Category Archives: Sustainability

As Cost Of Climate Crisis Grows, Climate Movement Escalates

Activists run towards the Garzweiler open-cast mine (David Young/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The warnings of climate chaos are coming so fast they are difficult to keep up with. Storms, heatwaves and climate-related weather disasters are increasing at a rapid pace. The leadership of the two corporate-dominated political parties are trying to keep the climate issue out of the 2020 campaign, but the movement is becoming too big to ignore.

Climate justice protests against fossil fuel infrastructure, politicians and the media are also growing. An industry publication describes how activists are “driving pipeline rejections” reporting, “From large, interstate pipelines to small lines connecting towns and neighborhoods, anti-fossil fuel activists have proven highly successful at blocking, through regulations or lawsuits, new natural gas infrastructure in the Northeastern United States.”

Day 214 of blockade against the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Reports of Climate Chaos Increase

Several reports in recent weeks are expressing new concerns about the climate crisis.

An MIT study published this week found that we may be “at the precipice of excitation.” MIT researchers reported that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain critical threshold, it can trigger a reflex of severe ocean acidification that lasts for 10,000 years. The history of the earth shows that over the last 540 million years, this has coincided with four of the five great mass extinctions. Today’s oceans are absorbing carbon at an order of magnitude faster than the worst case in the geologic record, even though humans have only been extracting carbon for the last 100 years. This is likely to be similar to past global catastrophes potentially culminating in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

June 20 report by the Center for Climate Integrity found that US coastal communities face more than $400 billion in costs over the next 20 years, much of it sooner, to defend themselves from inevitable sea-level rise.

Related to this, a study published May 20 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that coasts should plan for 6.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland could cause far more sea-level rise than previously thought.

These reports are forcing the power structure to face the reality of the climate crisis.  Last month, Moody’s Analytics examined the economic impact of the failure to curb planet-warming emissions in “The Economic Implications of Climate Change.” Moody’s warns there will be a $69 trillion price tag by 2100 due to the far-reaching economic damage of the climate crisis. They warned: “There is no denying it: The longer we wait to take bold action to curb emissions, the higher the costs will be for all of us.”

These reports come at a time of increased climate-caused disasters.

  • This year, wildfires have scorched more than 1.2 million acres in Alaska, making it one of the state’s three biggest fire years on record. Fires are spreading farther north into the Arctic, burning more intensely and starting earlier in the year as climate models have suggested. On July 4, Anchorage hit 90°F, breaking the city’s all-time record by 5 degrees. Alaska’s statewide average temperature was 7.9°F above average, according to NOAA’s latest National State of the Climate report. For the first time in the 95-year record, the year-long July-to-June average temperature for Alaska as a whole was above freezing.
  • Around the world, global warming has clearly contributed to an increase in extreme fires from tropical rainforests to boreal evergreen forests, and they are often linked with heatwaves. Fires pose new threats to places that aren’t used to experiencing them, including temperate mid-latitude forests near regions with dense populations, as shown by unusual wildfires in places like Germany during last summer’s European heatwave and drought. There is rapid growth of unusually extreme fires burning across South America, Australia, and western North America like the extreme fires in California and Canada last year.
  • As we write this article, Tropical Storm Barry, a tropical storm fueled by warm offshore waters, is creating downpours in Louisiana. The situation is the compounding of risks that scientists have been warning about due to climate change. Like Hurricane Florence in North Carolina last year and Hurricane Harvey, which sat over Houston for days in 2017, Barry is creating heavy rainfall and flooding on the coast and lower Mississippi Valley, according to the National Hurricane Center.
  • A report released July 10 by the NOAA reports that sunny day flooding has doubled since 2000 in the United States. Floods interfered with traffic in northeast states, swamped septic systems in Florida and choked Delaware and Maryland coastal farms with saltwater over the past year. In 2018, the US tied the record for high tide flood days. The report predicted that annual flood records will be broken again next year and for years and decades to come due to sea-level rise.
  • In Indian Country, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, weather on the Northern Great Plains has been getting more variable, erratic and destructive. In 2011, the Northern Plains faced a rash of wildfires and drought, followed in 2012, by severe flooding. Occasionally, these take the form of high-powered storms, like tornadoes that ravaged South Dakota reservations in 2016, or the ice storm of 2018, or the bomb cyclone of 2019. A bomb cyclone last March occurred when an unseasonably hot column of air shot suddenly upward and collided with the frigid high atmosphere sending barometric pressure plummeting. In seconds, the sky erupted bringing devastating wind, storm, and flooding. Homes and ranches of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were hit like a missile, more than 500 homes were left uninhabitable. Click here for information on how you can help.
  • This week, Washington, D.C. experienced nearly a month’s worth of rain in an hour. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, these intense rains are a byproduct of man-made climate change.
  • Last month was the hottest June on record globally. In Europe, there were record heat waves that sent Europe’s temperatures soaring to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite these realities, there is inadequate action by most nations of the world especially the United States.  President Trump dismissed the need for climate action during the G20 summit in Japan saying he doesn’t want to take action to confront the emergency because such a move would threaten corporate profits. As experts have warned, if we do not confront the climate emergency now, we will pay much more later.

Climate Strike March in Cape Town, South Africa (Nasief Manie/AP)

The Corporate Duopoly Seeks To Avoid a Climate Crisis too Big to Ignore

In the 2020 election cycle, the Democratic Party is resisting climate change as an issue even though fifteen of its presidential candidates, more than 50 of its member organizations in the states, and a slew of progressive organizations that make up its voting base, some armed with petitions bearing over 200,000 signatures, are calling for the DNC to hold a separate climate-focused debate. On June 10, the executive committee of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade County—the U.S. metropolitan area considered most vulnerable to sea-level rise – voted unanimously to urge Democrats to devote one of the 12 Democratic presidential debates to the climate crisis.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who rejected a climate-focused debate, tried to explain the party’s opposition in post on Medium, saying it would be impractical to hold a single-issue forum. His refusal led to hundreds of activists sitting in at the DNC headquarters, including sleeping overnight, before the first debate, demanding a debate on climate change.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a  resolution Tuesday asking Congress to declare that global warming is an emergency and demanding a massive mobilization of resources to protect the US economy, society and national security. They called for “a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”

This week billionaire, Tom Steyer, entered the 2020 race pledging to spend $100 million and focus his campaign on climate change. In his first television advertisement, he focused on the corruption of government and the economy and on climate. He said: “You look at climate change, that is people who are saying we’d rather make money than save the world.”

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins has put forward an ecosocialist Green New Deal that not only transitions to a clean energy economy but remakes the economy and creates an economic bill of rights while cutting the military budget by 75 percent.

Activists demonstrate at home of FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur (Beyond Extreme Energy)

The Climate Justice Movement’s Power Is Growing

The movement is building power and impacting the direction of the US and the world, but the response by those supporting the status quo was shown in France last week when on the hottest day in French history climate protesters were brutally tear-gassed for demanding climate action.  This action, occurring in Paris where the Paris Climate Accord was reached, adds to the heightening of the conflict. The inadequate Paris agreement showed the movement must do more than rely on international agreements.

A longtime labor and climate activist, Jeremy Brecher, describes the climate movement entering a third phase. In the first phase, the man-made climate crisis was confirmed and the movement focused on international agreements and lobbying governments. The second phase arose when the Copenhagen agreement failed, leading to a protest movement against fossil fuel infrastructure, protests of fossil fuel corporations and against investors funding climate-destroying infrastructure.

The third phase centers around a global Green New Deal. It involves protests, electoral demands, and challenging inaction of fossil fuel-funded politicians. He points to groups like Sunrise, Extinction Rebellion and the Student Strike for Climate as examples of this phase. It is a meta-movement that integrates, environmentalism, ecological restoration, social justice, racial equality, workers’ rights, restorative agriculture, and many other challenges to our unjust and unsustainable world order into a practical program.

Climate protests, which have been ongoing for a decade, are having victories. Recently, two major oil pipelines for carrying crude oil from Canada’s tar sands region were called into question as judges in Minnesota overturned a key approval for a proposed pipeline and Michigan’s attorney general threatened to shut down an aging pipeline under the Great Lakes. These were the latest setbacks for a series of five pipelines designed to transport tar sands that have either been canceled or delayed. The other projects include Energy East and Northern Gateway, both of which were canceled, and Trans Mountain expansion and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which are on hold.

On July 13, climate activists from Beyond Extreme Energy held a protest outside Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) commissioner Cheryl LaFleur’s home in Massachusetts. They demanded that LaFleur vote “no” on all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Jordan Engel listed the 100 people responsible for killing the planet. Holding people accountable is becoming a reality in this new phase of climate activism.

People are connecting the issue of militarism with climate. In Maine, 22 people were arrested protesting spending on Navy ships urging “Fund Climate Solutions, Not Endless War.” The facts are in, the Pentagon is a top global climate polluter. Popular Resistance and other organizations are organizing the People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet on September 22 and 23, while the UN High Commission meets, and encouraging people to participate in other actions that weekend, the Climate Strike and Puerto Rican Independence Day March. In our interview this Monday on Clearing the FOG, we speak with David Schwartzman, author of The Earth is Not For Sale, about ending Fossil Fuel Militarized Capitalism.

Extinction Rebellion brought the protest movement to the New York Times.  On June 24, 70 were arrested demanding the Times cover the climate crisis as a global emergency. During a sit-in on 8th Avenue they chanted “Report the urgency, this is a climate emergency!” On Monday, Extinction Rebellion DC demonstrated at the Capitol.

The movement continues to grow. More than 7,000 colleges and universities across the globe declared a climate emergency on July 10 committing to mobilize on the crisis.  This month, more than 70 health organizations called for urgent action on “one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced,” calling it the “cancer of climate change.” They cite storm and flood emergencies, chronic air pollution, the spread of diseases carried by insects, and heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat has been the leading cause of weather-related deaths.

Demonstration for adding climate crisis education to the medical school curriculum (Joe Brusky/flickr/cc)

Movement Impact Is Noted

The movement is having an impact and industry and politicians know it. Long term campaigns to stop climate infrastructure, force banks and investors to divest from the fossil fuel industry and demand emergency climate policies are getting stronger.

At the beginning of July, after a meeting of OPEC in Vienna, their Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo said, “there is a growing mass mobilization of world opinion… against oil,” children “are asking us about their future because… they see their peers on the streets campaigning against this industry.” Barkindo added the “mobilization” was “beginning to… dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry.”

In testimony to British lawmakers this week, famed scientist and environmental advocate Sir David Attenborough said:

We cannot be radical enough in dealing with the issues that face us at the moment. The question is: what is practically possible? How can we take the electorate with us in dealing with these things?

It is the job of the climate movement to push political systems to respond.

At 100, Gaia Faces its Biggest Challenges

James Lovelock theorized Gaia while working for NASA in the 1960s when he was hired to determine if there was “life on Mars.”

Gaia may be younger but James Lovelock, Mr. Gaia himself, turns 100 on his upcoming birthday, July 26th.

For over 50 years, he has been Britain’s leading independent scientist. His independence from a formal relationship with an educational institution or governmental agency gives him a unique perspective. He’s one of the few scientists without an axe to grind, and of great interest, he’s been observing the scene for 100 years. He’s a living treasure trove of scientific knowledge whose reputation, at one point in time, withstood sharp criticism by the scientific community. Today, he’s a proven genius.

His Gaia hypothesis, which contends that the earth is a single, self-regulating organism, is now accepted as a founding principle of most climate science. His theory proposes that the atmosphere, oceans, rocks, soil and all living things constitute a self-regulating system that maintains favorable conditions for life.

To his everlasting credit, he helped save all of humanity by developing an invention for detecting CFCs in the atmosphere that was instrumental in discovering the infamous Ozone Hole of the 1980s.

The ozone molecule (O3), which is randomly scattered throughout the stratosphere at 10-to-20 miles above Earth’s surface, filters-out hazardous effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, without which life would burn up.

After the Ozone Hole was identified, it led to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in September 1987. Human-made chlorines, CFCs, were prohibited.

Thereafter, research monitoring the atmosphere claimed the ozone hole in the Northern Hemisphere would be fixed by the 2030s and the Antarctica hole fixed by the 2060s.

Until… Alas, a new alarm was set off in Southeast Asia. The Environmental Investigation Agency in 2018 discovered a source of illegal CFCs coming from provinces in eastern China manufacturing polyurethane insulation. The manufacturers were using CFC-11 because of its better quality and cheaper costs than alternatives.

According to third-party analyses: “This new study is based on spikes in the data on air that comes from China,” lead author Dr. Matt Rigby, the University of Bristol, told BBC Inside Science. “Using computer simulations of the transport of these gases through the atmosphere we can start to put numbers on emissions from different regions and that’s where we come up with this number of around 7,000 tonnes of extra CFC-11 emissions coming out of China compared to before 2012.”

Oh please! Somebody find a bucket… quick, hurry up!

Not only that but CFCs are very potent greenhouse gases. One ton of CFC-11 is equivalent to around 5,000 tons of CO2.

Getting back to a semblance of sanity and the James Lovelock story, one of his most elegant pieces of hard science was discovery of the cycle in which algae in the oceans produces volatile sulphur compounds that act as seeds to form oceanic clouds. Without these dimethyl sulphide seeds, cooling oceanic clouds would be lost.

Lovelock’s gargantuan influence is nearly impossible to describe in one article. It requires a book, not an article. Still, a lot can be gleaned from his voluminous studies, interviews, and analyses, especially regarding the status of Mother Earth.

One of his starkest warnings was that the earth is overpopulated by a factor of seven. Stating:

It cannot for much longer maintain both its ecosystem and the supply of food, energy and materials to such a large population.

Of course, therein, by implication, he references the Great Acceleration post WWII when world population growth took off like a space ship blasting off. After all, it took thousands of years to reach 2B people by 1945, but it only took one generation to nearly triple, up 275%, to 7.5B people. If anybody has questions about how and why ecosystems throughout the planet are strained, if not outright crumbling apart, then look to the Great Acceleration in harmony with rampant High Capitalism for answers.

With High Capitalism, ecosystems are handled like throw-away Dixie Cups. As a result, a gigantic crack is starting to appear in Earth’s crust, running from pole to pole as it comes apart at the seams. Infinite growth is the greatest illusion of all time, that, nevertheless and unfortunately “turns on” Wall Street and political leaders around the world. But, that formula for “growth to the sky, to infinity,” is not working very well for Gaia, which has already reversed course downwards towards surefire darkness and chaos. Which means that something has to change before all hell breaks lose. The likeliest target for change is current political theory, as the neoliberal brand of capitalistic democracy has gotta go the way of the Dodo Bird, otherwise, the planet will likely suffer serious climate disasters.

There’s a better way: Eco economics treats the economy as a subsystem of Earth’s larger ecosystem and emphasizes natural capital instead of consuming it and destroying it.

During a recent BBC interview, Lovelock said:

There is a real danger of losing our tenure on the planet altogether…. We’ve got to care about this matter of global warming because if we don’t do anything about it, there won’t be anybody here… It’s about time we went back to taking an interest in the environment… What happens to the planet when more CO2 is put into the air? The earth will get hotter. It will heat up to a point where no life on it of our kind will be possible…1

In an earlier interview with Nature Video, regarding his book The Vanishing Face of Gaia, A Final Warning (Publisher Allen Lane), he outlined expectations for global warming: After informing the interviewer that he preferred to use “global heating” rather than “global warming,” he outlined consequences: “When tough times come, it’ll be very rapid, indeed.”

And, as outlined in his book, he believes the “climate downfall” will be quite the opposite from an old adage: “It’s darkest before the dawn.” In his view, it’ll be: “It’s brightest just before the darkness” (which incidentally defines High Capitalism today, in terms of capital growth but not in terms of individual gratification).

Lovelock’s climate warning:

Assume the system becomes unstable and goes into positive feedback, as the positive feedback strengthens, any small permutation in either direction gets amplified.

Which describes the trigger behind “climate downfall,” when least expected.

In point of fact, there are already instances of “positive feedback”; e.g., permafrost collapsing in the North and disappearance of arthropods in tropical rainforests, among many other instances. It has already started, where nobody lives.

He further stated that he feared that the earth’s move to a new state 5-6C hotter is probably inevitable, and that we should be planning to meet that challenge. There are already early signs of that, especially in the northern latitudes.

Even though Lovelock has personally planted 1,000 trees, he admits that the climate problem can’t be so easily solved:

You cannot plant an ecosystem. An ecosystem includes: bacteria or haematids, insects, invertebrates and all kinds of stuff, all the way up to big trees. You cannot plant ecosystems…  it has to come naturally.

Recently (August 2018) in an interview, he said:

Humans’ time may have run out and artificial intelligence could be about to take our place on Earth.2

In that interview, he also proclaimed:

The Earth is in dire trouble and could soon experience intense climate-related disasters.

Mr. Lovelock said that he felt the Earth was something like himself. It is very old, but still has some time left.

“I’m looking forward to quite a few years to go in this beautiful region and so is the planet, but you can’t bank on it,” he told the Today programme.”

  1. BBC Ideas interview of James Lovelock, February 8th, 2019.
  2. Independent, August 8, 2018.

Will our domination be our downfall?

For those of us who’ve been paying attention to the general state of the world and human society, it’s readily apparent that we as a species have sent ourselves hurtling into the depths of a global crisis that has the potential to wipe ourselves out along with many of our fellow Earthlings. So how exactly how has this happened?

It’s easy and certainly well justified to point our finger at the many harmful industries that have emerged from our society—fossil fuels, unsustainable agriculture, overfishing, mining, the military complex, etc. (have a look at this list of Harmful Practices Critiqued for a more extensive list). And yet what if there is a deeper cause that we can point to—a common “seed” that underlies all of these harmful industries and practices?

I believe that there is such a seed, one that is surprisingly simple to name and yet highly elusive, difficult for many of us to grasp. In a nutshell, I would say that this seed is a domineering attitude that appears to have increased in magnitude over the past 10,000 years or so of our evolution. In recent years, our collective eyes have begun to open to the great harm and even horror wrought by our ongoing efforts to dominate each other. But as the even larger horror of the accelerating global ecological collapse has become increasingly apparent, many of us have come to recognize that our domineering attitude is also probably the leading culprit.

I suggest that we drop down even one more level on this causal ladder and ask oursevelves, what is it that feeds humankind’s urge and sense of entitlement to dominate each other, our fellow Earthlings and the Earth? And I would say that just as the justification of one human group to dominate another is typically fueled by that particular group’s belief in their own superiority, so it is that humankind’s general belief in our superiority over other living beings fuels our ongoing desire and entitlement to dominate the Earth and our fellow species.

It’s readily apparent that pervasive among contemporary society is the strong belief that human beings are superior to other species, which in turn has spawned a number of closely related beliefs, such as: “The Earth belongs to us,” “We made it to the top and are entitled to do what we want,” “We are the most important/valuable species on this planet,” “We have dominion over the Earth and all of its creatures,” etc. This belief is so insidious that it even reveals itself within seemingly virtuous beliefs such as, “We are stewards of the Earth,” or “We need to work hard to manage the environment/ecosystems.” So strong is this belief in our superiority that I would say that very few people even regard it as a belief; rather, it is generally seen as simply a fact of life.

But let’s take a moment to scrutinize this belief more closely. In particular, let’s look at what I believe are the major core assumptions that maintain and reinforce it.

Assumption #1—We are the most intelligent species on the planet

Initially, this assumption may appear self evident. Certainly it’s true that we humans are an extremely inventive and productive species—the signs are everywhere, in our vast technology, our sprawling cities, our complex cultures and societies. If we define “intelligence” broadly as “the capacity to develop systems of knowledge and apply them to the meeting of our needs,” then at first glance, it would appear that we are indeed very intelligent when compared to most other species.

However, I feel that there are three serious problems with this reasoning that need to be addressed—I’ll call them problematic sublevel assumptions: (1) that because the products our own intelligence are so much more readily apparent to us than those of other species, then our own intelligence must be superior; (2) that we really are as intelligent as we generally consider ourselves; and (3) that superior intelligence (at least as we see it) must imply superior worth and a general sense of entitlement to dominate those species with less intelligence. Let’s take a moment to look at each of these in turn:

(1) Since the products our own intelligence are so much more readily apparent to us than those of other species, then our own intelligence must be superior.

Let’s approach this by first taking a more intuitive/spiritual tack…

Take a moment to remove the anthropocentric blinders off and look around at the world—I mean really look around at the world. Take in this incredible web of life composed of billions of complex living organisms living together in symbiotic harmony. Take in this complex dance of creativity and adaptation that has gone on continuously for billions of years, and which is far more complex than any human mind could ever fathom, let alone replicate. Think about it—with our vast knowledge and technology, we haven’t been able to replicate even the simplest single-celled organism.

So if this awesome intelligence and creativity hasn’t come from us, then where is it coming from? Some spiritual and philosophical traditions conjecture an omniscient, omnipresent source of intelligence and creativity simply inherent in the fabric of existence; others say that a more personal God or group of Gods/Goddesses play a prominent role; and still others say that an incredible stroke of “luck” has set the wheels/physics of the universe turning in just exactly the right way for this evolutionary flow of life to unfold.

Despite all of these differences, there is one answer to this question with which virtually all scientific and spiritual traditions agree—that this intelligence did not originate from humankind, but that rather humankind has originated from it. Philosopher Alan Watts offered the following helpful analogy: Let’s turn the word “apple” into the verb “to apple,” as in “An apple tree apples.” In this way, we can say that “the universe peoples.” The universe also “dogs,” “frogs,” “starfishes,”  “cockroaches,” “forests,” and “mountains.” This vast intelligence is the source of humankind’s much narrower intelligence. Certainly we have access to this intelligence, as it is our source after all, but we can say the same thing about every other living being on our planet and in our universe. From this perspective, how can we really say that our own intelligence is so superior, so special?

let’s move on now to the cutting edge of human science—don’t our latest discoveries in neuroscience and biology clearly reveal our superior intelligence?

Within the fields of these and related scientific traditions, it was initially postulated that intelligence is essentially correlated with the number of interconnections between the neurons of a brain. In the most simplistic and reductionistic terms, this theory says that a neuron functions more or less like a computer bit—it acts like a switch that either fires or doesn’t fire depending upon the signals it receives from its fellow neurons, which in turn determines the firing/not-firing of other neurons. And as more and more neurons are connected together in this way, an increasingly complex web of linear and circular causality forms and ultimately emerges into increasingly complex forms of intelligence. And since the human brain has more neural connections than the brain of any other species discovered on Earth (it’s estimated that we have approximately 100 trillion such neural connections), then we must therefore be the most intelligent species.

However, our understanding of this has evolved in recent years to embrace a much more complex picture. First of all, we now recognize that the intelligence (as defined above) of an organism is based on far more than simply the activity of the neurons of the brain (or more specifically, the cerebral cortex). As brought to the forefront by the pioneering work of Candace Pert among many others, we now understand that every cell in our bodies are individual living organisms in their own right, with each actively communicating with the other cells of the broader organism, and with each contributing their own intelligence to the overall intelligence of the entire organism.

We also now know that a number of other species have brains much larger than ours—both in size and in the number of cerebral cortical neurons and interconnections. For example, both the brain size and overall (full body) neural count of African elephants are about 3 times those of humans; and the long-finned pilot whale, a type of dolphin, has more than twice as many brain (cerebral cortex) neurons than humans, and likely a correspondingly far higher count of interneural connections.

So while the evidence mounts that an increase in intercellular connections does correlate with a general increase in intelligence (i.e., the capacity to gather knowledge and apply this to meet one’s needs), it is becoming well established that the neuron cell is not the only intelligence-generating cell in the game. All other living cells within an organism contribute to the intelligence of the whole, but with each kind of cell specializing in a particular kind of intelligence (i.e., retaining specialized sets of knowledge, developing specialized sets of skills, and applying these to specialized needs/functions essential to the organism).

Furthermore, we can say the same thing about the connections that exist between living organisms themselves—bee and ant colonies, flocks of birds, herds of deer, etc., clearly demonstrate much greater intelligence than can be found within any individual member of these groups. This concept is often referred to as swarm intelligence—a phenomenon that is very well established but the details of which we are only just beginning to grasp. And this brings us to a particularly profound concept within our exploration of intelligence within contemporary biology and evolution—what I believe is a real mind-bender, a game-changer, really.

So you know those simplest of all living organisms—the bacteria that we often think of as being little more than “germs”? They’re so simple that they don’t even have a nucleus, let alone anything remotely akin to what we tend to think of as a brain. Now let’s take a moment and expand our view backwards in time. Based on ever accumulating research, the bacteria (technically called prokaryotes, but the term “bacteria” suffices for this discussion) are the very first living organisms to have come into existence on the Earth, coming into existence over 4 billion years ago. They adapted and evolved over a vast amount of time, first converging to become nucleated single-celled organisms (protozoa, algae, etc.), with further convergences resulting in multi-celled organisms (fungus, plants and animals), which finally brings us to well… us.

Swarm intelligence demonstrated by leaf cutter ants (aboveEli Duke, CC BY SA-2.0) and a self-organizing flock of birds (below) [/caption]

Let’s now take a moment to look at our own bodies. The leading edge of our own science has brought us to quite a startling conclusion. Our entire body and every cell within it is essentially composed of an extraordinarily complex colony of bacteria culminating from a very long line of the Earth’s very first bacteria evolving ever more complex relationships with each other. This doesn’t even factor in the many trillions of “exotic” bacteria living within our gut, with whom we are also symbiotically engaged in order to digest our food among other essential processes to sustain our life. Let’s take a moment to let this seep into our sense of superiority for a moment.

Now let’s take a moment to look around—wherever we happen to be located, right here and now. Every single plant, insect, animal, mushroom, and other living form we see or can imagine shares this same basic feature with us. Just like us, they also are embodiments of what we think of as the most simple (“least intelligent”) living organisms having converged into more complex forms. The entire web of life, in other words, is the grand culmination of a mysterious universal life force emerging first into the simplest living cells (bacteria), and then spreading across the entire surface of the Earth, merging together and emerging into the extraordinary array of symbiotic communities of single-celled and multi-celled organisms that we call “organisms,” and ultimately forming the living ecosystems of the Earth.

Finally, let’s extend our view spatially across the surface of the Earth. In addition to the colonies of bacteria that have come together in various ways to form individual living beings, the entire surface of the Earth—the entire biosphere—is filled with these little guys. Actually, it’s more accurate to flip this statement around—this extensive web of bacterial life is itself the fundamental nature of the biosphere. Lynn Margulis, acclaimed microbiologist, puts it like this: “Bacteria initially populated the planet and never relinquished their hold.”

Now let’s weave back into this story the principle that intelligence emerges from the symbiotic interactions among living cells and living beings, and that greater interconnectedness generally results in greater intelligence. Firstly, there are untold trillions of bacteria hooked together in what is well established to be the far largest self-organized living system on the planet, what many refer to as the ultimate superorganism of the Earth; and secondly, we know that the bacteria communicate with each other very effectively, and even in ways that other kinds of cells can’t—such as being able to instantly (without sexual reproduction) share with each other bits of their genetic material and the information coded within them, and even doing so across bacterial species, genus and even family lines.

Many people, even many scientists with a particularly reductionistic bent, have come to recognize that this global bacterial superorganism is far more intelligent than we could ever imagine, and that it plays many crucial roles in maintaining the conditions for life on this planet. As the Gaia Theory has evolved (the well established theory that the entire biosphere acts as a unified and extraordinarily intelligent organism in her own right), a number of people have conjectured that it may be appropriate to consider this bacterial superorganism as being akin to Gaia’s “brain.”

One prominent lifelong bacterial geneticist, James Shapiro, has summarized this emerging understanding of our bacterial kin in this way:

The take-home lesson of more than half a century of molecular microbiology is to recognize that bacterial information processing is far more powerful than human technology….These small cells are incredibly sophisticated at coordinating processes involving millions of individual events and at making them precise and reliable. In addition, the astonishing versatility and mastery bacteria display in managing the biosphere’s geochemical and thermodynamic transformations indicates that we have a great deal to learn about chemistry, physics, and evolution from our small, but very intelligent, prokaryotic relatives”.1

Furthermore, in addition to this bacterial superorganism, there are other vastly intelligent living systems at play whose behaviours are still far beyond our own comprehension. For example, there are the myriad mycelial networks that facilitate the communication and exchange of essential nutrients among the plant and fungus life of most of the world’s terrestrial ecosystems; and there is the complex interplay among many other kinds of micro-organisms and inorganic elements that has successfully regulated the Earth’s temperature, oxygen, atmospheric composition and ocean salinity and pH levels for billions of years.

The mycelium of a fungus spreading through soil (outside) (Nigel Cattlin / Alamy); Microscopic view of mycelium — 1 square mm (inside). Bob Blaylock, CC BY-SA 3.0[/caption]

In summary, the more we begin to grasp the intelligences of other living organisms and living systems, the more clear it becomes just how limited (and un-superior) human intelligence actually is.

(2) Are we really as intelligent as we consider ourselves?

To answer this question, let’s return to our working definition of intelligence, but add one key emphasis: “The capacity to develop systems of knowledge and apply them to sustainably meet one’s needs.” Considering the key quality of sustainability and now being able to compare human intelligence with the much broader and much older intelligences found in living systems such as bacterial superorganisms and mycelial networks, challenging this particular assumption is relatively straightforward.

In contemporary society, it is well established that the Earth is entering its 6th largest extinction event (in the past billion years of complex life), and that it is we, the human species, who are causing it. Our behaviour is changing our climate in extremely dangerous and unpredictable ways, and we are decimating the Earth’s oceans and terrestrial ecosystems, due primarily to completely unnecessary eating habits and farming practices, along with other problematic behaviours. We consider it acceptable to generate energy by boiling water with extraordinarily concentrated radioactive materials (i.e., nuclear power), the leak of which we know will devastate the local environment for hundreds and even thousands of years. We have over 14,000 nuclear weapons ready to detonate, with the plan to continue making more, and with some countries actively threatening others who also possess such weapons. We continue to pour millions of tons per year of toxic chemicals into the environment and even onto our own food. And the list goes on…

So at first glance, observing that the human species has managed to inhabit nearly the entire planet, and that our population has grown over 1000-fold in the past 10,000 years, it may appear that we are indeed extremely intelligent. But when we consider the fact that it is very clear that we cannot continue to exist much longer with our present behaviours, and yet we persist with them anyway, this belief in our intelligence being so superior becomes very doubtful indeed.

(3) Superior intelligence (at least as we see it) must imply superior worth and entitlement.

Hopefully by now, the case has been made well enough that considering our intelligence to be so “superior” to that of other living species and living systems on this planet is highly problematic at best, which then makes this final argument in favour of humankind’s superiority moot.

But for those who still find themselves hanging on to the belief in our superior intelligence, I’ll say a few words about this final point—that superior intelligence must imply superior worth and entitlement. This argument is often used to justify our exploitation of other species and the Earth, in general, and even the exploitation of one human group by another (i.e., racism, sexism, slavery, etc.). Fortunately, human society has evolved quite a bit in recent years with regard to recognizing the problems inherent in exploiting other human beings (though it is certainly still a major problem!). Many of us have been able to see the enormous suffering that this attitude causes, both to those who are exploited and also to the exploiters’ own sense of integrity and ability to live in a peaceful society.

And now it’s beginning to dawn on many of us that the exploitation of other living beings and living systems is at least as problematic as the exploitation of other human beings. The living systems of the Earth are clearly collapsing, and if we maintain our course, we will certainly collapse right along with them. So let’s honestly re-evaluate this assumption: Is the global catastrophe taking place right before our eyes the result of the sense of entitlement by the intelligent; or is it a result of a sense of entitlement by the ignorant…?

Assumption #2—We represent the pinnacle and/or cutting edge of evolution

This second primary assumption that props up the belief of human superiority, particularly by those who believe in the theory of evolution, is that the human species represents either the pinnacle or the cutting edge of evolution.

From a purely anthropocentric perspective, this is certainly true. We are the latest “model” in our own particular evolutionary lineage. But for those of us who may believe we’ve reached some kind of a pinnacle (a kind of climax in our evolutionary journey), where is the evidence that our evolutionary lineage must stop with us? And why would the process of evolution on the Earth move along so persistently for billions of years, and then suddenly stop with us? (…unless, of course, we manage to wipe out all life on Earth, but that is another story.) And for those who believe we may not have reached such a pinnacle yet, but that we must certainly represent the cutting edge of the Earth’s evolution, let’s keep in mind that there are millions of other evolutionary lineages taking place within this vast Gaian tree of life, many of which are far older than our own particular branch, and many that will likely continue to evolve far after we are gone. What makes our particular branch so special?

Assumption #3—We are essential to manage/maintain life on Earth

From the perspective of Gaia theory, all living beings and living systems existing on the Earth are merely manifestations of her, merely different aspects of this one unified organism. So they all play important roles in some way at any given point of time in her evolution. However, just as with our own physical bodies, some parts are simply more vital than others.

For example, our physical body could lose a toe or even an entire leg and most likely continue to survive. But if we lose both of our lungs, then the loss would be too great and our body would certainly die. Likewise, Gaia has evolved to where she has become highly dependent upon terrestrial plant life (particularly tropical rainforests) and microalgae within the open ocean to generate the oxygen necessary to maintain her life. These essentially act as her “lungs” providing this essential nutrient to the other parts of her organism. If these systems were depleted enough, it is possible that Gaia could die, or would at least be forced to regress to a much more primitive state. On the other hand, if humankind were to go extinct, our loss would probably be much more akin to Gaia losing a little toe, or more realistically, only sustaining a small cut to her little toe—certainly not terminal to the organism. In the big picture of Gaia’s life, spanning over 4 billion years now (that’s 4,000,000,000+), humankind in its current form (Homo Sapiens) has emerged only about 200,000 years ago. To put this in perspective, if Gaia were 80 years old, humankind would have emerged onto the scene about 36 hours ago.

So it’s really impossible for us to make the case that Gaia needs us. Actually, at this point, the case is all too easily made that this “little toe” of humanity has become cancerous and is now acting as a direct threat against the life of the entire organism—of all life on Earth. If you were Gaia, would you not seriously consider cutting off that cancerous toe? (btw, I’m not advocating for the extermination of humankind—I’m just pointing out that as we broaden our perspective, we should naturally find ourselves moving towards a much more humble position).

Assumption #4—Our religious scriptures say that we are superior

Granted, I find it a bit more difficult to challenge this particular assumption than those above. When a person’s convictions are based solely upon what they have read or what somebody else has told them, and they have chosen to abandon critical thinking or deep personal reflection, then there’s not likely to be much potential for a paradigm shift. However, even within the religious scriptures and creation stories found within different cultures and spiritual traditions around the world, we find a very interesting theme that many (most?) of them share—and that is the recognition that our sense of superiority has gone hand in hand with our separation from our source of abundance and vitality.

In the West, this theme is probably most well known as illustrated in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, which then led to their being banished by God from The Garden of Eden. Essentially, the story goes that Adam and Eve lived for many years as members of a thriving and abundant ecosystem. But then they became tempted to “eat the fruit” which shifted their paradigm from one of harmonious unity to one of disharmonious duality—the “knowledge of good and evil.” One way of interpreting this story is to see it as a metaphor that represents the moment when humankind replaced their value for living in harmony with the natural world (as merely one member of a thriving ecosystem) with a dichotomous value system—inferior/superior, better/worse, more/less valuable, more/less worthy, mine/yours, and of particular relevance to this article here, humans/nature.

For those who have studied the theory of human evolution, this theme has clear parallels to the historical moment when humanity abandoned its indigenous roots extending back hundreds of thousands of years. At this point of time, about 10,000 years ago, humankind is believed to have generally “stepped out of nature” to embrace a much more dualistic mindset—humans vs. nature, human superiority vs. other species’ inferiority, the Earth and other living beings as being ours to own as property and personally dominate, exploit, etc. And we can look around now and clearly see where this path has taken us—initially to enormous short term abundance and population explosion, but ultimately heading right off the cliff of our own extinction.

So even within scriptures that are often used to justify the superiority of humankind and our entitlement over other species, we find upon closer inspection this common core theme of a paradise lost, or of a deep ignorance having gripped us. As soon as humankind stepped out of their niche of living at one with the Gaian system, and attempted to instead place themselves outside of and superior to this heretofore unified living system, we ultimately lost our paradise.

So to Summarize…

Are we unique? Yes! Do we have unusual capacities and skills never before seen within the life of the Earth? Almost certainly. However, we can also say the same thing about every other species present and past.

As for our superior intelligence? Humankind does appear to possess a somewhat unusual form of intelligence combined with an upright posture and opposable thumbs, the combination of which makes all kinds of interesting technologies possible. However, considering the broad definition of intelligence as “the capacity to develop systems of knowledge and apply them to sustainably meet one’s needs,” humankind has clearly not demonstrated a degree of intelligence anywhere near as advanced as that of other living systems on the Earth. To the contrary, humankind, or at least in its present form as manifested within contemporary society, has demonstrated an unusually profound ignorance, having made the terrible choice of attempting to remove itself from the Gaian system, which, of course, is just as impossible and futile as a little toe attempting to sever itself from the larger body.

As for our general sense of superior worth and our associated sense of entitlement to do what we please with our fellow Earthlings and the Earth in general? Well, as discussed above, from the perspective of Gaia, there are clearly other species and living systems far more vital to her ongoing survival than the human species…

This leaves us then with the question of our own continued survival. If humankind is not as intelligent nor superior as we have come to believe, and if it is true that our attempt to leave the Gaian system has been a very bad one, then what does that mean for our own future? I believe that the answer to this question lies within a close reflection upon our past.

Looking historically, the evidence is quite compelling that our departure from living harmoniously with the Gaian system coincided with an intensification of the belief in our fundamental “superiority,” as well as our fundamental sense of entitlement to exploit other species and the environment to our own very narrowly perceived needs. And if we track our progress over the centuries since we have adopted this belief, what do we find? We do indeed see that we have been able to experience tremendous benefit initially, in the sense of an explosion of our population and the capacity to survive on most of the surface of the Earth. But in recent generations this short-term benefit is finally revealing the very serious long-term harm of this belief system and its associated behaviours. Though the ride may have been good to many (and hell for many others) while it lasted, the writing is becoming all too clear upon the wall:  We have been “superior”ing our way to our own demise.

So what to do? We may not be superior to other species, but like all species, we do have our own unique capacities. And as humans, we appear to have an unusually strong capacity for productivity (both creative and destructive), self-awareness and self-reflection. What would happen if we shift the focus of these attributes to the serious attempt to return to the “Garden of Eden,” to establishing a harmonious niche as simply one species among many on this diverse and abundant planet?

I like to think that this would be possible, though certainly very challenging. What if we take our capacity for self-awareness/reflection/transformation, and work on shifting our paradigm to…

(a) expanding our understanding of ‘the self’ to contain all other living beings and the entire Gaian system;

(b) cultivating an equal compassion/regard/respect for all living beings, beyond simply other human beings and companion animals who are personally close to us;

(c) humbling ourselves in the face of Gaia—recognizing that she has a wisdom far deeper, older, and broader than our much more limited personal minds could ever fully grasp…

…and closely related to this, (d) reorienting our efforts at personal and human surviving and thriving to be much more in line with Gaia’s wisdom and natural behaviours.

This would entail shifting our focus from “managing” the environment (Gaia has demonstrated that she can do this perfectly fine without us, thank you very much) to managing ourselves—(a) stopping our destructive behaviours, and (b) simply stepping back from as much of the Earth as we can, and making space for Gaia’s own capacity to heal and regenerate herself.

In summary, then, it appears that the more our limited human minds begin to grasp the much vaster and more intelligent minds at play on the Earth, the more apparent it becomes that we simply need to lose the superiority complex and graciously re-engage openly and compassionately with our fellow Earthlings.

In other words, isn’t it about time that we got over ourselves and re-join the party?

• You can learn more about Paris Williams’ latest work and the Centre for Nonviolence and Conscious living at cncl.info

  1. as quoted in Buhner, 2014.

Renewable Energy Is Not the Answer; Nuclear Is

“It’s always a good idea to start by asking about the facts.” So advises Noam Chomsky. “Whenever you hear anything said very confidently, the first thing that should come to mind is, ‘Wait a minute, is that true?’” De omnibus dubitandum—doubt everything—was Karl Marx’s motto and should be the motto of every thinking person. Question even or especially what the tribe most takes for granted.

In the era of climate change, when fossil fuels are known to be driving civilization straight into the ocean, the idea that liberal and left-wing tribes take most for granted is “Renewable energy!” It is shouted confidently from every public perch. Renewable energy, scaled up to replace fossil fuels and even nuclear, is declared the only possible salvation for humanity. It has such obvious advantages over every other energy source that the world has to go 100% renewables ASAP.

Obviously!

But wait a minute—is that true?

Let’s try to shed the religious thinking, look objectively at the facts, and come to a conclusion about this most important of subjects: how to power the future and hopefully save the world.

Renewable energy emits greenhouse gases

First, consider the claim that renewable energy has no carbon emissions. This is true, in a sense, for wind and solar farms (as it is for nuclear energy), which in themselves emit virtually no greenhouse gases. It isn’t true for hydropower, however, which in 2016 produced 71% of all electricity generated by renewable sources. According to one study, hydroelectric dams worldwide emit as much methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as Canada, from decaying vegetation and nutrient runoff. Another study concluded they produce even more carbon dioxide than methane.

“These are massive emissions,” one expert comments. “There are a massive number of dams that are currently proposed to be built. It would be a grave mistake to continue to finance those with the impression that they were part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

And yet in every scenario projected by renewables advocates, hydropower is absolutely essential. For instance, Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson’s famous—and deeply flawed—proposal to run the U.S. on 100% renewables by 2050 assumes the country’s dams could add turbines and transformers to produce 1,300 gigawatts of electricity, over 16 times their current capacity of 80 gigawatts. (According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the maximum capacity that could be added is only 12 gigawatts, 1,288 gigawatts short of Jacobson’s assumption.)

The International Energy Agency projects that by 2023, wind and solar together will satisfy a mere 10% of global electricity demand, while hydroelectric power will satisfy 16%. Nearly all the rest will be produced by fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Burning biomass, too, which is a renewable energy source, releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. “It does exactly the opposite of what we need to do: reduce emissions,” says an expert in forest science and management.

Even leaving aside hydropower and biomass, the use of wind and solar dramatically increases greenhouse gas emissions compared to nuclear energy. This is because, given the intermittency and the diluted nature of solar and wind energy, a backup source of power is needed, and that source is natural gas. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a guru of the renewables movement, himself acknowledges this fact:

We need about 3,000 feet of altitude, we need flat land, we need 300 days of sunlight, and we need to be near a gas pipe. Because for all of these big utility-scale solar plants—whether it’s wind or solar—everybody is looking at gas as the supplementary fuel. The plants that we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are gas plants.

The burning of natural gas; i.e., methane, emits about half as much carbon dioxide as the burning of coal. So natural gas is better than coal, but not nearly good enough if we want to solve climate change. Even worse, many millions of tons of unburned methane are leaked every year from the American oil and gas industry—and methane is more than 80 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. So these leaks cancel out much of the environmental good that wind and solar farms are supposedly doing.

In other words, the fact that wind and solar farms typically operate far below their capacity (because of seasonal changes and the unreliability of weather) necessitates that a more reliable power source “supplement” them. In fact, as researchers Mike Conley and Tim Maloney point out, strictly speaking it is the renewable source that acts as a supplement for the oil or natural gas plants linked to the renewables. A solar farm with a capacity of one gigawatt, for instance, will on average operate at only about 20% of its capacity, which means that if a gigawatt of energy is really to be produced, the majority will have to be provided by the “backup” fossil fuel plant(s).

The upshot is that an anti-nuclear and pro-renewables policy means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

California is a good example. Like other states in the U.S and countries in the Western world, it has been closing its nuclear power plants—despite their safety, reliability, effectiveness, and environmental friendliness. The carbon-free nuclear plants have been replaced with renewables + natural gas, which is to say, they’ve been replaced mostly with natural gas (prone to methane leaks). After it closed the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013, California missed its CO2 emissions targets as a result.

In New England, after the premature closing of the nuclear power plant Vermont Yankee in 2014, CO2 emission rates rose across New England, reversing a decade of declines. When Massachusetts’ last remaining nuclear plant, Pilgrim, closed last month, much more electricity generation was lost than the state generates with all its solar, wind, and hydropower combined. Several new fossil fuel plants and a couple of small solar and wind farms will take the place of Pilgrim, increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

In their new book A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow, Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist give other examples. Between 1970 and 1990, due to its construction of nuclear power plants, Sweden was able to cut its carbon emissions by half even as its electricity consumption more than doubled. Germany, by contrast, emits about twice as much carbon pollution per person as Sweden despite using one-third less energy per person, because it has chosen to phase out its nuclear power while introducing renewables.

This means that Germany has simply substituted one (relatively) clean energy source for another, while doing virtually nothing to decarbonize. Its energy production remains dominated by coal, and greenhouse gas emissions are around a billion tons a year.

A more sensible policy would have been to build more nuclear plants and phase out coal. Or at least to let the existing nuclear plants continue to operate while adding renewables, which then would have displaced coal.

ExxonMobil likes renewable energy

The fact that renewable energy directly and indirectly causes far more greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear should already tell us it isn’t a solution to climate change.

Indeed, the willingness of the oil and gas industry in recent years to promote and invest in renewables is itself significant. Over the last three years, the five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies have invested over a billion dollars in advertising and lobbying for renewables. “Natural gas is the perfect partner for renewables,” ads say. “See why #natgas is a natural partner for renewable power sources,” Shell tweets.

By pretending to care about the environment, these companies not only burnish their reputations but also are able to associate natural gas with clean energy, which it very much is not. The formula “renewables + natural gas” thus serves a dual purpose. In fact, it serves a triple purpose: it also distracts from nuclear power, which, unlike renewables, is an immediately viable alternative to oil and gas.

Nuclear power, not renewable energy, is what the fossil fuel industry really fears. The reason is simple: the energy in nuclear fuel is orders of magnitude more concentrated than the energy in oil, gas, coal, and every other source. (Which is why nuclear reactors produce vastly less waste than everything from coal to solar.) If governments invested in a global Nuclear New Deal, so to speak, they could make fossil fuels largely obsolete within a couple of decades. Not even Mark Jacobson’s wildly unrealistic $15-20 trillion 100% renewables plan envisions such a fast transition.

Because of the diffuse and intermittent nature of wind and solar energy, all the world’s investment in renewables didn’t prevent the share of low-carbon power in generating electricity from declining between 1995 and 2017. Western countries’ shuttering of nuclear power plants in these decades was a disaster for the environment.

Another way to appreciate the disaster is to consider that global carbon emissions are actually rising, even as the world spent roughly $2 trillion on wind and solar between 2007 and 2016. (This is similar to the amount spent on nuclear in the past 55 years.) So much for the gospel of renewable energy!

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has been smiling on the sidelines, giving millions of dollars to groups like the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and many others that work to kill nuclear power and thus exacerbate climate change. (Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are particularly active in the war on nuclear—and they refuse to disclose their donors. Could it be because they receive an unseemly amount from oil and gas companies?)

We have eleven years

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 special report, we have eleven years left to avoid potentially irreversible climate disruption.

António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has called on global leaders to “demonstrate how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and achieve net zero global emissions by 2050.” They’re supposed to meet in New York in September 2019 to answer this call.

The only conceivable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the scale called for is to aggressively embrace nuclear power. It is cost-competitive with all other forms of electricity generation except natural gas—although if you take into account the long-term environmental costs of using natural gas (or oil or even renewables), nuclear is probably the cheapest of all.

A worldwide rollout of nuclear power plants on the scale necessary to save civilization would certainly take longer than eleven years, but we can at least make substantial progress by then. If, that is, we pressure our governments to stop subsidizing oil, natural gas, and the renewables they go hand-in-hand with and instead massively invest in nuclear.

It’s time to stop doing the bidding of fossil fuel interests and get serious about saving the world.

Reclaim Our Power or Face Extinction: The Choice is Ours

Do you find yourself unable to nod off to the sweet bliss of ignorance or denial when contemplating the catastrophic state of the world? Do you find yourself feeling deeply concerned about the enormous harm occurring to humans, our fellow Earthlings and this beautiful planet, our home? Do you find yourself feeling deeply concerned about our future—for humanity, our children/grandchildren, and our fellow living beings?

If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, and if you’re not willing to “ask your doctor” for a pill to push these thoughts and feelings away, then it’s likely you’re finding yourself struggling with one or both of the following dilemmas:

(1) How do I find the courage to continue trying to make a positive difference in the world when so much is broken?

…and (2) How can “little me” make any real difference in the face of it all, especially considering that a select group of extremely self-centered individuals seem to hold all the power?

And if humankind has any chance at all of making it through the next few decades, let alone transitioning to a genuinely sustainable society, then I think we have no choice but to face these dilemmas head on.

I think that we really have to begin by addressing the first dilemma, because it’s hard to do much of anything at all, let alone enjoy our lives, when our spirits are being crushed by such despair and hopelessness. I think that Joanna Macy, the pioneering deep ecology teacher, healer and activist, offers a powerful way to work with this dilemma in her definition of “Active Hope”:

Active hope is not wishful thinking. Active hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or some saviour. Active hope is waking up to the beauty of life, waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. You and we all are capable of falling in love with life at the moment when it needs our response….

It is a readiness to engage and a readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others, a readiness to discover the reasons for hope and the occasions for love, a readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, ready to discover that again and again….[Seeing] active hope as a verb, it is something you can do even when you’re feeling discouraged.

In other words, even when the future seems completely hopeless, by embracing our strength, our love, our values, our spirit in this here-and-now moment, then that’s enough to make whatever life we have left one worth living. And regardless of what may become of humankind or the Earth, we are still all destined to die someday, and we still have this life to tend to. If more and more of us can make the transition to living this way, then it may well be that such an attitude is humankind’s best chance for survival. And even if it’s already too late to save humankind, at least by living this way, we can still make the best of the time we have left.

The second dilemma we face, then, is, How can “little me” make any real difference in the world in the face of so much inequality and devastation?

In order to address this dilemma, I think that we first must start by openly and honestly facing the reality of our situation, as difficult as that may be to do.

Evaluating our Challenges

There are a number of very “inconvenient truths” that I think we must first come to terms with before we can do the hard work of contributing to the positive evolution of humankind. Actually, let me reframe this and say that the very act of openly acknowledging these truths, facing them head on, and working to transcend them is the first step in humankind’s evolution to a sustainable form. So what are these inconvenient truths?

A form of essentially unbridled plutocratic capitalism has worked its way into virtually every corner of human society. While there may be some degree of genuine democracy still gasping for breath within some of these systems, for the most part, what has developed is an increasingly globalized plutocracy that has become corrupt to the core—a system that prioritizes competition over cooperation, and personal profit above people and planet. It is a system devoted first and foremost to maintaining and increasing the wealth and power of a very small minority of wealthy individuals.

And, as an inevitable by-product of such a system, there exists a ruling class of obscenely wealthy and powerful individuals who essentially own most of the world’s resources and governments, and who strive with all their power to maintain and increase their personal wealth and power, feeding their apparently unquenchable greed for such by virtually any means imaginable. If you think I’m being overly dramatic, try spending a day hanging out in an industrial slaughterhouse, trekking across the Alberta tar sands, or picknicking within one of the many war-torn regions of our planet unfortunate enough to contain resources that the ruling classes drool over.

The system has evolved in such a way that the more power/wealth we have, the more comfortable we become with the status quo, and the less compelled we are to work towards a more harmonious and equitable world. Hence, the world has evolved to the point where the large majority of the global population live in relatively abject poverty, requiring nearly all of their willpower just to maintain their day-to-day survival; a moderate number of the population live in the “middle class,” typically devoting much of their personal time and energy to increasing the profits of their employers and the ruling class, but generally not being miserable enough to push for major change; and finally there is that very thin sliver of pie at the top that rules the roost; i.e., the ruling class.

Most of us, to varying degrees, have become personally conditioned and desensitized by having been raised within such a broken system. Most of us have developed a general condition of learned apathy and helplessness, and for the most part, we have become generally desensitized to the enormous pain and dysfunction within the world around us.

Given the fragmented and isolated nature of such a broken system, many of us have unsurprisingly become personally addicted to certain harmful behaviors—the excess consumption of products we really don’t need or that are built on the backs of exploited and poverty-stricken people; eating foods that are harmful to the environment and other sentient beings; burning excessive fossil fuels; and numbing away our unpleasant feelings with alcohol and drugs (recreational as well as prescribed—the rulers are more than happy to help us out with this, so long as they get paid for it—“just ask your doctor…”).

Finally, no matter how you look at it, the prognosis for humankind is very poor. To begin with, there is the serious risk of a major (possibly nuclear) world war as the various ruling factions become ever more desperate to maintain their grip on their power and the rapidly depleting resources of the world. And even if we set this issue aside, the multiple disasters taking place within the broader living systems of the Earth—accelerating climate change, habitat loss and species extinction—are extremely urgent. So urgent, in fact, that a number of highly educated ecologists and climatologists have concluded that it’s already too late—that a number of tipping points have already been set in motion, and that the Earth is likely to become uninhabitable for humankind in the very near future. Some are (slightly) more optimistic, but the general consensus is that the situation is seriously ominous.

Evaluating our Strengths

In spite of what appears to be an extremely difficult if not impossible hand to work with, I believe that we still do have a lot going for us.

For one thing, we’re still here, and the major Earth systems are still mostly functioning, though certainly somewhat beleaguered. But I don’t think there’s any doubt about it—if humanity has any chance of pulling through this crisis and remaining a member of the Earth community beyond the next few decades, then we’ve really got our work cut out for us. We all have to really buckle down, face our challenges head on, acknowledge (and appreciate) our strengths and resources, and especially for those of us fortunate not to be living in abject poverty, we also have to be willing to make a number of sacrifices.

Here is a summary of what I feel are our most pertinent resources:

We have our “basic goodness.”  In spite of the widespread ignorance, disconnection and desensitization caused by having been raised within such a broken social system, most of us have personally experienced the fundamental “basic goodness” that lies within us, fleeting and/or buried as it may be at times. This consists of our capacity to recognize and actually feel within our bones our interconnectedness with each other and with all living beings; and to experience the genuine compassion, kindness and care that naturally emerges when we do so.

If you find yourself feeling a bit skeptical about this one, take a moment to reflect on a time when you felt deeply connected to a loved one, a child, a companion animal, or a beautiful sunset or wilderness landscape, even if you have to reach way back in your memories. Hopefully when you do, you can feel at least a hint of these “unitive feelings.” These feelings of love, compassion and kindness emerge in us naturally, spontaneously, when we feel deeply connected to another; and when we allow this awareness of connectedness to expand to embrace all other beings, then… well, it’s beyond words, really; and if anything can save us, this is it.

Human beings are extraordinarily innovative, imaginative and productive. Looking around at the state of the world today, it’s certainly justified to suggest that these particular qualities of ours have actually gotten rather out of hand. But what if we find a way to marry these qualities with our capacity to experience deep interconnectedness and compassion for others…? What if…?

Human beings have the capacity to self-reflect, to be aware of our thoughts, beliefs, feelings and impulses, and to reflect upon the consequences of our actions prior to acting them out. Granted, we often neglect to do so and simply let our impulses and auto-pilot behaviors run the show. But we do have this capacity nonetheless; and just like a muscle, it’s one that gets stronger with practice.

Solutions

Now that we have made an assessment of our most essential challenges and resources, let’s turn to the issue of solutions. How can we harness our strengths and resources to address the very serious challenges that face us? In particular, how do we shift our course to a long and prosperous future, one that is harmonious with our fellow Earthlings on this wonderful planet? How do we address the dysfunctional behaviors of ours that have led to this disharmony and destruction? And how do we address the dysfunctional system that continues to reinforce such behaviors?

First of all, understanding and dealing with the ruling class…

Let’s start by looking more closely at the system of unbridled plutocratic capitalism that is surely one of the largest thorns in humanity’s side when it comes to any movement towards positive evolution.

As mentioned above, both the primary fuel and the toxic by-product of this system is an extremely wealthy ruling class. First of all, I want to say that I personally identify as a humanistically-oriented psychologist (among my many other identities), and I have faith that there is a “basic goodness” that exists within all of us, even those who have been deeply wounded and/or corrupted in various ways; though for many of us, it may take a lot of healing and/or effort to uncover that “goodness.”

Even when I reflect upon the nature typical of so many of those in the ruling class—someone who justifies the hoarding of millions or even billions of dollars while so many others in the world can barely feed their family or send their kids to school, or someone who justifies the bombing of thousands of innocent people in order to increase their personal wealth or power—I still do my best to remember that although they may have become completely lost in their own greed, fear and disconnection, there is still a human being with the potential for goodness lying somewhere beneath that mess.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that the rest of us should continue to condone such behavior, and allow such individuals to continue doing so much harm. Au contraire, for those of us who haven’t lost contact with our compassion towards others, I feel it is nothing less than our duty to humankind and all other life on this planet to do our utmost to prevent these people from causing so much harm. This is the concept known as the “protective use of force” within the Nonviolence philosophies.

But then the problem arises—even if we would really like to stop such harmful behavior, and even if we can find the courage to do so, how do we stop the behavior of people who are essentially the acting rulers of human society?

In order to answer this question, I want to suggest that we turn this question on its head and ask ourselves, How exactly is it that the ruling class has managed to co-opt the remaining 99+% of us to do their bidding? The answer, I believe, is relatively simple. They are masters at blowing on the embers our own potential for fear, greed and disconnection; at crushing our potential for compassion, connection, mutual empowerment and kindness; at skillfully sowing seeds of animosity and hatred among us; at widely spreading misinformation over and over again via mind-numbing news, television programs, commercials and other media; and by tossing well-placed “breadcrumbs” to maintain the loyalty of those members of society that they most desperately need in order to continue enforcing the status quo (particularly the judges, politicians, police, soldiers, and psychiatrists, among others).

As a seasoned and well-traveled psychologist myself, having studied human nature through the lenses of a number of different worldviews and cultures, I feel confident in saying that this is not conspiracy theory—this is simple human nature, and the ruling classes know exactly what they’re doing. As human beings, we have the intrinsic capacity for compassion, empathy and kindness, and for experiencing the profound unity and interconnectedness among all life on Earth—what I and many others refer to as “basic goodness,” among other similar terms. You could say that these virtuous qualities come “wired” into us.

And yet we also have the capacity to experience overwhelming hatred, fear, greed and helplessness. When we feel threatened or experience scarcity, it is these latter qualities that typically come to the fore. Again, this is well established psychological and neurological science. And the ruling classes have developed great mastery in cultivating these latter qualities among “the masses.” In fact, it was pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud’s own nephew, Edward Bernays, who first formally developed the concept of “propaganda” and played a prominent role in educating the ruling and corporate classes in exactly how to use propaganda and other forms of misinformation to shape the behaviors of “the masses” for the benefit of further enriching the wealthy and further disempowering and dividing the rest of us.

So we’ve simply got to face this unpleasant truth—the ruling classes know exactly what they’re doing with regard to maintaining and increasing their wealth and power, and they are very well skilled at blowing on the embers of our hatreds, fears and ignorance. However, I believe there is a crucial piece that they are missing, what I would call their Achilles heel.

Those individuals at the “top” who are so dedicated to maintaining and enhancing their personal power and wealth? By the very nature of being in such a position and having cultivated such a toxic frame of mind for so long, they have also been intensely blowing on their own embers of hatred, fear, greed and disconnection. I venture to say that these qualities have become so exaggerated and entrenched for most members of this class that most of them have completely lost sight of the more noble aspects of their own nature—the capacity for love, compassion, kindness and the interconnectedness of us all.

Research shows that the richer you get, the more your happiness depends upon personal power, status, and personal achievements; and the less able you are to experience the much richer happiness that is associated with love and compassion for others and an appreciation of the wonder and beauty of the world. And for this very reason, I would say that most of the members of this class and the system that they perpetuate are completely blind to the fact that the hell and suffering that they bestow upon the rest of the world is also fuelling their own misery—certainly in the future, but even to some degree in the present.

Even while these individuals revel in their wealth, they are only further isolating themselves and fuelling their fear and greed with their behavior—they are certainly not fostering compassion, love and kindness, which involve far more pleasant states of mind. In essence, then, the ruling classes have become deeply addicted to their drive for wealth and power, and when combined with their vast power, their addiction is causing enormous harm—to human society, to the Earth, to our fellow Earthlings and ultimately to themselves. Of course, these people are human, and they deserve our compassion and kindness as much as anyone, but their destructive behaviors must somehow be stopped.

So this brings us back to the question of how do we stop them? Well, for their sake and ours, their destructive behavior simply has to be stopped; and that means that we simply have to find a way to take our power back (remember, “simple” does not mean easy!) So how do we do that? Let’s start by looking at strategies that we’ve already tried:

Will we have to violently revolt? The history of humankind is filled with bloody revolutions—when the poverty-stricken lower classes finally became so fed up with being enslaved and exploited by the rulers that they put their lives on the lines, grabbed their pitchforks, their swords, their guns, or whatever weapons they could find, and violently revolted. But even when such revolutions have succeeded, the end result has typically been little more than a transfer of power from one set of self-centered rulers to another.

No, many of us have come to feel strongly that if we truly want to evolve into a nonviolent, equitable and sustainable society, then the means to do so must also be nonviolent, or we merely perpetuate the same violent, self-centered and authoritarian system. I think that Martin Luther King, Jr., stated this principle well when he said:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.1

So then what about grabbing our signs, raising our voices, and loudly protesting against the system/government/corporations/rulers?  While such a strategy is (or generally intends to be) in line with the principles of nonviolence, I would say that the benefits of such strategies vary widely depending upon their intent. If the intent of such protests is to build connection and solidarity among “We the people,” and to alert each other to the destructive behaviors of the ruling class, then I would say, Yes! protesting has demonstrated itself to be an effective strategy for this, and for healing the many ruptures within our society, and to counter the harm caused by the “divide and conquer” strategies of the ruling class.

However, if the intent of such protests is to try to persuade the ruling class to more seriously consider our needs, or to intimidate them into changing their behaviors, then I would say that this approach will most likely just fall on deaf ears. Sure, they may throw out a few “breadcrumbs” to quiet “the minions”; but otherwise, members of the ruling class are far too content with the status quo and far too addicted to their personal wealth and power to be so easily persuaded to share more of that wealth and power with the rest of us than they absolutely have to.

What about trying to change things from the inside?  As much as I would love to see this work—virtuous individuals pushing into the higher echelons of politics to try to make a difference—the reality that so many of us have painfully witnessed is that in the large majority of cases, such individuals are either slandered or intimidated out the door, are effectively side-lined and muffled, or they themselves become personally corrupted and co-opted into the system. Sure, occasionally the rare virtuous individual has managed to instill some positive change using this strategy, but in the larger scheme of things, what we typically get are more “breadcrumbs for the minions” if we’re lucky.

Reclaiming the power that we already have…

So what’s left?  We shake off this trance of learned helplessness, and recognize that we already have the power. Our so-called leaders have essentially become a bunch of lost addicts perpetually seeking their next “fix.” And in the same way that attempting to appeal to reason is generally ineffective for someone gripped by a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol, so attempting to persuade the ruling classes to drop their addictions is also likely to be largely ineffective. What generally is an effective means for helping an addict to come out of their addiction is to support them in coming out of their isolation and in developing authentically loving connections with others. So if we really want our leaders to come out of their addictions, then I think the only way is for “We the people” to lead by example—to stop allowing the ruling class to blow on the embers of our fears, hatreds and disconnections, and to begin cultivating our compassion, connections and kindness. As for the “leaders”—well, they have a choice—they can ether join the party or get out of the way.

So what does this look like in more practical terms? In simplest terms, I would say that we each need to do the difficult work of taming our own “wild” minds in the same way that we would tame a wounded and wild animal—with persistent yet loving discipline. First of all, we face the hard reality that those who have been raised in this society (in other words, all of us) have developed certain fears, addictions and disconnections that contribute to the perpetuation of a highly dysfunctional and destructive human society; and then we actively begin taming our own “wild” minds to reign in our destructive impulses and addictions, and to actively foster compassion, empathy and kindness towards ourselves, our fellow humans, and the other living beings with whom we share this world.

To get more specific, this entails:

Actively and regularly connecting in a more mindful and kind way with our own inner experiences—our feelings, impulses, needs and values. Examples for this kind of work would be contemplating/reflecting/reading/writing about our interests, our concerns, our values, our passions; or getting in tune with our bodies via yoga, meditation, exercise, mastering a physical sport, art or music.

Actively cultivating our kindness and compassion for and connection with others. Examples of this are consciously considering the consequences that all of our actions and purchases have on other people and living beings; spending time in heartfelt dialogue with others, making sure to practice empathic listening and heartfelt expression; having fun with other people and animals; spending time in the outdoors.

…and refusing to support the harmful practices and organizations with our money/purchases or our precious time. This would involve things such as actively boycotting products that are violent/exploitative of other people, other Earthlings and the environment; and being selective about the kind of work that we do and who we work for. Of course, our individual circumstances vary, so we simply have to do the best we can with where we’re at.

  • I think it’s important to acknowledge that those of us who are wealth-wise in the global “middle” are in the best seats for fostering real change—on one hand, it’s less likely that we have become as hopelessly addicted to wealth and personal power as those in the upper classes; and on the other hand, we aren’t so overburdened by simply trying to find the next meal, clean water, and a warm/safe place to sleep as are those in the poorest classes.
    …..Furthermore, the purchases and consumption habits of the middle-class, as well as the fruits of our labour, are an enormous source of wealth and power for the ruling class and fuel for the continuation of this broken system. Our collective refusal to continue supporting these harmful industries would deliver a huge kick in the gut to this plutocratic system, and possibly even a fatal blow (please forgive the not-so-nonviolent metaphors); and at the very least force the ruling class to adopt less harmful behaviors in order to maintain their profits.
  • Another key point that needs to be mentioned here—when it really comes down to it, the ruling classes are only able to continue enforcing their power through the threat or use of violent force, combined with a steady stream of misinformation (i.e., the police and military being the front lines of this, with the justice system, various “secret services,” the mental health system and the corporate media providing close back up). Yet most of the individuals employed within these systems are not themselves members of the ruling class, though they generally are targets of customized misinformation campaigns, and/or enjoy certain privileges involving additional personal power, wealth, job security and other enticing breadcrumbs to maintain their loyalty.
    …..This situation opens up a tremendous vulnerability for the ruling class—one they certainly don’t like but about which they have no choice. Imagine for a moment if a movement of virtuosity and compassionate civil disobedience were to take hold within any one of these social control agencies. Remember that old expression—“Suppose they gave a war and nobody came”? What if the police and judges began coming forward and saying, “Enough! We’re not going to let people rot in prison for nonviolent crimes,” or “No! We’re not going to treat people differently based on the color of their skin or their country of origin.” What if the psychiatrists and psychologists began standing up and saying, “Enough! We’re not going to keep enriching the pharmaceutical industry by putting more and more adults and children on their brain-damaging drugs.” What if the soldiers handed in their guns and their drone remote controls and said, “No Way! I’m not going to kill any more people for the sake of making the rich richer.” What if…?
    …..The good news is that such movements are starting to take hold, but the bad news (and not surprisingly) is that there has a lot of resistance against them with ever increasing crackdowns on whistleblowers and other dissenters. Here are a few of the more well-known examples of courageous dissenters that have almost certainly generated some inspiration among others in their respective fields:  (ex) Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg,  and (ex)US Army soldier Chelsea Manning, (ex) CIA and NSA employee Edward Snowden, About Face: Veterans Against the War, and Psychiatrist Dr Peter Breggin.

We have the option to bypass the rulers and their broken system altogether and create our own “imaginal cells.” There is an intriguing process that occurs within a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly that may offer insight into how humankind as a whole may make the transition from a “voracious caterpillar” to a “lightly treading, pollinating butterfly.” Dr Sailesh Rao of Climate Healers puts it like this:

When a caterpillar nears its transformation time, it begins to eat ravenously, consuming everything in sight. The caterpillar body then becomes heavy, outgrowing its own skin many times, until it is too bloated to move. Attaching to a branch (upside down, where everything is turned on its head), it forms a chrysalis—an enclosing shell that limits the caterpillar’s freedom for the duration of the transformation.

Tiny cells, that biologists call “imaginal cells,” begin to appear. These cells are wholly different from caterpillar cells, carrying different information, vibrating to a different frequency—the frequency of the emerging butterfly. At first, the caterpillar’s immune system perceives these new cells as enemies, and attacks them, much as new ideas in science, medicine, politics, and social behavior are viciously denounced by the powers now considered mainstream. But the imaginal cells are not deterred. They continue to appear, in even greater numbers, recognizing each other, bonding together, until the new cells are numerous enough to organize into clumps. When enough cells have formed to make structures along the new organizational lines, the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. The caterpillar body then becomes a nutritious soup for the growth of the butterfly.

To analogize this with the evolution of humankind, we can say that these imaginal cells represent the many groups of people around the world who are choosing to bypass the dysfunctional plutocratic system altogether, taking strides towards much more connected, mutually empowered and environmentally sustainable communities. One particularly promising movement in this regard is the steadily increasing rate of eco-villages and sustainable intentional communities popping up around the world. See here, here and here for examples and more information. See here for a compelling little video illustrating this concept.

Finally, to get even more specific with regard to effective solutions, the Centre for Nonviolence and Conscious Living (CNCL) has developed the Conscious Living Resolution, which is a list of here-and-now strategies we can all begin to incorporate into our lives, starting today. Given the vast inequality of the world and our individually unique circumstances, each of us will have a different starting place with regard to this list—which of these strategies we’re ready to begin adopting and/or strengthening, and which may appear too daunting at the moment. We simply invite each person to mindfully connect with the suggested strategies on this list, and see what naturally resonates with you, and which of your “edges” you feel that you’re ready to push. And, of course, feel free to follow your own internal “nonviolence and conscious living” compass to add other strategies to this list that resonate for you.

To Conclude—Reclaiming our power and our future is what naturally happens when we reclaim our lives

Speaking for myself and many others I know who have ventured down this path to varying degrees, I can say that this is not an easy path. We’re human, we make mistakes, we become overwhelmed by our feelings and impulses at times. Breaking harmful habits and addictions and challenging our long-held beliefs and perspectives can be extremely difficult and humbling. But have faith that the rewards are likely to far outweigh the difficulties. After all, regardless of what may become of humankind in the future, we still have to live with ourselves and each other right now. Do we want to continue living in a society (and with states of mind) based mostly on fear, hatred, greed and disconnection? Or would we rather work towards a society and a personal state of mind based more on compassion, connection and kindness? Sounds like a no brainer to me!

There are certainly no guarantees that humankind will be able to pull through the extraordinarily destructive social and ecological patterns that we’ve set in motion. But as long as we’re still here, we might as well give it all we have to maintain our existence and fight for a world worth fighting for.

And if that doesn’t ultimately pan out, well… at least we can do our best to go down smiling.

Find out more about the work of Dr Paris Williams and the Centre for Nonviolence and Conscious Living at cncl.info

  1. Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967, p. 67.

Global rebellion to Save Our Planet

“The greatest threat to the Earth is thinking someone else will save it.” The responsibility is ours; politicians and governments are complacent, dishonest and buried in the ideology of the past. Despite repeated warnings nothing substantial has been done and time is running out.  No one else is going to Save Our Planet; a global movement of civil disobedience is needed to force governments to take the radical action needed.

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists (made up of 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists) issued the ‘World Scientist’ Warning to Humanity’. They stated that, “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” Their words fell on deaf ears. Decades of inaction and procrastination has allowed the crisis to escalate and escalate, leading to the point where we are now, the very edge of total catastrophe.

Given the enormous scale of the issue, many people feel overwhelmed, hopeless. Eco-anxiety, defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”, is on the rise in many countries triggering feelings of rage, grief, despair and shame. Some people are so worried they are taking the extreme decision not to have children until climate change is dealt with. ‘Birth Strike’, The Guardian reports, is ‘a [UK based global] voluntary organization for women and men who have decided not to have children in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse.” … It is a “radical acknowledgment” of how the looming existential threat is already “altering the way we imagine our future”.’

The aim of BirthStrike is not to discourage people from having children, but to communicate the urgency of the environmental crisis. Many of its members are also involved with the groundbreaking movement, Extinction Rebellion (XR), a UK-based socio-political group using non-violence resistance to create a sense of urgency about tackling the environmental crisis. XR chapters now exist in dozens of countries including the US, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa and India.

Extinction Rebellion is calling for an ecological emergency to be declared by governments, the UK to lead the way and reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 – ambitious certainly, but we need such targets, and for citizens assemblies to be established to devise a plan of action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. They want to create ‘peaceful planet-wide mobilization of the scale of World War II’, only such a global response they say, ‘will give us a chance to avoid the worst case scenarios and restore a safe climate.’

Consistent with other major social movements such as the Suffragettes, the US Civil Rights movement and the Freedom Movement in India led by Mahatma Gandhi, civil disobedience is at the heart of Extinction Rebellion’s methodology. In April this year the group mounted a major non-violent action in central London. Thousands of people occupied public spaces in the capital, closing bridges, causing disruption and staging a spectacle. ‘Dilemma actions’ were designed in which the authorities were faced with a choice – whether to allow the action to take place or not, to arrest and contain people or not. The demonstrations lasted for ten days and were part of an integrated global action with people in over 33 countries across six continents taking part.

In London more than 1,100 arrests were made as people peacefully asserted their right to demonstrate. The rebellion was substantial and historic. The result was widespread media coverage and a debate in the UK parliament, at the end of which a national ‘climate emergency’ was declared. A positive step, although we are yet to see what it actually means, and what policy action/s will follow.

Together with School Strike for Climate Change and other groups, XR is part of a worldwide movement the like of which has not been seen before; a diverse united group of environmental activists and concerned citizens, men women and children who care deeply about the environment, recognize that their governments are doing little or nothing to tackle the issues and that radical systemic change is urgently needed.

Engagement is one of the most positive ways to overcome eco-anxiety and a feeling of disempowerment; engage and discover there are huge numbers of people who feel the same, who are extremely worried, who don’t really know what to do, but are determined to do something. Engagement around shared issues builds strong bonds, creating solidarity and strengthening commitment.

At the end of the April action Extinction Rebellion said, “we will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world…in this age of misinformation, there is power in telling the truth.”

Simplicity of living

The environmental crisis is universal, existential and exponential and is made up of a number of interconnected issues: ecological collapse, extinction of species, deforestation, air, water and soil pollution and climate change. Manipulating existing systems and making small changes won’t solve the problems; radical systemic and social change is required and urgently. Governments are weak and compromised by their relationship to business and their obsession with the economy; they are deceitful and refuse to take the necessary actions to save the planet, so they must be forced to listen, and to act in accordance with the need, which is immense.

Unbridled, irresponsible consumerism must be brought to an end; sustainability and simplicity of living must now be the keynote of our lives. Individual and collective commitment is essential, commitment to live in an environmentally responsible way, to be aware of the environmental impact of everything we as individuals do – what we buy, what we eat, how we travel, how we use utilities etc., and commitment to participate and engage; to take part in protests and/or online activism, to pressurize politicians and corporations, and to support radical green movements in any way possible.

All governments, particularly those in western democracies need to be pushed to make the environment their number one priority. The environmental crisis is the greatest emergency of this or any other time; every area of policy making must now be designed to bring about the most positive environmental impact; short (five years), mid (10 years) and long term (25 years) plans, ambitious but with full commitment, attainable, need to be agreed and implemented, the voice of climate scientists and of environmental activists listened to and major public information programs set up.

The work of environmental salvage is not separate from the prevailing crisis of democracy and the need to fundamentally change the destructive, unjust socio-economic order. For ecological harmony to be reestablished and healing of the natural world to occur we need to radically change the systems and ways of life that are fueling the crisis, and inculcate new modes of living based on more humane values.

Consumerism and greed is the poison that is driving ecological collapse, and consumerism is the life-blood of the economic system; endless growth the aim of deluded governments – on a planet with finite resources. It is collective madness, and it must end. Politicians and corporate power, however, will not suddenly wake up to the scale of the emergency and act to bring about the required radical changes. Worldwide acts of coordinated civil disobedience by huge numbers of people, designed to bring about the maximum amount of disruption in a peaceful way are required. When people unite all things are possible; now is the time to come together to Save our Planet.

Love in the Time of Xenocide

If artists are the antennae of the race, and writers and thinkers are also artists, then a vibration some are receiving and beginning to transmit to the culture more broadly now is new in the history of our species: the world is dying.

Christy Rodgers, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide”

I’m digging what some of us artists are doing to act as narrative catchments, looking deep into the well of humanity’s general self-delusion and hubris. This is on the heels of heading from the Central Oregon Coast to Portland, to attend an Oceans conference at Portland State University in downtown Stumptown Sunday afternoon.

Patience here, dear reader, since I am also part of a grand global transformation, though time and again I have written over the decades that I get it and got it at a very young age —

  • capitalism as a system of penury, pollution, trickle down insanity
  • the rapacious quality of narcissism of the Western world (me-myself-and-I consumerism)
  • the despoiling of soil, land, air, river, ocean water by collective madness of money making
  • misogyny which has hitched the world’s girls and women to the shackles of male stupidity and sexual violence and forced birthing
  • war lords, even those hiding in Sweden or Switzerland, becoming the Mafioso of the world, full stop
  • the capturing of a free thinking press and evisceration of holistic education by privatizers and corporate overlords to create the Orwellian maxim of, lies are truth, war is peace

So, with my fiance and her daughter — OSU chemistry/physics undergraduate — we headed to a mild conference (tabling non-profits do not make a conference) to also listen to celebrity diver-scientist, Sylvia Earle, aged 83. We’ll talk about her Mission Blue. We’ll talk about this hopey-dopey thing she promulgates. We’ll talk about her down-dumbing to audiences. Later. And I paid for tickets, which is something I have rarely done in my 62 years on the planet.

Image result for Sylvia Earle controversy

Yes, the guilt of using up fossil fuels, clogging the road system and sending water vapor and CO2 into the atmosphere to hear someone I have already heard elsewhere in another iteration of my time as community college teacher and sustainability leader.

How difficult was it for me to NOT open my mouth and start railing against this celebrity culture before the talk — and expose a 21-year-old hopeful undergraduate science student to negativity — and then spew out my prophecy of …  this is just going to be another white person-attended milquetoast thing with dyed in the wool democrats and Obama lovers again not even attempting to stammer that capitalism is the evil, war is the tool for this evil, magical thinking is the conduit of this evil, and chaos in all forms of discourse/thought/ community its product?

Huge!

I’ll in a future piece nuance and dice and parse what Sylvia Earle’s talk was — a refitted talk that she’s done for decades — and how that crowd in Portland did in some sense send pulsating streams of bile into my throat as I felt like the one and only one who was disturbed by the lock-step cult of celebrity thing going on in that big PSA pavilion, one big basketball arena that was burping up so much air conditioned streams that dozens of folk scurried around looking for sweaters and coats to keep from blue-lipping themselves into a stupor.

I’ve been here before, running talks with the likes of Winona LaDuke, James Howard Kunstler, David Helvarg, Bill McKibben and others. I was the thorn in the side, the lightning rod, the agitator, the one person who took the discourse away from slanted academic or literary bunk and platitudes, toward a more militant rhetoric, one where revolutionary thinking had to set the stage. Some guests were uncomfortable, and audiences, too but many speakers and others I interviewed or MC-ed for responded deeper than they had ever in public, many have told me. I even took them to the studio and interviewed them on my old radio show. Here are a few captured on my blog, PaulHaeder dot com.

Too-too many times, the rank and file wherever I practiced as teacher, journalist, social worker and activist have demonstrated their partial or complete colonization (where I ticked off the issues in the list above) which has assisted in depositing magical thinking and elitism and exceptionalism into the very fiber of the average American. Including many of the people who I rub elbows with!

The stage was set, Sunday, and we were there, a few hundred captives, held to the standards of this organization that sponsored the event — SAGE, Senior Advocates for Generational Equity. There was a choir, and there was a forced “all audience members please stand up and sing” moment, Hallelujah’s,  and there were no young people on stage, no haggling of ideas, no argumentation about how criminal capitalism is, and our war economy (Earle is a capitalist and military supporter), no debate about how we do in fact help save the ocean, no hard-edged and outside-the-box discourse and presentation.

Image result for dead dolphins gulf of mexico

As she spoke May 19, the headlines were hurtling in, headlines that would have made some good grist for deep conversation:

Buyer Beware: Seafood ‘Fraud’ Rampant, Report Says

American Academy of Pediatrics Says US Children Are Not Eating Enough Seafood

New study of migrant and child labour in the Thai seafood industry

Bangladesh bans fishing for 65 days to save fish

Hilsa: The fish that is being loved to death

‘Fish are vanishing’ – Senegal’s devastated coastline

Choose the Right Fish To Lower Mercury Risk Exposure

Mercury levels in the northern Pacific Ocean have risen about 30 percent over the past 20 years and are expected to rise by 50 percent more by 2050 as industrial mercury emissions increase, according to a 2009 study led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and Harvard University.

Mercury-containing plants and tiny animals are eaten by smaller fish that are then gobbled up by larger fish, whose tissue accumulates mercury. That’s why larger, longer-living predators such as sharks and swordfish tend to have more of the toxin than smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout.

In comments submitted to federal health officials earlier this year, a group of scientists and policy analysts pointed out that a 6-ounce serving of salmon contains about 4 micrograms of mercury vs. 60 micrograms for the same portion of canned albacore tuna—and 170 micrograms for swordfish.

When you eat seafood containing methylmercury, more than 95 percent is absorbed, passing into your bloodstream. It can move throughout your body, where it can penetrate cells in any tissue or organ.

Image result for W Eugene SMith Minamata

But again, this is the cult of celebrity, even scientists, and so the evening was suffused with homilies and genuflecting and really a sixth grade level Power Point talk, not scientific, not political, not deep, not philosophical, not earth rumbling/shattering. Imagine those headlines above debated in the talk. The contradictions. The implications. Mercury, right, perfect for baby and grandpa!

Related image

So, the trip back through Oregon’s hinterland — farms, orchards, big hay operations — with all those “Jesus is the Way” billboard signs, all those “Trump and God Reign” fluttering flags, all that once-thick-forestland-turned-into-Johnson-grass property, all those RVs and heavy-duty pickups and SUVs rushing for a week at the beach, and all the cannabis shops and junk food shacks reminding me that most people did not make THIS bargain two or three generations ago.

The cancer is capitalism-addictive-consumerism; the tuberculosis is the credit cards, banks, IMF, World Bank, and mortgage companies holding people on their knees with a debt gun to our heads; the neurological damage is the assault on democracy through the prostitution of politicians-journalists-educators in that old time religion, careerism; the illiteracy is through the ever-deadening death-entertainment of a floundering press and piss poor publishing realm.

Much more on that later —  the concept of a Sylvia Earle even headlining a “world oceans day” anemic event, and the obvious lack of hard-hitting discourse and thought on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Below is a piece I wrote, specifically for Oregon Humanities magazine, a call out for manuscripts to work with the theme, adapt.

For the Summer 2019 issue, share an experience about conforming in response to some sort of pressure. Tell us what it takes to alter and revamp a system that needs to change. Explore a historical or current event that shows the process and outcome of adaptation.

No, this isn’t an angst riddled preface to the piece that was NOT accepted for publication, which also would have had a small check involved. I was told by the poet laureate of Oregon (K.S.) to not expect a big huge hug when sending in my submission, implying that the staff — editorial people at this non-profit, Oregon Humanities — have their own little dance to the beat of a different literary drummer thing going on.

I get that, these non-profits staffed by some pretty middle of the road peeps, or culture wars warriors, or people who have a set and proscribed middle land of what they believe is music to their ears or what would be acceptable stuff for their funders’ and readers’ sensibilities.

Therefore, the rejection letter I got yesterday, via email, with a couple of typos in the body written by the editor of this magazine, was expected, but like anytime I attempt a corn-artichoke-green chile-vegan cheese souffle —  and it’s definitely putting in all that energy, using all those well-handled ingredients, shepherding all the care and the oven acumen —  when the souffle comes out floppy or semi-deflated, my hardened heart still skips a few beats and I want to kick the cast iron ceramic pot into the woods hissing and steaming.

Same with a rejection letter! Err, make that plural. Dozens of them. In the hundreds. Even after 45 years of rejections, I feel the bile bubble up! Then I remember how much I hated that masters of fine arts group of people I have intellectually intercoursed with over the years!

There is good writing out there, just not much of it coming from MFA programs. What may have provided an engine for a genuine attention to craft, fifty years ago, Rockefeller Foundation notwithstanding, has withered and left an enfeebled cult of pseudo expertise. For the genetic disposition of creative writing programs is linked to the paradoxical stigmatizing and entitlements of University attendance. The goal of the CIA and State Dept is one thing, and we’re talking less than best and brightest here, and the ideological imprint is actually probably minor, but the unintended vaccinations of rationality, the ingesting of sociological and a generic lexical sensibility is significant. Art that has lost anger and moral obsession, has left a low stakes hobby culture of career minded ruthlessness coupled to creative flaccidity. The work is constrained in the same ways, psychologically, that allows mute absorption of all aspects of the Spectacle. The concrete and specific becomes generic by a rational process of observation that brackets the irrational and working within the institution is a tacit acceptance of the hierarchies of the system that desires to kill off dissent and opposition, and that means killing off the impulse to question. The white supremacist establishment shares the structural dynamics of the University. MFA program as Pentagon. Now there are exceptions, I guess. But creative writing largely, following the lead of the Iowa Writers Workshop is in the business of staying in business.  — John Steppling

The compulsive repetitive nature of mass marketing has gone a long ways in the training of perception. But it is the mystifying of repetition, the pretense is of difference. And this seems crucial. The liberal white class, the people who run institutional theater, and University programs in writing, believe largely in a marketed reality within which stories of individualism can be played out. Clear cut the forest, the better to inspect ‘psychology’ as it is operative in each ‘character’. This links also to my last post and this idea of mastery. You cannot master the forest, without mostly cutting it down. The sense of space: that theatrical space, linked to an ‘off stage’, to an elsewhere that is unconscious, is by its very nature submissive. The submission allows for that walk in the forest. That walk is creative and it also the discovery of a path. The Situationists used to say, get a map of Berlin and use it to navigate yourself around Milan. — John Steppling

I’ll shift out of the woe is me thing, and discuss quickly what just took place on Dissident Voice Sunday, a Christy Rodgers piece, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide.” I was opening up DV, when I found Christy’s powerful piece, and read it, because I was not able to settle down after watching on my free Hulu, If Beale Street Could Talk.

She covers the so-called stages of grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance — as we collectively and individually confront the great dying, and confront all those feedback loops and lag times and tipping points to our rape of the world as they are now being played out as the chickens coming home to roost.  Fricken Chaucer: Some six centuries ago, when Geoffrey  used it in The Parson’s Tale:

And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.

— Geoffrey Chaucer, 1390, The Parson’s Tale

Malcom X, those chickens coming back to roost.

Rodgers is talking about this climate warming chaos, the stages of grief, confronting what in our lifetimes is the most dramatic event civilization has spurred and will ever witness. She is part of an artist collective, Dark Mountain, and she is prefacing the latest anthology by talking about the deep remnants of human pain during this bearing witness and bearing the weight and cause of the quickening of species extinction and the betrayal of all those goods and services capitalism and other forms of rendering civilization put into the equation of take or give.

Dark Mountain’s latest anthology, #15, In the Age of Fire, has just been published. Material from its 51 authors and artists is showcased on the project’s website. Rodgers, DV:

Acceptance doesn’t mean accommodation with oppression and injustice. It means acknowledgment that we aren’t trying to prevent the apocalypse, because civilization is the apocalypse. We are trying to open a path to a future that is worth living in. Our feelings are experienced individually, and they do not directly impact the material world. But they are not irrelevant. The path to truth for a complex being must itself be complex. On the day a hundred thousand people come into the streets to grieve together for the lost reefs, the lost forests, and all the unnumbered victims, human and non-human, of civilization’s rise, we can mark the beginning of a new era in human life on this planet.

At the Brink of Extinction on the Coast Near the Salmon River

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

— “Auguries of Innocence,” by William Blake

A crossroads is the big X in my life, like the symbol of the thunderbird in many myths of original peoples of the American Pacific Northwest, Southwest, East Coast, Great Lakes, and Great Plains.

Of all the places I now am rooted in and adapting to —  the Central Oregon Coast —  I am thinking long and hard about what it means to have traveled through body, soul and mind in a 62-year-old journey.

I’m thinking about how I ended up in Otis, near Cascade Head on the Pacific. From birth in San Pedro, California, upbringing in the Azores, formative years in Paris, France, and learning teenage years in the Sonora, from Arizona to Guaymas, I am here reinvigorating what many elders I’ve crossed paths with as adopted vision quest instructors have taught me.

When you are ready, come to me. I will take you into nature. In nature you will learn everything that you need to know. –

Rolling Thunder, Cherokee Medicine Man

I was told that very lesson by friends’ dads and aunties from so many tribes – Papago, Chiricahua and White River Apache, Navajo, Yaqui, Tohono O’odham. Even at the bottom of the Barrancas del Cobre, several Tarahumara elders imparted the same wisdom: In nature you will learn everything you need.

I received the same tutelage in Vietnam by ethnic tribes leaders near the Laos border 25 years ago. And I learned the same points in my life six years ago on the Island of St. John from a turtle hunter who had grown up in Dominica.

Ironically, just a few days when I was welcoming 2019 into my life, I received the same sort of holistic “how to live in harmony” message from a social worker friend who is also an enrolled member of the Grande Ronde tribe. He texted me this:

“I chatter, chatter as I flow to join the brimming river, for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.”

This from a tribal elder who I worked with on independent living programs for foster youth. One of our clients was from the Grande Ronde tribe living in Clackamas County, Oregon, receiving services for developmental disabilities caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.

My former colleague waited five minutes before a follow-up text came to me: “Bro’, that’s from Lord Tennyson, so don’t go all Dances with Wolves on me, man . . . haha.”

That text came to me while I was solitary, across from a sand spit where 20 harbor seals were banana-splitting in their favorite haul-out near Cascade Head, where the Salmon River pushes out freshwater ions, tannins, soil streams into the Pacific just north of Lincoln City.

The pinnipeds were cool, but listless. Instead, I was busy espying two bald eagles swooping down on the sand a hundred yards from the seals who then began pecking and ripping at a pretty good-sized steel-head carcass.

The moment before the incoming tide shifted hard and was about to isolate me on a lone rocky outcropping, I was thinking like a mountain, sort of – at least I was deep in the afterglow of having just reread Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Country Almanac:

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.

Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.  – Thinking like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold

How did I get here, Oregon’s Central Coast? How did I end up learning about eagles pecking at the afterbirth of sea lions in and around the rookeries here on this coast? Why is the eagle, a talisman for me since my early years traveling throughout the American Southwest and into Mexico, so important to me now?

Adaptation or extinction, change versus stagnation. For so many reasons, change and evolution have been part and parcel of my life – newspaper journalist, novelist, college professor, case manager for adults with disabilities, social worker for homeless veterans, and a million more intersections in a world of apparent chaos.

The Mexican flag of those Estados Unidos Mexicanos is an eagle on a prickly pear cactus with a snake in its mouth. I learned as a high school junior that the ancient Aztecs knew where to build their city Tenochtitlan once they saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a lake.

The beauty of the American eagle adapting to the toxins in DDT is clear: Homo sapiens seems historically to never employ the precautionary principle for both ourselves as a species and others in the ecosphere when creating and dispersing new powerful technologies and chemicals.

All of this was coursing through my mind as a scampered across large sloughed-off rocks and boulders where the Pacific was now tangling with the Salmon River.

Eagles there dining on entrails and then in my memory cave, like a magical realism moment, other eagle quests flooded my memory – and I was there, in the now, with a river otter toying with me just offshore, and then studying that tidal estuary, hoping to keep my Timberlines dry, ruminating about age, and all the adaptations I’ve made easily and also kicking and screaming, yelling, “No more change . . . no more upheaval.” Like Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha:

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!

See the source image Another one of my muses, Gabriel Garcia Marquez then came into focus while those eagles were picking apart muscles of the steel-head and then clouds only this part of the Pacific can incubate started swirling above me on cue —

He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I am still waylaid by that concept, eliminating the bad [to] magnify the good. I am coursing through understanding myself in this walkabout, here in Otis, not exactly the center of anyone’s universe. But then, the nagging Marquez again, and a quote I used to deploy to students in El Paso to think beyond their false hopes: “He who awaits much can expect little.”

I have lived most of my life working with the so-called “bad” — disenfranchised and economically strafed people, those with substance abuse challenges both mocked and misunderstood, and those not on the neural normal scale – assisting them to adapt to their own hard histories and epigenetic bad cards dealt to be self-enhancing people.

There seems to always an eagle overhead when I am going deep into the recesses of memory. In Spokane when I was with a battle-scarred veteran friend who was at a cemetery ready to commit suicide. When I put my sister’s ashes into the sea near Hyder, Alaska. The moment I was called in Vancouver when my brother-in-law died.

Then, it hit me while driving away from Cascade Head — those eagles have been my talismans for six bloody decades! The words of writers, from the minds of people like Louise Erdrich or Jorge Luis Borges, or way back to Beowulf, and farther back to Muhammad al Tulmusani, are also my talismans of sort, but the eagle has been my vision quest. Not the brown eagle of the Aztec incubation, but the bald eagle.

These galvanizing moments are serious times of not just reflection, but ruminating and cultivating change. Adapting.

My father said when I was born in 1957, several bald eagles from Catalina Island were spotted near the San Pedro hospital where I was delivered —   Little Company of Mary Hospital.

Here, 62 years later, I now have the sense to take that “sign” to my grave – bald eagle vision quest.

I’m thinking about 36 million years ago, when the first eagles descended from the kite line. I’m thinking reptiles, and 66 million years ago when birds evolved from the lizards. Looking at the ocean broiling up in Whale Cove will do that to the mind.

Millions of years of adaptations, brother, sister, eagle, and then Thoreau ends up dredging from me a fractal of thought every single day in this tidal wetlands as tides in and tides out signal climatic climaxes yet to come:  “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”

Adaptations for this American symbol,  Haliaeetus leucocephalus —  as the continual use of DDT (and other pesticides) spread throughout the country  —  was a world of constant trials and tribulations. And near extinction.

From 1917 to 1953, the “adaptation” of Alaskan human salmon fishers to an abundance of salmon was to harvest more and more runs, intentionally killing more than 100,000 bald eagles as a threat to “their”  catches.

The lack of adaptive abilities of a species like the bald eagle when faced with the unnatural distillations of chemicals by humanity should have hit us hard fifty years ago: birds that weigh in at 10 to 14 pounds, with wingspans of up to 8 feet, having strength and agility to pull salmon out of the sea while underwater themselves, and a lifespan of up to 30 or more years in the wild can’t weather man-made toxins.

If the 36-million-old eagle can’t make it under the assault of better living through chemistry , then it’s easy to understand humanity’s lack of adaptive skills (how many short years of evolution have we been messing with our adaptations?) to stop business-as-usual industrial and lifestyle processes like spraying DDT. We too are now experiments in the grand cauldron of chemicals produced and released daily.

The effects of that process of humanity “adapting” their environment to their needs —  industrial agriculture demanding insect-free habitats with these pesticides that Rachel Carson, mother of the environmental movement, discussed in her 1962 book, Silent Spring  — was the near extirpation of the American symbol of strength, power, independence and persistence!

Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from Greek, sea, hals and eagle, aietos and white-head, leukos kephalē !

Recall from our Baby-Boomer high school biology books — DDT and other pesticides spread like a slow-motion tsunami across America, sprayed on plants and then eaten by small animals, which were later consumed by birds of prey. Today, we call it bio-accumulation. That poison did its dark magic “art” on both adult bald eagles and their eggs.  The egg shells became too thin to withstand the 36-day incubation period, often crushed under the weight of one of the parents.

Again, what I learned in the 1970s as a high schooler – eagle eggs that were not crushed during brooding mostly did not hatch due to high levels of DDT and its derivatives. Large quantities of PCBs and DDT ended up in fatty tissues and gonads. The maladaptation of the eagle to pesticides was to become infertile due to man’s maladaptation, or in the case of Homo sapiens, the rearrangement of ecosystems and organic pathways.

That was me in Tucson, Arizona, scrambling through desert ‘scapes. I was junior in high school when DDT was officially banned in 1972, largely due to Rachel’s amazing book and petitioning. That was eight years after she had died (Apr 14, 1964) at age 56 from cancer (many attribute breast cancer to the poisons of her time).

Eagles were listed in 1967 as endangered on one listing and then later, 1972, nationally through the Endangered Species Act.

I remember eagles as brothers and myth carriers from many of my buddies who were Navajo, Zuni, Apache and Hopi. Their mothers and uncles would tell us many stories about eagles. I remember traveling to El Paso for a wrestling match and seeing the Thunderbird burned millions of years ago into the Franklin Mountain range. This amazing natural formation of red clay on the mountainside, watching over the Chihuahua desert, captured me then, and later when I was a reporter and teacher in that part of the world.

I was touched then as 17-year-old wrestler visiting a place where a huge eagle to me (thunderbird), was there with outstretched wings and head tilted to the side as if protecting us all from predators, who I knew even at that age were us, Homo sapiens.

Image result for Thunderbird El Paso images

Ten years later and for two decades I was there at that sacred place, a mountain along the Paseo del Norte, straddling Juarez, El Paso and New Mexico. In the 1990s developers were wanting to move (bulldoze) more and more up Thunderbird Mountain for more and more eyesores, AKA tract home subdivisions. Writers and artists on both sides of the border came together to not only stop that sort of desecration, but also to stem the tide of pollutants in the Rio Grande and the denuding of the fragile Chihuahua Desert.

On one of our 10- foot wide protest banners we held along the US-Mexico border, the bald eagle was painted on large and brilliantly, as a symbol of resistance and a “comeback kid story” because man’s chemicals were banned. For many thousands living and working in Juarez, their offspring came out stillborn or with anencephaly – parts of its brain and skull missing. Those industrial chemicals from the American-owned twin plants have not been banned.

Proof of Homo sapiens’ chemicals prompting maladaptation in our offspring.

So, here I am in Otis, Oregon, thinking about that El Paso Thunderbird while watching the estuary bring in swamp-creating waters from the Pacific. What does it mean that I am adapting now in Otis, the town that was up for sale in 1999 for $3 million. That’s 193 acres (another auction occurred in 2004). I have coffee at the quasi-famous Otis Café which was not part of the town’s auction (it never got bought). The café owner’s grandfather bought the land from descendants of the Siletz Indians for $800 in 1910.

As a direct result of the DDT ban, on June 28, 2007 the Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

The reality of putting the bald eagle in peril, and then its eventual recovery and broad habitat colonization means that they are seasonal residents near Yaquina Head. Eagles are like those proverbial human Snow Bird residents of Oregon who end up in Arizona or Nevada or even Hawaii to get the chill of Pacific rain forest winter out of their bones – they go where the living is best.

Here is the adaptation for the eagle – they go into the rookery of the murres, which have a major nesting colony at Yaquina Head. The eagle swooping in and taking the occasional adult murre isn’t the problem, scientists point out.

It’s the encroachment of “secondary predators” that is having a negative impact on the murres’ reproductive success.

An adult eagle is expert at swooping in and grabbing an adult murre and flying off. That’s not putting the murre species in peril. It’s the crummy hunter juvenile bald eagles who end up landing on the rookery. All the adult murres then scatter into the air.

That door then opens for brown pelicans and gulls to alight and grab eggs or murre chicks. These secondary predators will destroy hundreds of eggs in minutes.

Adaptation and re-adaptation.

Image result for murres and eagles

 

Image result for murres and eaglesEcosystems out of balance, and now in Otis, I am adapting to the reality of the human footprint; even a small one like mine, is significant to each and every micro-biodome I come in contact with.

Soon, maybe, the eagle will be put on the hit list, and they too will feel the hard impact of game wardens’ bullets taking them out because, again, adaptation for the bald eagle means things get more and more out of balance.

Murres or eagles? People or salmon? Crab cakes or whales?

The weight of place, and being one with geographic and ecologic time always culls my disparate attempts at calm and inner self exploration. Otis, the Pacific, the entire riot that encompasses rowdy sea lions and the humpback’s 12-foot blowhole sprays, all those murres and double-crested cormorants, petrels dive bombing, black oystercatchers waddling at the tide lines, now are gestating into entire “memory palaces” for me. I think of my place alive in the world. The mutable feast of learning in my walkabout is a continual journey of adapting.

I am looking at an amazing gift of words, and from the Oregon Humanities Magazine, a serendipitous parallel moment for me and the works of Melissa Madenski, who in her essay is talking about this same geographic arena, where she’s lived for more than four decades and just recently left. She talks about spruce, alder, hemlock and maple and their powerful bio-nets and biological relationships through their interconnected forests of roots they share:

Unlike me, they don’t question or worry—that is the wisdom I project on them at least—a symbol for acceptance of what is. I’m coming to believe in my own memory palace that lives in my roots and the roots of my children, a stability that remains even as visible markers disappear. Look at the big picture, I tell myself. You got to live here for over half of your life; your children were able to grow up here; you got to love the land and leave good soil. – “Unclaiming the Land” (February 26, 2018)

Today, I foist my emotional and spiritual rucksack loaded up with my own learning and traveling as I engage with Otis, the Central Oregon Coast, and the people and cetaceans, alike, a repository for my next learning, my new series of adaptations. The bald eagle for all its battles and all the mythological connections, is my talisman and vision quest.

But I feel like that Zuni Eagle Boy who came upon an eaglet that had fallen out of the nest. The boy hunted for the eagle, foregoing working in the fields while the rest of his clan worked and worked.

His brothers resented the boy for raising this chick, who got big and healthy, big enough to fly away. But the eagle stayed with the boy. The clan was ready to kill the eagle to get the boy back, returned to the fields to grow corn and squash.

The boy saw that the eagle was downtrodden in his cage, and asked why. The eagle said he had grown to love the boy for saving him and raising him but had to leave so the boy could go back to his duties and be a boy with his people.

The boy wanted to leave with the eagle, and finally the eagle succumbed to the boy’s pleas.

The eagle told the boy to fill pouches with dried meats and fruit and blue corn bread and to put two bells on the eagle’s feet. The boy climbed on the eagle’s back and they flew off. They ended up in Sky Land, in the city with thousands of eagles who looked like people when they took off their wings and clothing of feathers when they entered their homes. The boy received wings and feather clothing.

As in many stories of rite of passage and adaptation by Native tribes, the Eagle Boy disobeyed the orders of the Eagles to not go south, and once the boy did, he thought it was a beautiful and safe place. Until people of bones – skeletons – chased him.

He made it back to Sky Land, but he was not welcome there for disobeying. Finally, the eagle that the boy had raised said he’d help him fly back to his people. The boy took an old cloak of feathers and made the arduous journey back. His friend the eagle circled above him the entire way to make sure he made it safe, and once Eagle Boy landed, the eagle took the cloak of feathers and flew away.

The Eagle Boy lived with his people, who honored him because they knew that Eagle Boy wanted to be  with his people, even though he could fly away at any time.

Like Eagle Boy, I look to the skies and smile at the eagle’s graceful and wide veronicas as thermals take them up where humans can’t see clearly. The boy adapted and loved his people, even though the journey to the Sky Land was always with him and in his stories of adventure.

I am here, looking for my own Sky Land, but cognizant of the fact the love of my clan – family, fiancé, daughter, friends – is the uplift I count on to make it through the every-changing evolution of my mind and body. I can be an eagle on the ground, scampering through gravity-fed fields, hoping to understand how I might lay claim to finally understanding what all the adaptations mean in a life so lived.

Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming

A recent article in Arctic News on the outlook for global warming foresees a frightening scenario lurking right around the corner. Hopefully, the article’s premise of impending runaway global warming (“RGW”) is off the mark, by a lot. More to the point, off by really a lot in order to temper the sting expected when abrupt temperature increases hit hard, as projected in the article, which is entitled: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating.” Oh, BTW… the worst-case scenario happens within one decade!

Here’s a snippet:

… such a rise in greenhouse gas levels has historically corresponded with more than 10°C or 18°F of warming, when looking at greenhouse gas levels and temperatures over the past 800,000 years….1

Obviously, it goes without saying no sane person wants to believe, and likely won’t believe or accept, studies about killer temperatures locked, loaded, and ready to fire, right around the corner. That fact alone serves to christen the title “Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming.”

Furthermore, and for journalistic balance, it is important to mention that mainstream science is not warning of imminent Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”), as outlined in the Arctic News article.

Still, the article does have credibility because it is the product of academic scientists. Therefore, metaphorically speaking, one can only hope that their Ouija boards were out-of-whack, misinterpreting the data.

Alas, the Arctic News article would not be out there if only the U.S. Senate had taken seriously Dr. James Hansen’s early warnings about global warming way back in 1988. The New York Times headline d/d June 24, 1988 read: “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.”

Curiously enough, ten years later, in 1998, the process of assembling the International Space Station (“ISS”) commenced as approved by Congress, which included 100% solar power. But, ignoring the obvious, no solar initiatives were suggested for the country, not even mentioned. In fact, ever since Dr. Hansen’s warning of 40 years ago, Congress is MIA, a big fat nada, not even one peep or word about efforts to contain global warming.

As such, it’s really no surprise (but somewhat shocking) that a Children’s Climate Crusade, originating in Sweden, is brewing and stewing about the global warming crisis, and they’re addressing a very long list of failures by “the establishment.” Honestly, does it take children to figure this one out?

The Arctic News article is a haunting commentary on the current and future status of global warming, as follows: The article describes a powerful combination of greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrogen oxide (NO2), and nitrous oxide (N2O) in combination with oceans and ice taking up ever-less planetary heat, threaten life on Earth within a decade.

According to the article:

So, how fast and by how much could temperatures rise? As oceans and ice are taking up ever less heat, rapid warming of the lower troposphere could occur very soon. When including the joint impact of all warming elements … abrupt climate change could result in a rise of as much as 18°C or 32.4°F by 2026. This could cause most life on Earth (including humans) to go extinct within years.2

That can’t possibly be true, or can it? The good news is nobody knows 100% for sure. But, here’s the rub: Some really smart well-educated scientists think it could happen, in fact, they are almost sure it will happen. According to the article, the setup for the worst-case scenario is falling into place much faster, and sooner, than ever thought possible. It’s highly recommended that interested parties read the entire article3

Based upon the article, civilization has been living on borrowed time, meaning, the oceans as well as glacial and ocean-bearing ice have been absorbing up to 95% of the planet’s heat, thus, minimizing atmospheric global warming and saving civilization from a bad heat stroke.

However, those two huge natural buffers are losing their mojo, kinda fast. Increasingly, extreme ocean stratification and heavy loss of ice minimize the effectiveness of those two crucial buffers to rapid global warming. Consequently, forcing the atmosphere to take up more and more, and way too much more, planetary heat, leading to bursts of global temperatures when least expected, the Custer’s Last Stand moment.

One of the primary causes of upcoming acceleration of global warming includes a very recent study about nitrous oxide, N2O, which is 300xs more potent than CO2 and has a lifetime of 120 years, found in huge quantities (67B tons) in Arctic permafrost, to wit:

The study by Jordan Wilkerson et al shows that nitrous oxide emissions from thawing Alaskan permafrost are about twelve times higher than previously assumed. A 2018 analysis (Guibiao Yang et al, “Magnitude and Pathways of Increased Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Uplands Following Permafrost Thaw“, Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society”) points at the danger of large nitrous oxide releases from thawing permafrost in Tibet. Even more nitrous oxide could be released from Antarctica.2

N2O, the third most important GHG, is an intensely effective molecule that impacts global warming 300xs more than CO2. That is an enormous, big time, impact. In that regard, the rate of current N2O emissions is extremely concerning. According to recent research, nitrous oxide is being released from melting permafrost “12xs higher than previously assumed.” That could be a sure-fire formula for helping to turbocharge global warming, and it lends supporting evidence to the underlying thesis of the Arctic News article.

So long as bad news is the order of the day, in addition to N2O as a powerful GHG (greenhouse gas), it is also an ozone depleting substance, uh-oh, which brings to mind shades of The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer of 1987, an international treaty designed to save civilization’s big fat ass.

For those who missed class back in the day (1987), the ozone (O3) layer of Earth’s stratosphere (10-30 miles above ground level) absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, without which Homo sapiens would be toast!

Ozone is widely dispersed in the atmosphere, to an extreme; however, if it were all compressed into one thin layer, it would be the thickness of one penny. From a narrow viewpoint, as just explained, one penny of thickness of ozone molecules separates humanity from burning alive, and thus explains the Great Panic of the late 1980s when a Big Hole was discovered in the ozone layer as a result of too much human-generated chlorofluorocarbons (“CFCs”) Halons and Freons.

According to James Anderson (Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry), co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on ozone depletion, speaking at the University of Chicago about global warming in 2018:

People have the misapprehension that we can recover from this state just by reducing carbon emissions, Anderson said in an appearance at the University of Chicago. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth’s poles… This has do be done, Anderson added, within the next five years.4

Based upon that gauntlet as laid down by professor Anderson, only 4 years remains to get something done to “save us.”  But, sadly, there is no “WW-II style transformation of industry” under consideration, not even a preliminary fact-finding mission.

But, there is a very active ongoing Children’s Crusade prodding adults to do something… for a change, but as the children are quick to point out, they do not expect much help from the adults in the room based upon years of “doing nothing.”

Still, children skip classes to publicly protest the misbehavior of adults and occasionally, they give speeches, for example: At Katowice, Poland, COP-24 (Conference of the Parties) in December 2018, Greta Thunberg, a 15-year old from Sweden at the time, addressed the UN secretary general António Guterres. Here’s her speech:

For 25 years countless people have stood in front of the UN climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions. But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise.

So I will not ask them anything.

Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis.

Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us.

Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness… So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again.

We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.

  1. “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating”, Arctic News, May 1, 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Google: “Greenhouse Gas Levels Keep Accelerating”, Arctic News, May 1, 2019.
  4. Jeff McMahon, “We Have Five Years To Save Ourselves From Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says”, Forbes, January 15, 2018.

A Rolling Stone Never Collects Moss — Unless it ends up on Oregon’s Coast

It is hoped that the coming generation will recognize that that is probably one of the greatest and most ennobling challenges that face man on this planet today. To be able to break through to understand the thinking, the feeling, the doing, the talking of another species is a grand, noble achievement that will change man’s view of himself and of his planet.

Seventy-one percent of the surface of our planet is covered with oceans, inhabited by the Cetacea. Let us learn to live in harmony with that seventy-one percent of the planet and its intelligent, sensitive, sensible, and long- surviving species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises.

— John C. Lilly, adapted from the Introduction to Communication Between Man and Dolphin

Image result for gray whale flukes in water

Note: I was asked to write a couple of articles for the Oregon American Cetacean Society’s, Flukeprints, as a way to help the non-profit group publicize and celebrate the reasons many of us are in the whale protection racket. I just became a member of ACS, after 4.5 decades first joining ACS in Tucson, Arizona, when I pitched an idea to get jojoba oil (a desert plant) to replace whale oils for fine machinery. Sort of Save the Whales with the Desert campaign.

This is 2019, and like many who were influenced by their diving experiences, and possibly the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau TV documentaries, I got my first rocket fins and US Divers and Scuba-Pro gear at a young age —  14. Luckily, my mother had confidence in me going to Mexico — Sea of Cortez — from our home in Tucson, Arizona, about a four and a half hour trip to San Carlos where boats were awaiting divers to hit what Cousteau once called “the aquarium of the world” — the Sea of Cortez.

There was no question that I would act in a pretty moderating fashion during some reckless situations, and for many years, I ended up getting to know some incredible places underwater where I communed with nature, including whales, dolphins, sharks and myriad of reef and open water fish and invertebrates and turtles.

That was, gulp, 48 years ago. Imagine, almost half a century, and I was on reefs that today are not just shadows of themselves, but slashed and burned remnants, in some cases.  Humanity’s voracious appetite for marine flesh, and destructive netting and trolling techniques, as well as over-capacity fishing fleets have put a big hole in what once was like diving on another planet, the undersea world of vibrant everything!

A riot of colors, explosions of so many varied swimming and propulsion techniques. This was pretty heady stuff for a kid who then ended up diving for sometime after that, around parts of the world, as an adult, dive bum.

Yes, I was an anti-whaling dude in Arizona. Yes, I protested Sea World. Yes, I was up on all the destructive fishing and harvesting techniques deployed in capitalism’s dog eat dog methods of killing the planet.

I was quickly steeled, young, to not only fight for environmental justice, but hand in hand, I was there with local people, fishers, and then got a huge interest in social justice, indigenous rights, La Raza, anti-imperialism. I studied the Seri Indians who live in Sonora, and utilized the bountiful sea for their livelihoods and cultural identity.

It all made sense to me back then, 1977, and, hell, here we are, 2019, and each and every fear about how wrong Capitalism is, and every one of the social justice causes I connected with in 1977 have all been nightmares that came true, exploding on the world stage as I hit 62.

The whales are dying now in large numbers, because of starvation, because of pollutants, because of plastics, because of noise pollution. Dolphins dying in the Gulf of Mexico, now, in numbers old time fishermen have never recalled. Whales washing up on the Pacific shores here, all along the coast. Emaciated, and the end result will be more scientists spending countless hours and lab time to try and come up with a cause, a cause we in the movement who have been around this system can tie to the absolute impregnation into the ocean of sounds, battering vessels, oil slicks, pig shit coming from Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. Acidification causing whales’ food stream to wither up.

This is a piss poor way to preface a pretty innocuous piece I wrote for the American Cetacean Society, but alas, we live in magical thinking times, where bad news and more bad news have to be shunted away with feel-good beliefs that things will get better. Reality is fake, and fake is reality in colonized North America. The roots of this absurdity go back to Puritans, seeping into each wave of more illegal aliens who populated this once wondrous land pushing diseased ideas, pathogens and religion onto First Nations.

Now, we have many dozens generations later people who can’t think, can’t act and can’t argue critically out of a wet paper bag.

There is absolutely no historical or empirical evidence things will (or have been getting) get better under the perversions of capitalism, consumerism, war economics, as the battering rams of the elite and rich and corporations shunt our money and labor into their pockets while all infrastructure and ecological systems are failing.

So, can a rock that stays put not collect moss? Is this enough, a small cathartic essay about my new home here on the Central Coast of Oregon? What value does it have in the scheme of things?

All of these spasms up in the early light of morning, today. What can we do with a 24/7 nanosecond by nanosecond world of distractions? What do we do with children and adults who are galvanized to an operating system where lies are truth, war is peace, as this culture — and others willing to be infected by our media, our culture —  is coopted by the masters of the universe controlling media, education, law, finance, technology, business, the arts. John Steppling on dream and skin-ego, in his latest essay, Screen Dream:

The ruling class get to make movies. They get jobs in TV, too. And with a CIA advisor in nearly every story conference and writer’s room in Hollywood, the state has effectively and directly taken over a huge chunk of the culture. Hollywood film and TV is controlled by the children of the rich and very rich. Nobody has any taste, any real education, and most are egregiously ignorant of the world around them, and hence all the more susceptible to influence coming directing from U.S. intelligence agencies and the state department.

Recently Leo DeCaprio, Keanu Reaves, and a dozen other *stars* (not sure Keanu is a star anymore) clamored to get the opportunity to meet Bibi Netanyahu. Why? Same reason they would fawn over any (ANY) five star general or military killer. The adulation for uniforms and authority is in the open, now. Killers are proud of what they do and the celebrity A-List is intoxicated with this power.

[…]

Whatever the implications of our relationship with various technologies, it is clear, I think, that capital and class are encoded throughout and that the logic of instrumental reason has become the logic of our unconscious. Like it or not. Aesthetic resistance is one way to break the endless loops of compulsion and the deadening of thought and feeling.

Bearing Witness in a World Upside Down and With Whales Washing up Dead On Arrival

It is this sense of tranquility, of life without urgency, power without aggression, that has won my heart to whales … whales offer to human beings a lesson. They demonstrate to us that our ancient and ignorant belief in the inherent supremacy of our species over all others is utterly wrong.

~ Roger Payne

One of the benefits of not setting down too many roots is the luxury of traveling to many parts of the USA and the globe. I guess the Oregon coast is yet another landing post for me in my journey.

I moved to Otis, Oregon, Dec. 2018, after working as a social worker for homeless veterans and their families in Portland/Beaverton. One of the first things I did when I got to Otis was to do a hike along the Cascade Head trail and then hit the beach near Three Rocks to hang out with a pair of bald eagles and harbor seals.

I’ve pretty much hit all the popular beaches on the Central Oregon Coast with my fiancé. Nothing gets old, and I discover new things about me each time out.

On one of those forays, I ventured out one night in late January, ending up at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology for a public gathering to welcome the five new residency recipients, including filmmaker, print maker, photographer, writer, and whale expert Fred Sharpe, PhD.

He has 25 years under his weight belt and scientist’s cap studying the behavior of humpback whales. His specialty is on the bubble-netting proclivity of Alaskan humpbacks. He looks at the connections of this ecotype’s behavior as signals of enduring bonds, complicated task specializations, team hunting and communal tool use.

He has a team that follows the humpbacks south to their wintering haunts in the Hawaiian Islands. They’ve been looking at the historical ecology of north Polynesian cetaceans for years. In addition, his work has garnered awards including the Fairfield Award for Innovative Marine Mammal Research and the Society for Marine Mammology’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Communication.

I talked with Fred at the Sitka over beer and cheese and crackers. In fact, he got the residency at the Sitka as part of his research on native strands of alder along the Oregon Coast. He is interested in native grasses, too, along beachheads. That interest as a nature lover and researcher-he considers himself a naturalist in the classical tradition-has led him to be a co-author and illustrator of Wild Plants of the San Juan Islands, Birding in the San Juan Islands, and Voyaging with the Whales.

The more nitty-gritty work Fred does is centered on his position with the Alaska Whale Foundation as a principal investigator, as well as being a Wilderness First Responder.

He has volunteered as a large whale disentangler with NOAA’s Alaska Stranding Network.

The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology was founded 49 years ago, the same year Earth Day started, ironically. That mission has stayed the same: “Helping others discover more about their core creative selves and their connections to nature.” The new term, relatively speaking, in environmental circles, is intersectionality: looking at the environment and gender and race and poverty and how all reflect and tie into each other, for instance.

For the Sitka Center, a naturalist like Sharpe embodies Sitka’s goal of “expanding the relationships between art, nature and humanity.”

My own recent evolving and expanding philosophy and life experience recognition tied to my writing (poetry, nonfiction, fiction) and nature (marine biology, ecology) and humanity (education and cultural competence) came to me on the Central Oregon Coast during the American Cetacean Society’s Naturalist training program, headed up by Joy Primrose. I was with a cohort of around 20 naturalist-wannabes at the Newport library diving into the complexities of the natural world as it pertains to cetaceans, pinnipeds, seabirds and other ocean ecological niches. We graduated with flying colors, and were awarded our certificates during the Bill Hanshumaker talk I’ve written about in this issue of Flukeprints. And here at DV — “Gray Whales Are Dying: Starving to Death Because of Climate Change”

I’ve been working hard to put some roots down throughout life, and while I am no longer living in El Paso, Spokane, Vietnam, Vancouver, Portland, et al, the roots are connecting me more than many who have stayed in their nook or neck of the woods. Get on the program, Americans — wood wide web: The Atlantic!

Roots can also release carbon directly into the soil, which can then be absorbed by other roots. But if the spruces were doing that, then Klein should have found labelled carbon in every nearby plant—and he didn’t. There wasn’t any trace of the stuff in understory herbs like dog’s mercury and blackberries. It was, however, abundant in fungi, growing on the roots of the spruces and other trees.

These fungi—the mycorrhiza—are found on the roots of almost all land plants, and provide phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for carbon-based sugars. They can also colonize several hosts at once, creating a large fungal internet that ferries nutrients and signaling chemicals between neighboring plants (much like the trees of Pandora in James Carmeron’s Avatar).

“There’s a below-ground community of mycorrhizal fungi invisibly interconnecting an above-ground plant community,” explains Christina Kaiser from the University of Vienna. “But it’s usually regarded as a network for supplying nutrients in exchange for carbon, not for delivering carbon from one plant to the other in such large amounts.”

She’s not kidding about the large amounts. Klein’s team estimated that in a patch of forest the size of a rugby field, the trees trade around 280 kilograms of carbon every year. That’s around 40 percent of the carbon in their fine roots, and about 4 percent of what they produce in total through photosynthesis.

Image result for wood wide web

My own web is a net out into the world, into the people’s lives I interchange with. Their stories are my stories, and their lives become part of mine. I have been a co-leader for a huge beach clean-up here in the Newport area. I have written articles for the Newport News Times about that clean-up, about the single-use plastic bag ban ordinance just passed in Newport, about ocean acidification/hypoxia along the Central Oregon Coast, and two centered on two restaurant owners who follow sustainable business practices.

Thanks to the ACS and the month-long naturalist class, I’ve come to appreciate not only the wild ecosystems around here, but the world of the Central Coast hominids who I have met and learned from.

In the end, that intersectionality of ecology-education-equity-economy we preach in sustainability circles fits well with the people I have met who have an undying appreciation and love for whales and other marine animals.

It’s good to put some roots down here on the Pacific. Ironically, I have traveled the world as a writer and diver. But my birth was on the Pacific– San Pedro, California — and here I have now returned to that mighty Pacific which covers 28 percent of the earth (60,060,700 square miles).

Newport, Depoe Bay, Yachats, Lincoln City, Waldport and other towns are my stomping grounds now. My roots are far and wide, part of the wood wide web, or my own sort, wide wonderful walkabout!

Kilowatt and Gallons Per Wash-load Illiterate Americans

No Water. No Life. No Blue. No Green.

Sylvia Earle

In the tradition of many of my posts, I end up looking at the local through a sometimes fine and other times coarse lens to extrapolate what this country, and most First World We Are the Only Ones Who Matter countries, is facing way beyond a world without polar and glacial ice.

The formula is simple — and you can replace “there” or “here” with whichever community or city or county or state or region you care to discuss. This is an earth where almost everywhere on the planet is supercharged on noxious capitalism and addictive consumerism;  where the 99 Percent of the People Are Up a Shit Creek without a Paddle: the roads here, or the bridges there, or the emergency response here, or the water system there, or the schools here, or the housing there, or the chronically ill, under-employed, unemployed here, or the disenfranchised there, or the poor here, or the health care system there, or the ecosystems here or the state of the economy there.

Look, the conversations in a town like Newport don’t involve some of the important issues that, say, a Dahr Jamail might write about. Newport, which numbers 10,000 as regular citizens/residents but balloons on some days — when the sun is out and the temperatures in Portland and all over the state of Oregon and Washington, and parts of Idaho, and California hit above 90 degrees F — to 50,000 people  is small town, small minded, simple yet has to deal with modern and global warming issues no matter how distracted we get on the pot holes issues.

Up and down this coast and California’s and Washington’s, many communities can only survive (regressive real estate taxes and sin taxes/hotel taxes/gas taxes) with that huge influx of tourists pushing their big butts into these respective communities with internal combustion machines with other internal combustion machines (boats, jet skis) in tow. We survive on trinkets, fish and chips sold, time shares, Air B & Bs, booze, food and drugs (and pot, now that cannabis is legal in OR).

One big Black Friday retail and service economy chunk of the year that feeds the residents in a boom or bust cycle that has made it almost impossible for parents to raise children because parents have to have two or five jobs between the two of them. The schools are busting at the seams and burn-out is high in public service jobs.

And, many tourists come out here, think: “This is it for my last hurrah . . . I’m moving here”; or they imagine it’s the ideal place from which to land after leaving the madness of big city life and/or to raise a family and send them to school while enjoying the beach town life.

Oh, I understand the draw, but the reality is leaving one city because of its wild fires or increasing vehicular traffic or rising crime rates or lowering air/water quality levels or degrading environmental situations or discordant populations or weakening school systems or flagging labor opportunities or lowering standards of living actually just brings all of that and more to communities like Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Reedsport, Coos Bay etc.

The world of Corrupt, Dog-eat-Dog, Disconnected, Non-Systems Thinking Capitalism follows American wherever they go. Nothing about regional planning for resiliency, for sharing of assets and that includes water, air, industries taught in schools, taught at work, or taught within families or generations. Instead, Americans are acculturated to boom or bust; and I notice more and more Americans laugh at the places and people they left behind. They blame the people in LA for sticking it out, even blame them for being 4th, 6th or 10th generation Californians. Americans like to piss on everyone else’s parade, not just internationally, but domestically as well. This is the schizoid blue state/red state/purple state infantilism and corruption.

People here laugh or scream at Salem, Portland, Bend, what have you. You know, so much for rah-rah “we are one state and should act accordingly as one state for all.”

Here’s how one scenario, locally, plays out nationally — again, replace pink shrimp fishermen/women with Volkswagen workers or Amazon workers or hospital workers or, well, you get it: pit worker against worker.

 

NEWPORT — It’s been weeks of blue tarps and yawns on the Newport shrimp boats. But now, frustration is on deck too.

The Pacific pink shrimp season has been open for a month, but processors and fishermen are still far apart on price. The captains and crews of some 115 boats along the coast are holding out while a deal is cut. Their patience is being tried as a fleet of some 20 boats from Washington and Columbia River ports make hay in the traditional fishing grounds of the Newport fleet.

“I don’t know what these guys would do if that was happening out front down here,” said Coos Bay shrimp boat owner Nick Edwards.

Some 500,000 pounds of shrimp landed so far by boats breaking the strike indicates there’s good product volume to be had.

But, Edwards said, shrimpers are looking at offers of 30, 60, 80 and 90 cents per pound for the different grades of shrimp, down from 45, 72, 90 cents and $1.20 last year, when fishermen struck for 44 days to get that price schedule.

Edwards blamed the slow and steady consolidation of processing facilities under just a few corporate names for a lack of competition and less chance for a deal fishermen can accept.

Newport fisherman Gary Ripka said that north coast boats breaking the strike have traditionally observed an unspoken agreement to stay well north of Newport.

“They’re rubbing it in our faces,” he said. “They’re fishing right in front of town. Good trips. It’s become a real boiling point.”

Oh my, oh my! So much for red-blooded All-American solidarity. This is capitalism run amok a million times over. Pitting worker against families, men against women, youth against old. Breaking solidarity strikes. Market monopolization the curse here, and everywhere. Hell, the reputation of Pacific Seafood Group in Newport gouging independent fishers and controlling all aspects of the market, including the only ice making facility in the area to pack on board the catch of the day, speaks of the crude, mean, boom and bust, I got mine, you ain’t getting yours mentality of a country that was based on murdering millions of First Nation inhabitants and using stolen peoples to toil the land. A nation of Irish and German white slaves, and Chinese slaves.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Ha. Replace Argentina with Flint, Detroit, Baltimore, and hundreds of cities in the USA. How’s that Flint Lead Enhanced Water working out?

We shit on our own water supply, spray carcinogens on our own human offspring, and we cook the goose that lays the golden egg.

Much of the allure here is the wide open beaches, cold Pacific tides, sometime incredible sunny summer days in the 70s, and, well, fish and crustaceans on the menu. Whale watching. Sea lion and seal entertainment.

But we have gray whales washing on shore emaciated, sick, big carcasses rotting on shore. More and more of them. Seals and sea lions, sickened, too. Rivers clogged or polluted. Yet, the tourist brochures show whales in pristine condition, seals and birds in a natural wonderland, dolphins breaching the waters and elk crossing the Highway 101.

Like all communities who do not know the value of all those ecosystems and nature services, and like all communities that have a few rich and the rest struggling hard, and like all communities with a rural character that have high youth poverty, high drug use, high homelessness, Newport and Lincoln City are in the midst of more struggle than just shrimpers duking it out for higher rates per pound.

We are vulnerable to droughts, vulnerable to huge rain events, vulnerable to an earthquake. Vulnerable to education cuts. Vulnerable to population influxes and depopulation. I wrote about that, here:

Water, Water, Water: War Against Humanity

Gray Whales Are Dying: Starving to Death Because of Climate Change

Below is another article about another transplant — the water planner is from Seattle area. He is here, in quietude, and my guess Mike below is in the high echelon income bracket. He has a nice house, I am sure, and he has the time to redesign it to be more “green” and water “efficient.”

He showed a group of us some really cool rainwater collection and gray water collection systems, even gray water filtering systems to deliver potable water. You know, the designs Mike has facilitated mostly go to the very rich, or rich communities. But, in the end, water is more precious than gold, and cities across the country are using valuable H2o to water grass and trees. We have toilets that leak, toilets that flush five gallons a use. We have people who have no idea how the water that gets to their taps in Lincoln City got there.

The amount of electricity to move water from source to plant, from purification, to pumping station, to tanks and then from tanks to homes, well, it’s huge.

Electricity in the water

Much of the electricity used to supply water is consumed in pumping. To collect water, it is pumped from below ground or from surface water such as lakes and rivers. It then needs to be pushed through pipes to the water treatment plant, pushed through treatment systems (such as filters) and pushed through more pipes up to a water tower (typically). From there, gravity does the work to push the water to your home. This pumping consumption, along with some miscellaneous treatment plant consumption, on average adds up to about 1.5 kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed per thousand gallons [kWh/kgal] of water. This does not include energy that may be applied to the water in your home, such as heat for hot water.

When the water goes down the drain, it requires more electricity. The wastewater is collected, pumped, treated and discharged. An additional 1.7 kWh/kgal of electricity is expended on wastewater pumping and treatment.

So, in total, and the amount varies depending on where you live, about 3.2kWh of electricity is consumed for each thousand gallons of water delivered to your home. For a kitchen faucet delivering five gallons per minute of water, the water-embodied electricity is pouring out at about 1,000 watts. That’s like running a virtual hairdryer every time you turn on the faucet.

What Uses the Most Energy in Your Home?

So, while we sit on our thumbs and allow the billionaires and millionaires and the military industrial octopus complex determine our destinies while destroying other countries’ destinies; while we listen to and view on dumb phone every conceivable perverted story akin to a Trump-Kushner Family Outing; while we stiff arm salute corporations, the boss, the job, the junk we have and the more junk we want, a gigantic swatch of the country, maybe 80 percent, will not be prepared for earthquake, flood, heat wave, fires, droughts, crop failures, disease outbreaks, food shortages, money woes.

So you betcha we are all Flint or Houston or Detroit or Paradise or Des Moines or Puerto Rica . . . . One hell of a lot more has to be done daily to fight, with weapons and tools. Yet, I am finding (see future postings, a future book of mine) more and more people who hate to know their history and who think life, including 12 years of school (or more if they are college-bound) is about “the job.” What we can’t use on the job, or to get a job, then it’s superfluous. More and more Americans across all sectors are desirous of only ways to perform on the job, how to land a job and what to do in that job.

Here is the story on Stormwater management. I hope it makes it in the local newspaper, though I think the editor is getting Paul Haeder Fatigue Syndrome because I go to these events, report on them and then write about them. I’ve already beaten a dead journalism horse to death many a time. But to repeat — we have gutted journalism at the local level so-so much that there is nothing in most towns, and those that have a day or two a week newsprint paper, well, threadbare seems to robust a word for today’s small-town and community news!

**–**                                     **–**

Local Sustainable Water Management Expert Encourages More Green Design

Water is a human right, according to many around the world. For Lincoln County, Oregon, residents, the fact that we have water delivered to us from one source – a plant on Big Creek River – belies the fragility of this source of sustenance.

For one local resident who is an integrated stormwater management expert, water planning is big: we may see up to 80 inches of rain a year hitting our county, but we need to make sure that rainfall gets back into the groundwater and replenishes the water cycle.

Michael Broili, principal of Living Systems Design, is passionate about sustainable development. He spoke to the Mid-Coast Watersheds Council monthly group in Newport about what designs could be beneficial for Lincoln County residents.

“Water’s been so much of my life,” Broili said, emphasizing he now resides at South Beach, after spending a quarter of a century in the Puget Sound area. “I was in the Navy and then was a commercial fisherman, and then water management design for twenty-five years, so I know the value of water.”

He talked a lot about water management as a holistic approach for getting cities, schools, businesses and home owners to look at ways to develop gray water collection systems to help offset the need to use pure water from the Water Plant to irrigate landscapes and flush toilets.

A typical short term rain event creates tons of water just coming off a small roof, let along all the impervious surfaces like parking lots, warehouses, and compacted roads and streets.

“One inch of rain coming off a thousand square foot roof produces 623 gallons of runoff,” he stated. That’s almost 2.5 tons of water.

Reducing this water sluicing from hard surfaces back into stormwater catchments and diversions prevents so many of issues tied to the health of rivers and other watersheds, as well as stopping erosion.

The 20 people at the Visual Arts Center got to see some designs Mike helped create and implement in cities like Seattle, Shoreline, Edmunds that help rivers stay healthy through less disturbance (scrubbing) from surges during rain events.

Rain gardens and bio swales are two ways to get water from a parking lot to filter through biological means (grass, soil, gravel, plant roots) so the runoff ends up cleaner as it heads back into the stormwater systems.

Mortality of salmon species has been cut through mitigating the hydrocarbons that might have ended up directly into streams but were instead held and retained through several biofiltration landscape designs.

On a more holistic level, practitioners like Broili call it Hydrologic Restoration, and while we are in a rural area, unlike Portland or Seattle, all the designs for new construction Lincoln City or Newport could help utilizing graywater capture systems for landscape purposes, as well as creating innovative and healing rain gardens with some dynamic zones and robust planting. Existing structures could be retrofitted to these designs.

His mantra is simple when it comes to construction sites – “Find ways to reduce site disturbance and restore soil function.”

Some of the members of the MCWC wanted to know about permeable road and parking surfaces as well as green roofs. “The goal is to disconnect hard surfaces and bring back the water cycle to a near forested situation where no runoff occurs because of the natural features of complex soil layers, leaf litter (duff) and transpiration from trees.”

The MCWC’s mission is aligned with many of Broili’s hydrologic planning goals – “MCWC is dedicated to improving the health of streams and watersheds of Oregon’s Central Coast so they produce clean water, rebuilding healthy salmon populations and support a healthy ecosystem and economy.”

Part of May 2’s presentation was anchored by a famous Benjamin Franklin saying, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”

We discussed the City of Newport’s Ocean Friendly Garden that was spearheaded several years ago by Surfrider at City Hall. Surfrider also looked at pollution going into Nye Creek, finding several homes’ sewer discharge was directly entering the stormwater system.

The City’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure has been mapped and various groups including Surfrider helped  advocate for revisions to the municipal code to mandate best management practices for sewer, stormwater and other non-point source pollution controls.

Six years ago, the City of Newport created a new stormwater utility and an opt-out incentive program for residents and businesses who want to disconnect from the system in order to install the green infrastructure Broili discussed to prevent rainwater from leaving their property.

“This may seem like big city stuff,” Broili told the crowd. “But rural communities and a city like Newport can benefit from integrated water management.”

**–**                   end of article                  **–**

Again, I could go on and analyze what I wrote and what bigger issues parlay from this small talk on a small part of sustainability, yet it is not so small, is it, given the precious nature of water, how we get it, how it is taken from the water cycle, and what happens to the ecosystems, to boot?

I’ve also reported on James Anderson’s research tied to water vapors and increased storm activity.

The ocean was running almost 10º C warmer all the way to the bottom than it is today and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere would have meant that storm systems would be violent in the extreme, because water vapor, which is an exponential function of water temperature, is the gasoline that fuels the frequency and intensity of storm systems.

The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero. When you look at the irreversibility and you study the numbers, this along with the moral issue is what keeps you up at night.

This Harvard scientist worked on the ozone hole decades ago — remember, chlorofluorocarbons?

I know every day I wake up I am about to teach people things — PK12 or daily in my interactions with people, or what I can teach myself. I understand that capitalism and the way industry has been set up have to disappear. It is not an easy task when the controllers and the purse strings and one’s survivability is set by a small elite with their roving marauders of money launderers, banks, cops, collectors, usury thugs.

I’ll let Dahr Jamail have the last word, over at Truthout:

Each day I wake and begin to process the daily news of the climate catastrophe and the global political tilt into overt fascism. The associated trauma, grief, rage and despair that come from all of this draws me back to the work of Stan Rushworth, Cherokee elder, activist and scholar, who has guided much of my own thinking about how to move forward. Rushworth has reminded me that while Western colonialist culture believes in “rights,” many Indigenous cultures teach of “obligations” that we are born into: obligations to those who came before, to those who will come after, and to the Earth itself.

Hence, when the grief and rage threaten to consume me, I now orient myself around the question, “What are my obligations?” In other words, “From this moment on, knowing what is happening to the planet, to what do I devote my life?“

Each of us must ask ourselves this question every day, as we face down catastrophe.