Category Archives: Sustainability

Ecology: The Keystone Science

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few. Most of us in the West have reaped the benefits of such atrocities for the past few centuries of the industrial revolution. That era is coming to a close, and there’s no turning back.

The gravy train is running out of steam, and our age of comfort and the enslavement of a global proletariat to produce and gift-wrap our extravagances will hopefully be ending shortly, too. Some may romanticize loggers, factory workers, oil drillers, coal miners, or steel foundries but the chance is less than a needle through a camel’s eye that those jobs are coming back in a significant way. Overpopulation in much of the world continues to put strain upon habitat and farmlands to provide for the Earth’s 7.5 billion — and growing — humans.

Tragically, many with the most influence on the Left today, such as Sanders, Corbyn, and Melenchon want to preserve industrial civilization. Theirs is an over-sentimental outlook which warps their thinking to want to prop up a dying model in order to redistribute wealth to the poor and working classes. Empathy for the less fortunate is no doubt a good thing, but the fact remains that the real wealth lies in our planet’s natural resources, not an artificial economy, and its ability to regenerate and provide the fertile ground upon which we all rely. If we follow their narrow path, we are doomed.

Theirs is a sort of one-dimensional, infantile distortion of Vishnu-consciousness (preservation, in their minds at all costs), an unadulterated cogito, which does not let in the wisdom of his partner Lakshmi (true prosperity) or the harbinger of change and the symbol of death and rebirth, Shiva. Industrial life must be dismantled from the core for a new order to arise. Instead of clinging to this techno-dystopian model of the elites, we must replace it with what I call a Planetary Vision.

The Stone that the Builders Refuse

Only a serious education in ecology for a significant minority of the globe’s workforce can allow for a return to naturally abundant and life-enhancing complex habitats for humanity and all species to thrive. Understandably, fields such as botany, zoology, and conservationism are not for everyone, as much of humanity has been and continues to be more interested in technological fields, the arts, music, sports, religion, etc. It would only take perhaps 10% of the globe to be critically informed, and to be able to act, deliberatively and democratically, about subjects relating to ecosystem preservation and all the attendant sub-fields for a functional, ecocentric culture to flourish.

Thankfully, the foundation of such an ecological vision has been laid by millennia of indigenous cultures, as well as modern prophets and science whizzes such as Rachel Carson, Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Barry Commoner, Donella Meadows, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, and many others.

Even Marx and Engels observed the basic deteriorating nature of advanced agriculture in what they termed “metabolic rift”, where they learned from European scientists of the overwhelming degradation of soil fertility on the continent due to poor farming techniques, razing of forests, and heavy industry.

Despite its current limitations, the United Nations offers a model of supra-national regulation and governance, especially the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the almost totally forgotten Brundtland report of 1987.

The Deep Wisdom of Ecology

Modern nations, corporations, vertical hierarchies, and industrial civilization do not serve human health or well-being. It excludes the majority, cuts them from a connection to their neighbors and the land, and privileges an elite rentier class who sponges and sucks the marrow out of the bowels of the Earth and those born money, property, privilege, without a silver spoon in hand.

Ecological thinking, on the other hand, imparts us with the deep truth that we are all connected to each other, and the planet.

Permaculture farming has managed to match and even outpace productivity on giant agribusiness farms using low-impact or even no-till methods.

Food forests can be created around the globe using layers of edible plants at high densities to allow for the growth fruit and nut trees, vines, and perennial shrubs, groundcover, and herbs. This is the real meaning of the Garden of Eden, an agroforestry model which ancient people lived off of for millennia alongside responsible crop rotation, seasonal burns, biochar, animal herding, hunting and foraging, and obtaining protein from fish and shellfish.

Arid, barren lands have been reforested by planting native trees: in Assam, India, one man recovered over 1300 acres by planting just one sapling a day for 30 years.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been ongoing for years to help improve water quality. Just one adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a single day.

An average acre of boreal forest can hold over 100 tons of carbon above and below ground in soil and biomass. As more forests burn carbon is instantly released, and as temperatures rise soils thaw out, leading to increased soil respiration and thus increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With 1,400 gigatons of methane stored in the Earth’s permafrost, any significant release into the atmosphere could ramp up warming even faster.

Wildlife corridors must be funded at multiples of current levels and substantially increased in size to allow for keystone, threatened, and endangered species to maintain population sizes and spread over increasingly patchy and unsustainable habitat due to urban growth, roads, and industry. Millions of acres of land should be reforested (some say 500 million total) to provide carbon sinks to offset the coming effects of global warming. Currently 18 million acres of forest are lost per year due to deforestation for grazing and corporate agriculture.

National parks, forests, monuments, as well as coastal, marine, and wildlife refuges as well as state-run areas should be coordinated at the highest levels of national and international regulation. I say coordinated, but I do not mean controlled by in a vertical hierarchy. Responsibility should “telescope” (borrowing a term from political scientist Robyn Eckersley) according to the size of the problem at hand: local deliberative councils may work best for bioregional approaches, whereas some framework of a supra-national structure will be needed for the mega-problems of climate change, plastic pollution, and GMO proliferation, just to name a few.

We have all heard terms such as “apex predator” or “top of the food chain” which capitalists and social Darwinists have misconstrued and adopted to fit their own hierarchical, fascistic beliefs. Yet anyone who has examined a food web knows there are interrelationships and mutualistic interdependencies between myriad species which dwarf and blow away any notion of rigid, calcified structures of permanent dominance of any species or eco-biome.

A systemic examination of global trade would teach the same lesson. There is no way to make any one country “great again” at the expense of other nations. This is a false binary embedded in Western culture that goes by the name of the “Either/Or”.  Rather, we must adopt the “And/Both” model of cultures synergistically and mutually thriving.

(Trickster/Provocateur homework for US citizens: Welcome or respond to someone on our upcoming 4th of July with a cheery greeting of “Happy Interdependence Day!”)

This false dichotomy has insidiously found its way into the Earth sciences, with the categorization and response to “invasive species”. Human disturbance accounts for upwards of 95% of invasives causing harm to new ecosystems, yet even within the academy, detailed plans for shifting our lifestyles are few and far between, and predictably ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere has this sort of milquetoast-iness been more visceral for me than in listening to a guest lecturer years ago in a conservation biology class, when, at the outset of the lecture and without prompting, she announced that she would not tolerate any questions about humans as “invasive species”. This was perhaps understandable given the narrow definition of the term by some, or the aim and scope of her forthcoming talk, yet still, the rigid reactionary nature and tone of her dictum managed to produce a chill.

Further, the steps involved in combating invasive, non-woody plants do not usually involve more than a tractor mower or a backpack sprayer and Round-up, in public and private operations. Little is done to thwart the habitat systemically disturbed by human activity, the nutrient-depleted soil, over-salinization, etc. No thought given to the notion that the invasives in many cases are the only plants able to germinate and tolerate nutrient-starved soil and edge habitat which falls outside the purview of agricultural land, or the delusional urge within forestry management to preserve wooded or grassland areas in some pre-colonial or pre-industrial chrysalis.

We all observed this duplicitous portrayal of those evil invasives for many years following the media-driven and pseudo-scientific outrage and mania of the kudzu vine in the South. Covering roadsides and disturbed, recently deforested areas, the vine was portrayed with puritanical hatred. The loathed vine cannot penetrate into shaded forest and acted as a projection of our own fears, malicious intent, and ignorance.

The Revolution as Poetic Enchantment

There is also the problem of revolutionary activity where organization and specific roles are needed. We’ve been told that any and all organizing inevitably leads to corruption, hierarchy, greed, and ego inflation. Yet nature has managed to organize and spontaneously birth everything we depend on for sustenance and pleasure. The works of Mauss, Sahlins, and others have shown human behavior to be mostly peaceful, based on reciprocity, lived in balance with a naturally abundant environment.

The succession of a habitat, from the first pioneer species advancing to a climax community in dynamic equilibrium, is poetry in motion, an endless cycle of community relations where the dead provide for the living, just as the winds of history continue to shape our present, the lessons of our ancestors provide the courage to persevere, and the very real trauma and torment of past generations continues to stalk humanity, perhaps even epigenetically in our cells.

Nature’s ability to play freely and its tendency for creative, regenerative self-discovery offers a model attractive to the public where traditional approaches to ideology, mainstream politics, and moral exhortation have failed. Ecology uniquely offers an approach to our self-interest, with pragmatic and deep ethical implications, and in our nuclear and fossil fuel age, to our very survival.

Recent uprisings in Zucotti Park, South Dakota, Tahrir and Taksim Squares, Tunisia, and many other places demonstrate the organic, spontaneous nature of our ability to resist the systemic oppression endemic to our neoliberal, colonial, imperial world order.

The question of what comes after a successful revolt undoubtedly plagues many people, considering the bloody sectarianism that followed in many historical instances. Yet one of the root causes of such post-revolutionary failings necessarily includes the loss of jouissance, the senses of optimism, exuberance, and mutual aid which erupted throughout history in Paris communes, military barracks and factories in Petrograd, communes in Catalonia, etc.

Many progressives and so-called radicals in the US today seem more interested in internecine bickering and petty squabbling over turf than in implementing an authentic plan to re-enchant a comatose public. A citizenry, mind you, which has become exhausted and disillusioned from politics and any notion of defending the public sphere and commons due to relentless propaganda, neoliberal economics, structural racism, and a perverse imperial edict of global warfare which knows no bounds and sees no end.

Such small-mindedness and insularity is only compounded by a geographically isolated, narcissistic, spectacle craving media, celebrity-worshiping culture, and chattering class smugness which has robotized, dehumanized, and intoxicated a public which no longer seems to have the psychic or physiological energy and stamina to resist. This can be countered by providing material and intellectual nourishment, especially to our youth, through wholesome organic farming, natural medicines, and alternative education systems which promote and instill environmentalism, forms of direct democracy, and critical thinking skills, as well as continuing education for adults and seniors.

Much of our culture’s confusion is reinforced by a digital, social media driven, an ahistorical narrative, and a dematerialized market in the West where information and leisure is metered out to the poor, elderly, disabled, and working classes in a slow drip of bandwidth, bytes, pixels: poisonous cups of soma which we believe must all imbibe to partake in our “culture”.

Yet so many are now beginning to rattle their cages. Part of the reason being that savings and material wealth for the majority has declined, life expectancy dropping in neglected areas, suicide and addictive behaviors are increasing, inequality and gentrification skyrocketing. Yet also partly because creativity has been stifled, free time is eaten up by a gig economy relentlessly eating up our leisure, wild open spaces are diminishing, and the effects of a polluted, over-crowded world where alienation appears to reign and many see No Exit.

Digital technology, trickle-down finance, and media narratives are pushed so hard by the powers-that-be, in a pyramid scheme Ponzi economy bound to collapse. And data-driven, quantifiable, “objective” information doused on the public is losing its effect. Masses can now see through the high priests of officialdom, because their policies do not relate to any place or time, it is not embodied in the commons. The deluge of “empirical” statistics and innovation spouting out of mainstream media, government bureaucracies, and non-profit policy centers borders on absurd, and one could summarize their work as Informationism, for it truly represents an ideology. These are the apologists and court historians for the grand viziers of capital. They have created their own veritable echo-chamber ecology within the former swamplands of the Potomac basin.

How can the hegemony of corporate and state rule be further undermined? By acknowledging how they employ words, propaganda, ideology, and a false version of history as weapons to create a habitat of hate and fear. As the Situationists wrote: “Words work — on behalf of the dominant organizations of life…Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words.”

As the SI further noted:

Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution — indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry — but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has “world enough and time,” seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history.

Part of poetic resistance simply is awareness. We are not going to save the world without learning how to actually live in the world. Here words fall far short, they “float”, are too abstract. At the level of ontological awareness helpful concepts like “Dasein” and “existence precedes essence” can only show the doorway, yet the point is to walk through it. This is why I don’t consider, for example, Leary’s words of “Find the others” to be an escapist fantasy: they are a call to mytho-poetic revolution, for only in collective struggle can one transcend a selfish ego and a sick, dying culture. Communal living will be a big part of this, especially as the world economy seems very likely to fall into depression or outright collapse within a couple decades at most.

Initiation into adulthood, a model of dying and rebirth, is of utmost importance, as Barry Spector and Martin Prechtel, among others, have shown. Without this, the modern world is stuck in an infantile state, forever craving more, never satisfied.

The domination of man by man and nature by man now reaches global proportions. In our Anthropocene Age all boundaries between human and nature collapse, as we come to understand the web we are enmeshed in. Studies in modern psychics prove on the cosmological scale (relativity) and sub-atomic scales (quantum entanglement, superposition, double-slit experiment) have all proven definitely what ancient traditions have understood for millennia. Andre Malraux was correct when he prophesized that: “The 21st century will be spiritual or will not be.”

All major religions hold ecological balance, love of your neighbor, and conservation as a core truth. Teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, Hindu concepts of ahimsa and karma, Buddhist right livelihood, Islam’s tawhid, khilafa, and akhirah all have shown this, as well as indigenous mythology.

Sadly, most of the dissenters in our culture have been totally marginalized. The best minds of our generation have no longer fallen to madness; they are ignored, imprisoned, killed, or shipped off to a permanent “Desolation Row”. Consider the great works of Gary Snyder, Arne Naess, Robinson Jeffers, Wendell Barry, as well as environmentalists such as Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Sylvia Earle: the collective brilliance is astounding, yet industrialism allows no avenues for a praxis, for their ideas to be put to work or play.

Only an understanding of relationship and interdependencies can account for how our policy at the border, for instance, is connected to environmental destruction, factory farming, resource extraction, habitat destruction, the killings overseas in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on. It goes on for so long that the mind grows numb. Yet, we must counter this. Our government is the primary driver of the perpetual crimes of total warfare, planetary destruction, neo-feudal debt-based serfdom and global immiseration, and most of us have been complicit in varying degrees.

Have no doubt, many in power around the world, consciously or not, are waiting to start a new Kristallnacht against minorities and the poor which they will use to further the next stage of their privatized, totalitarian, surveillance-laden brave new world. It’s already started here in the US and in Italy against the Roma among other places. Theirs is an aesthetic of terror and brainwashing which knows no bounds.

Yet their individual pathologies only tell us part of the story: it is the system of alienation which breeds hate and must be dismantled, not replacing one figurehead leader with another seemingly benign one, as we did with Obama. Only a culture which understands the connections of how capitalism ultimately leads to fascism, one which comprehends the Earth’s limits, our own psycho-somatic frailties, and our bio-social relationships with each other and with flora and fauna can provide the resistance needed in this perilous age.

Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact

Three monster climatic events are currently shaping up to collide. It’ll be like an asteroid collision. In that regard, this article, in two parts, explores real, already happening, indisputable climate change that is starting to take down ecosystems throughout the biosphere. It’s happening now.

For perspective on asteroids, the last one, 7½ miles wide, hit 65 million years ago (dinosaurs wiped-out), vaporizing sulfate rocks, filling the atmosphere with sulfuric particles, blocking out sunlight, temps dropped 18-29F, followed thereafter by vaporized carbonate rocks, emitting CO2 at the rate of 0.2 ppm over 100,000 years as temps increased by 5C.

Today, CO2 increases at the rate of 3.0 ppm after only 200+ years of anthropogenic (human) influence. Ergo, humans are 15xs more powerful than an asteroid! Try that one on for size, mister extinction!

The three monsters are: (1) A State Shift in the biosphere; (2) Human-caused greenhouse gases — GHG — alter the planet, disrupting the Holocene Era of 10,000 years of Goldilocks’ climate, not too hot, not too cold, going away fast; (3) Collapsing ecosystems 100% due to human footprint, inclusive of excessive toxic chemicals galore, worldwide.

Monster #1: A State Shift has been detected in a landmark study by twenty-two biologists and ecologists1 concluding that when more than 50% of ice-free land converts to crops, livestock, highways, schools, towns, bridges, cities or the human footprint in toto, the ecological web collapses. As of today, human impact is fast approaching that milestone, as the Great Acceleration smothers the planet with human footprint.

The crux of monster #1 involves inventory of ecologically productive land. How much and for whom? Estimates are 3-4 acres of ecologically productive land per capita for 7.5B people. The problem is: Twenty-five percent (25%) of the world’s population; i.e., the developed/industrialized countries, requires nearly 100% of ecologically productive land to support sustainability of lifestyles, like razor blades, automobiles, houses, and bread and butter and ice cream, beyond which natural capital goes into deficit. It’s why 3B people live on $3/day. There’s not enough room for everybody’s lifestyle like the top 25%, period, end of story as human influence nears the planetary boundary, forcing State Shift, which implies collapsing ecosystems. This is already happening.

Monster #2 greenhouse gases (“GHG”) alter ecosystems, which disrupt the Holocene Epoch (The Age of Man) over the past 10,000 years of a Goldilocks’ climate, not too hot, not too cold, coming to an end. The key driver is excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, CO2. Today, CO2 registers 410 ppm in the atmosphere.

Prompting the question: How is it that CO2 dictates climate change? The answer is found in paleoclimate history, especially when viewed at extreme levels:

(1)  Fifteen million years ago CO2 registered 400 ppm for a sustained period; temps were 5° to 10° warmer than today; sea levels were 75’ higher than today (UCLA science research).

2) Whereas, 20,000 years ago, CO2 was 200 ppm; temps were icy cold; seal level was 400’ lower than today; Florida was twice its size; it was the last Ice Age.

Ergo, proof positive of a direct relationship between levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, temps, and sea levels, high or low, as the amount of carbon dioxide dictates planetary habitability.

But then again, what about that 400 ppm 15 million years ago with sea levels 75’ higher vis a vis today’s 410 ppm?

Answer: Back in the day, geological-time, meaning 1000s of years, dictated the climate versus today’s version or anthropogenic time (human-caused) putting CO2 on steroids with little jets attached, accomplishing as much in 200 years in CO2 emissions as did sluggish ole geological-time over multiples of centuries. A natural change of 100 ppm normally takes 5,000 to 20,000 years. We’ve just exceeded an increase of 100 ppm (280 ppm to 410 ppm) in about 200 years, hyper speed. Temps have not had enough time to catch up and rise up!

As such, today there is a latency effect, as today’s CO2 will register in temps down the road. Problem is: This means the near future is destined to heat up big time as CO2 is/has been accelerating at rates beyond imagination, from 0.6 ppm to 3.0 ppm per annum in only 70 years, thus likely tipping monster events into various stages of RWG (“runaway global warming”)… it’ll be hot as blazes one day in the near future, already baked in the cake, as temps naturally slowly catch up with turbo-charged CO2.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: The Arctic has warmed up 2-3xs faster than the planet as a whole, thus losing its infrastructure of thick multi-year ice, thus exposing its normally ice-covered frigid water to solar radiation for the first time in eons. The consequences are profound, really profound, no kidding about it, impacting the entire Northern Hemisphere in a boundless negative twist of fate.

According to Peter Glick (Pacific Institute/California), who has studied the Arctic for decades: “What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic.”

It’s already catastrophic; e.g., (a) the jet streams at 30-39,000 feet have gone loopy berserk becuz of radical change in the Arctic. Result: Colorado, which is one of several examples of wacko, weird weather dictated by wacko jet streams, was hit with tropical weather for one-month in 2013, Noah’s Arc flooding, 10 dead, 6 missing, $4B damage, and (b) Methane clathrates frozen for eons are suddenly exposed, threatening RWG with consequent loss of agriculture. This scenario is already active, bubbling to surface right now, ouch! And, (c) Greenland ice melt is amplified by changing Arctic, as the entire surface turned to slush in only four days for the first time in geologic history, scaring the daylights out of climate scientists.2

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Antarctica’s meltdown turns dead serious as the great white continent loses three massive ice shelves 1995- 2002- 2017 with the final crashing shelf of last year a one trillion ton massive splintering ice cube, forcing National Geographic to redraw the World Atlas. Previously, over millennia, ice shelves served a key purpose by holding back the rapid flow of inland glaciers. Oops, that scenario is suddenly seriously dangerous for coastal cities, like NY and Miami as scientists recently detected Antarctic ice flow three times faster than 10 years ago.3 This is horrible news for the world’s coastal cities, and it’s already started.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: The consequences of ice melt are manifold. Mainstream science (IPCC) claims sea levels will rise by 2 feet by 2100. Who knows? That could be conservative, but so what, sea level rise is already impacting America: (1) Outer Banks, North Carolina, 200-mile island chain, 57,000 population, major tourists’ destination, down to 25% original width at some points because of rising seas; moving beach houses inland, iconic Highway 12 repeatedly washes out; (2) Miami Beach raising streets by 2 feet because of rising seas (To see photo of raised streets, “Miami Beach is raising streets by 2 feet to combat rising seas”); (3) America’s first eco migrants/climate refuges at Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana have been moved to higher grounds by HUD at costs of $50M.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Headwater glaciers are a favorite target of global warming: China’s Lancang “Danube of the East” River is the longest in S.E. Asia at 3,500 miles flowing thru China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. According to senior geological engineer Cheng Haining of China, global warming has taken out 70% of the headwater glaciers that feed the river.

A major branch of the Slims River in the Yukon disappeared over a period of 4 days because of the rapid retreat of Kaskawulsh Glacier beyond the headwaters, now a dusty riverbed. It’s one more victim of GHG and global warming/climate change.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Andes glaciers hit hard by global warming as the World Bank (Google “Andean Glaciers Could Disappear”) warns 100 million people endangered by loss of glacial water towers for irrigation, drinking, and hydropower.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Amazon Rain Forest (the planet’s lungs) targeted by global warming (it’s too big of a target to miss) with back-to-back-to-back severe droughts 2005-2010-2016 as atmospheric warming shifts rain away from the rain forest, a major, major, really significant ecosystem trouble spot.

Plus, making matters much, much worse, within a couple hours of every day the equivalence of 200 football fields of rain forests chopped down, as the forces of globalization strike hard.

Monster #2 GHG disruption: Permafrost thrives on global warming, like bees to honey, as it releases massive quantities of methane (“CH4”). The Siberian region may be on the verge of collapse, which would/could heat up the planet by several degrees; agriculture couldn’t possibly survive. Russian scientists identified 7,000 pingos or mounds of earth pushed upwards by melting permafrost and erupting methane gas, often times imploding into huge craters. Russian scientists believe there may be as many as 100,000 pingos.4

Alaskan permafrost is mimicking Siberia as global warming strikes hard, and a tipping point is triggered, as a 2-yr flyover scientific expedition registered 220 million tons of carbon emissions spewing out of Alaska permafrost, equivalent to all U.S. commercial emissions per year. This is extremely horribly bad news as Alaskan permafrost naturally competes with human carbon emissions. Absolutely horrible news!5

Curiously, ecosystem disruptions, as mentioned herein, all occur where nobody lives, nobody sees, nobody hears, except for the occasional scientist on expedition. It’s little wonder that people do not really understand climate change; they’re completely out of touch.

And, just think, Trump is president.

• To be continued as Part 2

  1. “Approaching A State Shift In Earth’s Biosphere,” Nature, June 2012.
  2. Shocking: Greenland Ice Melt: Global Warming or Just Heat Wave”, Ker Than for National Geographic News, June 25, 2012.
  3. Antarctica is Melting Faster Than We Knew”, Phoebe Braithwaite, Wired, June 17, 2018.
  4. The Siberian Times, March 29, 2018: “Crater Formed by Exploding Pingo in Arctic Erupts a Second Time From Methane Emissions”.
  5. Chris Mooney. “We All Knew This Was Coming: Alaska’s Thawing Soils Are Now Pouring Carbon Dioxide Into the Air,” Washington Post, May 8, 2017.

State of the Climate: It’s Alarming!

Stuart Scott of Climate Matters.TV recently interviewed Dr. Peter Wadhams, emeritus professor, Polar Ocean Physics, Cambridge University and author of the acclaimed highly recommended: A Farewell To Ice (Oxford University Press, 2017).

In response to the question “what’s your assessment of the state of the climate,” Dr. Wadhams replied:

Well, first of all, what I see is an acceleration of global warming because, for instance, the rate of rise of CO2 in the atmosphere is unprecedented. Not only are we not reducing emissions to the point where CO2 is stabilized, but the CO2 level is rising exponentially; it’s going faster than its ever gone before… and then there’s the extreme weather events, which certainly have hit people in Europe….

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) concern about CO2 is decisive:

Today’s rate of increase is more than 100 times faster than the increase that occurred when the last ice age ended.

One hundred times anything is big.

That is an unprecedented rate of growth with profound and nasty negative consequences for temperature, climate, ecosystems, and species on land and in the oceans, nothing good. In fact, it could unexpectedly turn ugly to an extreme; a dour fact few people want to face. Further to that point, nobody believes the worst case, but that’s why society is always blindsided by catastrophes.

Significantly, and extremely important for the optics of climate change, the commencement/start of disastrous climate change happens where nobody lives (nobody sees it), for example, the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Himalayan glaciers (headwaters for major rivers), Andes’s glaciers (headwaters for major rivers), the oceans, Patagonia. Nobody lives where climate change is most pronounced and clearly evident. Hence and therefore, it is difficult for people to accept, realize, and deal with the impending danger hidden away from society, until it is too late.

Essentially, the million-dollar question therefore is whether this unparalleled occurrence of abnormally rapid CO2 growth, on steroids, triggers tipping points of significant unstoppable catastrophic events that ravage the biosphere. Regrettably, there are no backups; there’s only one biosphere!

For sure, paleoclimatic history is filled with examples of horrific consequences. After all, there have already been five major extinction events. We are the sixth; it’s just a matter of time.

The first five extinctions: (1) Ordovician 444 million years ago (“mya”), 86% species gone; (2) Devonian 375 mya, 75% species lost; (3) Permian, 251 mya, 96% species lost; (4) Triassic, 200 mya, 80% species lost; (5) Cretaceous, 66 mya, 76% species lost; (6) Today — unknown so far, except for unlucky insects.

Already, extinction-type numbers of 40% to 90% losses have hit insect abundance throughout the world (maybe chemicals at work), which is extremely concerning as insects do well without humans but humans don’t survive without insects. This one fact alone is a big-time wake-up call, like Fright Night on Elm Street.

Still, in light of the unprecedented rapid rate of CO2, as of today, nobody has experienced the likely outcome. Thus, a new era of climate change is commencing with uncertain consequences but horrid telltale signals extend far and wide.

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish the significant impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere as a heat-trapping GHG, as for example, the paleoclimate record of millions of years ago shows CO2 at 400 ppm (parts per million) temps 5° to 10° warmer than today and sea level 75 feet higher than today. Whereas, in stark contrast to that scenario, 20,000 years ago CO2 was at 200 ppm, and sea level was 400 feet lower. It was the last Ice Age, the late Pleistocene Epoch.1

It wasn’t until a decade ago that science first discovered methodologies to effectively look back 20 million years to see the paleoclimate record, as reported in a paper by Aradhna Tripati, UCLA dept. of Earth and Space Sciences:

During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today. Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount.2

Clearly, when CO2 is too high, similar to today at 410 ppm (Mauna Loa data), temps go up followed by rising sea levels. Conversely, when CO2 is too low, everything freezes up.

All of which begs the question of why CO2 at 410 ppm today doesn’t bring on sea level rise 75 feet higher, similar to the event in the paleoclimate record. In point of fact, it might do that, in time, but the answer as of today has everything to do with the exponential rate of CO2 growth versus a much slower rate of CO2 growth millennia ago. Today’s exponential rapid increase within only 200-years is a flash of geologic time.  As such, temps need time to catch up with the rapid rate of CO2 growth. Therefore, a latency effect is at work, which implies an ominous darkness, very dark indeed, hovering over the future.

According to Dr. James Hansen:

The rate of human-made change of atmospheric CO2 amount is now several orders of magnitude greater than slow geological changes.3

Furthermore, supposing there are lingering doubts about the direct relationship between excessive amounts of atmospheric CO2 and global warming, Venus’s atmosphere is 95% CO2; temperature is 872°F, enough to melt lead. Case closed!

Today’s temperatures are a function of yesteryear’s CO2. Therefore, future temperature rise is haunted by the buildup of today’s CO2, as it emits into the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates, now at 3 ppm per annum versus only 1 ppm per annum only 45 years ago. CO2 emissions are “hell-bent for leather” ever since the Great Acceleration post WWII hit the biosphere like a bolt of lighting, putting human footprint boldly onto nature’s course for the first time ever. Nowadays, it’s a “human-derived climate,” plain and simple.

The negative consequences are far-reaching but start in regions of the planet where nobody lives, nobody sees or hears or senses, for example:

(1) Disappearance of Arctic ice is hugely negative for weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere (already happening), as well as threatening to kick into gear runaway global warming as methane hydrates frozen over eons gets released, heating up the planet, thus burning off agriculture;

(2) Arctic warming feedback amplifies additional rapid melting of Greenland, which has already “knocked the socks off” climate scientists when its entire surface turning to slush for the first time in geologic history;

(3) The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is starting to disintegrate with three massive ice shelf collapses since 1995, including a trillion ton iceberg, a dangerous tipping point already at hand; as such, Miami Beach raises streets by 2-3 feet.

(4) Coral reefs are collapsing, especially the Great Barrier Reef (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World) losing one-half its coral in 2016-17 due to global warming; the reef is home to thousands of species;

(5) Thermohaline (ocean circulation patterns) are slowing, endangering Europe with loss of its remarkably temperate climate.

(6) Release of marine methane hydrates (20-xs more powerful than CO2), especially in the shallow East Siberian Arctic Sea threatens the start of runaway global warming (RGW), whacking global crops; already U.S./Soviet joint expeditions discovered one-half-mile-wide zones of methane bubbling to surface spewing into the atmosphere;

(7) Depletion of ocean oxygen and the most rapid acidification in millennia, threatening the base of the marine food chain;

(8) Back-to-back-to-back (three) serious droughts hit the Amazon rainforest, the planet’s lungs, within only a few years; this is unprecedented and extraordinarily dangerous for multiple surrounding ecosystems. Global warming redirects rainfall away.

(9) Northern Hemispheric permafrost melting rampantly and deadly dangerous, as it now competes with human-caused GHG emissions, which was scientifically measured for two years in Alaska. This is an absolute “first” and suggestive of a major tipping point reversing from a massive carbon sink into a massive carbon emitter in competition with human CO2 emissions.

Those samplings of active tipping points have either gone over the edge or close to it. But once amplified over the top, no turning back, hands-free disaster, no more anthropogenic influence required for negative consequences, inevitably leading to big trouble.

Meanwhile, opinions of climate scientists run the gamut from belief that humanity is (a) on death’s doorstep, within a decade at most, as the ice-free Arctic exposes massive methane (CH4) stored in ice hydrates, triggering massive global warming, decimating agriculture, upending the planet into a dystopian world of infighting over essential food and water or (b) dangerous tipping points will be deferred well into the current century; so not to worry as human ingenuity will prevail over time or (c) climate deniers  totally discount anthropogenic global warming; humanity’s fate is in God’s hands and/or, in the hands of charlatan politicians, “guiding lights to nowhere” other than dystopia, assuredly guaranteed.

Essentially, nobody accepts, or wants to believe, worst case scenarios such as an extinction event, even though early warning signs of impending extinction are wide open for all to see, assuming they look in the right places, but nobody lives where the red warning lights and bells and whistles and loud sirens blare other than an occasional expeditionary scientist, who is belittled, humiliated, and badgered by America’s current political ruling class.

The idiom “Nero fiddles as Rome burns” arises anew, with an exclamation point.

Postscript:

The world is going to experience global warming, and until we see its bad side I am afraid we are not going to do what we need to do.

— Wally Broecker, Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, accredited with coining the term “global warming” based upon a 1975 paper “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”

  1. NASA.
  2. Stuart Wolpert, “Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were This High: 15 Million Years Ago”, Scientists Report, UCLA News, October 8, 2009.
  3. James E. Hansen, “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change”, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute, NY, 2011.

Nature’s Breaking Point

Ever wonder how the classical philosophers/economists like Adam Smith and David Ricardo would view today’s credo of infinite economic growth, forever more, above and beyond yesteryear.  Well, in a word, they would be horrified. Ricardo, similar to the father of capitalism Adam Smith, believed in the concept of a “stationary state” when the land gets fully exploited and material progress comes to an end.

These classical economists did not advocate limitless growth, which today is how neoliberal advocates see their destiny. In fact, Ricardo added the “law of diminishing returns” to Smith’s original thesis, which included bold mention of the “stationary state.”

Well, surprise, surprise, or maybe no surprise! Today, Adam Smith and Ricardo would be labeled heretics as capitalism has morphed into a universal conviction that humankind is destined for enrichment via unparalleled unlimited economic growth. As such, GDP is revered; it’s maddeningly godly, a quarter-by-quarterly séance whilst prostrate on hands and knees in solemn prayer for profits, and more profits, and even more after that!

But, are there limits, and if so, what if limits are exceeded?

Then, what happens?

As a matter of fact, the limits have been exceeded by a country mile. That fact is beautifully expounded in graphic detail in Donald Worster’s Shrinking The Earth: The Rise & Decline of Natural Abundance (Oxford University Press, 2018).

“Always, humans run up against nature’s limits.” (Worster, pg. 49) It happened at Nantucket Island. The island literally dried up in 1864 when the last lone whaler came back nearly empty-handed. Over the preceding decades, the whalers, like wild bloodthirsty hounds chasing game, exceeded nature’s breaking point. At its peak the whaling fleet numbered 700 vessels, massacring whales and returning home filled to the brim with whale oil bounty, the massive carcasses left to scavengers.

Today’s infinite growth mind trip, seemingly “on electric Kool-Aid,” originated with the discovery of fossil fuels, a transition from an agrarian economy to an industrial revolution powered by carbon-rich remains of ancient plants. Coal created a new world order of economic endeavours, supplying 25% of all fuel energies by the 1870s. The success and growth of the emerging Industrial Revolution depended upon it.

Still, the greatest philosopher/economist of the English language of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill, one of the last of the great classical economists, similar to Smith and Ricardo, advocating trade liberalization and competitive markets, still harbored many doubts; e.g., whether endless growth was good for the human spirit.

According to the celebrated economist, reaching an end to growth might lead to a more enlightened happiness and satisfaction, freeing people from “extravagant dreams of material plenty and encourage them to seek other forms of fulfillment… In contrast, the ideology of progress, with its intense drive for wealth, was leading toward a new kind of deprivation. Increasingly, it was depriving men and women of any moral or spiritual purpose, leaving them trapped in a culture of excessive materialism.” (pgs. 53-54) Subsequently, Mill’s statement has been proven downright prophetic!

Worster takes the reader along fascinating pathways of Americana; e.g., the start of the modern conservation movement by George Perkins Marsh’s landmark book Man and Nature (1864), “man must learn to live with limits of nature,” an early trumpet of doom that represented the intellectual transition from the “age of plenty” to an “age of limits.”

Marsh argued that ancient Mediterranean civilizations collapsed due to environmental degradation, and, of course, they did, as they are faster than ever today! He saw early telltale signs of identical trends in the United States, as early as mid 19th century, over 150 years ago. Marsh’s Man and Nature next to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was considered one of the most influential books of the 19th century.

It was over 100 years later when the public at large was roundly exposed to limits to America’s celebrated infinite growth dogma with publication of Dennis and Donella Meadows’ punch-to-the-gut treatise The Limits to Growth (1972), the best selling (over 12 million copies in initial years) and most controversial environmental book post WWII.  “It was the book that cried wolf. The wolf was the planet’s environmental decline, and the wolf was real.” (pg. 157)

That wolf, circa 1970s, emphasized natural resource depletion more so than ecological destruction. However, ever since, scientists have increased knowledge of the earth exponentially, thereby demonstrating limits on several levels, terrestrial, oceanic, and atmospheric. “To ignore those limits, they warn, would be to put at risk the planet and human life.” (pg. 189)

Thus, scientists have discovered the limits posed by the planet’s natural systems and capacity to sustain life. Nowadays, those limits stick out like a reddened throbbing thumb, chemically debased ecosystems and crazed/loopy hydrological cycles and dangerous atmospheric concentrations of GHGs heating up the planet, threatening all life like never before throughout human history.

Meanwhile, nature’s breaking point is already nearly at hand in the Western United States from where the majority of America’s food-growing capacity feeds the country. Of course, nobody rings a bell to announce the official start of “the breaking point,” but Worster is quick to point out a troubling stranglehold developing throughout this key breadbasket region. Climate change, too much human-generated CO2 warming the planet, is altering hydrological cycles, especially in the Western U.S., to such an extent that California, the most bounteous state in the union, could experience a drop of 70% to 80% in its current water supply, assuming climate change, as it is now progressing, continues, thus prompting the million-dollar question: What’ll stop it?

Alas, also at the breaking point, across the acidic-infested, CO2 laced, heated up Atlantic Ocean and thru the Mediterranean Sea to its eastern and southern landmasses, the world’s biggest drying-out of land and aquifers is fast approaching crisis levels, accompanied by more and more frequent dust storms which scientists believe may turn into the equivalence of America’s infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, as the incredible historical flourish of the Tigris/Euphrates Fertile Crescent dries out at record rates.1

Alternatively, technology is the catchword and modus for continual drumbeat favoring the infinite growth credo, unrelenting GDP growth for eons. But forlornly, as expressed by Worster: “Technology does not open up immense, profitable frontiers of natural resources, untapped oceans filled with fish… or atmosphere rich in oxygen.” (pg. 222)

All of those precious resources were opened up anew to humankind with the advent of Christopher Columbus’s famous, or maybe infamous, voyage in 1492, which opened up, in Worster’s words, a “Second Earth,” the Americas to “First Earth” descendants.

The Second Earth,  a vivid bounteous land of riches is now part and parcel of today’s vast unrelenting Shrinking The Earth complex. Too much of it is now gone, or totally debased, with nowhere to turn for another great discovery, no more Christopher Columbus trips. There is no Third Earth.

Worster ends his book with a chapter entitled “Field Trip: Athabasca River”, which perfectly encapsulates the theme, Shrinking The Earth:

Scientists discovered that oil sands lay under nearly a tenth of Alberta’s territory, including the Athabasca area…The uncomfortable truth is that reclamation probably cannot succeed within any single lifetime, or perhaps for centuries… The companies, led by Syncrude, cannot wait that long and retain public confidence, so they have devised a strategy that is still in the early stages of experimentation. Near an old mine site close to the river stands a model of man-made, accelerated reclamation, a ‘park’ named Gateway Hill that Syncrude offers as proof of its commitment and determination to ‘return the land back to nature’… Gateway Hill boasts a hiking trail winding through a thriving set of aspens, the early succession trees of the boreal forest. It looks over a smoothly contoured artificial lake, a large hay meadow with mowing machines, and a small fenced compound where six bison are kept for viewing. This carefully nurtured mosaic has returned the earth from sterility to a practical, recreational, and suburban tidiness…. THE END.

Postscript:

Our option is to choose our own limits, or let nature chose them for us.

— Donella Meadows, American author, The Limits to Growth (1972)

  1. NASA, Earth Data, 2016.

Earth Day: Conflict Over The Future Of The Planet

Photograph from climate march in Washington, DC, Union of Concerned Scientists.

On this Earth Day, it is difficult to look at the state of the planet and the current political leadership and see much hope. In “Junk Planet” Robert Burrowes writes a comprehensive description of the degradation of the atmosphere, oceans, waterways, groundwater, and soil as well as the modern pollution of antibiotic waste, genetic engineering, nanowaste, space junk, military waste and nuclear, a description of a planet degraded by pollution impacting our bodies and health as well as the planet’s future.

Burrowes includes another form of waste, junk information, that denies reality; e.g., climate change, the dangers of extreme energy extraction and food polluted by genetic engineering, pesticides, and depleted soils. This false reporting results in policies that create a risk of ecosystem collapse.

Political and economic elites want people to believe these problems do not exist. Those in power seek to protect profits from dirty energy rather than transition to 100 percent clean energy. They seek to protect agribusiness food, pesticides, and genetically modified foods rather than transform food to organic, locally grown foods using regenerative agriculture. They deny the reality of environmental racism rather than correct decades of racism and provide reparations. They seek to put profits ahead of the health and necessities of people as well as ahead of protecting and restoring the planet.

Despite this, a growing portion of the public understands these realities and is taking action to challenge the system. People know, for example, as activist Steven Norris writes, that they should be concerned about the impact of carbon infrastructure on their communities and the planet.

Last week, David Buckel, a nationally known advocate for gay rights and the environment, died in a self-immolation suicide as a wake-up call to save the planet. He wrote in a note:

Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result – my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.

The undertow being created by organized resistance is growing, and so is the push back against it. In order for this conflict to be resolved, the conflict must be heightened as is occurring now.

Tree-Sit Protest Of Mountain Valley Pipeline from West Virginia Metro News.

People Power Escalates

As we write this, tree-sits are growing in West Virginia where people are putting their bodies on the line to prevent the destruction of trees and habitat to build the Mountain Valley pipeline for fracked gas. In Virginia, Red Terry started a tree-sit on Easter weekend to protect her land from destruction. She remains, despite the company with law enforcement support, denying her food and water — something illegal against prisoners or during war. As trees are felled she remains, as do protesters in Pennsylvania, who are also doing tree-sits. Their stubborn courageous should encourage each of us.

In Louisiana, a water protector locked herself into a cement-filled barrel placed in the trench of a horizontal directional drill to block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Eleanor Goldfield reports this is part of the Battle of the Bayou, a coalition of groups and individuals standing against the destruction of a fragile environment, facing arrest and creating a future together.

In Maryland, people blocked construction then escalated to a tractor blockade to prevent the construction of a compressor station that will bring fracked gas from the Mid-Atlantic to the Dominion export terminal in southern Maryland. People who fought the export terminal for years are now joining with neighboring counties fighting gas infrastructure and mounting a campaign against the Maryland Department of the Environment as Governor Hogan pushes $100 million in gas infrastructure.

People are taking protests to corporate offices as a busload of Lancaster, PA people did when they brought a 12 foot stretch of pipeline to a meeting room, singing songs and chanting, asking “How does it feel to be invaded?” In Bellevue Washington, protesters constructed a small longhouse blocking the main entrance to the corporate headquarters of an energy company.

California’s Governor Jerry Brown was protested when he came to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Hundreds of people  protested Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania over his pro-fracking policies. More politicians will be held accountable in this election year by angry constituents.

The industry recognizes that pipeline protestors are having an impact. Canada is having a hard time moving tar sands and fracked gas because protests are stopping pipeline investment. Oil companies are successfully being pressured to examine the risks to the environment and human rights from their actions. Washington activists defeated the largest oil-train terminal in the nation.

Protests are successfully resulting in cities divesting from banks who fund fossil fuel projects. Europe’s largest bank, HSBC just announced it will no longer fund oil or gas projects in the Arctic, tar sands projects, or most coal projects. Corporations realize they are investing in stranded assets that may not pay off and they may be held legally accountable for causing climate change.

Exxon Knew protest. Photo by Johnny Silvercloud.

Litigation Raises Risks

Corporations and the federal government are facing lawsuits from individuals, organizations and state and local governments over climate change and environmental degradation. Protesters are using the courts to underscore the urgent necessity for action by using a climate necessity defense.  Courts are beginning to accept it, but protesters willingly understand they risk incarceration.

Exxon Mobil is facing a raft of litigation arguing the company was aware of climate risks but continued to mislead the public and to pollute. State and local governments are seeking damages and calling for a federal criminal investigation. Litigation highlights the science of climate change and demonstrates how oil giants made immense profits while billions of dollars of cost from climate change; e.g., immense storms and sea level rise, are borne by individuals and governments. Most suits were brought by coastal communities but recently Colorado communities are suing oil corporations over climate change-caused droughts and fires.

ExxonMobil tried to stop state investigations in Massachusetts, New York, and Texas over misleading investors for years about climate change risks. The judge issued a sharp rebuke with prejudice preventing an appeal and allowing the investigations to continue. Oil companies are no doubt behind new legislation in states to give severe penalties to people protesting “critical infrastructure”.

Future generations from Our Children’s Trust have brought eight suits against the federal government over the destruction of the environment claiming a public trust over the atmosphere. A suit filed by 21 youth in Washington has overcome government efforts to dismiss the case and will be going to trial after both the trial court and Ninth Circuit rejected the government.

Environmental racism is also being challenged. Recently a court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Civil Rights Act for decades of inaction over complaints filed by residents of Flint, MI. Hundreds of complaints about environmental racism have been made to the EPA. An ultimate case of racism is coming up in the Supreme Court when it considers whether the United States must abide by treaties made with Indigenous Peoples. The long history of racism from the founding of the US by colonizing land inhabited by millions, followed by ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous who lived there, is on trial. If treaties are law, as they should be, this will empower Indigenous People more.

Climate Our Future from People’s Climate March by Reuters.

Change Is Being Created, Transformation Is Coming

The undertow of protest is having an impact. Corporations fear they will be held accountable for the damage they have done. Governments and elected officials are aware the people are angry and their careers can end with the new political culture created by people power.

The beginning of change always begins with education and changing ourselves. While we know systemic change is necessary, people are also educating themselves about their own own lifestyles. Thirty-six-year-old Daniel Webb was conscious of the dangers of plastic and decided to keep all of his plastic for a year gathering 4,490 items, 93% were single-use plastic, and just 8 were biodegradable. He made a mural of his plastic to educate others.

The US uses 500 million plastic straws every day. Whenever we order a drink, we request no straws and share this fact. This consciousness has permeated the culture, now many restaurants only bring straws when asked, and people are organizing “Don’t Suck”  and “Be Straw Free” campaigns to eliminate plastic straws.

More people spend their money consciously using it to buy organic and local, eating less meat and boycotting factory farm foods. We have more power with our dollar than with our vote in a manipulated “democracy” disguised as an oligarchy.

People are also making changes at the community level. Edmonston, a working-class town with a median income of $19,000 in Maryland, took small steps to going green. In the early 2000s to ameliorate stormwater flooding, they gradually remade their town into a green town, empty lots turned into community gardens and rain barrels were added. Now they have permeable pavement, solar panels, fruit trees for food and native plant landscapes with leaves collected by the city and composted.

In Brooklyn, people began reclaiming land with a vacant lot turned into a nearly 2-acre community space with garden beds, an outdoor movie screening area, a pumpkin patch, and an educational production and research farm. They then got data on vacant lots in the city and put bi-lingual signs on them that said: “This land is your land” and told people how to get control of the area, linking them to a website to help. Since 2011, communities have transformed over 200 sites. Municipalization, or fearless cities, may be a key for creating change toward socializing energy into a public service resulting in transformative cities. These changes are not only about the environment and climate justice but are also about economic, racial and social justice.

Despite the government continuing to invest in dirty energy, clean energy is growing.  Wind farming is creating jobs in red states like Texas. The Solar Foundation mapped solar jobs by congressional district as solar is the fastest growing source of new energy. Research has been developed on a state-by-state basis to make the United States 100% renewable by 2050. With a national mobilization it could happen more quickly.

There are many challenges at the national level with corrupt federal agencies tied to polluting industries, but people pressure is still having an impact. The Federal Energy Regulatory System (FERC) which has been in bed with the oil, gas, and nuclear industries since its founding, indeed it is funded by those industries, has been the focus of a more than four-year pressure campaign by Beyond Extreme Energy. This June 23-25 they will be holding a Crack the FERC protest campaign to escalate pressure. The protest coincides with the Poor People’s Campaign as addressing the  environmental crisis is linked to economic inequality, racism, and other issues.

The environmental crisis and the mishandling of climate change are issues that are going to make the 2020s a decade of transformational change. In order for people to create transformative changes, we need a well-educated activist community.

The Popular Resistance School will begin on May 1 and will be an eight-week course on how movements grow, build power and succeed as well as examine the role you can play in the movement. Sign up to be part of this school so you can participate in small group discussions about how to build a powerful, transformational movement.

Global Weirding

Oh, what fun it truly was to experience the “bomb cyclone” in January in New England: the snowfall gave a sense of peace and calm, the winds were less strong than predicted, and the snow, while heavy, was not dense enough to take down trees and power lines in most areas. The following period of intense cold through February and March in the eastern half of the US, on the other hand, seems a harbinger of climate instability which will most likely worsen in upcoming years. As the jet stream weakens and buckles due to climate change, storm intensity and temperature fluctuations are certain to get worse.

The biggest danger for East coasters will remain the hurricane, as September 2017 registered as the most active month in recorded history for the Atlantic.

On the West coast, things are getting a bit Biblical: raging fires alternate with intense flooding and mudslides in Montecito and southern California a few months ago. The 2017 fire season set aflame over eight million acres mainly in the Western states. It’s not just a domestic issue: Portugal faced an epic firestorm in June of last year, killing close to 100, partly due to the monocultures of eucalyptus trees planted across the country. Millions face conditions of famine and drought worldwide.

Sadly, most reporting and discussion of global warming and climate change serves to abstract the issues into a diversionary attitude that the Earth is in crisis. Well, the planet, as a self-regulating super-organism, will do just fine without us, even if it takes millennia to recover from our misdeeds. It is stable and abundance-providing ecosystems that are in crisis, species that are going extinct at 1000 times the background rate, and humanity is the culprit.

Even though man-made global warming is acknowledged by most people, there is still a conflation going on in the West that the all-devouring Earth-mother is out to get us. Rather, it is Western civilization which is stalking any chance for future generations to live and prosper.

Ecosystems in Crisis

In Germany, a study was done measuring insect populations in nature reserves, and it was discovered that there was a 75% drop in total insects collected in only 25 years. Scientists estimate that 30-50% of all species may become extinct by 2050.

Tragically, regarding honeybees, scientists have discovered an important link between fungicide use and the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), showing a negatively synergistic effect on bee colonies and resistance to fungal infection. Bees seem to actually prefer honey set in traps with a small percentage of Roundup or fungicides added. Humans are not the only species to enjoy mind-altering drugs, even poisonous ones.

All of our problems involving the destruction of habitat are ultimately bound up in the fact that there are too many of us, conditioned to respond in violent outbursts, consuming too many resources, leading to stress, war, and unimaginable acts of cruelty. These acts are often sanctioned by the state or the corporation or religion or patriarchal vertical hierarchies.

The exponential population growth from the industrial revolution is already slowing and bound to top off at anywhere from 10-12 billion people by 2050-2100, if we manage to avoid the many catastrophes hurtling our way. Thus the growth curve will resemble an S-curve barring unforeseeable circumstances, with small waves and ripples due to the complexities of changing times, food sources, and a multitude of variables. In theory this population model could then lead to a steady decrease in total population due to a voluntary decision by humanity to slowly and carefully have fewer children due to stresses on ecosystems and natural resources. If we don’t convert to decentralized renewable energy and organic, communal-based agriculture, however, there is another model we may follow, and it’s not pretty one. Fossil fuel use is the habit that must be kicked for humanity to help recreate a sustainable world.

One of the most famous examples from studying mammalian populations is the debacle of St. Matthew Island, a warning to humanity. A tiny island located in the Bering Strait, with no carnivores, some lonely US coast guard officers decided to introduce reindeer onto the island. From a starting population of 29 in 1944, the hungry caribou ate through the entire island’s many lichen species, ballooning to 6,000 by 1963. Within two years and no other food source, the die-off was drastic, and only 42 remained in 1965. The entire population vanished by the 1980s. If our coal, gas, and oil run out without a democratic and scientific plan to make the leap to renewables, we are doomed to the same path.

The Unspoken Links

It would be simplistic to relegate these new and unprecedented levels of strangeness to the spheres of ecology and climate science. The deep wounds Western man has inflicted on fellow species and the planet are also inflicted on ourselves. From everything to decreased attention spans, the rise of xenophobia and mistrust towards minorities and immigrants, and billions living in poverty, these are by and large self-inflicted wounds. We must learn to see ourselves in the other, and see the other in ourselves

Cell phone, TV, tablet, and computer use, dubbed “screen time”, can now be understood to have a net-negative effect on human communities when consumed in vast quantities, as it drives anti-social behavior and isolation from the wider community. A recent study concluded the average screen time for US adults was around 70 hours per week. Keep in mind, that means for every person getting 40 hours of screen time there is another getting 100 hours per week.

The rising rates of cancer, autism, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, heart disease, and many other chronic conditions may be partly due to the stressors and conditions of modern life, including longer lifespans, but they do not account for the majority. Our polluted world and environmental crises play a mostly invisible role in the West, as our federal agencies such as the EPA and FDA have become corrupted by pharmaceutical and corporate interests.

With no way to systemically study or properly account for the rise of ill health and mental stupefaction of the public, medical and health professionals, shackled in their dim caves staring at shadows, have designated the “genetic” component to dis-ease as the Holy Grail. There is some truth to this: undoubtedly certain forms of breast cancer are linked to specific areas on chromosomes, etc. The idea, however, that billions of dollars in research must be shunted into the reductionist model of DNA manipulation and gene therapy is a huge waste of time, resources, and brainpower. (No, I don’t have mainstream “credentials” or a PhD, but I was happy to have my suspicions about targeted gene therapy confirmed straight out of the mouth of a former top researcher at the National Cancer Institute.)

The best way I’ve heard it phrased, regarding chronic disease and our toxified world, is like this: genetics is the loaded gun, and the environment is the finger pulling the trigger. Yes, many people are at risk due to genetic inheritance for many forms of cancers, diabetes, and the list goes on, but magnifying the capacities of the double helix as the primal cause of these conditions is not only dubious, it’s intellectually dishonest and dangerous. One may be at higher risks for certain disorders, but a healthy lifestyle can often slow, negate, or reverse chronic disease.

Many of today’s chemical dangers are invisible and thus fly under the radar of doctors and scientists. Yet, there are visible changes in our bodies that have manifested with the rise of industrial agriculture after World War Two. One change being the rise in obesity worldwide. Yes, we have increased meal portion sizes and live more sedentary lifestyles, and yes, food serves as a palliative for depression and anxiety.

Yet, this does not explain the study (summarized in an Atlantic article here) which concluded that between 1988 and 2006 a person with the same diet, nutrient and exercise routines would be 10% heavier in 2006. This is a historic finding, and I can find nothing in the literature which reports a change in size of any other species in such short a time frame (18 years), other than weight gain in the abhorrent factory farming conditions of chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problem is, as the authors of the study note, there are so many factors it’s nearly impossible to determine what the culprit is. There are persistent organic pollutants, hormones in our food which act as endocrine disruptors, prescription drug overuse which leads to weight gain, and the possibility of a change in our gut bacteria due to mass antibiotic use in animal produce. In all likelihood, it is a combination of all of these factors that is driving the obesity and cancer epidemics. While many researchers are waking up to effects from increasing use of digital technology and social media, hardly anyone in the scientific community and academia have bothered to think about the huge changes to our bodies in the past few decades.

For every one human cell in our bodies, there are about 10 symbiotic bacterial cells. We are in very real sense super-organisms, and the huge influx of herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in our food is forming a negatively synergistic effect on our ability to reason, to exercise, to relax, and to resist these new forms of genetic-biologic oppression.

This comes down to the nexus of corporate agribusiness, complicit federal health “experts”, lack of funding for research and grants for responsible scientists, and a poisoned food and water supply which has hijacked and somehow rewired our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune-response pathways. Have no doubt, this is an uncontrolled experiment being run on us all, without our permission.

The rise in cancer in particular can be tied to the atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s, as I and many others have posited. Estimates range that anywhere from 1 million to 50 million or even higher have already died/may die in the coming century earlier than they otherwise would have, because of cancer due to nuclear radiation from these tests.

The chance of getting cancer in one’s lifetime is expected to rise to a 33% chance for women and a 50% chance for men by 2050. This is the microcosm within the macrocosm of a world system based on infinite growth on a finite planet. The ideology of capitalism is death, and there should be no mystification as to why the clear unhealthiness of the hegemonic socio-economic system has been transported into our very bodies via cancer.

A major problem is that modern medicine has become ideological and insular, with predictably deadly results. There can be no patents for plants, herbs, mushrooms, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices, thus no conglomerate, multinational, corporate money to be made.

If it becomes clear on a mass scale that traditional practices including, but not limited to, herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, holistic traditional healing, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine has immense value beyond the instrumental rationality of allopathic medicine, the gig is up for mainstream pill-pushers. Most health professionals would be unveiled as the educated fools that they are, drug pushers promoting dangerous drugs for children and the elderly, not to mention endless unnecessary tests and procedures which make billions for Big Pharma and medical technology companies.

Let me be clear here: I am not by any means trying to scapegoat every medical professional, as researchers and people who treat medical emergencies, trauma, surgeons, and doctors dealing with acute medical conditions do amazing work every day. What I’m driving at is the allopathic way of treating most chronic conditions is a farce, and our society should return to promoting preventative, holistic treatments.

Thanato-politics

Sadly, there is a legitimate reason why so much of society is organized around ignorance, fear, violence, denial of the body, and consumption: the death-drive. One does not have to subscribe to Freud’s exposition of thanatos to understand this: the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desertification of our world, the razing of habitat shows this quite clearly.

Modern civilization does not only lead to obedience, submission, and structural violence, but also to a certain form of captivity. Humans tend to rebel against such a depraved social order, even if only symbolically, with varying amounts of success. Some do so constructively, forming social movements and protests, yet masses have fallen prey to the siren-songs of nationalism, consumerism, addiction, and war. Along with the enclosure of public land and the destruction of the commons (“There is no such thing as society”) comes a culture of fear, cruelty, and ultimately projections of the outer world as scary and downright evil.

Captivity in action: consider the recent missile alert in Hawai’i. Was this not an example of a captive audience, doomed by elites to worry and scatter over a phantom nuke over the horizon? None of us asked for this. Most of humanity simply wants to be left alone from the vagaries of government and corporate rule to live stable, happy lives. Yet the sad truth of the matter is the elites are not going to leave us alone. Their appetite is insatiable, and they will, in fact, drag down the entire biosphere, because in their current state of mind, they hate life, and want to transcend this world, either to heaven (the Christian fundamentalists) or have their consciousness uploaded or bodies cryogenically frozen for future immortality (the Kurzweillian techno-futurists).

Evil, or rather, a disdain for authentic living, is banal in many senses: one of these is the utter unimaginativeness resting in the dark hearts of our political leaders. Evil is a lack, a poverty of the soul. It is incapacity to create, an absence of imagination, spontaneous creativity, and compassion. You can sense this in our “technocratic” leadership, pushing us ever closer to the abyss of economic depression and ecological ruin.

It often conjures up a chuckle when I remind people of David Graeber’s comments (paraphrasing here) on the elitist corporate/managerial/bureaucratic mindset: “These are the most unimaginative people ever.” This is basically a gallows humor, as the elite are numbing citizens of the will, mental capacities, and physical abilities to organize and resist effectively, and are setting up the masses for collapse of our civilization.

Reclaiming Eros

If there does exist some sort of death drive (most explicitly recognized in Nazi, Italian, and Spanish fascist ideology: “¡Viva la muerte!”) that modern civilization is imposing on us, is there a countervailing force?

Countering the bleak pessimism of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization offers clues. We can extrapolate and widen their focus on libido to consider Eros as an analogy for life-force or life-energy, similar to Eastern notions of prana and chi. If modern society has, in fact, regimented our lives around a Marcuse-esque performance principle, it does so at the cost of our very souls. It was no mythological coincidence that the ancient Greeks wedded the god Eros in immortal bliss with Psyche. One cannot exist without the other.

Alienation in the workplace is so all-pervasive it often goes unnoticed or unremarked upon. Perhaps this orientation around surplus repression is most visible in leisure activities such as today’s gyms, the insular form of physical exercise for the corporate workers and bosses. Regimenting the mind in the office is not enough: bodies must be splayed across endless rows of treadmills and metal strength-enhancing machines like legions of marching ants, with the requisite phone or Ipod and headphones attached. As for the flabby and out-of-shape, it is once again a lack of discipline and failure to take individual responsibility, rather than any oppressive social structure which is the causal factor.

These are the pod people, exemplified in a New York Times piece about a former Nike exec and artist who has refused to watch or read any news since Donald Trump became elected, who even goes to far as to use noise-canceling headphones blaring white noise in coffee shops to not overhear any chatter about world affairs. Why not just play music? “Stray conversation can creep in between songs.” The same game goes for the power elite: stray news about the poor and oppressed, and any possibilities of social transformation, are simply shushed away.

Thus, when the business and political elite blurt the snide “Be reasonable!” they are at the same time using the cynical trope of “no grand ideologies” (read: Marxism) which, of course, hides behind the moral relativism and lack of conception of the good life which liberal democracy has always played at, which is ideology at its purest: “the end of history”, “there is no such thing as society”, “there is no alternative”.

These people, whose ideas simply parrot the cultural hegemonic ruling class framework, are asserting the “logic of domination”. Drawing on Arendt and Orwell, Alexander Stern has dubbed this “Bingespeak”. Following Marcuse:

Reason is to insure, through the ever more effective transformation and exploitation of nature, the fulfillment of the human potentialities. But in the process the end seems to recede before the means: the time devoted to alienated labor absorbs the time for individual needs- and defines the needs themselves. The Logos shows forth as the logic of domination. When logic then reduces the units of thought to signs and symbols, the laws of thought have finally become techniques of calculation and manipulation.1

This corrupted Logos seems to have pushed aside Eros in the modern world. Nietzsche would call it Apollonian overtaking the Dionysian. As the socially-constructed ego has developed under patriarchy, civilization, and capitalism, it has done so with the fear of the maternal-based clan, and the Earth-based tribal modes of life. Returning to Marcuse:

The Narcissistic phase of individual pre-genitality ‘recalls the maternal phase of the history of the human race. Both constitute a reality to which the ego responds with an attitude, not of defense and submission, but of integral identification with the ‘environment.’ But in the light of the paternal reality principle, the ‘maternal concept’ of reality here emerging is immediately turned into something dreadful, negative. The impulse to re-establish the lost Narcissistic-maternal unity is interpreted as a ‘threat,’ namely, the threat of ‘maternal engulfment’ by the overpowering womb. The hostile father is exonerated and reappears as savior who…protects the ego from its annihilation in the mother.2

Does this fear not play out between the lines of today’s discourse around the environment? It cannot be the patriarchal, murderous version of global capitalism which is at fault, but rather, an all-consuming mother planet bent on destroying us all (even though it’s all our own fault due to rampant fossil fuel use). In fact, the father figure of global capital now swoops in to act as a savior for everything he has destroyed.

Contrast, for example, the rush to space and immortality that the Silicon Valley techno-utopian folk seem to prefer, or even the “pragmatism” of Steward “we are as gods and have to get good at it” Brand; with the ecocentric approach of Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, co-creators of Gaia theory. Corporate-funded mainstream environmentalists would have us geo-engineer the planet and proliferate dangerous 5G technology via an internet-of-things around the globe. Rather, we should convert to small scale, decentralized renewable tech, and attempt to live in harmony with the biosphere by adhering to an ecological precautionary principle.

Thus, the “primal father” version of the future which Brand and his “green capitalist” (an oxymoron) acolytes believe in necessarily involves sacrifice of the masses and more exploitation of natural resources We are told this everyday: “austerity” is needed for economic recovery; delay gratification to pay off debts; foreigners must be killed and are simply collateral damage to protect the world from terrorism, public land is off-limits or only for recreation, not sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; etc.

Reconciling Apollo and Dionysus, Logos and Eros, a less repressive society would not simply focus on what we must sacrifice, but allow space for passion, imagination, and desire. A democratic society would allow for collective decision-making regarding the scale and scope of a host of socioeconomic issues, including sustainable agriculture, genetic research, preventative medicine, animal testing, as well as chemical use in farming and industry.

With a healthy balance between Logos and Eros, we can transcend the deadly framework of instrumental reason and positivism to build a livable future. Some like to call this a “supra-rational” outlook, a transpersonal and holistic view of the world, where emotional intelligence is blended with the analytic, intuition with abstract logic.

What lessons can we draw here? There must be a concerted effort to blend work and play, especially in regards to communal farming, collective home building, and low-scale renewable energy, to create the grounds for authentic liberation from capitalism.

Sustained and coordinated efforts to build autonomous zones free from governmental and hierarchical organization are paramount: indigenous movements throughout South America and worldwide, the mass strikes in France, Christiania in København, freedom fighters in Chiapas and Rojava, and the MST in Brazil offer models of resistance.

We are going to have to adopt a type of bricolage (Levi-Strauss) culture, scavenging what has not been absorbed by global capital, to create beauty in the ruins of empire. Thus, we can begin the Herculean effort to deterritorialize (as in Deleuze and Guattari) and thus reassemble a heterogeneous, co-evolving, transformational commons; to decolonize our minds from a simulated, mechanical mode of life; to detach from the Spectacle; to unlearn and deschool ourselves (Illich) from the oppressive social systems designed to rob and eventually destroy everything we know and care for.

  1. Marcuse, Herbert. (1974) Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. Originally published 1955. pp. 111-112.
  2. Ibid., p. 230.

“The Global Elite is Insane” Revisited

In 2014 I wrote an article titled “The Global Elite is Insane.” I want to elaborate what I explained in the earlier article so that people have a clearer sense of what we are up against in our struggle to create a world of peace, justice and ecological sustainability.

Of course, as I explained previously, it is not just the global elite that is insane. All those individuals – politicians, business people, academics, corporate media editors and journalists, judges and lawyers, bureaucrats…. – who serve the elite, including by not exposing and resisting it, are also insane. And it is important to understand this if we are to develop and implement effective strategies to resist elite violence, exploitation and destruction but also avert the now-imminent human extinction driven by their insane desire for endless personal privilege, corporate profit and political control whatever the cost to Earth’s biosphere and lifeforms (human and non-human alike).

But first, who constitutes the global elite? Essentially, it is those extremely wealthy individuals – notably including the Rothschild family, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim, the Walton family and the Koch brothers – as well as the world’s other billionaires and millionaires.

Testament to their secretly and long-accumulated wealth and power, a 2012 investigation concluded that rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets – which excludes non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and race horses – in offshore tax havens.

If this sum was devoted to programs of social uplift then starvation, poverty, homelessness and other privations would vanish immediately and environmental restoration projects as well as research, development and implementation of visionary sustainability initiatives would flourish instantly. The idea of an ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ national economy would vanish from the literature on Africa, Asia and Central/South America.

In addition to these individuals, however, the global elite includes the major multinational corporations, particularly including the following – although, it should be noted, this list simplifies the picture considerably by ignoring the conglomerate nature of many of these corporations and not including many of the (more difficult to identify) private corporations that should be listed in any comprehensive presentation:

* the major weapons manufacturers (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics)

* the major banks (including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, HSBC Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Bank of America) and their ‘industry groups’ like the International Monetary Conference

* the major investment companies (including BlackRock, Capital Group Companies, FMR, AXA, and JP Morgan Chase)

* the major financial services companies (including Berkshire Hathaway, AXA, Allianz and BNP Paribas)

* the major energy corporations including coal companies (such as Coal India, Adani Enterprises, China Shenhua Energy, China Coal Energy, Mechel, Exxaro Resources, Public Power, Glencore and Peabody Energy) as well as the oil and gas corporations (such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, Rosneft, PetroChina, ExxonMobil, Lukoil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras, Chevron, Novatek, Total S.A. and Eni)

* the major media corporations (including Alphabet [Google owner], Comcast, Disney, AT&T, News Corporation, Time Warner, Fox, Facebook, Bertelsmann and Baidu)

* the major marketing and public relations corporations (including Edelman, W2O Group, APCO Worldwide, Deksia, BrandTuitive, Fearless Media, and Citizen Group)

* the major agrochemical (pesticides, seeds, fertilizers) giants (including Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont)

* the major pharmaceutical corporations (including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline)

* the major biotechnology (genetic mutilation) corporations (again including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer and Novartis)

* the major mining corporations (including Glencore Xtrata, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Anglo American, China Shenhua Energy, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, and Barrick Gold)

* the major nuclear power corporations (including Areva, Rosatom, General Electric/Hitachi, Kepco, Mitsubishi, Babcock & Wilcox, BNFL, Duke Energy, McDermott International, Southern, NextEra Energy, American Electric Power, and Westinghouse)

* the major food multinationals (including Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Company [ADM], Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez)

* the major water corporations (including Veolia, Suez Environnement, ITT Corporation, United Utilities, Severn Trent, Thames Water, American Water Works).

Of course, the global elite also includes elite fora where various combinations of elite individuals from the corporate, political, media and academic worlds gather to plan their continuing violence against, and exploitation of, the Earth and its inhabitants. This is intended to consolidate and extend their control over populations, markets and resources to maximize their privilege, profit and power at the expense of the rest of us and life generally. Among intergovernmental organizations, it includes the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A quick perusal of the agenda of such elite gatherings – including the World Economic Forum, the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission – reveals a comprehensive lack of interest, despite rhetoric and the occasional token mention, of pressing issues ranging from the threat of nuclear war and the climate catastrophe to the many ongoing wars, deepening exploitation within the global economy, extensive range of environmental threats and the refugee crisis, each of which they generated and now continue to deliberately exacerbate. See, for example, the agenda of the recent WEF meeting in Davos.

Primary servants of the global elite include political leaders in major industrialized countries (who legislate to progressively expand elite power, profit and privilege, such as Donald Trump’s recent tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of social programs), the judges and lawyers (who defend elite power using the elite-designed and manipulated legal system: ever heard of a wealthy individual convicted in court and given any serious punishment or of any major corporation genuinely held to legal account for its exploitation of indigenous peoples or destruction of the natural environment?), as well as corporate media editors and journalists, entertainment industry personnel, academics, industry organizations (such as the European Round Table of Industrialists) that represent the interests of major corporations, so-called ‘think tanks’ (such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution) and ‘philanthropic trusts’ (such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations) all of which justify, ignore or divert attention from elite violence and exploitation.

Importantly too, primary servants of the global elite include those who work within elite-directed agencies, notably including those in the so-called ‘intelligence community’ (such as the US CIA, British MI6, Russian SVR RF, Chinese Ministry for State Security and Israeli Mossad), who perform elite functions in relation to spying, surveillance and secret assassinations (particularly of grassroots activists), ostensibly under the direction of national governments. But it also includes many lower-level servants such as those who work as political lobbyists or in the bureaucracy as well as the education, police and prison systems.

So why do I claim that the elite and those who serve them are insane?

Any dictionary will offer a simple definition of ‘sanity’ along the lines of ‘soundness of judgment or reason’ and ‘the ability to think and speak in a reasonable way and to behave normally’.

But if we use this definition of sanity then, obviously, ‘sanity’ must be interpreted to mean that it is ‘sound judgment, reasonable and normal’ to further perpetrate the violence and exploitation that are overwhelmingly characteristic of our world. After all, most people powerlessly accept this incredibly violent state of affairs and, if they discuss it, do so in terms of its merits, politically, economically, morally or otherwise. Few people argue, simply, that violence is just insane.

So I would like to propose a more rigorous definition of sanity: Sanity is the capacity to consider a set of circumstances, to carefully analyze the evidence pertaining to those circumstances, to identify the cause of any conflict or problem, and to respond appropriately, both emotionally and intellectually, to that conflict or problem with the intention of resolving it, preferably at a higher level of need satisfaction for all parties (including those of the Earth and all of its living creatures).

Clearly, my proposed definition of sanity is designed to imply that any conceptions we have of ‘sound judgment’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘normal’ mean that they are qualities we associate with individuals who possess the desirable capacity to improve the overall state of human affairs, whether an interpersonal relationship or geopolitically. This means, as an absolute minimum, the capacity to reduce violence or exploitation in one context or another.

You might, of course, accuse me of writing a definition of ‘sanity’ that serves my agenda to dramatically improve world order in the direction of peace, justice and sustainability. And you are right! But whose interest does it serve to have sanity defined as behavior that involves ‘sound judgment’ and is considered ‘reasonable and normal’ in the context of perpetuating extraordinary violence?

Alternatively, you might argue that my definition of insanity is too broad. Surely, you might say, we can account for many of the behaviors outlined above in terms of different belief systems, ideologies and religions. Doesn’t a person who believes in killing people to win wars (or for other reasons) just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should resolve conflict nonviolently? Doesn’t a capitalist just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should share resources equally? Doesn’t a person who believes in the unlimited accumulation of wealth just have a worldview different from those who believe in ecological sustainability?

But there is a more fundamental issue here. As I explained in my original article, cited at the beginning of this one: Do you really believe that someone who is capable of perpetrating extraordinary violence, inequity and biosphere-threatening behavior – and thus clearly incapable of experiencing and expressing the love, compassion, empathy and sympathy that would drive a nonviolent approach to the world – is sane? Given that emotional qualities such as love, compassion, empathy and sympathy are an evolutionary gift to those not seriously damaged during childhood, what happened to those individuals who do not possess them?

Or, to explain it based on my longer definition of sanity highlighted above: Casual observation of the state of our world, including the primary threat of near-term human extinction through climate catastrophe or nuclear war clearly reveals that none of the elite is paying considered attention to the perilous state of our world, analyzing the evidence in relation to it, identifying the cause(s) driving it or responding powerfully to end it. Why is this?

In essence, it is because one manifestation of their insanity drives them to deny reality to make huge profits from weapons production used to kill people, the burning of climate-destroying fossil fuels, environmental destruction (through, for example, mining and rainforest logging), commercial farming based on the poisoning and genetic mutilation of foods, the mass production and sale of poisoned, processed and nutritionally-depleted foods, the consumption of health-destroying and dependency-creating drugs, and control over the sale of water, once considered a human right. Moreover, insanity makes the elite do everything in its power to maintain this highly profitable state of affairs.

Moreover, of course, there is no evidence of committed elite engagement in efforts to end the many local wars (from which they make huge profits), end corporate exploitation of human beings (which kills, through starvation alone, 100,000 people every day but from which they make huge profits) and nonhuman beings (which drives 200 species of life to extinction daily but from which they make huge profits) or end local environmental destruction in a myriad ways (from which they make huge profits).

So, in summary, given our ongoing rush to extinction, it is clear that those who exacerbate this threat through failure to consider and act with awareness (as well as encourage aware action by others) fail to satisfy the definition of sanity that I offered above. In short: Gambling on the future of humanity is not sane.

As an aside, it should be noted: Often enough too, the elite can rely on a largely insane population to mindlessly consume the latest consumer product, no matter how unnecessary, or they can rely on their marketing and advertising agents to persuade those of us who show the slightest reluctance to buy the latest inanity.

So with an insane global elite and its many insane servants as well as a largely insane consumer population, what can those of us who have the sanity to respond powerfully to the many threats to our survival do?

Well, if you want a child who is emotionally and intellectually engaged with the world and therefore capable of responding powerfully to their circumstances (which includes being able to resist the lure of serving the elite and being suckered by its marketing), then terrorizing the child into obedience is not the way to go about it. So, you might like to consider making ‘My Promise to Children.’

If you are sane enough to investigate the evidence and to act intelligently and powerfully in response to it, I encourage you to do so. One option you have if you find the evidence in relation to one or more of the threats mentioned above compelling, is to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’

If you are self-aware enough to know that you are inclined to avoid ‘difficult issues’ and to take the action that these require, then perhaps you could tackle this problem at its source by ‘Putting Feelings First.’ Unfortunately, as mentioned above, few of us had a childhood that nurtured our sanity.

If you want to mobilize people to campaign effectively on the climate, war, rainforest destruction or any other elite-driven violence that threatens our future, consider developing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to do so.

And if you want to participate in the worldwide effort to end the insanity we call violence in all of its manifestations, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.’

Elite insanity, if not stopped, will drive us out of existence. If you believe that the elite and their servants will ‘see the light’ before it is too late, I invite you to seek out the evidence to justify your belief. I have found none.

I also see no evidence that individual members of the elite will do the emotional healing necessary to be able to act sanely in response to the extinction-threatening crisis it has generated.

So it is up to those of us who can think and act sanely to stop the rush to extinction before it is too late.

Are you one of those people?

In the Eye of the Crow

You ever wonder what a Martian might think if he happened to land near an emergency room? He’d see an ambulance whizzing in and everybody running out to meet it, tearing the doors open, grabbing up the stretcher, scurrying along with it. ‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a helpful planet, what kind and helpful creatures.’ He’d never guess we’re not always that way; that we had to, oh, put aside our natural selves to do it. ‘What a helpful race of beings,’ a Martian would say. Don’t you think so?

― Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist, April 2002

Respite. Oregon Coast. Tidepools, grey whales, seals and sea lions, puffins and eagles, riotous rookeries and crashing tides, Milky Way and bioluminescence.

One large emotional palette from which to paint new images, and to recharge batteries, reset some clocks, and reflect.

Yet, how can a thoughtful person go minutes or hours or days with a blank mind, or into some levitating meditative state without all those deaths by a thousand cuts eating at the conscience?

Death by a thousand laws, by a thousand penalties, by a thousand codes/regulations/permits; death by a thousand fines/levies/fees; death by a thousand firings/sackings/diminishments of our collective humanity. Death by a thousand tons of toxins in our community’s air, water, soil, education system, legal framework, urban planning. Death by a thousand seconds of celebrity culture, insane fake news, mauling media, lecherous lawyers, junkyard scientists, medical malpractitioners. Death by a thousand broken treaties, broken laws for the One Percent, broken promises, broken bureaucracies.

How can you not wake up, look in the mirror, and be angry? Really angry at the state of the world, at the state of inequities, at the state of billionaires capturing our souls by the gigabytes to the 1,000th power, billionaires foreclosing on our jobs, our schools, our communities, our safety, health, sanity?

John Trudell said a lot about that, waking up angry every single day . . . decrying what whites like to think are the great civilizers of the world (themselves) – what whites think western civilization is:

The great lie is that it is civilization. It’s not civilized. It has been literally the most blood thirsty brutalizing system ever imposed upon this planet. That is not civilization. That’s the great lie, is that it represents civilization.

John Trudell

Think about it: going into tourist space has more curves and dangerous cliffs to negotiate than being in the mix 24/7. The mix, man: fighting for homeless, fighting for the drug addicted, fighting for students, fighting for our people’s health, fighting for clean air, water, soil, money. With each overfed, overpaid/-paying, overly obnoxious and arrogant tourist, with every 30-foot RV with Lexus SUV in-tow, with every Indian Pale Ale microbrewery pitcher consumed and mountain of fried clams gobbled up, well, reflection isn’t just looking at Ursula Minor and Major as the tide goes out and the Dungeness crabs come in.

Reflection is seeing the human species as a cancer. Self-centered, violent, believing there is a dung heap for the rest of the scum and a golden city for the vaunted, valued, human. More specifically, here’s sentiments from Susan Sontag, not to be taken lightly:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Scheme of things, the scale of the glass half full or glass half empty. The hierarchy of needs, and the implosion of those who have and those who do not. Peter Principle of the most incompetent, the most ethically challenged, the most philistine, the most ignorant, the most self-aggrandizing, the most murderous and sociopathic, rising to the top – in governments, parliaments, boardrooms, corporations, militaries, schools, hospitals . . . et al.

A Pacific Coast that was once sane and peopled by Salish Tribes, now one with pink-skinned folks like Gremlins scurrying about to stake out more retail space, more consumer opportunities, more territory yanked from anything left in a fractured “natural world.” Five days of being on the coast, and it was all white people looking for saltwater taffy and goofy expensive humpback whale blown glass monstrosities. Unending kitschy stuff while the Anglo Saxon/Caucasian minds funnel through moving lips to purge out strings of commentary that are insipid, childish, all bundled up in the “where are we going to eat breakfast next and then find a nice seaside table to sip that Pinot while we stay comforted in our great white world?” Not an African-American, Black, Indian, Native American in sight.

The smartest things in the air out here along the Oregon Coast are the corvids and thousands upon thousands of sea birds, falcons, bald eagles and osprey. It certainly isn’t the thoughts, words and actions of humanity here, from Newport south all the way to Golden Beach. We are talking about unending caravans of motor homes with full-sized SUVs in tow, the other traffic feeding a crisscross onto summer home beaches, some of them two-month-stay homes, and a lot of real estate for sale, properties moving from one hand to the next and a world of tourists devoid of color. It’s five days, and no Mexican-American families, no African-American families. It’s as if the US of A is that alt right David Duke land of the white Christian.

Disconcerting, being out here for a respite for myself and my significant other. Tough jobs both of us manage back in Portland, and the getting away from the woods and rivers where we live and work, to the Oregon Coast is a deserving break. But, again, bizarre, really, the lack of diversity as if the USA, with 335 million citizens, is not about to largely (percentage wise) transform into a country of non-white-Germanic-Anglo people.

State of the mind of white Americans tied to their whiteness, their Crypto Christian/Crypto Zionist earth razing and financialization schemes to corner everything we do, see, hope for, dream of, create, think of, believe in, live for, die for, hold dear, propagate as a market, it’s a sickness sent out to all corners of the world through the London School of Economics-Oxford-Yale-Stanford-Yeshiva type of recruiting as slick and effective as any School of the Americas or West Point!

Trump is Obama is Clinton is Bush is Andrew Jackson is Nixon is Roosevelt is Washington. Whiteness is the key to civilization, even with our one outwardly mixed-race CEO. He excels as a man of white civilizers holding the key to final subjugation. Obama, who is like a Stepford Son!

But let’s pause on the sheer demographics and exponentiality of the globe’s racial make-up coming onto the 8 or 9 billion mark:

One demographer, who didn’t want to be named for fear of being called racist, said: ‘It’s a matter of pure arithmetic that, if nothing else happens, non-Europeans will become a majority and whites a minority in the UK. That would probably be the first time an indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority in its historic homeland.’

Lee Jasper, race relations adviser to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, predicted a similar future, telling The Observer : ‘Where America goes, Europe follows 30 years later. There is a potential for whites to become a minority in some European countries.’

In Europe, with its 40,000-year-old indigenous white population, the rise of a non-white majority may not be greeted with such equanimity.

In the United Kingdom, the number of people from ethnic minorities has risen from a few tens of thousands in 1950 to more than 3 million now.
•In Italy, the birth rate is so low that, without immigration, the population is predicted to decline by 16 million by 2050.
•The United States government predicts that non-hispanic whites will become a minority in the country by 2055.
•The United Nations predicts that 98 per cent of world population growth until 2025 will be in developing nations.
•The population of Europe is expected to drop from 25 per cent of the world total in 1900 to 7 per cent in the next 50 years.

— Anthony Browne, The Last Days of a White World, Guardian, September 3, 2000.

No matter how quickly the demographics shift in the US of A, correcting and redressing the past biggest injustices of Native American genocide by the white economists, bankers, clerics, militaries, serfs into this country will never happen. First Nations aboriginal peoples used to have this land to themselves. But now, less than one percent of the population they teeter on complete historical banishment, as the largest growth groups are among Latinos (largely derived from Spain), and Asians, (largely from China and the Philippines).

This state of the world a la Oregon Coast is a state of people not able to get under the skin of how messed up the country is, has been and is continually going. No large conversations about those things, even the ones who adore and lust after Trump, they just move along in a world of retail relationships, one where the food is talked about while eating it, where the weather is detailed beyond absurdity, and where no serious talk about our collective and individual pain ever unfolds.

Whites are lobotomized by debt, depression, deceit, emasculation, Hollywood, F-U Book, the Billionaire Mile High Club of Data Dealers, overeating/under-nutrition, delusions, and dreams of a UFO End Times or New Times.

I attempt to gauge how illiterate folks are along the coast, looking at stuff in museums, people trying to understand the scheme of 70 percent of the globe’s surface (oceans) on all life, and their attempts at trying to understand the clouds above and the winds below.

The corporations-TV-jefes have done a very good job, alongside the schools, media, ignorant politicians, and celebrities, AND scientists, of denuding the western mind of anything real or pressing, anything resembling a solution to the unfolding ills of climate warming, oceans rising, resources dwindling, bodies toxifying, communities eroding.

This vast Pacific Coast is, of course, under the gun as acidification of the waters around Oregon is ramping up due to all sorts of upwellings, smokestack-tailpipe spewings. Species are collapsing. More people are moving into the tsunami belt here, and more woods/forests are being clear cut. More cars, more CO2 pushed out of internal combustion machines and burning of other fossil fuels all the way up the Industrial Age chain our factory technology 12,000 miles away from Depoe Bay. This is a big thing, ocean acidification, and the Oregon Coast is sort of the testing ground for the rest of the world tied to this double-headed monster – climate changing (warming) and ocean acidification.

The Surfrider Foundation is working hard on this project to understand how Oregon’s coast will be affected by lower PH levels. Take a look at this amazing web site and organization, a coalescing of forces that very few tourists and locals alike know even little about. Here, the news not fit to broadcast or turn into a Netflix drama (sic):

Canary in the Coal Mine

Whiskey Creek Hatchery became the ‘Canary in the Coalmine’ for Oregon’s shellfish industry in 2007 when their oyster larvae experienced a massive die off. Scientists determined that the lower pH of the seawater they were pumping in from Netarts Bay was preventing the larvae from growing their shells.

On a map of Oregon, find the coastal town of Newport. Draw a straight line directly west, perfectly perpendicular to the coast, out into the mighty Pacific 200 nautical miles from the blinking beacon of the Yaquina Head lighthouse. You’ve just sketched the Newport Hydrographic Line. Nearly everything we know about the function of Oregon’s coastal ocean ecosystem has been learned from samples collected at these stations between 1961 and … well, last week.

The technology used along the Newport Line has evolved with the times. Since 2006, autonomous underwater gliders (the first two were named “Bob” and “Jane” after Bob Smith and Jane Huyer) have been patrolling it 24/7. At this very moment, two gliders resembling small yellow missiles are swimming their lonely way, diving and surfacing in an undulating path, collecting data on temperature, salinity, water clarity, ocean currents and more.

These remarkable instruments transmit about 10 percent of their data as they “fly,” communicating via satellite when they surface. When a battery gets low, the glider surfaces and calls home. Scientists retrieve it from a boat, switch the battery out for a fully charged replacement, download the full data set and release it. The gliders can be monitored and even controlled via a smart phone app.

Initially, studies along the Newport Line focused on physics — currents, temperatures and winds — in order to understand and characterize the most important oceanographic phenomenon in the region: wind-driven coastal upwelling. This process underlies nearly everything else that happens in Oregon’s ocean, from the flourishing fisheries to the presence of gray whales to the low-oxygen conditions and ocean acidification that have been in the news in recent years.

In a nutshell, summer winds blowing from the north push surface water to the west and drive the conveyor belt of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters into the coastal zone, fueling the Northwest’s food webs.

Sometimes called “climate change’s evil twin,” a phrase coined by Oregon State’s Jane Lubchenco, ocean acidification is an insidious and unseen effect of rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. The oceans have always absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere, but as levels of the greenhouse gas have climbed, primarily the result of fossil fuel burning, the oceans have taken in ever-higher amounts, leading to shifts in ocean chemistry.

Organisms from oysters to corals are considered sensitive. Over the past 200 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average ocean-wide pH has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1. That may not sound like much, but on the pH scale, it amounts to a nearly 30 percent increase in acidity. Other researchers have found that highly acidified water can cause calcium shells made or used by many marine creatures to be harder to build or to dissolve. The net effects may be felt up and down the food chain. Animals in the intertidal and near-shore zones, including economically important species such as oysters and crabs, may be at risk.

‘The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,’ says Chan. Here’s why the Oregon coast is particularly vulnerable to acidification and thus an important place to study ocean chemistry.

A Deep-Ocean Conveyor Belt

The summer sun can warm your face, and the air can feel hot, but if you’ve ever been swimming along the Oregon coast, you know how cold the water can get. It gets especially chilly when north winds blow and push warmer surface water to the west. In its place, currents from deep in the ocean rise along our beaches and bays to replace it. This water — delivered by a process that scientists call upwelling — isn’t just colder; it also carries more nutrients that can fuel ocean life.

On the downside, it has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Like the proverbial slow boat to China, it can take decades for deep ocean currents to travel to the West Coast. When it last touched the atmosphere at the start of its journey, CO2 levels were lower than they are today. In the future, the water upwelling along our coast will carry the memory of the annual increases in CO2.

Okay, so I cut and paste a lot here, but again, what are those crab cake bakes and flounder fries really about here along Oregon’s coastal water, which mostly originates in the North Pacific off Japan? Answer: Two cold, deep-water currents, one of which takes a decade to reach Oregon, while the second current brings those waters to the Oregon coast in about 50 years as it follows amazingly serpentine routes around the globe.

Now, here’s the physics and chemistry we don’t talk about when eating our dill-infused, olive tampenade-drenched salmon — cold water holds higher concentrations of CO2 than warmer water, so these circuitous currents start off with increased CO2 levels. Then while making their slow flow toward the U.S. West Coast, the biological activity by organisms living in that water layer — zooplankton, phytoplankton and other microorganisms — constantly generates CO2 until, by the time the ocean conveyor belt of water rises to the surface off the Oregon coast, its CO2 level has increased greatly. Then, as the water is exposed to our atmosphere after decades in the depths of the mother ocean, even more of the greenhouse gas gets absorbed. This is something most Americans can’t-won’t-don’t grasp – chemical changes caused by engines of biomechanics of currents, air, and pollution.

Okay-okay, not all tourists get into this level of science and deeper looks at how messed up the world is because of the Corporate Line and Power (One Percent) and the Collective Delusion of their Compliant Consumers (us). But truly, how can people in 2018 NOT go through the thought process of considering each and every bite we take, each mile we drive, each foot of earth we walk onto, each inch of clothing we buy, every trinket and every product we consume as part of the big picture?

That little oyster stand in Newport has its intended and unintended consequences already built in, all that embedded energy to get to the oysters (metal in the ships harvested in mines/smelted/galvanized; then fossil fuel dug up and piped in to propel those ships to sea); to harvest the bivalves, then to haul them back, and next to process, package and ship them out, and, finally, to attract people from all parts of the West Coast to consume them.

Yes, our own trip to get there and each nibble we make with the squeeze of a lemon, well, the footprint of Homo Sapiens-Consumo-Retailpithecus is dramatic. We are talking about those shellfish, now vulnerable to ocean acidification, all that fossil fuel to propel humans to the parking lot and propel foreign made utensils and plates and equipment to the little archetypal oyster shack, in Oregon, well, consequences are being laid out as I write this on the Cloud.

In a world where everything is a retail transaction, where no thought of how the stuff we stuff into our mouths got from farm to fork is expended, it’s no surprise we are cooked intellectually and as communities of me-myself-and-I cancers. Then, more onion peel pulled back: who are these owners of these small businesses in these small towns on the Oregon Coast? Do they care about the world, or their little zone, little hamlets or beach towns? Do they care about the rampant poverty, the growth of shaky families aging in place, in the death spiral of education and decent ways to be, to be human, in small style, while living in a world of entertaining ourselves to death and make-believe idealism and ideals tied to the rich and the famous or notorious?

Do they care Portland is filled with houseless people, homeless veterans, youth living on couches under an average of $80K in college debt, people like me working our tails off for the underpay the non-profit world of social services spreads like disease across the land? And that’s not just Portland, but Every Town USA. Do they care about fence line communities in Houston or the lead in water in Flint or the lack of electricity in Puerto Rico six months after a hurricane?

Do they care about words having universal meaning, or the poetry in being versus consuming, or the truths of human kind, or the lessons in evolving history, or the potentiality of real revolution, or the bigger power of changing him-or-her-self into a giver, no longer a taker, or being part of the smaller and bigger solution, while still grappling with their privilege, and then finally seeing the future of seven generations out being more important now than ever before?

Respite. Observation. A poem. Sanity:

Contemplating Nine Crows Jumping Mid-Air for Our Trail Mix near Yachats, Oregon

on the eve of partner’s 48th birthday

something about cobalt
tips, wings the black of eclipse
birds smarter than
parking lot humanity
tricksters, crowing along faded lines
jumping, leaping, barely flapping
corvid line of avian
harmonizing with wind
people looking into ocean sky

we asked crows into our lives
two of us tired of heavy
hearts, our own species
cancers, riotous Homo
sapiens, like the cracks
of coast cliffs
beaches we surmount
hoping gulls congregate

we never know when
light from animal brother
inches into our hearts
never know when whimsy follows
us into memory, love
how coal black birds
possess mental might

through tricks, we can’t stop
thinking birds, smarter
than human race, the Oregon
Pacific in the background
creek emptying into swells
we find harbor momentarily
comics like Charlie Chaplin
waddling, marching, the grip
of their sky, somehow
transformed into our world too

Love and Loss in the Anthropocene

What can we do?  We are without doubt in an historically unique and incredibly challenging position. The Anthropogenic extinction is here, now. It is not something we are anticipating or awaiting. It is upon us. Today, we are in it, watching the life we have known unravel on a hundred different fronts. And I find myself asking with crazy-making regularity: how can I — one ordinary human amongst 7.5 billion — honor this extraordinary time with whatever gifts and goods I happen to be carrying?

Many of us are posing similar questions to ourselves, to one another.  These are my own very personal musings of this moment, shared in the hope that they might spark or support others’ explorations. I expect that there are as many answers as there are humans willing to ask; we all must find our own way, our own truth in these times.

I experience a lot of gnawing low-level anxiety of late. I have frequent bursts of anger and I regularly skirt the precarious edges of depression.  It is not easy for any of us to hold in full consciousness the massive losses—and concomitant suffering– that are already underway, not to mention all those which are almost certainly just around the next bend. I try, like so many of us do, to balance awareness and honest acknowledgement of our impending collective demise with kindness and compassion. I work hard to avoid becoming completely subsumed by grief, to stay in the moment. It isn’t fun–or particularly functional–to wallow in sorrow. More importantly, I don’t want to be lost in my own inoculating darkness when there is relatively little time left to manifest the best of who it has been given to me to be.  I continue to believe that among the few meaningful actions left to us may be the choice to seek within ourselves love and courage and connection, even—and especially– in the midst of devastation.

But grief arises as part of that commitment. We know: loving almost always entails loss. To live with an open heart means being present for the slings and arrows.  Grief is part of the journey that lies ahead for all of us, should we choose to make it in consciousness. And sometimes the grief captures my attention in ways that take me completely by surprise. As a parent, I am ever aware of the legacy of our choices, all that we have made impossible for our children and grandchildren.  Easiest to see are the larger and most tangible of consequences – the horrifying prospects of global warming, climate chaos, habitat destruction, rising and acidifying seas, breakdown of civil order, war and…extinction.  Any human under 50 today– and all the other innocent beings on the planet–are facing a life immeasurably more difficult than the one I was granted.

Unbearable at times, I do try not to let the looming calamity keep me small or shut down, from delighting in the advent of another spring, from watching the birds with wonder and gratitude.  Nature, though brutally ravaged by human greed, still manages to offer deep sustenance, an unbeatable and incredibly generous antidote to the fear and anger and sadness that are afoot everywhere in these times.

A few weeks back, out walking in the unseasonably warm weather, I came upon a gnarled old apple tree, in full bloom. As I always do, I leaned in for a good whiff, a deep receiving of the tree’s offering.  My own personal ‘madeleine,’ the scent instantly conjures for me the glory of infinite possibility, the breathtaking capacity of human beings to make beauty, to create meaning, and to love heroically.  Twined together forty-three years ago, that particular fragrance and the aliveness I felt back then, on the cusp of adulthood, cannot be separated.

At seventeen, I embarked ebulliently on the adventure of my life.  My best friend and I moved into our first apartment in January, and we got jobs that paid us the minimum wage of $2.10/hour, to cover the rent. We bought big sacks of bulgur and millet to eat, and I brought home as many leftovers as I could from the college dining hall where I made salads all day.  As spring arrived, our landlady gifted us with armloads of beet greens thinned from her large garden, and then rhubarb stalks as they emerged.  We didn’t know what to do with them, but we learned. Turning down free food was not really an option.  Besides, we were saving for our very own telephone, and in a couple of months we succeeded in getting the necessary cash together, and proudly found ourselves waiting for the calls to come in on the brand new yellow wall phone.

Our apartment comprised the second floor of a farmhouse nestled in the midst of a rambling apple orchard.  The windows ran almost floor to ceiling, filling our living room with incredible light in the mornings, and being up high, we could see the purple shadows of the Catskills in the distance as we washed dishes in the early evenings.  The shabby furniture, the makeshift kitchen, the ancient bathroom—none of these eroded one iota our wonder and delight at the breathtaking freedom and promise of our lives.

We filled the place with too many plants, got a cat and a puppy, and spent a great deal of time dreaming.  I was going to be a French chef.  Maybe a Classics scholar, rendering obscure Latin poetry into meaningful contemporary verse. Possibly a shaman: I’d learn to fly and heal and see far into the future, into the very meaning of life.  And, of course, we were both going to find love that surpassed even our literature-fueled dreams.  Almost everything we imagined seemed within reach. After a few beers, listening to Mozart’s piano concertos and then The Velvet Underground and finally, Laura Nyro, we would weep for the unfathomable breadth of potential and possibility of what lay ahead, for the bittersweet knowledge that it would not, could not, all come to pass.

We were so fortunate.

As March drew on, something unexpected but utterly foreseeable occurred.  The orchard burst into bloom.  Everywhere, everywhere, the pale pink blossoms called to the bees and the scent, subtle but persistent, filled the air, drifted in the windows we opened to feel the spring on our skin.  Although we knew it was not especially ethical, knew that the farmer counted on each of those flowers to mature into apples for sale, we stole out in the night anyway and cut massive sprays of the branches to bring inside, sticking them in jars and arranging them in every one of our three rooms. Something beyond reason commanded us to immerse ourselves in this amazing efflorescence, this unlooked for gift from the earth. To bury our noses in the blossoms and sink gratefully into olfactory celebration of the new life that spring promises, the beginnings, the vastness of what might be.

We were so innocent; we had no idea.

Like many of my time and place, I ‘grew up’ in fairly short order. I made choices, and with each choice, I shut the door on other options.  My trajectory, though never straight, became clearer.  I learned about limits, and despite protestations both internal and external, I came to accept that there were things I would never, could never, do or be.  The lingering sorrow of this is balanced somewhat by the knowledge that I did manage some of my dreams, modestly understood. Following those dreams was a privilege that I took mostly for granted.  It was a privilege that many of my contemporaries never had, and which few, if any children today will claim.

Hard on that moment a few weeks ago, inhaling the scent of apple blossoms and being overcome with the visceral memory of unlimited potential, came the grief.  What have we done?  Oh, what have we done?

As a species, we have been unable to meet the challenges posed by our own misguided attachment to growth.  While the apple blossoms in the orchard around my first apartment faded and began their transformation into fruit (duly sprayed, no doubt, with stockpiled DDT), the fifth annual Earth Day was observed.  It is impossible to say whether we might have changed the course of things enough if we had paid attention to what was already known then, but the point is moot. We didn’t grasp the urgency, we didn’t act. And for the main, we still do not, even as the world burns.

Life, such as it is, goes on, and all of us try in our own ways to live it without undue pain or suffering.  In the developed world, those with the means drive, eat, charge our phones and computers, heat and cool our homes at minimum.  When we can, most of us look for release and entertainment, travel a bit, and take in the beauty of our planet while we still can.

I really do try not to judge anyone’s choices, much less their coping strategies. After all, I have done my bit to contribute to this situation, I am far from blameless. We are facing epic disaster, extinction in all probability, and although I have not always done my best for this planet and its inhabitants, it feels incumbent upon me to do so now. The truth is that these are desperate and utterly unusual times; no one really knows how to navigate them, there are no experts at walking gracefully into annihilation. We are making it up as we go and have only our own vast, and often ignored, inner resources to guide us.

For me, part of the answer lies in feeling it all, in refusing to turn away from what is before me. To look both the beauty and the horror head on, to keep my heart open, no matter what it finds. Some days this leaves me enveloped in a sizzling joy, encountering the glories of this world, human and otherwise. Other days, that same display plunges me into despair, as I sense the transient, ebbing nature, the impending loss of all that has been so good and beautiful.

On those days, there are moments when the hellish scenarios that populate my imagination take over and scare the shit out of me, but sometimes I simply long to apologize. To bow down and beg forgiveness, to offer up my sincerest regrets. To the waters, the dolphins, the oaks, the salamanders, the children. All beloved and all endangered. I was never especially profligate with my resources, but along with many others, I was entrusted with stewardship of this planet–my home. I did not do enough and I bear responsibility for the consequences of our shared indifference to the fate of the planet.

Leaving aside any breast-beating, which accomplishes less than nothing at this point, I am simply incredibly sorry for what has happened, and what will inevitably happen to the trillions of beings who will not have the chance to make their own choices. I am indescribably sorry for the destruction, the suffering, the pain that are already visited upon the many as a result of human action/inaction, and which will undoubtedly become universal in the not too distant future.

Our insistence upon having everything has ironically set us upon a journey toward an era of great loss. Some of what we will have to relinquish is painfully clear already, as we see cities and small nations burn and/or wash away, as we find ourselves increasingly donning masks so as not to die of the very air we must breathe, as we find cesium 137 in our fish, RoundUp in our grains, microplastics in our waters. These are the obvious costs.  The larger lamentations as we walk the road to extinction.

But there are other losses not so readily apparent or dramatic, for which I weep as well. They will make themselves known as we continue our collective walk down this road, the one we have chosen—consciously or not—for our species, our planet and most of the other beings with whom we share the earth.

Today, a lesser lamentation. There were, according to the United Nations Population Fund, 1.8 billion young people in the world in 2014. More now, to be sure, but we know that there are at least that many young human beings in the flowering of their lives, readied by time and nature to imagine, to dream, to believe in the future and all it might hold.  That which was so heady and life affirming for me is denied them. The future is no longer a place where vision can forge reality, where longing coupled with determination can lead to almost anything imagined.  Admittedly, this isn’t nearly so dire as losing life or limb or family or home, but it matters.

Prompted by the precious scent of this year’s apple blossoms, I am quietly grieving this little loss: the end of the future as something the young can dream into reality, take by storm, make their own.  Never an option for all, now looking obsolete and unattainable for everyone.  Even those with a luxury bunker in New Zealand.

And so I apologize to those young people whose lives will almost certainly be robbed of the richness, the freedoms, the potential—the very future– which I enjoyed.  I cannot substantively change what lies ahead; I am afraid it is too late for that.  But I can own my part in creating it.  And, perhaps more meaningfully, I can try to be an honest witness, I can find the courage to look without flinching, no matter how painful it gets.  I can decline to turn away, I can refuse to close my heart, I can continue to love even when it hurts like hell.  It isn’t much, it isn’t nearly enough, but in concert with my unfettered delight in the return to my neighborhood of a breeding pair of ospreys, it is what I can wholeheartedly offer today.

Is the EPA hazardous?

In an economically/socially-advanced pluralistic society, like the United States, the integrity of the EPA should never need to be questioned. However, simply posing the thought “whether the EPA is hazardous” suggests a disquieting response.

As such, and if true that the EPA is hazardous to health, it is incumbent upon the public to root out and toss out perpetrators because a democracy, or an autocracy for that matter, should never allow public servants to knowingly harm/kill/maim its own people.

Still, according to Karen Perry, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

This EPA is not interested in protecting people from harmful pesticides. It’s more interested in bowing to the wishes of Dow [Agrochemical].1

Scott Pruitt is the first, and only, anti-proponent EPA leader. He opposes EPA regulators and EPA regulations, as he methodically decimates the agency. Scientists are fleeing like locusts in spring.

Disturbingly, it is reported that Pruitt gave a closed-door speech to the Heritage Foundation a week ago, outlining policy changes that will, in many instances, hogtie the EPA from advancing regulations by forcing it to publicly disclose all data. However, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

A lot of the data that EPA uses to protect public health and ensure that we have clean air and clean water relies on data that cannot be publicly released.2

For example, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced. As a consequence, under Pruitt’s alleged new approach, such studies would not be allowed to influence policy decisions, putting the public at undue risk.

Wherefore, the EPA is one of the primary downsizing targets of “Trump Deconstructionism,” as defined by Steve Bannon at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), to wit: Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at “Deconstruction of the Administrative State.”

Additionally, by all appearances, Trump’s cabinet picks are instructed to side with big corporations as, for example, Pruitt rejecting in March 2017 the EPA’s own scientists’ recommendations to ban chlorpyrifos, a base chemical used in many pesticides. The EPA previously banned it for household use in 2000, but it ubiquitously continues in fields around the world. All-over it covers the planet.

The State of California classifies chlorpyrifos within the category: “Most Dangerous Chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.” The Obama administration implemented a process for an all-out ban of the chemical scheduled for March 2017.  Subsequently, Pruitt ignored the advise of his own EPA scientists.

However, Pruitt defends his actions, saying deregulatory efforts are in the interest of “cooperative federalism,” meaning the states should take on more regulations. But, what if the states are not up to speed, properly funded, and staffed to effectively regulate environmental issues? Then, what happens?

And of equal or of more concern, what if Pruitt ignores his own agency recommendations about public safety vis a vis chemicals? What are law-abiding citizens to do?

It’s an open question… wide open!

What to do?

For starters, consideration should be given to research. For example, shortly after Pruitt lifted his department’s scheduled ban, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times. Yet Trump’s EPA is refusing to move forward with its previously proposed ban of the pesticide. Accordingly, NRDC headlines: “What’s at Stake… The Science is Clear… Chlorpyrifos is Dangerous.”

According to the Pesticide Action Network, chlorpyrifos is a globetrotter found in surface water and ice in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea, and in Alaskan snow, and fish in Alaskan parks, and in subarctic lakes, as well as in the Arctic Ocean.  Over time, as the chemical leaches into the planet, it travels the world.

Earth Justice opposed Pruitt’s rejection of the ban, saying: “It [EPA] is acting contrary to the law, the science, and a court order. In a word: unconscionable,” according to Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earth Justice, which org appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to order the EPA to act “based upon its own scientific conclusions and permanently ban chlorpyrifos.” At the end of the day, the court refused to enforce EPA’s own directive to ban the chemical.

Furthermore, according to Earth Justice, in November 2016, EPA scientists released a revised human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, stating: “There are no safe uses for the pesticide.”

Yet, the chemical is found in apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, citrus, broccoli and other foods. Even after washing and peeling melons and fruit, residue of the chemical is found.

The attorneys general of (1) New York, (2) California, (3) Washington, (4) Massachusetts, (5) Maine, (6) Maryland, and (7) Vermont filed an appeal, calling for the ban to be enforced.

Last year Senators Udall (D-NM), Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Harris (D-CA), Durbin (D-ILL), Cardin (D-MD) and Markey (D-MA) introduced a “first of its kind bill” to ban the chemical.

On the other side of the equation, chlorpyrifos is, and has been for over 50 years, an effective pesticide for agriculture, recreational parks, and golf courses… but is it dangerously harmful? Remarkably, the answer to that question remains controversial in the face of considerable evidence of human health hazards.

There is a better and safer way. Many farmers in California have eliminated chlorpyrifos, as well as other harmful pesticides, by adopting integrated or ecological pest management practices. Already in California every crop that previously relied upon toxic pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, to some extent is grown organically. California produces nearly one-half of organic commodities sold in the U.S. No toxic pesticides needed.

All of which raises the provocative question: If food can be grown without harmful pesticides and if there is scientific evidence that a pesticide, like chlorpyrifos, is dangerous to human health, why doesn’t the EPA follow through on the Obama administration recommendation to ban it?

Further to the point of human health and governmental directives and/or suggestions, according to a United Nations report, the idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is “a myth.”3

More to the point, the UN report says that pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.” That eye-opener includes 200,000 deaths per year from acute poisoning.

According to the UN report:

Persistent use of pesticides, in particular agrochemicals used in industrial farming, have been connected to a range of adverse health impacts, both at high and low exposure levels… In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases.

Not only is human health directly at risk, early in 2016 one-hundred (100) nations met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss an alarming development, a rapidly accelerating loss of the world’s pollinators, such as bees, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats among others, as a result of global pesticide contamination, climate change, and habitat loss. In some instances, 75% of a pollinator population species has already been wiped-out. That alone meets the definition of “an extinction event.”

At Kuala Lumpur, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services produced the first-ever global assessment of the damage to the world’s pollinators, which are an absolute necessity for pollination of 80% of human food. The conclusion of the intergovernmental meeting was grim, as many pollinators are already near total extinction!

Ergo, the risks of massive human starvation increase proportionately with loss of pollinator species. As a consequence, life on the planet has never been so precarious with so little public awareness.

In that regard, a spectacular documentary film Human Flow (2018 Oscar documentary nominee) by Ai Weiwei, the renowned Chinese artist and consultant for the Beijing National Olympic Stadium (2008), brings to the screen a sense of awareness of what the future holds for masses of people involved in the perpetual search for survival, as sixty-five million people transmigrate the world today. Yes, 65,000,000!

For the first time in the Earth’s history a single species – ourselves – is poisoning the entire planet.4

Postscript:

A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something of their nature and their power.

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).

  1. Leah Douglan, Environment, Civil Eats, February 5, 2018.
  2. Timothy Cama, “Pruitt to Restrict the Use of Data to Craft EPA Regulations, The Hill, March 20, 2018.
  3. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, January 24, 2017.
  4. Julian Cribb, “Surviving the 21st Century”, Springer Int’l Publishing AG, Switzerland, 2017.