditions and the socioeconomic system influence individual actors. In other words, the social context is simply taken for granted. The existing social conditions and relations are regarded as ever-present, universal, and permanent. The model neglects to recognize that human interactions and exchanges with ecological systems change through time and are regulated by particular institutional conditions. Once examined from a sociological perspective, the tragedy of the commons theory is simplistic and one-sided in that it attempts to explain human social behavior, or human agency, without a thorough understanding of the historical social organization.[7] This simplification results in a mystification of the modern systems of production and consumption and the historically specific ecosystem effects.

In contrast, the tragedy of the commodity approach emphasizes the role of the growth imperative of capitalism and commodification in producing the institutional rules by which nature and, for example, the commons are governed and historically transformed. Ecological systems are never altogether free of social influences. Rather, they are shaped by social conditions including norms, traditions, economic rules, the organization of labor, politico-legal arrangements, etc.[8] The social actions that have emerged with capitalist development are dominated by what Adam Smith called “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” matched with a crude utilitarianism, where individuals follow pure self-interest without social constraint. Unfortunately, these actions are often incorrectly ascribed to innate human behavior.[9] Thus, what might appear to the casual observer to be a system governed by base greed and human instinct is in fact largely directed by the drive for capital accumulation and what Immanuel Wallerstein called the progressive “commodification of everything.”[10] Among other outcomes, the commodification process results in a social metabolic order—socio-ecological interchanges and interrelationships—that produces unsustainable social and ecological consequences.

In a society organized around the logic of capital, human activities tend to be directed toward the production of commodities. That is, capitalism can be understood in a broad sense as a system of generalized commodity production. The institutional arrangements result in particular social arrangements and generate distinct types of human social action. The commodity serves as a basic unit to understand the larger culture-nature relations and capitalism itself. It is a base element of capitalist market processes.

Nature is an essential source of use value, or the qualitative usefulness of things. For example, Earth’s biogeochemical systems provide the conditions and means that allow for the production of food. Karl Marx emphasized that under capitalist relations, nature was seen as a free gift; it was not considered as part of wealth.[11] He famously explained this in terms of a “general formula for capital”—whereby capital is understood as the “continuous transformation of capital-as-money into capital-as-commodities, followed by a retransformation of capital-as-commodities into capital-as-more-money.”[12] Even though use value expresses the useful properties of an item or service, it is exchange value, or market value, which knows only quantitative increase and drives capitalist economic activity.

Money is put into circulation in order to return money, a quantity for a quantity, “its driving and motivating force is therefore exchange-value.”[13] Thus, capital constantly expands into more capital, motivated by surplus value or profits, the generation of which is “the absolute law of this mode of production.”[14] Under this logic, money dominates the organization of social and natural relationships. Addressing the pervasiveness of this logic, Karl Polanyi explained, “All transactions are turned into money transactions.”[15] The emergence of an all-encompassing, self-regulating, market disembedded human practical activity from its foundation in the broader sociocultural and environmental conditions. Market activity directed by commodity production for the endless accumulation of capital acquired the irresistible impetus of a “process of nature.”[16] Accordingly, the organization of production and consumption activities is fundamentally transformed from the exchange of qualities into the exchange of quantities. Alienation from each other and nature increases, as qualitative relations of production and the universal metabolism of nature are subsumed under the quantitative growth imperative of capital and a culture of quantity.[17] This fundamental tension between the necessity of quantitative expansion to sustain the economic relations and the qualitatively unsustainable ecological consequences marks the defining characteristic of the modern ecological crisis and the tragedy of the commodity.

Capital tends to simplify natural processes and ecosystems, imposing a division of nature to increase economic efficiency. It directs the life cycles of plants and animals to the economic cycle of exchange. Qualitative social relations—such as subsistence use within an ecosystem—are not part of the capitalist accounting system and can suffer various forms of destruction as a result. Use values, as the qualitative means for meeting the needs of life, are limited given biophysical properties. In contrast, there are no limits to quantitative measures of wealth. In other words, growing returns on investment have no end, but real human needs are confined to definite and knowable material limits.

The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste. It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts.[18]

The way forward, toward a more sustainable world, requires radical changes in the social conditions that have historically shaped the productive and consumption system of capitalism. Collective action must take back public commons and put them in control of the people who most closely interact with them and depend on them for community well-being. In order to be successful, these actions must (in effect) de-commodify nature. Commons must be decentralized and democratized, rather than, in the standard neoliberal view, privatized. Farmland and fisheries must be socially organized to advance nourishment and health. Forests must be valued as reserves of biodiversity, clean water, and culture. Economic activities must be embedded within society as a whole and the universal metabolism of the biophysical world, allowing for the continuation of reproductive processes, nutrient cycles, and energy flows that support all life. Human society must transcend the logic of capital, creating a new social metabolic order that increases the quality of life and enhances the potential for ecological flourishing and universal human freedom.

Recently, Pope Francis highlighted what we have been calling the tragedy of the commodity. In his highly publicized Encyclical on the environment, he mentions the “tragic effects of environmental degradation.” He goes on to say: “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.”[xix] He contends that a “cultural revolution” is required to address ecological crisis.

Interestingly, Pope Francis limited his suggested response to a cultural revolution when it is clear throughout the document that he is describing a political-economic problem. We agree that a revolutionary approach is necessary for addressing the ecological crisis. Nothing short will be adequate for challenging the tragedy of the commodity.

This essay is based on the new book The Tragedy of the Commodity: Oceans Fisheries and Aquaculture by Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark, published by Rutgers University Press (2015).

Works Cited.

[1]. Paul J. Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415, no. 6867 (2002): 23; Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “The New World of the Anthropocene,” Environmental Science & Technology 44, no. 7 (2010): 2228-31.

[2]. Will Steffen et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369, no. 1938 (2011): 842–67.

[3]. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: Times Books, 2010), 2-3.

[4]. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science 162, no. 3859 (1968):

1243–1248.

[5]. Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” 1244.

[6]. Theorists of the tragedy of the commons also acknowledge the potential for state action and management as alternative arrangements for promoting resource conservation. See Elinor Ostrom et al., The Drama of the Commons (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002).

[7]. Bonnie J. McCay and Svein Jentoft, “Uncommon Ground: Critical Perspectives on Common Property” in Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability, ed. Eugene A. Rosa et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010), 207.

[8]. Thomas Dietz et al., “The Struggle to Govern the Commons,” Science

302, no. 5652 (2003): 1907–1912; Elinor Ostrom et al., “Revisiting the Commons,” Science 284, no. 5412 (1999): 278–282.

[9]. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 Volumes (London: Methuen & Co., 1930); Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976); Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).

[10]. Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism with Capitalist Civilization (London: Verso, 1983).

[11]. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

[12]. Robert L. Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985), 36.

[13]. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 250.

[14]. Ibid., 769.

[15]. Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 44.

[16]. Ibid., 132.

[17]. István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (London: Merlin Press, 1986), 35.

[18]. Brett Clark and Richard York, “Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Roots of Environmental Crises,” Monthly Review 60, no. 6 (2008): 13–24.

[xix]. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home (Vatican Press, 2015), 12, 139.

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A Global War On Nature & The Politics Of Extinction- An Introduction To The Most Beautiful Animal You’ll Never See

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 3:13 pm

The saola, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on the planet. In 2010, villagers in Bolikhamxay captured a saola, but the animal subsequently died.

Oldspeak: “Where is the madness which you should be cleansed?  Behold I teach you the Superman: he is that lightning, he is that madness!… When Zarathustra had spoken these words he again looked at the people and was silent.  There they stand (said he to his heart), there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears.  Must one first batter their ears that they may learn to hear with their eyes?  must one rumble like drums and Lenten preachers?  Or do they only believe those who stammer?  They have something of which they are proud.  What do they call it that which makes them proud?  Culture they call it; it distinguishes them from the goatherds.  They therefore dislike having the word ‘contempt’ said of them.  So I will appeal to their pride.  I will speak to them of the most contemptible man: and that is the Ultimate Man!”  And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: It is time for man to fix his goal.  It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.  His soil is still rich enough for it.  But this soil will one day be poor and exhausted; no lofty tree will be able to grow from it.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will no longer shoot the arrow of his longing beyond mankind— and the string of his bow will have forgotten how to twang!  I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star.  I tell you: you have still chaos in you.  Alas!  The time is coming when man will give birth to no more stars.  Alas!  The time of the most contemptible man is coming, the man who can no longer despise himself.  Behold!  I show you The Ultimate Man.  “What is love?  What is creation?  What is longing?  What is a star?”  – asks the Ultimate Man and blinks.  The earth has then become small and on it there hops the Ultimate Man who makes everything small.  His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the Ultimate Man lives longest.  “We have discovered happiness”— say the Ultimate Men and blink.  They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth.  One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs again him; for one needs warmth.  Sickness and mistrust they consider sinful: they walk warily.  He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or over men!  A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams.  And a lot of poison at the end for a pleasant death.  One still works for work is a pastime.  But they take care that this pastime does not weary them.  No-one becomes poor or rich anymore; both are too wearying.  Who still wants to rule?  Who still wants to obey?  Both are too much of a burden.  No herdsman and one herd!  Everyone wants the same, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse.  “Before, the whole world was mad”— say the cleverest amongst them and blink.  They are clever and know all that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery.  People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled— otherwise indigestion would result.  They have their little pleasures for the day and their little pleasures for the night: but they respect health.  “We have discovered happiness “— say the Ultimate Men and blink.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

“Behold! The Madness Of The Ultimate Man… I have no words, but much Grief. *Blink* ” -OSJ

By Tom Engelhardt &William deBuys @ Tomsdispatch:

In her bestselling book The Sixth Extinction, the New Yorker‘s superb environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert, reports on an event, already unfolding in the present moment, the likes of which may only have been experienced five other times in the distant history of life on this planet. As she writes, “It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion. The losses are occurring all over: in the South Pacific and in the North Atlantic, in the Arctic and the Sahel, in lakes and on islands, on mountaintops and in valleys. If you know how to look, you can probably find signs of the current extinction event in your own backyard.”

Scientists believe that this round of mass extinction is accelerating, and one way or another, it all traces back to us, whether thanks to the way we are changing the planet’s atmosphere or to what Kolbert terms a human-induced, often disastrous “intercontinental reshuffling of species.” But of all the ways in which that mass extinction is being pushed forward, none is more straightforwardly obvious than the quite literal slaughter that constitutes the illegal animal trade.  In recent years, environmentalist and TomDispatch regular William deBuys set out to see the results of that aspect of mass extinction for himself, and what a grisly spectacle it proved to be.  In the process, he penetrated deep into the jungles of Laos in search of a deer-like creature you’ve undoubtedly never heard of that may — or may not — still exist.

It was an adventure of the first order, which deBuys depicts in his remarkable new book, The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures. He captures both the grimness of what’s happening to animals of every sort in the distant forests of a land we’ve paid no attention to since the Vietnam War ended and the glorious beauty of the species we humans are indeed destroying. The result is both a personal adventure story and a missive from a planet undergoing a rare form of destruction. Today at this site, he offers us all a look at one of what could be the final “achievements” of humankind: the ability to devastate this planet in a way no other creature would be capable of.

Kolbert ends her book on a question that any mass extinction on planet Earth would naturally have to bring up sooner or later: What about us?  In extinction terms, could we potentially be just another form of rhinoceros? Are we, in fact, capable not just of creating civilizations but engaging in a kind of species suicide? This is, of course, a question that can’t be answered, but she adds, “The anthropologist Richard Leakey has warned that ‘Homo Sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also risks being one of its victims.’ A sign in the Hall of Biodiversity [at the American Museum of Natural History in New York] offers a quote from the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich: ‘In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.’” Take a moment, then, with deBuys to experience what that sawing-off process is like, up close and personal. -Tom

The Politics of Extinction
An Introduction to the Most Beautiful Animal You’ll Never See
By William deBuys

Maybe baby steps will help, but the world needs a lot more than either the United States or China is offering to combat the illegal traffic in wildlife, a nearly $20-billion-a-year business that adds up to a global war against nature. As the headlines tell us, the trade has pushed various rhinoceros species to the point of extinction and motivated poachers to kill more than 100,000 elephants since 2010.

Last month China announced that it would ban ivory imports for a year, while it “evaluates” the effectiveness of the ban in reducing internal demand for ivory carvings on the current slaughter of approximately 100 African elephants per day. The promise, however, rings hollow following a report in November (hotly denied by China) that Chinese diplomats used President Xi Jinping’s presidential plane to smuggle thousands of pounds of poached elephant tusks out of Tanzania.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has launched its own well-meaning but distinctly inadequate initiative to curb the trade. Even if you missed the roll-out of that policy, you probably know that current trends are leading us toward a planetary animal dystopia, a most un-Disneyesque world in which the great forests and savannas of the planet will bid farewell to the species earlier generations referred to as their “royalty.” No more King of the Jungle, while Dorothy’s “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” will truly be over the rainbow. And that’s just for starters.

The even grimmer news that rarely makes the headlines is that the lesser subjects of that old royalty are vanishing, too. Though largely unacknowledged, the current war is far redder in tooth and claw than anything nature has to offer. It threatens not just charismatic species like elephants, gibbons, and rhinos, but countless others with permanent oblivion.

If current trends hold, one day not so very long from now our children may think of the T. rex and the tiger as co-occupants of a single Lost World, accessible only in dreams, storybooks, and the movies. Sure, some of the planet’s present megafauna will be bred in zoos for as long as society produces enough luxury to maintain such institutions. Even the best zoo, however, is but a faint simulacrum of wild habitat and its captives are ghosts of their free-roaming forebears.

That’s why the Obama administration deserves some credit for highlighting the urgent need to curb the wildlife trade. Its plan calls for using assets of the National Intelligence Council to advance enforcement efforts. Unfortunately, the administration proposes boosting the enforcement budget of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency with primary responsibility in this area, by only $8 million. Such an increase would lift its force of inspectors just slightly above the levels of 30 years ago when the illicit trade in wildlife was far smaller.

To grasp the breadth of the carnage now going on, it’s essential to realize that the war against nature is being waged on an almost infinite number of planetary fronts, affecting hundreds of species, and that the toll is already devastating. Among the battlefields, none may be bloodier than the forests of Southeast Asia, for they lie closest to China, the world’s most ravenous (and lucrative) market for wildlife and wildlife parts.

China’s taste for wildlife penetrates even the least visited corners of the region, where professional poachers industriously gather live porcupines and turtles, all manner of venison, monkey hands, python fat, pangolin scales, otter skins, gall bladders, antlers, horns, bones, and hundreds of other items. These goods, dead or alive, are smuggled to markets in China and elsewhere. Meanwhile, an expanding economy enables ever more millions of people to purchase expensive animal commodities they believe might stave off disease or provide the fancy restaurant meals that will impress in-laws and business associates.

To put the present war in perspective, think of it this way: every year, more and more money chases fewer and fewer creatures.

Slaughter at the Ground Level

In a typical forest in Southeast Asia you might encounter a snare line stretching a kilometer or more along a mountain ridge or running down one side of a canyon and all the way up the other. These barriers are waist-high walls of chopped brush, with gaps every few meters. They are hedges of death.

Almost any mammal traveling in this landscape, if larger than a tree shrew (which would fit in a modest handbag), sooner or later will have to pass through one of these gaps, and in each a snare awaits. Powered by a bent-over sapling, it lies beneath a camouflage of leaves and hides a loop of bicycle brake cable — or truck winch cable for larger animals like tigers. The trigger controlling each snare is made of small sticks and can be astonishingly sensitive. I’ve seen snares set for deer and wild pig that were no less capable of capturing creatures as light of foot as a jungle fowl, the wild cousin of the domestic chicken, or a silver pheasant, the males of which shimmer in the dusky forest like bundles of fallen moonbeams.

On an expedition to central Laos, my companions and I made our way into a forest distinguished mainly by its remoteness. The Vietnamese border lay perhaps a dozen kilometers to the east, closer by far than the nearest village, four days’ hard march away, where we’d recruited the guides and porters traveling with us. That village, in turn, lay two days by foot and motorized pirogue from the end of the nearest road. The head of our expedition, conservation biologist William Robichaud, the only other westerner in our group of 14, told me that, unless a distressed American pilot had parachuted into the sprawling watershed that lay before us during the Vietnam War, ours were the first blue eyes that had glimpsed it.

Isolation, however, failed to protect the canyons and ridges we surveyed. Evidence lay everywhere of commercial poachers who had crossed the mountains from Vietnam to feed the Chinese market. In a matter of days, we collected wires from almost a thousand snares. In them, we found the decaying carcasses of ferret badgers, hog badgers, mongooses, various species of birds, and several critically endangered large-antlered muntjacs, a species of barking deer, one of which, in its struggle to free itself, had pulled off its own foot before dying nearby.

We camped by fish-rich rivers that had been stripped of their otters and saw the remains of dozens of poachers’ camps, some elaborately equipped with butchering tables and smoking racks. Saddest of all was the sight of a red-shanked douc (also called a douc langur), perhaps the most beautiful monkey in the world, dangling upside down at the end of a snare pole, having succumbed to as slow and cruel a death as might be imagined.

The indiscriminant wastefulness of this massive trapping enterprise is hard to absorb even when you see it yourself. Poachers check their snare lines haphazardly and leave them armed when they depart the area. This means the killing goes on indefinitely, no matter if the bodies languish and rot.

A Unicorn Still in the Wild?

Though we were in that forest in part to remove snares and assess the nature of the ongoing damage, our main goal was to find a unicorn — or actually an animal almost as rare, a creature that might indeed have already moved, or might soon move, from Earth’s natural realms to the realm of mythology. We were searching for any sign of saola(Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), one of the rarest large mammals on the planet. Its very existence, though known to locals, was revealed to science only in 1992, when researchers spotted a strange set of horns on the wall of a hunter’s shack high in the mountains of Vietnam.

Saola proved to be much more than a new species. It represented a new genus, possibly even a new taxonomic tribe, although the jury is still out on that. A kind of bovid, a ruminant with cloven hooves, its nearest evolutionary relatives appear to be wild cattle, yet it looks nothing like a cow or bison. A saola stands a little higher than a carousel pony. Deer-like, but thicker in form, its powerful build helps it push through the densest vegetation. Its muzzle is splashed with camo patterns of white, and its tri-colored tail — white, chocolate brown, and black — blends with similar bands of color on its rump. Its long, nearly straight horns are elegantly tapered, and in profile they seem to blend into a single horn, giving the creature the otherworldly look of a unicorn.

At best, the existing population of saola numbers between a few dozen and a few hundred, making it nearly as rare and hard to find as a unicorn. Even stranger, its disposition, except when the animal is directly threatened, appears to be as gentle as that of the unicorns of medieval European lore.

In 1996, Robichaud spent two weeks in a rough crossroads town in central Laos observing a captive saola. The unfortunate creature did not survive long in the menagerie in which it was held — no saola has lasted more than a few months in confinement and none is held anywhere today — but he had ample opportunity to note that it reacted alertly, even violently, to the presence of a dog outside its enclosure. (Wild dogs, or dholes, are among its natural enemies.)

Eerily, however, the saola was calm in the presence of humans — far more so than the barking deer or the serow (a species of mountain goat) in nearby cages, even though they had been in the menagerie far longer. Captured in the wild just before Robichaud arrived, the saola proved calmer than any domestic goat, sheep, or cow he had known from farms in his native Wisconsin. The captive saola even let him pick ticks from its ears. Local information buttressed Robichaud’s sense of the creature’s almost unearthly serenity. A Buddhist monk from a nearby temple told him that people in the area had dubbed the creature “sat souphap,” which translates roughly as “the polite animal.”

Today, no one knows if the clock of extinction for the species stands at two minutes before midnight or two minutes after. The greatest threat to its survival is the kind of snaring we witnessed on our expedition, which is doubly tragic, for saola do not appear to be a target of the poachers. In spite of its exotic horns, the animal is unknown in traditional Chinese medicine. (Its omission from that medical tradition’s encyclopedic command of Asian fauna and flora testifies to its profound isolation from the rest of the world.) Rather, the last living remnants of the species risk being taken as by-catch, like sea turtles in a shrimper’s net.

The Politics of Extinction

The situation may be terrible, but at least there are parks and protected areas in Southeast Asia where wild creatures are safe, right?

Alas, wrong. Our travels took place in an official National Protected Area in Laos where snaring of the kind we witnessed is blatantly illegal. Yet the deadly harvest continues, there and elsewhere, thanks to insufficient investment in protection and law enforcement, not to mention insufficient political will in countries whose overriding priority is economic development. Last year in the protected area of more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) that we visited, a small number of government patrols removed nearly 14,000 snares, undoubtedly a small fraction of what’s there.

The same is true elsewhere. According to the Saola Working Group, a committee sponsored by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, patrols that its members help to fund and supervise in just five protected areas in Laos and Vietnam (including the one in which we traveled) have destroyed more than 90,000 snares since 2011. And yet that, too, is just a drop in the bucket of the wildlife trade.While the trade’s reach is global, the stakes may be highest in Southeast Asia (including Indonesia and the Philippines). About half the world’s people live there or in the adjacent countries of China, Bangladesh, and India. The region leads the world in the proportion of its birds and mammals that are endemic; that is, found nowhere else. Unfortunately, it also leads in the proportion in imminent danger of extinction, due in large measure to the wildlife trade. Worse yet, no country in Southeast Asia possesses a tradition of effective biological conservation.

Already many forests that once were rich in tigers, leopards, gaur, banteng, and gibbons are devoid of any mammals larger than a cocker spaniel. If the rest of the world truly wants to protect the planet’s endangered biodiversity, assisting the governments and NGOs of Southeast Asia in safeguarding their region’s natural heritage needs to be a global priority.

Critics often point out that the West is hypocritical in urging the East to do what it failed to accomplish in its own grim history of development. Indeed, the present sacking of Asian forests is analogous to the stripping of beaver from western American streams and the subsequent extirpation of bison herds in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, if the West has learned one thing, it’s that conservation in advance of calamity costs much less than repairs after the fact and that it is the only way to prevent irreparable mistakes. No matter what moral ground you stand on, the facts in the field are simple: our best chance to avert catastrophe lies before us, right now.

Other critics complacently observe that extinction has always been part of evolution and that other epochs have seen similar waves of species loss. New species, they say, will emerge to take the places of those we destroy. Such a view may be technically correct, but it commits an error of scale.

Evolution will continue; it cannot not continue. But the inexorable emergence of what Darwin called “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” proceeds at a nearly geological pace. By comparison, our human tenancy of Earth is a fleeting breath. Within the time frame of what we call civilization, the extinctions we cause are as eternal as any human accomplishment.

A Loneliness That Could Stretch to Infinity

The essential conservation task before the world is to protect key habitats and wildlife populations long enough for generational attitudes to change in China and its neighbors. At least in part, this means meeting the war on nature with a martial response. Whether protecting elephants in Kenya, mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a cause movingly depicted in the documentary film Virunga), tigers in Thailand, or saola in Laos, one has to prepare, quite literally, to meet fire with fire.

In the case of our expedition in Laos, three of our guides doubled as militia and carried AK-47s. The weapons were not for show. Poachers are generally similarly armed. On one occasion, such a band, traveling in the dead of night, nearly walked into our camp, only to melt back into the forest when they realized they’d been discovered.

Good news, however, glimmers amid the bad. Although the shift will take time, cultural values in Asia are beginning to change. Witness the recent abandonment of shark fin soup by Chinese consumers. The San Francisco-based NGO WildAid reports that sales of shark fins have plummeted 82% in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), the hub of the shark trade, and that two-thirds of the respondents to a recent poll cited public “awareness campaigns” against the global destruction of shark populations as a reason for ending their consumption.

Only by rising to the challenge of species protection — not “eventually,” but now — can we ensure that nature’s most magnificent creations will persist in the wild to delight future generations. Only through generous cooperation with Asian partners, boosting both law enforcement and political resolve, can we preserve the stunning, often cacophonous, and always mysterious diversity of a large share of the planet’s most biologically productive ecosystems.

The dystopian alternative is terrible to consider. Uncounted species — not just tigers, gibbons, rhinos, and saola, but vast numbers of smaller mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles — are being pressed to the brink. We’ve hardly met them and yet, within the vastness of the universe, they and the rest of Earth’s biota are our only known companions. Without them, our loneliness would stretch to infinity.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of eight books. His latest, just published, is The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures (Little, Brown and Company, 2015). His website is williamdebuys.com.

Independent Ecologists: Forthcoming UN IPCC Climate Change Mitigation Report Is “Deeply Flawed”; Recommendations Will Worsen Global Warming

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Independent experts explore viability of draft IPCC mitigation plans advocating carbon dioxide produced from power generation to be captured and stored in fight against climate change Photograph: Greenpeace Handout/EPA


Oldspeak:
“Dr Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch says that the report’s embrace of “largely untested” and “very risky” technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), will “exacerbate” climate change, agricultural problems, water scarcity, soil erosion and energy challenges, “rather than improving them.”A leaked draft of the as yet unpublished report by Working Group 3 (WG3) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be officially released in mid-April, was obtained by the Guardian. Dr Smolker, a behavioural ecologist and biofuels expert, said that the alarming impacts of climate change identified by the IPCC’s Working Groups 1 and 2 would “worsen” as a consequence of such “false solutions” which have been increasingly criticised in the scientific literature… the IPCC’s central emphasis on biofuels with carbon capture is a “dangerous distraction” from the task of “deeply altering our entire relationship to energy consumption.” She highlighted an unwillingness to recognise the “fundamental link between ‘endless growth economics’ and ecological destruction.” Working Group 3, she said, lacks sufficient expertise to assess the merits of its recommended technologies. Many critical assessments of bioenergy “come from scientists with a background in ecology and related disciplines and those are barely represented within the IPCC” – WG3 is staffed largely by economists and engineers. -Dr. Nafeez Ahmed

“The highlighted section above is all you need to know.  Secondary sociopathic refusal to recognize the devastatingly ecocidal and destructive effects of globalized inverted corptalitarian kleptocracy has led market-based economists and engineers to present market-based “climate mitigation” strategies.  Leaving aside the fact there is no longer any way humans can mitigate the unprecedented extinction level event that their activities have wrought, and given who was on the working group this report is wholly unsurprising.  Sister Audre Lorde said “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The IPCC, is one of the supra-governmental transnational corporate network masters’ tools.  Meant to give the appearance of concern, impartiality, urgency, and “solutions” to Anthropogenic climate change. in the end, its aim is to justify continued business as usual market-based “economy”; infinite growth, profit generation, and cost externalization. Refusing to recognize basic truths like infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. That nothing can be more important than life. There is no “economy” with out the ecology and its invaluable, and rapidly dwindling natural capital… Unfortunately we have in this report further confirmation that as revolutionary economist Manfred Max-Neef says: “Greed is the dominant value today in the world. As long as that’s the case, we’re done.” -OSJ

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian UK:

A British environmental organisation that has reviewed the draft of a forthcoming UN IPCC report on mitigating climate change has questioned many of the document’s recommendations as deeply flawed.

Dr Rachel Smolker, co-director of Biofuelwatch, said that the report’s embrace of “largely untested” and “very risky” technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), will “exacerbate” climate change, agricultural problems, water scarcity, soil erosion and energy challenges, “rather than improving them.”

A leaked draft of the as yet unpublished report by Working Group 3 (WG3) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be officially released in mid-April, was obtained by the Guardian. Dr Smolker, a behavioural ecologist and biofuels expert, said that the alarming impacts of climate change identified by the IPCC’s Working Groups 1 and 2 would “worsen” as a consequence of such “false solutions” which have been increasingly criticised in the scientific literature.

Avoiding “overshoot”

The IPCC projects that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide emissions are unlikely to stabilise at 450 parts per million (ppm), accepted by the international community as the safe limit to ensure that global average temperatures do not exceed the 2 degrees Celsius danger level. It is more likely that concentrations could “overshoot” to around 550 ppm (if not higher by other less conservative projections). The leaked draft concludes that “essentially any” emissions target can be achieved “regardless of the near‐term path” of overshoot “by shifting emissions reductions to the future”:

“There are no published scenarios depicting a pathway returning to 450 CO2‐e [emissions] by century’s end without a negative emissions option when delayed participation is imposed. The vast majority of published 450 CO2‐e scenarios involve overshoot during the century and include a negative emissions technology.”

The draft thus recommends “carbon negative” energy technologies that might help to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. These include “large scale utilisation of BECCS”; coal and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels is captured and injected underground where it is stored indefinitely; nuclear power; and large hydroelectric plants.

Carbon capture, or multiplier?

The problem, Biofuelwatch’s co-director said, is that there is no scientific consensus on whether these technologies actually work. CCS technology is already being used to facilitate intensified fossil fuel exploitation. In bioenergy, it has involved “capture of fermentation in ethanol refineries”:

“… so far much of carbon captured from bioenergy and other processes is ultimately used for Enhanced Oil Recovery – injected into depleted oil wells to create pressure enough to force remaining difficult to access oil out. This can hardly be considered ‘sequestration’ or an effective approach to solving the climate problem.”

She added that “burning wood for electricity and heat releases up to 150% as much CO2 per unit of energy generation than does coal” excluding emissions from “deforestation, harvesting and transportation.”

According to Dr Smolker, CCS cannot be viewed as “carbon negative” due to “the high costs, and associated high added energy demand for capture, transport, compression and injection.” Even more problematic, she said, is that there is “little real world testing” of whether CO2 pumped into underground cavities “will remain in situ” indefinitely, or be released, which she describes as “a dangerous gamble.”

Biofuelwatch also criticised the IPCC draft report’s recommendation of large-scale bioenergy projects. Bioenergy “should be considered a driver” of emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use, Smolker said, “not a means of mitigation.” The growing use of bioenergy as a substitute for fossil fuels is encroaching increasingly on land use, and in turn escalating food prices, intensifying land grabbing, and increasing demand for crops, livestock, wood and so on:

“Lands and ecosystems cannot at the same time both provide large quantities of biomass for bioenergy, and still securely act as ‘carbon sinks.’ It is not possible to have it both ways.”

Currently, just under 40% of US corn production is dedicated to ethanol although it provides just “a pittance of transport energy.” The large areas of land required for meaningful bioenergy production means it would simultaneously undermine food production while contributing to “escalating food prices.” Although the IPCC proposes bioenergy as the solution to renewable energy, “it can never provide more than a tiny fraction towards the current and projected growth in demand for energy.”

Broken climate needs fixing

Stephen Salter, a professor emeritus of engineering design at the University of Edinburgh who has proposed cloud enhancement as one mechanism of geoengineering to address climate change, said that given the import of dangerous warming, techniques to reduce carbon in the atmosphere must be part of the toolbox. But he said the focus should be on the Arctic:

“Those working on geoengineering are largely doing so reluctantly. The concern is that we need to ensure technology is available in case events occur more quickly than expected. The IPCC has not fully accounted for certain feedbacks involving black carbon, methane release, and the rapid loss of the Arctic summer sea ice. A technique like marine cloud brightening by spraying seawater onto clouds to increase their reflectivity, could save the sea ice and help cool the climate with relatively little side-effects that can be controlled with careful application.”

But other geoengineering techniques suffer from less certainty, said Prof Salter, who is a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). “Many major proposals suffer from debilitating costs and practicalities, and would take too long – up to a century or more – to work. And their risks are less understood.”

Prof Stuart Haszeldine, a geoscientist also at the University of Edinburgh specialising in CCS, said:

“Ultimately a full, immediate transition to renewables is the right imperative, but it cannot happen overnight due to the engineering costs and practicalities. So we must reduce our carbon emissions while we are still relying on fossil fuels. Our current emissions trajectory is heading for catastrophe. CCS would allow us to draw down emissions during the transition to renewables.

Every component of CCS has been practiced separately in the industry for decades, so putting them altogether to minimise our carbon footprint makes sense. Several large-scale commercial CCS enterprises will become operational this year, such as the coal-fired plant in Kemper County.

100% renewable transition in 15 years: feasible?

Danielle Paffard of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain project, however, voiced further reservations: “BECCS isn’t useful as a central feature of a climate mitigation strategy, due to the scale of current electricity demand, and requires an enormous reduction of demand to be viable. Any proposal to rely primarily on biomass for baseload electricity generation is never sensible.” Salter, Haszeldine and Paffard have not seen the draft IPCC mitigation report.

In particular, Paffard criticised carbon capture for fossil fuel power plants as a “red herring”:

“We can’t hope to simply run over a carbon precipice and pulls ourselves back. Government targets must be much more ambitious. Our research has shown that we can run modern societies without relying on fossil fuels, and that transitioning to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 is technologically and economically feasible with the right approach.”

Despite reservations, Paffard acknowledged a limited but “very important” role for BECCS. Other forms of carbon capture such as peatland conversion, biochar, and extensive reforestation will be “crucial” for energy transition, she said:

“Biomass does have the potential to be very destructive, but if used sparingly it has a place as part of a wider strategy involving renewables, to create synthetic fuels useful for industry and transport. Bioenergy is important as a flexible backup to address long-term energy storage due to the intermittency and variability of renewable sources – but its use must be sustainable, based on ‘second generation’ non-food crops [e.g. forest and crop residues, municipal and construction waste], not encroach on land-use for food, and combined with extensive reforestation.”

The IPCC draft report does emphasise the need to dramatically ramp up solar and wind power, pointing out the superior “technical potential” of solar compared to other renewables.

Economic straitjacket?

Dr Smolker of Biofuelwatch, in contrast, said that the IPCC’s central emphasis on biofuels with carbon capture is a “dangerous distraction” from the task of “deeply altering our entire relationship to energy consumption.” She highlighted an unwillingness to recognise the “fundamental link between ‘endless growth economics’ and ecological destruction.”

Working Group 3, she said, lacks sufficient expertise to assess the merits of its recommended technologies. Many critical assessments of bioenergy “come from scientists with a background in ecology and related disciplines and those are barely represented within the IPCC” – WG3 is staffed largely by economists and engineers:

“The underlying assumption appears to be that business as usual [BAU] economic growth must be sustained, and industry and corporate profits must be protected and maintained. But if we focus on ‘BAU economics’, seeking and accepting only bargain basement options for addressing global warming – the costs will be far more severe.”

_________________________________________________________________

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

U.S. House Of Representatives Passes Bill Requiring National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration To De-prioritize Climate Change Research

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), the bill’s sponsor. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oldspeak: “The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research entirely, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy…It’s not particularly surprising that Bridenstine would want a smaller government focus on climate change — he has repeatedly said that he believes it does not exist, despite consensus from 97 percent of the scientific community. Specifically, Bridenstine has said temperature increases have coincided more with “solar activity” than the human-driven increase in heat-trapping gases emitted into the atmosphere…” -Emily Atkin

“Your tax dollars at work, hurtling industrial civilization toward collapse and extinction. i’ll just quote Bertrand Russell and let you meditate on the unmitigated ecocidal MADNESS that is the U.S. Political System. ” -OSJ

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.” -Bertrand Russell

By Emily Atkin @ Climate Progress:

Two days after a U.N. report warned of increased famine, war, and poverty from unmitigated carbon emissions, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to focus less on studying climate change, and more on predicting storms.

The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research entirely, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.”

NOAA is a scientific agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, focused on the changing conditions of both the oceans and the atmosphere. It’s not a standalone entity, either — NOAA oversees the National Weather Service, the National Ocean Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, among other agencies. Bridenstine’s bill would affect NOAA’s activities in all of its underlying departments.

It’s not particularly surprising that Bridenstine would want a smaller government focus on climate change — he has repeatedly said that he believes it does not exist, despite consensus from 97 percent of the scientific community. Specifically, Bridenstine has said temperature increases have coincided more with “solar activity” than the human-driven increase in heat-trapping gases emitted into the atmosphere.

Bridestine said he hopes that shifting funds to weather forecasting and taking them away from climate change research will “protect lives and property,” noting that his home state of Oklahoma was ravaged by severe tornadoes last year.

Scientists are still trying to determine what, if any, impact climate change has on tornadoes, though the link between other forms of extreme weather has been shown time and again. As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm notes, the link between the tornadoes and climate change is scientifically difficult to attribute, though that doesn’t mean it should be avoided.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains: “It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening. The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. … The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere.”

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ExxonMobil Carbon Asset Risk Report: ‘Climate Change, And Specifically Global Climate Policies, Are “Highly Unlikely” To Stop it From Selling Fossil Fuels For Decades To Come’

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2014 at 7:10 pm

CREDIT: AP/Hadi Mizban

Oldspeak: “Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, Director, Oil & Gas Program, Ceres“. -Ari Phillips

“Short Translation: “Business as usual to continue apace. Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction will continue, unabated, and in all probability, accelerated.  i mean, come on, the U.S. Canada, Russia, China, Denmark, Norway, have been meeting to divvy up the fossil fuel resources and shipping routes to be exploited when the Arctic completely melts. While climate “mitigation” plans go unmade, climate instability acceleration plans are in full effect. That means continued and accelerated warming, sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, perpetual drought, water scarcity, food scarcity, habitable land scarcity, and eventually extinction. There is no other probable outcome at this time. We need to stop pretending that there is.” -OSJ

Exxon Is Behind The Landmark Climate Report You Didn’t Hear About

 

 

By Ari Phillips @ Climate Progress:

Climate change is already impacting all continents. But it isn’t yet impacting all companies. The latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report released on Monday confirmed the former. A report released by Exxon Mobil the same day about how greenhouse gas emissions and climate change factor into its business model found that climate change, and specifically global climate policies, are “highly unlikely” to stop it from selling fossil fuels for decades to come.

Exxon is the first major oil and gas producer to publish a Carbon Asset Risk report to address investor concerns over how market forces and environmental regulations might impact the production of some of its reserves. The company agreed to publish the report several weeks ago after Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management platform, and As You Sow, a non-profit promoting environmental corporate responsibility, agreed to drop a shareholder resolution on the issue. These shareholders have concerns that Exxon Mobil’s assets will become worth less as fossil fuel restrictions come into place in coming years and climate change becomes an even more immediate and dire societal problem.

In the report, Exxon didn’t feel the need to sound any alarm bells.

“We know enough based on the research and science that the risk (of climate change) is real and appropriate steps should be taken to address that risk,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s government affairs chief, told the AP in an interview Monday. “But given the essential role that energy plays in everyone’s lives, those steps need to be taken in context with other realities we face, including lifting much of the world’s population out of poverty.”

Exxon said they take the risk of climate change seriously, but steps to address the problem “will be most effective if they are informed by global energy demand and supply realities, and balance the economic aspirations of consumers.”

Balancing these economic aspirations means that carbon dioxide emissions from energy sources peak around 2030 and begin to decrease within a decade after that as demand for access to electricity and heat is offset by increased efficiency and advances in low-carbon and renewable technologies.

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capita, told the AP that while the report is a milestone, she was disappointed that it failed “to explain what would happen if society did in fact adopt policies that would lead to sharply lower emissions, something known broadly as a low-carbon standard.”

The world will require 35 percent more energy in 2040 than in 2010, according to the report, and Exxon Mobil does not believe that new forms of energy will be able to supplant traditional hydrocarbons in that period.

“Exxon Mobil has acknowledged the significant risks climate change poses to its business, the likelihood of a price on carbon, and growing momentum to address climate change — yet still calls a low-carbon scenario unlikely,” Andrew Logan, director of the Oil & Gas Program at Ceres, said in a statement. “Investors disagree, and will continue to push Exxon Mobil to align their planning with this reality.”

“This reality” being the one depicted in the new IPCC report that warns of the breakdown of food systems, new and prolonged poverty traps, and increased risks of violent conflicts and civil war. These warnings go far beyond investor’s concerns, and would require a commitment from Exxon Mobil to address — not just a statement of acknowledgement.

 

NASA Study: Continued Resource Overconsumption & Extreme Inequality Could Lead To Collapse Of Industrial Civilization Within Decades

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

https://i2.wp.com/fc04.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2011/268/d/7/global_warming_by_dc1983-d4ax1f2.jpgOldspeak: “Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common…It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation: “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”….the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”Dr Nafeez Ahmed , Executive Director, Institute for Policy Research & Development.

“At this point it’s just physics.  There is nothing controversial about this. There is a finite amount of the  “natural capital” needed to sustain the current iteration of industrial civilization on the earth. industrial civilization is currently extracting that capital at a rate that would require 1.5 to 2 earths to sustain. At some point earth’s biocapacity will be reached and  Population will no longer be supported. Runaway climate change will devastate already fragile water, agricultural and energy systems and displace billions of people. Water and food production will  grind to a halt as temperatures rise & we relentlessly poison and contaminate the water and land we need to grow our food. Every other empire prior to this one has collapsed when they experienced conditions that exist today. We can’t act like we don’t know what coming for much longer. Our Mother won’t allow it. We’re done whether we want to acknowledge it or not.” -OSJ

By Dr Nafeez Ahmed @ The Guardian:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

 

How The U.S. Exports Global Warming: Sells “The Dirtiest Fuel On The Planet” Toxic Tar Sands Waste To Asia

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2014 at 2:25 pm
How the U.S. Exports Global Warming

While Obama talks of putting America on the path to a clean, green future, we’re flooding world markets with cheap, high carbon fuels -Tim Dickinson

Oldspeak: Time ticks away as the U.S. fracks itself to death, poisoning its water supply producing more toxic petroleum and methane gas, digging up more coal than ever, it’s shipping the dirtiest fuel on the planet to China. China is consuming nearly as much coal and “petcoke”  than all other nations on earth COMBINED and it’s consumption is expected to grow 40 percent by 2020. “Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel.” So ignore all the bullshit stats about how the U.S. is greening, as though climate pollution was country specific.  Carbon emissions don’t respect arbitrary human created territorial boundaries. The U.S. is in fact INCREASING carbon emissions by exporting the filthiest most toxic wastes as fuel to developing economies world wide, that could it just as easily be exporting clean energy alternatives to. There is no genuine interest in eliminating fossil fuels by the Obama administration and the governments of most other major dirty energy consumers. Dirty fuel production is ACCELERATING.  Carbon emissions are rapidly increasing. Profit is all that matters in the sociopathic corptalitarian capitalist virus that has swept across the globe. The ecology is an externality in this deranged economic model. Very little being done is sustainable. Knowing these facts, we can reasonably expect the extreme climate change to occur, long before most unrealistically underestimating and incomplete climate models predict. We are firmly entrenched in and exacerbating earth 6th mass extinction. “ -OSJ

By Tim Dickinson @ Rolling Stone:

he greening of American energy is both real and profound. Since President Obama took office, the nation’s solar capacity has increased more than tenfold. Wind power has more than doubled, to 60,000 megawatts – enough to power nearly 20 million homes. Thanks to aggressive new fuel-efficiency standards, the nation’s drivers are burning nearly 5 billion fewer gallons of gasoline a year than in 2008. The boom in cheap natural gas, meanwhile, has disrupted the coal industry. Coal-power generation, though still the nation’s top source of electricity, is off nearly 20 percent since 2008. More than 150 coal plants have already been shuttered, and the EPA is expected to issue regulations in June that will limit emissions from existing coal facilities. These rules should accelerate the shift to natural gas, which – fracking’s risks to groundwater aside – generates half the greenhouse pollution of coal.

See the 10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Global Warming

But there’s a flip side to this American success story. Even as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer – supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s – when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand – Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade.

“The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,” says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. “Coal, gas, refinery products – crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We’re going to export it.”

When the winds kicked up over the Detroit river last spring, city residents confronted a new toxic hazard: swirling clouds of soot taking flight from a mysterious black dune piled high along the city’s industrial waterfront. By fall, similar dark clouds were settling over Chicago’s South Side – this time from heaping piles along the Calumet River. The pollution in both cities made national headlines – and created a dubious coming-out party for petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” a filthy byproduct of refining gasoline and diesel from Canadian tar-sands crude. Despite the controversy over Keystone XL – the stalled pipeline project that would move diluted tar-sands bitumen to refineries on the Gulf Coast – the Canadian crude is already a large and growing part of our energy mix. American refineries, primarily in the Midwest, processed 1.65 million barrels a day in 2012 – up 40 percent from 2010.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Converting tar-sands oil into usable fuels requires a huge amount of energy, and much of the black gunk that’s refined out of the crude in this process ends up as petroleum coke. Petcoke is like concentrated coal – denser and dirtier than anything that comes out of a mine. It can be burned just like coal to produce power, but petcoke emits up to 15 percent more climate pollution. (It also contains up to 12 times as much sulfur, not to mention a slew of heavy metals.) In Canada, the stuff is largely treated like a waste product; the country has stockpiled nearly 80 million tons of it. Here in the U.S., petcoke is sometimes burned in coal plants, but it’s so filthy that the EPA has stopped issuing any new licenses for its use as fuel. “Literally, in terms of climate change,” says Stockman, “it’s the dirtiest fuel on the planet.”

With domestic petcoke consumption plummeting – by nearly half since Obama took office – American energy companies have seized on the substance as a coal alternative for export. The market price for petcoke is about one-third that of coal. According to a State Department analysis, that makes American-produced petcoke “less expensive, including the shipping, than China’s coal.” Petcoke exports have surged by one-third since 2008, to 33.4 million metric tons; China is now the top consumer, and demand is exploding. Through the first nine months of 2013, Chinese imports were running 50 percent higher than in 2012.

No surprise: The Koch brothers are in the middle of this market. Koch Carbon, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, was the owner of the Detroit dune, since sold off to an international buyer. But it’s a third Koch brother, Billy, who is the petcoke king. William Koch is the CEO of Oxbow Carbon, which describes itself as “the worldwide leader in fuel-grade petcoke sourcing and sales” – trading 11 million tons per year.

Read Our Feature On the Arctic Ice Crisis

With dirty Canadian crude imports on the rise, U.S. refineries have been retooling to produce even more petcoke. A BP refinery on the outskirts of Chicago just tripled its coking capacity and is now the world’s second-largest source of the black gunk. But the Promised Land of petcoke refining is on the Gulf Coast – which is part of why Big Oil is so hot to complete the Keystone XL pipeline. The Texas and Louisiana refineries that would process Keystone crude can produce a petcoke pile the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza every year, which, when burned, would produce more than 18 million tons of carbon pollution.

Despite the dangers of petcoke, the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to its proliferation. A 2011 State Department environmental-impact study of Keystone XL, commissioned under then-Secretary Hillary Clinton, treated petcoke as if it were an inert byproduct, and failed to consider its end use as a fuel when calculating the greenhouse impacts of the pipeline. According to the EPA, that decision led State to lowball the pipeline’s associated emissions by as much as 30 percent.

In 2013, the post-Hillary State Department revised that assessment, conceding that petcoke “significantly increases” the emissions associated with tar sands. However, State punted on the big issue of climate pollution, maintaining that Keystone XL won’t create a net increase because the Canadian crude would reach Gulf refineries with or without the pipeline.

A joint letter by Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, blasted State’s conclusion as “fundamentally flawed” and “contrary to basic economics” – noting that it would take a new forest the size of West Virginia to fully offset the carbon emissions Keystone XL would bring to market.

The tar-sands boom has the united states poised to become a top player in the global-export market for gasoline and diesel. And Obama’s top trade ambassador has been working behind the scenes to make sure that our climate-conscious European allies don’t shutter their markets to fuels refined from the filthy Canadian crude.

The U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, is a protégé of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and a top member of the president’s inner circle. Froman was confirmed last June to his current trade post, where he’s under direct orders from the president to “open new markets for American businesses.” His nomination was opposed by only four senators – chiefly Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who faulted Froman for refusing to commit to even the paltry standard for transparency in trade talks set by the George W. Bush administration. Warren was right to be concerned. In backroom negotiations, Froman has worked to undermine new European Union fuel standards intended to lower the continent’s carbon emissions. The European standards would work, in part, by grading the carbon toxicity of various crude oils. They logically propose placing polluting tar-sands oil in a carbon class all by itself; on its path from a pit mine to the filling station, a gallon of tar-sands gas is responsible for 81 percent more climate pollution than the average gallon of regular. But instead of respecting the EU’s commitment to slow global warming, Froman has worked to force North America’s dirtiest petrol into the tanks of Europe’s Volkswagens, Peugeots and lorries.

His hardball tactics were revealed in obscure written congressional testimony last year. In a question to Froman, Rep. Kevin Brady, an oil-friendly Texas Republican, slammed the European proposal as a “discriminatory, environmentally unjustified” trade barrier. Froman responded, “I share your concerns,” and described his work to “press the Commission to take the views of . . . U.S. refiners under consideration.” He explained how he had turned the standards into a point of contention in negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – a major free-trade pact being hammered out between the U.S. and the EU. Last October, Froman’s team even went before the World Trade Organization to demand that all globally traded petroleum products be treated “without discrimination.”

Froman’s dirty-energy advocacy provoked an angry letter last December from the Bicameral Climate Change Task Force – prominently co-signed by Warren. It blasted the ambassador’s efforts to “undercut” the EU’s climate goals as well as his “shortsighted view of the United States’ economic interests.” Citing the projected $70 billion in adverse climate effects from exploitation of tar-sands crude, the task force demanded Froman justify his “troubling” actions in the context of the United States’ “long-term economic well-being.” The ambassador’s office has not responded.

“We’re telling the world on the one hand that it’s time for leadership from us on facing up to carbon pollution,” says Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island. “While on the other we’re saying, ‘Hey, here, buy our high-carbon-pollution fuels.'”

If Big Oil has its way, the United States could soon return to the business of exporting not only refined petroleum products but crude oil itself – a practice that’s been illegal since the oil shocks of the 1970s. The crude-oil-export ban has been the linchpin of U.S. energy security for more than a generation. With narrow exceptions for Alaskan crude and exports to Canada, the law requires that oil drilled here must be refined here – helping to insulate American drivers from disruptions in oil fields of the Middle East. But the unexpected boom in fracked crude from North Dakota and Texas has transformed this long-uncontroversial law into a bugbear for domestic drillers – who now see American energy independence as a threat to their profit margins.

When the Keystone XL pipeline was first proposed in 2007, the accepted notion was that Gulf Coast refineries would be able to process all the crude that the pipeline could carry. But the nation’s energy picture has since changed dramatically. Thanks to advances in fracking technology, North Dakota and Texas are bringing millions of barrels of “sweet” – low-sulfur, easily refined – crude to the market every day.

In this new reality, the fixed flow from a pipeline like Keystone XL, carrying more than 1.5 million barrels of Canadian crude to the Gulf Coast every day, is going to create excess supply. The surplus tar-sands crude, as much as 400,000 barrels per day, will have to be shipped out of the Gulf to the global market. “There is a limit to how much the Gulf Coast refiners can soak up,” said Esa Ramasamy, of the energy-information service Platts, in a recent presentation. “The Canadian crudes cannot go back up into Canada again. They will have to go out.”

An export ban or not, it will likely happen: As long as it’s not “commingled” with American crude, Canadian crude, despite its transit through the United States, remains Canadian.

The new flood of domestic crude, meanwhile, is straining U.S. refining capacity, producing a nearly $10-per-barrel discount for U.S. oil compared to the global average for sweet crude. America’s domestic drillers are desperate to fetch higher prices on the global market. (Exxon, the Chamber of Commerce and key senators like Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski have just launched a media offensive to kill the export ban altogether.)

In addition to promoting energy independence, the export ban now has the virtue of limiting the pace at which American drillers exploit the continent’s newfound climate-toxic oil riches. Ending the ban would not only hurt U.S. consumers by wiping out the home-oil discount, it would also boost the profits of domestic-oil companies and hasten exploration of now-marginal deposits. “Lifting the oil-export ban is simply climate denial in a new, and very dangerous, form,” says Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International’s executive director.

Nonetheless, Obama’s new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, told reporters at a recent energy conference that the ban is a relic and ought to be re-examined “in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.”

The greatest success story in the greening of American energy is the market-driven collapse of coal. Last year, American power plants burned 181 million fewer tons of coal than in the final year of the Bush administration, as power companies shifted to burning cheaper natural gas. And after years of delay, the administration finally appears to be committed to driving some regulatory nails into Big Coal’s coffin: In January, the EPA published a draft rule that’s likely to end the construction of new coal plants by requiring cost-prohibitive carbon-capture technology. This summer, the agency is expected to introduce climate-pollution rules for existing plants that should hasten the adoption of natural gas.

With the freefall in domestic demand, industry giants like Peabody are desperate to turn American coal into a global export – targeting booming Asian economies that are powering their growth with dirty fuel. China now consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and its demand is projected to grow by nearly 40 percent by the end of the decade. “China’s demand,” according to William Durbin, head of global markets for the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, “will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal.”

Since Obama took office, American coal exports are up more than 50 percent. And Big Coal has designs to more than double that tonnage by opening a direct export route to Asia, shipping coal strip-mined from the Powder River Basin, in Wyoming and Montana, by rail to a network of planned export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and then by sea to China. These new coal exports have received far less attention than Keystone XL, but would unleash a carbon bomb nearly identical to the greenhouse pollution attributed to the pipeline.

After inking a 2011 deal to export 24 million tons of Powder River Basin coal through the planned Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point in Washington, Peabody Coal CEO Gregory Boyce gushed, “We’re opening the door to a new era of U.S. exports from the nation’s largest and most productive coal region to the world’s best market for coal.”

Last March, John Kitzhaber and Jay Inslee, the governors of Oregon and Washington, respectively, wrote to the White House expressing near disbelief that the administration seemed prepared to let Big Coal’s dreams come true. “It is hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export,” they wrote. Coal passing through Pacific Northwest terminals would produce, they argued, “climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

But the administration refused to intervene. Appearing before Congress last June, the acting regulatory chief of the Army Corps of Engineers announced that climate pollution would not factor in the evaluation of permits for the export terminals. The burning of American coal in Asia, she testified, was “too far removed” to be considered.

Even more troubling, the administration opened up more than 300 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin to bidding by the coal companies last year. The coal is on government land; it belongs to the public. Yet the leasing practices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are so flawed that one independent study estimates that taxpayers have been fleeced of $30 billion over the past three decades. In the past, that stealth subsidy to Big Coal at least helped create cheap power for American homes and businesses. Today, the administration has put American taxpayers in the position of subsidizing coal destined to fuel the growth of our nation’s fiercest, and carbon-filthiest, economic rival.

In the battle to prevent the United States from fueling the developing world’s global-warming binge, the deck is stacked against climate hawks. The fossil-fuel industry remains the single most powerful special interest in Washington, having successfully ball-gagged the entire Republican Party on global warming. More insidiously, the macroeconomic indicators by which the economy – and any presidency – are measured can be cheaply inflated through dirty-energy exports, which boost GDP and narrow the trade deficit.

But here’s the surprise: Climate activists are more than holding their own. Keystone XL is on an indefinite hold, and Whitehouse says he’s “optimistic” that the pipeline won’t gain approval on the watch of new Secretary of State John Kerry. Likewise, Obama’s Powder River Basin initiatives seem to be going nowhere in the face of strong regional and national opposition. Even Wall Street is getting cold feet on coal. In January, Goldman Sachs dumped its stake in the Cherry Point, Washington, terminal once celebrated by Peabody Coal’s CEO as emblematic of his industry’s future. And with no clear path to China, coal companies themselves are pulling back. In two BLM auctions last summer, one failed to solicit any bids by coal companies; the other received a single bid – and it was too low for even the famously coal-friendly BLM to accept.

But preventing America from morphing into the world’s dirty-energy hub will likely require something more: a competitive Democratic primary for 2016. By all outward indications, the Clinton regime-in-waiting is even more supportive of the dirty-energy trade than the Obama White House. Bill Clinton is a vocal proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling on America to “embrace it.” During Hillary Clinton’s reign as secretary of state, the department outsourced its flawed environmental assessment of Keystone XL to a longtime contractor for the pipeline’s builder, TransCanada – whose top lobbyist just happened to have served as a deputy manager for Clinton’s 2008 presidential run. Clinton herself, in a 2010 appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, sounded fatalistic about bringing tar sands to market: “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf, or dependent on dirty oil from Canada,” she said.

In a contested primary, the issue of constraining the nation’s polluting exports is likely to emerge as a significant fault line between Clinton and whomever emerges to represent the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.

A credible challenger need not derail Clinton to make the difference. Recall that both Clinton and Obama began as reticent climate hawks in 2008 – even talking up the prospects of refining coal into a liquid for use as auto fuel – before the threat of John Edwards forced both candidates to commit to the ambitious goal of reducing climate pollution by 80 percent by 2050. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton simply cruises through the primaries, it’s a safe bet that the corporate center will hold – and that North America’s fossil exports are going to flow. That’s a state of affairs from which the world as we know it will not soon recover.

This story is from the February 13th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

The Big Picture: Anthropocentrism, Essential Psychopathy & Ecocide

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Oldspeak: “Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’… Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists…. Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on… Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature…. And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations…. Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community….With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born… And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land…. When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest… We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world… By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?… Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable.  Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.” –Richard Posner

We are illusionists. There is very little that is physical in the world we’ve created and made ourselves to believe. From Friday to November to religious dogma to the boundaries of Russia to fiat currency to political parties … all are constructs – simplifications – to structure and order the world around us in our collective minds. We have the power to chart our future actions on this planet, and hence the flows of energy and matter that result from whatever rules guide our collective minds. If this is the case, then why do we fetishize a particular set of rules that understands human progress as continuous throughout (i.e. extraction, production, consumption and waste)? Why does the dominant human culture, which has extended to every corner of the globe, continually persist in advancing this goal, without comprehending the biophysical touchstone that allows such throughput to occur in the first place?”-Vijay Kolinjivadi, Economic Growth is Killing Us

All countries are basically social arrangements, accomodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent and even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact, they are all artificial and temporary-Strobe Talbott

“At what point will the rapidly changing circumstances on our planet force us to pay attention to reality and reject the artificial and temporary unreality we’re being drowned in? Probably not until industrial civilization collapses. Enjoy the ride to extinction…-OSJ

By Richard Posner @ The Hampton Institute:

Kind reader;

Being a self-educated generalist, it has long been my practice to wade in the shallows of many disciplines rather than plunging into and fully immersing myself in any one. I think this has served me fairly well since I have consequently not been restrained by the bounds of specialisation. I have not drowned myself in the depths of any single field of study to the exclusion of all others.

It’s my opinion that being a generalist enhances one’s ability to take a broader view of Life, its tumultuous history and seemingly endless mutability. It enables one to more readily see “the big picture”.

You may note, and I trust it will not be too disconcerting, that I follow something of a non-linear path with this essay. That’s simply because that’s how it was conceived and consequently presented.

I may occasionally diverge from the specific subject of any given section to temporarily pursue a tangential but relevant thought, only to return a paragraph or two later.

There may also be some instances of redundancy, which simply means I feel that certain points warrant repetition.

The Rise of the Human Empire

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

Albert Schweitzer
A basic rule of thumb in evolution seems to be: the larger and more complex the organism, the more slowly it adapts to changes in the environment and, consequently, the longer its evolutionary path. With a very short generational time line, a virus may mutate in a matter of days or even hours while a creature like a whale, or a human, with generations lasting many years, may require hundreds or even thousands of those long generations to undergo any widespread, substantial, physiological alteration.

All the creatures of Earth that have come and gone over a span of years numbered in hundreds of millions, excepting only Homo sapiens, have either succeeded or failed while attempting to adapt and evolve to the environmental changes Nature has thrown at them. Our species alone, in lieu of adaptation, has turned to the radical and irreparably destructive process of altering the environment, on a massive scale, to suit our preferences.

Discounting events such as asteroid strikes, massive volcanic activity or other rapidly occurring natural disasters, some triggering widespread extinction events, manifold species have either managed to adapt to changes in their landbase or migrated to new places that better suited their physiology. If their survival tactics failed, they simply disappeared into the void of extinction.

Our ancient ancestors, going back some five or six million years, adapted and evolved in the same manner until quite recently. During the Paleolithic Period, beginning a mere 750,000 years ago, we still existed as a part of and in balance with Nature.

The Paleolithic ended around 15,000 years ago and, sometime shortly thereafter, in the early stages of the Neolithic Period, something happened that took the human species off the path of natural evolution.

Somewhere around 10,000 to as long as 13,000 years ago, our ancestors started behaving oddly. They abandoned the way of Life that had allowed the primate family Hominidae, the hominids, which includes H. sapiens, to survive for some five million years.

“In the Levant – the area that today encompasses Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan, and western Syria – archaeologists had discovered settlements dating as far back as 13,000 B.C. Known as Natufian villages (the name comes from the first of these sites to be found), they sprang up across the Levant as the Ice Age was drawing to a close, ushering in a time when the region’s climate became relatively warm and wet”. (source)

These settlements were not constructed by farmers but by hunter-gatherers.

“Yet although the Natufians lived in permanent settlements of up to several hundred people, they were foragers, not farmers, hunting gazelles and gathering wild rye, barley, and wheat. It was a big sign that our ideas needed to be revised,” says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef . (source)

Archaeological evidence from locations such as Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, indicates that, around eleven thousand years ago, Neolithic humans started building large structures, temples, and places for ritualistic gatherings. At the same time, most significantly and most damning, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and superior to all the other Life of Earth.

“Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies.

Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt’s way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it ” (emphasis added). (source)

We were thus set upon the path of ecocide.

This seems to be when, where and why the human animal stopped evolving. Our physiology and mores are essentially still much the same as they were in the Paleolithic era. Our “progress,” advancing exponentially since the Neolithic, has been far too rapid for our bodies and morality to keep pace.

Rather than adapting to a changing world, humans began radically and destructively altering the planet to suit their needs and desires. Eventually desire came to be more important than need. Our inability to keep pace with the speed of our “progress” has sickened us physically and morally.

We became “civilised” and were overwhelmed by pathological anthropocentricity.

Is anthropocentricity a genetic aberration?

“Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’.”

Anthropocentrism:

(1) Viewing the world in terms of human experience and values.

(2) The belief that our species is the star that crowns an evolutionary Christmas tree of Life.

(3) The belief that humans are the pivot upon which our divinely ordained universe turns.

“Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists.

Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on.” (source)

Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world,” superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature.

And so we built permanent settlements and began the drastic and destructive modification of the ecosystem. As a consequence, there came the hierarchies needed to administer, govern and control rapidly growing populations.

Within these vertical power structures and large populations, a type of human, who had previously been held in check by social power, is able to acquire personal power. By virtue of their lack of conscience and compassion and their skills at manipulation, deceit and obfuscation, hidden by the structure of the new social systems and blending into the growing numbers of humans, they rise through the hierarchies and finally reach the positions of power and control they could never achieve as a member of a small, intimately interrelated and interdependent tribal community.

With the coming of civilisation, the essential psychopath escapes from the prison of the self-policing indigenous culture and is free to begin the millennia-long quest for pathological dominance over the rest of humanity. Ponerogenesis is enabled and Pathocracy is born.

The following examples make clear how the psychopath was kept in check for millennia until the cancer of civilisation metastasised during the Neolithic Revolution. In a few remote locations that still harbour indigenous people who have not yet been “civilised,” ponerogenesis is still held at bay by the social power of the small traditional community.

A story reported by Dr. Jane M. Murphy, now director of Harvard’s Psychiatric Epidemiology Unit, serves as an example of the vigilant stance that one millennia-old, indigenous culture – a group of Inuit in Northwest Alaska – takes regarding psychopathic types within their midst . (emphasis added)

So aware is this group regarding the existence of these individuals that their language includes a term for them – kunlangeta – which is used to refer to a person whose “mind knows what to do but does not do it,” resulting in such acts as lying, cheating, stealing and taking advantage of the tribe without making sufficient contribution. (emphasis added – a concise description of the modern capitalist financier, corporate CEO or politician)

And how seriously do the group’s members take the need to respond to the threat such individuals pose to the group’s sustainability? When asked what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, Murphy was told “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking”. (source)

Ancient Indians referred to the culture Christopher Columbus brought to the new world as “wetiko” – meaning a culture of cannibals – a culture that feeds off the lives of others. (source)

In the West, the formal recognition of psychopaths goes back at least as far as Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose study of the Unscrupulous Man defines the basic characteristics of psychopathy. (source)

While research into prehistoric psychopathy is admittedly sparse, due to the absence of recorded accounts or other physical evidence, the narrative of the “kunlangeta” above indicates clearly that there have been psychopaths among us for thousands of years. Ergo, they have survived in spite of being more easily detected during the ages before very large concentrations of population became the norm.

Though they might have been unable to achieve any dominance in small tribes or groups, which is by no means a given in all cases, they were nonetheless able to procreate. The ponerogenic gene was thereby passed along and into the era of the Neolithic Revolution where I theorise that the psychopathic met with the opportunity to flourish.

And so we created societies that could not sustain themselves without exceeding the carrying capacity of their landbases, and the settlements became villages, towns, cities, nations and empires, all of which were inevitably destined to exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

When any given society or culture could no longer be sustained by its ecosystem, its landbase, it became necessary to obtain resources elsewhere. So we invented colonisation, occupation, and wars of conquest.

We came to “believe” we had the unquestionable right to exploit everything and everyone in order to continue upon this new path. We developed a sense of entitlement and invented religions and technologies to support it until, today, the cancer of ‘civilisation’ has spread around the world.

By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone with even a modicum of simple common sense that civilisation is killing the planet; it is murdering our Mother. When someone attempts to murder your mother, what do you do?
A Matter of Priorities

It seems likely that the Anthropocene Epoch will not be discussed in any future history books or scientific journals for the simple reason that there will be no such books or journals nor historians or scientists to fill them.

But for now, every day, there are thousands of “articles” to be read online regarding the multitude of catastrophic issues facing the human species.

A mob of “pundits,” who make a lot of effort to sound like they know what they’re talking about, write lengthy and often mind-numbing disquisitions about a plethora of these “issues”:

  • the economy
  • unemployment
  • food stamps
  • social security
  • medicare
  • education

· the financial industry (now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one)

  • police brutality
  • gun laws
  • politics
  • global warming
  • climate change
  • nuclear power
  • war
  • poverty
  • same sex marriage
  • peak oil
  • renewable energy
  • hydraulic fracturing (fracking)
  • the ostensible war on terror
  • health insurance
  • unions
  • mountain top removal
  • strip mining
  • deforestation
  • etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum

The list could go on for pages and that’s a major problem, because all these individual issues we face today add up to one very big problem: global ecocide. This can end only one way: near term extinction of humans and possibly all Life on Earth.

The expert commentators, more often than not, treat these incidental problems as if they were of the utmost importance and their resolution vital to the general welfare of humanity.

In fact, nearly all these “issues” are nothing but distractions, and many are kept in the public focus for that very reason.

These issues are merely branches of a poisonous tree. Everyone is hacking at the branches but ignoring the root. Even if you cut down the tree and grind away the stump, any root allowed to remain below the surface will continue to send up new shoots. You cannot kill the tree by hacking at the branches; you must destroy the root. The root of this tree is industrial civilisation.

This is not to say that the human race must be destroyed. But, after many years in denial, during which time I clung desperately to a utopian illusion of a sustainable, enlightened, techno-industrial society, I have finally reached the conclusion that industrial civilisation must be brought to an end or the human race will effectively destroy itself and quite possibly all Life on Earth.

The single “issue” that must be resolved above all others is the destruction of the ecosystem, the murder of the planet. The only resolution is the end of civilisation as we know it. All the other issues only exist as effects of civilisation. Putting an end to civilisation will, in due course, automatically and naturally resolve them all.

It won’t be pretty or pleasant, easy or even bearable, but nothing less will suffice.
What Have We Done?

In all probability, the global warming “tipping point” has already been passed, a planetary state shift has begun and the Sixth Great Extinction is underway.

Humans began contributing to environmental lead pollution as early as 8,000 years ago, according to a University of Pittsburgh research report. ( source)

Demand for the mercury compound vermilion was strong enough to support a large-scale mercury mining industry in the Andes as far back as 1400 B.C., according to a new study. (source)

In 1306, Edward, instigated by a group of prominent noblemen and clerics, passed legislation banning the burning of sea-coal. ( source)

London also recorded one of the earlier extreme cases of water quality problems with the Great Stink on the Thames of 1858, which led to construction of the London sewerage system soon afterward. (source)

The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824, first reliably experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. (source)

In 1896 Adolf Just wrote, in “Return To Nature”:

Man in his misguidance has powerfully interfered with nature. He has devastated the forests, and thereby even changed the atmospheric conditions and the climate. Some species of plants and animals have become entirely extinct through man, although they were essential in the economy of Nature. Everywhere the purity of the air is affected by smoke and the like, and the rivers are defiled. These and other things are serious encroachments upon Nature, which men nowadays entirely overlook but which are of the greatest importance, and at once show their evil effect not only upon plants but upon animals as well, the latter not having the endurance and power of resistance of man .” (emphasis added)

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson says that ” 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.”

“It is with the coming of man that a vast hole seems to open in nature, a vast black whirlpool spinning faster and faster, consuming flesh, stones, soil, minerals, sucking down the lightning, wrenching power from the atom, until the ancient sounds of nature are drowned in the cacophony of something which is no longer nature, something instead which is loose and knocking at the world’s heart, something demonic and no longer planned-escaped, it may be-spewed out of nature, contending in a final giant’s game against its master.”

Loren Eiseley, (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s.

So, as we can see, we have been receiving cautionary messages regarding our reckless, headlong rush of “progress” for a long time. We have been “polluting” Earth’s atmosphere since we learned to use fire. However, it was not until the Neolithic Revolution and the consequent growth of permanent settlements with the attendant sedentary agriculture and surge in the growth of human population that pollution began its evolution into something Nature could not deal with.

This steady, unrestrained poisoning of our biosphere finally became insuperable with the eruption of the industrial age. Unless this industrialised civilisation is stopped and dismantled, the fate of human Life on Earth seems dubious at best.

That being said, it must be added that those who conflate “the end of the world” with the extinction of Homo sapiens are experiencing the delusion of human exceptionalism. Contrary to popular misconception, the world does not need us. We need the world and we need it to exist within very narrow parameters in order to ensure our survival. Our “civilisation” is moving the conditions of Earth’s ecosystems far outside those parameters. If we do not make the necessary fundamental changes to our culture immediately our species will not survive. But, if that be the case, after we are gone Earth and whatever Life remains will continue to evolve quite nicely within the new paradigm of the world without people.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to be stuck in a mindset that demands any actions we take to address the multitude of distracting issues created by our culture be predicated upon the continuation of the very “civilisation” that is their cause. I don’t think so.

A problem cannot be solved by applying more of the same reasoning and principles that precipitated it.

A culture and economy that demands perpetual growth and depends, for its very existence, upon the endless and unrestrained extraction and destruction of non-renewable resources cannot endure.

As far as I can see, it all shakes out about like this: Industrial civilisation is unsustainable. The existing paradigm can end only one way: the collapse of civilisation.

The landing could be made a little softer if, putting our accrued knowledge and power to good use, civilisation was intentionally and rationally dismantled, but that’s not likely to happen.

Instead, the ruling class will cling to their self-proclaimed, unquestioned “right” to exploit everything and everyone; unhindered, until it’s physically impossible to do so. Then civilisation will crash, hard.

The longer we wait for civilisation to break down, or the longer we delay bringing it down ourselves, the greater the suffering and death for whatever Life survives through and after the collapse.

Seems to me nobody has a clue how bad things really are or will become. Suffice it to say it will probably be worse than anyone is expecting.

I’d suggest anyone under the age of eighteen be given a crash course on how to live as a hunter-gatherer, sooner rather than later. Why wait til the last minute?
Evil Stew

Whether or not governments, corporations and financial institutions of civilisation are evil depends upon whom you ask. I think it’s more likely that the actual evil is to be found in the essential psychopaths who create and sustain such institutions. The institutions themselves are only symptoms of the terminal disease called industrial civilisation.

Ultimately there are no solutions to any of the separate issues in this mélange of catastrophe that will make any significant difference in the big picture and over the long term. This disease cannot be cured by putting band-aids on the symptoms. Unless the cause of the disease is eliminated, the patient’s premature death is assured. The end of civilisation as we know it is the only cure that can ensure the possibility of continued human Life on Earth.

Acculturation to the compartmentalised character of our civilisation makes it extremely difficult for its individual members to reach an understanding of its mortiferous nature. The forest cannot be seen for the trees. People just don’t see the big picture. They are consumed by their own pet issues, their specialised functions and their own self-interest.

However, it should by now be getting easier for people to see that this system cannot be “fixed”, that we can’t get things back to “normal”, that normal is the problem, not the solution.

Simply put, the main function of industrial civilisation is to turn all things into profit for the purpose of keeping a ruling class in power. This is done by killing the planet and transforming that death into sellable commodities for us to “consume”.

That the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources without restraint cannot go on forever should be self-evident to anyone. Yet this culture not only consumes non-renewables with reckless abandon but devours or destroys renewables, like land, trees, fish, all other food sources and water, at a rate far surpassing that of their recovery. Any culture that depends for its very existence upon such a system cannot endure.

What is the big picture?

Industrial civilisation is unsustainable and irredeemable. Its members, both rulers and ruled, will not voluntarily enact the changes needed to transform it to a culture that is rational, sustainable and natural. Therefore, it will collapse.

Only when humans have completed the transformation of Earth from a luxuriant, verdant, bountiful and nurturing home into something akin to their own sterile, barren and lifeless inner landscape will they finally understand the horror they have visited upon themselves; and then it will be too late.

Consummatum est

 

Why Life in America Can Literally Drive You Insane

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Oldspeak: “Can you imagine the uproar, the national panic if 1 in every 78 Americans had cancer? Or was a victim of gun violence? Or if 1 in 78 Americans had AIDS? Why then is it acceptable that 1 in 78 Americans is suffering from severe and disabling mental illness? Why is it acceptable that there has been a 35 FOLD INCREASE in mental illness among children!?!!  Pathology has been normalized. Sociopathy is a key trait in the dominant institutions of our civilization (corporations) and by extension the people who work within them. 70% of Americans hate their jobs.  Lack of empathy and compassion is seen as normal.  You see it every day walking down the street; people looking upon with disdain or just plain actively ignoring the steadily growing number of homeless and mentally ill who populate our streets.  Elder abuse is institutionalized in this time where there our population is the greyest it’s ever been. Youth are increasingly disposable, with children serving as fodder for the burgeoning prison-industrial complex; pumped full of powerful toxic, illness inducing pills that no one has any idea what the long-term health effect will be. While pharmaceutical drug dealers’ profit margins explode.  Whole cities are failing while the banks & other corporations that greatly contributed to their failure are given unlimited resources. Something is terribly terribly wrong. Our society is making us crazy. Destroying our planet. How much longer well we go on without having serious discussion about restructuring our civilization in a way that healthy, beneficial and sustainable for all? ” –OSJ

By Bruce E. Levine @ AlterNet:

In “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why [3]?” (New York Review of Books, 2011), Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, pathologizing of normal behaviors, Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, and the adverse effects of psychiatric medications. While diagnostic expansionism and Big Pharma certainly deserve a large share of the blame for this epidemic, there is another reason.

A June 2013 Gallup poll [4] revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have “checked out” of them. Life may or may not suck any more than it did a generation ago, but our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness.

While historically some Americans have consciously faked mental illness to rebel from oppressive societal demands (e.g., a young Malcolm X acted crazy to successfully avoid military service), today, the vast majority of Americans who are diagnosed and treated for mental illness are in no way proud malingerers in the fashion of Malcolm X. Many of us, sadly, are ashamed of our inefficiency and nonproductivity and desperately try to fit in. However, try as we might to pay attention, adapt, adjust, and comply with our alienating jobs, boring schools, and sterile society, our humanity gets in the way, and we become anxious, depressed and dysfunctional.

The Mental Illness Epidemic

Severe, disabling mental illness has dramatically increased in the Untied States. Marcia Angell, in her 2011 New York Review of Bookspiece, summarizes [3]: “The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”

Angell also reports that a large survey of adults conducted between 2001 and 2003 sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health found that at some point in their lives, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one mental illness.

In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke [5] to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago. . . the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5. . . .Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [6] (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. By 2008, 23% of women ages 40–59 years were taking antidepressants.

The CDC, on May 3, 2013, reported [7] that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35–64 years increased 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).

The New York Times [8]reported in 2007 that the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003. In May 2013, CDC reported in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011 [9],” the following: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”

Over-Diagnosis, Pathologizing the Normal and Psychiatric Drug Adverse Effects

Even within mainstream psychiatry, few continue to argue that the increase in mental illness is due to previous under-diagnosis of mental disorders. The most common explanations for the mental illness epidemic include recent over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, diagnoses expansionism, and psychiatry’s pathologizing normal behavior.

The first DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), psychiatry’s diagnostic bible, was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952 and listed 106 disorders (initially called “reactions”). DSM-2 was published in 1968, and the number of disorders increased to 182. DSM-3 was published in 1980, and though homosexuality was dropped from it, diagnoses were expanded to 265, with several child disorders added that would soon become popular, including oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). DSM-4, published in 1994, contained 365 diagnoses.

DSM-5 was published in May, 2013. The journal PLOS Medicinereported [10] in 2012, “69% of the DSM-5 task force members report having ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” DSM-5 did not add as many new diagnoses [11] as had previous revisions. However, DSM-5 has been criticized even by some mainstream psychiatrists such as Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, for creating more mental patients by making it easier to qualify for a mental illness, especially for depression. (See Frances’ “Last Plea To DSM-5: Save Grief From the Drug Companies [12].”)

In the last two decades, there have been a slew of books written by journalists and mental health professionals about the lack of science behind the DSM, the over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, and the pathologizing of normal behaviors. A sample of these books includes: Paula Caplan’s They Say You’re Crazy (1995), Herb Kutchins and Stuart Kirk’s Making Us Crazy (1997), Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (2007), Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2008), Stuart Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen’s Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (2013), Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry (2013), and Allen Frances’ Saving Normal (2013).

Even more remarkable than former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, Allen Frances, jumping on the DSM-trashing bandwagon has been the harsh critique [13] of DSM-5 by Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Insel recently announced that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” And psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, former chair of the DSM-3 task force, wrote the foreword to Horwitz and Wakefield’s The Loss of Sadness and is now critical [14] of DSM’s inattention to context in which the symptoms occur which, he points out, can medicalize normal experiences.

So, in just two decades, pointing out the pseudoscience of the DSM has gone from being an “extremist slur of radical anti-psychiatrists” to a mainstream proposition from the former chairs of both the DSM-3 and DSM-4 taskforces and the director of NIMH.

Yet another explanation for the epidemic may also be evolving from radical to mainstream, thanks primarily to the efforts of investigative journalist Robert Whitaker and his book Anatomy of An Epidemic [15] (2010). Whitaker argues that the adverse effects of psychiatric medications are the primary cause of the epidemic. He reports that these drugs, for many patients, cause episodic and moderate emotional and behavioral problems to become severe, chronic and disabling ones.

Examining the scientific literature that now extends over 50 years, Whitaker discovered that while some psychiatric medications for some people may be effective over the short term, these drugs increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill over the long term. Whitaker reports, “The scientific literature shows that many patients treated for a milder problem will worsen in response to a drug—say have a manic episode after taking an antidepressant—and that can lead to a new and more severe diagnosis like bipolar disorder.”

With respect to the dramatic increase of pediatric bipolar disorder, Whitaker points out that, “Once psychiatrists started putting ‘hyperactive’ children on Ritalin, they started to see prepubertal children with manic symptoms. Same thing happened when psychiatrists started prescribing antidepressants to children and teenagers. A significant percentage had manic or hypomanic reactions to the antidepressants.” And then these children and teenagers are put on heavier duty drugs, including drug cocktails, often do not respond favorably to treatment and deteriorate. And that, for Whitaker, is a major reason for the 35-fold increase between 1987 and 2007 of children classified as being disabled by mental disorders. (See my 2010 interview with him, “Are Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America [16]?”)

Whitaker’s explanation for the epidemic has now, even within mainstream psychiatric institutions, entered into the debate; for example, Whitaker was invited by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to speak at their 2013 annual convention [17] that took place last June While Whitaker concludes that psychiatry’s drug-based paradigm of care is the primary cause of the epidemic, he does not rule out the possibility that various cultural factors may also be contributing to the increase in the number of mentally ill.

Mental Illness as Rebellion Against Society

“The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree. . . . Ultimately such a society produces only two groups of men: the conditioners and the conditioned, the active and passive barbarians.” —Lewis Mumford, 1951

Once it was routine for many respected social critics such as Lewis Mumford and Erich Fromm to express concern about the impact of modern civilization on our mental health. But today the idea that the mental illness epidemic is also being caused by a peculiar rebellion against a dehumanizing society has been, for the most part, removed from the mainstream map. When a societal problem grows to become all encompassing, we often no longer even notice it.

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.

Returning to that June 2013 Gallup survey, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement [18],” only 30% of workers “were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace.” In contrast to this “actively engaged group,” 50% were “not engaged,” simply going through the motions to get a paycheck, while 20% were classified as “actively disengaged,” hating going to work and putting energy into undermining their workplace. Those with higher education levels reported more discontent with their workplace.

How engaged are we with our schooling? Another Gallup poll “The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year [19]” (released in January 2013), reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become. The poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in 37 states in 2012, and found nearly 80% of elementary students reported being engaged with school, but by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. As the pollsters point out, “If we were doing right by our students and our future, these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.”

Life clearly sucks more than it did a generation ago when it comes to student loan debt. According to American Student Assistance’s “Student Debt Loan Statistics [20],” approximately 37 million Americans have student loan debt. The majority of borrowers still paying back their loans are in their 30s or older. Approximately two-thirds of students graduate college with some education debt. Nearly 30% of college students who take out loans drop out of school, and students who drop out of college before earning a degree struggle most with student loans. As of October 2012, the average amount of student loan debt for the Class of 2011 was $26,600, a 5% increase from 2010. Only about 37% of federal student-loan borrowers between 2004 and 2009 managed to make timely payments without postponing payments or becoming delinquent.

In addition to the pain of jobs, school, and debt, there is increasingly more pain of social isolation. A major study reported in the American Sociological Review in 2006, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades [21],” examined Americans’ core network of confidants (those people in our lives we consider close enough to trust with personal information and whom we rely on as a sounding board). Authors reported that in 1985, 10% of Americans said that they had no confidants in their lives; but by 2004, 25% of Americans stated they had no confidants in their lives. This study confirmed the continuation of trends that came to public attention in sociologist Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone.

Underlying many of psychiatry’s nearly 400 diagnoses is the experience of helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization—culminating in a loss of autonomy and community-connectedness. Do our societal institutions promote:

  • Enthusiasm—or passivity?
  • Respectful personal relationships—or manipulative impersonal ones?
  • Community, trust, and confidence—or isolation, fear and paranoia?
  • Empowerment—or helplessness?
  • Autonomy (self-direction)—or heteronomy (institutional-direction)?
  • Participatory democracy—or authoritarian hierarchies?
  • Diversity and stimulation—or homogeneity and boredom?

Research (that I documented in Commonsense Rebellion [22]) shows that those labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do worst in environments that are boring, repetitive, and externally controlled; and that ADHD-labeled children are indistinguishable from “normals” when they have chosen their learning activities and are interested in them. Thus, the standard classroom could not be more imperfectly designed to meet the learning needs of young people who are labeled with ADHD.

As I discussed last year in AlterNet in “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem [23],” there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities. Thus for many M.D.s and Ph.D.s, people who rebel against this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

The reality is that with enough helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization, we rebel and refuse to comply. Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs, illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however, given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.

When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

For some Americans, no doubt, the conscious goal is to get classified as mentally disabled so as to receive disability payments (averaging $700 to 1,400 per month [24]). But isn’t that too a withdrawal of cooperation with society and a rebellion of sorts, based on the judgment that this is the best paying and least miserable financial option?

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/bruce-e-levine
[3] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/?page=1
[4] http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-employee-engagement-gallup-poll-20130617,0,5878658.story
[5] http://www.nonopp.com/ar/Psicologia/00/epidemic_depersion.htm
[6] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm
[7] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm?s_cid=mm6217a1_w
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/health/04psych.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6202a1.htm?s_cid=su6202a1_w
[10] http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001190
[11] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/15-new-mental-illnesses-in-the-dsm-5-2013-05-22
[12] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-frances/saving-grief-from-dsm-5-a_b_2325108.html
[13] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-diagnosis.shtml
[14] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Spitzer_%28psychiatrist%29
[15] http://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Epidemic-Bullets-Psychiatric-Astonishing/dp/0307452425/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354546881&sr=1-1&keywords=Anatomy+of+an+Epidemic%3A+Magic+Bullets%2C+Psychiatric+Drugs%2C+and+the+Astonishing+Rise+of+Mental+Illness+in+Ame
[16] http://www.alternet.org/story/146659/are_prozac_and_other_psychiatric_drugs_causing_the_astonishing_rise_of_mental_illness_in_america?paging=off
[17] http://www.peteearley.com/2013/07/01/nami-convention-coverage-robert-whitakers-case-against-anti-psychotics/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+peteearley+%28The+Official+Blog+of+Author+Pete+Earley%29
[18] http://businessjournal.gallup.com/content/162953/tackle-employees-stagnating-engagement.aspx
[19] http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/2013/01/the-school-cliff-student-engagement.html
[20] http://www.asa.org/policy/resources/stats/
[21] http://sites.duke.edu/theatrst130s02s2011mg3/files/2011/05/McPherson-et-al-Soc-Isolation-2006.pdf
[22] http://www.amazon.com/Commonsense-Rebellion-Taking-Shrinks-Corporations/dp/0826414508/ref=pd_sim_b_2
[23] http://www.alternet.org/story/154225/would_we_have_drugged_up_einstein_how_anti-authoritarianism_is_deemed_a_mental_health_problem?paging=off
[24] http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/social-security-disability-benefits-29686.html
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mental-illness
[26] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

In Uncategorized on August 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Howl Now: The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster

Oldspeak: Ginsberg would be proud. 🙂 This brilliant riff mirrors sooo many of my thoughts. Enjoy. Hope it speaks to you as deeply as it did to me. :-)” –OSJ

Related Content:

By David DeGraw @ Daviddegraw.org:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin’ for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
Assembly line souls who had no choice but to sacrifice themselves
to the false idols
of almighty mass consumerism as their only religion
Illuminated through the church of television
& every medium of ill communication
Force-fed into their head… mind raped, since birth
Overwhelmed, sound bite attention span
Over-prescribed, bi-polar ADD youth
Bred to be numb, a dumbed down mindless consumer drone
No depth of thought, untaught
As they slept walked through universities
Not realizing the cost of it will enslave them
in a never-ending vicious cycle of debt
Naive youth first time away from home, on their own
Targeted by credit cards & loans
& taxes… to pay for endless war… against themselves
Death by a thousand cuts
Nickel & dimed, every second of… all the time
A generation chained to a game not of their making
Rat racing, inner-self repressed, freedom denied
Thinking thoughts of suicide inside sanitized walls
Surrounded by electronic plasma radiating terror, cellular cancer
Diseased souls smoking & drinking & drowning in flashing light
Trying to escape their repetitive life
by popping ecstasy & snorting coke in a paradise of bass beats in the night
Filled with… emptiness
Having random meaningless sex, hoping not to get STDs
Searching… for any hint of love & life
as they go through the motions
Day after day more of the same meaningless game
Monotonous & mundane
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Work, shop, TV, sleep
Routine, repetition
Less than human
Nothing left to believe in…
Praying…
Yearning… for a last minute escape, that never comes, from this madness
Flipping… through channels & tabloids
Vicariously living through the stars
Daydream delusions of fame
While eating… genetically modified, supersized fast food & drinking diet coke
Running on a treadmill in a plastic paradise of silicone & botox
Energy bars & supplements
Downloading / streaming porn & sterile music
Hoping to meet someone, anyone, online
Instant messages from distant “friends”
Like, LOL, OMG
Fractured family, holiday acquaintances, obligations
Travel expenses, gifts, time you don’t have to give
Got to keep hustlin’
Bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay
Pills to sleep, pills to take away the pain, pills to lose… weight, wait
Wrapped in a womb of insecurity
Giving off the illusion of prosperity
Fancy car lease, overpriced homes they cannot afford
Overpriced doctor bills, overpriced education, overpriced… everything
Runnin’ w/ the Joneses
White picket fences… & mouths to feed
The fake grass is always greener
There is no other side
Shopping malls & destruction
Chemical pesticide, pissing in the water supply
Gas pump pumping toxins into the sky
Ultra Violet rays shinning through ozone curtains
The shade recedes, the tides rise
Tanning under toxic skies
Human waste penetrates skin
Go take a swim in an ocean of pollution
Bathing in… raw sewage
Change in… the weather
A species with a disease
The pathology of greed
Race to the bottom
lowest common
denominator
Dominated…
Chewed up & spit out
Downsized & outsourced
Head hunting for temp work
Without benefits, no vacation, sickness unpaid, no health care
Home searching, showerless in underwear
Hiding behind a computer screen
Staring blankly, clicking madly
Burning bloodshot aging eyes…
Pounding veins & frying caffeinated brains
Who have ceased asking the big questions
Scampering for small lives
Bread crumbs from the table, circuses of distraction
A generation expelled from freedom, unknowingly
for being passive soldiers in the falling empire
Who know their vote doesn’t count
Disillusioned & marginalized, a systematic farce
Blanketed by lies & a four year dog & pony ritual
Watching plastic puppet politicians spew scripted words from tongues on a teleprompter leash
Watching shocking scandal after scandal
Watching unprecedented crimes go unpunished
Watching our future be sold & auctioned off to the highest bidder
A cancerously corrupted civilization
An entire generation born to conform & be blind to wider reality
& anything not repetitively projected on the TV
Who sit thoughtlessly & apathetically while surroundings burn
The silent & passive desperation of a defeated generation
The beaten masses & mass disaster
Denial & death
with little time left…

HOWL NOW