I changed my mind too…….

9 11 2015

Dave Pollard

Dave Pollard

Every now and again, some blogger I follow writes a doozy of an entry.  This one by Dave Pollard, with whom I am usually on the same page, has just done this, and I just had to share it.  Awesome.


Human beings, it seems, change our worldviews — what we value and believe to be true — pretty slowly. When I started this blog 12 years ago, my worldview was pretty left-of-centre orthodox, as you can see on the left side of the above sketch.

A dozen years later my worldview has radically shifted, as shown on the right side of this sketch (see the footnote if you want a little more elaboration on these ‘new’ views). Some of the shifts came about from personal research and study, or from reading. Other changes came from some place deeper, an intuitive sense and knowledge that was not intellectual, and which I have come to trust more and more as each new intellectual discovery confirms what I intuitively already ‘knew’. Whether we’re conscious of it or not (and we’re mostly not), we are connected with all life on Earth and constantly ‘learning’ from it. I don’t see that as spiritual; it’s how life on that planet has evolved so successfully and in such a nuanced and balanced way over two billion years, largely without the dubious benefit of large ‘individual’ brains. This planet has a collective intelligence, and it’s a lot smarter than we can ever hope to be.

These radical changes in my worldview have been difficult to internalize and come to grips with. But what’s been even more challenging is how dramatically they have altered my take on just about everything I encounter, think about or do in my life. Everything looks utterly different through this raw new lens. The cognitive dissonance between what I see through this lens and what almost everyone else seems to believe (and the media present as ‘truths’) is staggering.

So I can appreciate that our political, economic, health and education systems are dysfunctional, grossly inequitable and substantially corrupt, but (through my new worldview) given the importance of preparing for a world in which these systems will soon have utterly collapsed, I can’t get excited about attempt to reform the present ones, or even stirred to outrage at their failings. The bridge is falling; what does it matter now who’s to blame and what might have been done to strengthen it?

And through my new worldview, I can’t bear listening to idealists tell us about how This Changes Everything, when I know how complex systems function and how nothing (within the capacity of the human species, anyway) changes everything (or really anything very much, at any scale or for very long or even necessarily for the better). Have we forgotten what happened after the Arab Spring, the fall of the Soviet Union, the “liberation” of Afghanistan and the Obama Campaign of Hope already?

But for those whose current worldviews mirror what mine was in 2003, I can appreciate why they believe, urge and do what they do. And I’m not arguing that my current worldview is ‘better’ than my old one, or than anyone else’s, because, as I say, we’re all on our own lonely path to trying to make sense of the world, and if we come to the conclusion that our worldviews are in sync and we make sense of the world the same way, we’re probably deluding ourselves. We can’t be other than who we are.

And in any case, our worldviews are only placeholders, parts of a flimsy and transient and indefensible model of a reality that will ever remain far beyond our understanding. They are playthings, not of much real use in the world anyway, and we take them far too seriously. If we are lucky, some of us (probably not humans) will vaguely appreciate that there is just one presence, one consciousness, and that all the lovely and sacred and sickly and destructive manifestations of that consciousness are just brief walk-ons in the play of life, of no enduring consequence.

But then, that’s just how I see it through the lens of my current worldview. Ask me again in another 12 years.


Note: Here’s a bit more on the elements of my ‘new’ worldview, in case you’re curious:

1. Our civilization will have completely collapsed by 2100. This collapse is part of the 6th Great Extinction of life on Earth, which began with the extermination of large mammals 12,000 years ago, and it will be accompanied by runaway climate change, the exhaustion of easily and inexpensively accessible natural resources, and the collapse of the unsustainable debt-driven industrial ‘growth’ economy.

2. Most human activity occurs within massive, unfathomably complex, self-perpetuating, change-resistant social and ecological systems. As such, we have very little control over our lives, internally or externally, and can’t hope to predict or significantly influence our future or our society’s trajectory. Complex systems evolve to resist attempts to reform or replace them (their equilibrium has been hard-won), and it is only when they become unsustainable and collapse that space is created for new systems to emerge.

3. We are all doing our best, suffering and trying to heal from the fierce and chronic stresses of Civilization Disease. The enormous stress that civilization culture imposes on us inevitably makes us physically and emotionally ill, but this culture’s cruel messages are that (a) ours is the only way to live and (b) we are responsible for our lot in life. Healing begins when we realize these messages are untrue and that we are all struggling to heal, and in the meantime all trying to do our best, what we sincerely believe is best for those we love and for the world, under trying conditions.

4. Our sense of self, mind, self-control, separateness and time are all tragic illusions. Our brains evolved to help the trillions of cells that comprise ‘us’, to detect features and dangers and hence ensure their collective survival; our sense of a separate, in-control ‘self’, centred in the mind, is an unintended consequence of this evolution of large brains, an accident, that our culture has learned to exploit to keep us all in line so this culture can continue. We’ve hence lost the sense of connection and of being a part of all life on Earth, and this has allowed us to unwittingly destroy the systems that all life depends on. And by our nature we do what’s urgent in the moment, not what is important in the longer term, so we have no capacity to change what we are doing.

This entry was posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

Why do I bother blogging…….

29 06 2014

Why do I bother blogging…….  I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately.  You may have noticed I haven’t been writing much lately.  A combination of having a hard working wwoofer here for over two months who has transformed the place, while I plod along trying to get this house more finished for selling, and now, display in this year’s Sustainable House Day.  Well, it’s days actually, the event is held over two consecutive Sundays, the 7th and the 14th of September.  The event is run by volunteers, and as a result things must happen slowly, our place is not yet listed as of today, almost the end of June.

Yes, in Qld that's one year's supply of firewood for an energy efficient AGA!

Yes, in Qld that’s one year’s supply of firewood for an energy efficient AGA!

Alessandro, apart from making pizzas, has tidied up the yard extensively, finding so much firewood to burn in the AGA we have hardly touched our stockpile from last year.  Whoever buys this place will inherit a year’s supply of fuel to keep the old girl going all next winter.  Meantime, I’ve been finishing pelmets, painting doors, and even making the place actually lockable!  I may even have fixed quite a few air leaks in the process, hopefully making the place even warmer in Winter.  It’s only taken eight years or so…..  Alessandro who comes from a country rife with crime is totally bewildered by the fact we don’t lock our house.

Βut back to why do I bother blogging…….   To a large extent, I use DTM as a storage of information, and I use it during exchanges on certain forums by linking to articles published here in often vain attempts to convince people that major change is upon us.  I often fail.  Recently, the AIMN published an article by Kaye Lee on the worth of having High Speed Rail in Australia.  The AIMN is a barely hidden ALP lovefest site where the writers take turn at hating the current government.  Not that you can blame them mind you, but that topic can get tiresome.  So any time I get a chance to put some alternative stances on the state of the world, I grab it with both hands.  It always lands me in deep water, I’m labelled negative and without hope.

To be frank, I don’t know myself why I bother.  Neither I nor anyone else can ‘save the world’.  I won’t save Kaye Lee either.  She’s been convinced by the techno-utopians that we have a future low flying in renewable powered HSR.

Even Dave Pollard, a soulmate of mine in many regards is asking himself the same question….

In that recent entry of his, Dave mentions a book I’d never heard of, titled Straw Dogs, by John Gray.  Here is an excerpt:

The mass of mankind is ruled not by its own intermittent moral sensations, still less by self-interest, but by the needs of the moment. It seems fated to wreck the balance of life on Earth — and thereby to be the agent of its own destruction. What could be more hopeless than placing the Earth in the charge of this exceptionally destructive species? It is not of becoming the planet’s wise stewards that Earth-lovers dream, but of a time when humans have ceased to matter…

Political action has come to be a surrogate for salvation; but no political project can deliver humanity from its natural condition. However radical, political programmes are expedients — modest devices for coping with recurring evils. Hegel writes that humanity will be content only when it lives in a world of its own making. In contrast, Straw Dogs argues for a shift from human solipsism [belief in our aloneness and our disconnection from everything else]. Humans cannot save the world, but this is no reason for despair. It does not need saving. Happily, humans will never live in a world of their own making…

Homo Rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

Homo Rapiens….  I’m going to use that from now on..!  A book worth reading obviously…..  I keep blogging, states Dave, because I owe just about everything about my current situation to my blog. My writing and my readers’ responses have shaped and radically altered my worldview.  I have to agree with this…… starting DTM was a bit of a life changing moment; I actually had to start thinking about why I did things, but lately, I feel that I have started running out of things to say.  How many times can I write about why Climate Change, Peak Oil, Limits to Growth, and Economic Collapse will combine to become our downfall before I’ve said it all?  And realistically, anything I add here now is to simply say ‘it’s all getting worse’ and ‘I told you so’.  And besides, Dave does a far better job than I, his blog is among the very best on the whole interweb as far as I’m concerned.

More of Alessandro's handiwork

More of Alessandro’s handiwork

Also, something weird has happened over the past couple of months.  In March and April, DTM was going absolutely gangbusters (by my humble standards at least) with page reads going exponential.  Then it all stopped.  At first I couldn’t understand what was going on, maybe it was my lack of writing at this busy time, but WordPress gives its bloggers some neat tools, like the ability to see from which countries in the world visitors come from.  And it appears Americans have literally stopped coming here.  And I mean by more than 75%.  I know I’ve insulted a few by renouncing Guy McPherson’s near term extinction thesis (I’m prepared to give humanity another 150 years instead of just 30…) but at the expense of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I wonder if the CIA or some such has put a block on this site.  The rapidity with which the numbers have fallen off is bewildering.  Not that blogging is a popularity contest, as I told Kaye Lee; it’s much easier to attract readership with how much you hate Tony Abbott than telling people civilisation is about to collapse……!

To change tack in this final paragraph, here we are near the end of June, and Winter has still not arrived.  We’ve had one cold morning that almost gave us a light frost (there was ice on the Citroen’s windscreen, but not the ute’s – and they were parked side by side – so go figure) but now the morning’s minimums are again over six degrees C, everyone’s still complaining about the flies (which are currently the worst we have ever seen, even in Summer), cabbage moths are still flying around the garden, and I’m still mowing the grass, even if very intermittently.  Down south, they’re being hammered by blizzards and storm strength winds, clearly we are stealing their warmth…  Climate Change?  WHAT Climate Change……?  Hopefully we’ll get a cold snap or two over the next couple of months, otherwise the garlic crop will be another failure, just like last year.  Aah Tasmania, wherefore art thou…?

In Defence of Inaction

21 04 2014

Dave Pollard

Dave Pollard

To say I love Dave Pollard’s writings is an understatement.  As is, that we think as one……  so here is another guest post by Dave for your enjoyment.  Is that inappropriate wording perhaps?  Does anyone enjoy admitting we’re shafted…?  Is this “giving up” a new movement maybe..?  Hot on the heels of Mike Ruppert doing himself in – the ultimate “I give up” action – to the admission of defeat from Paul Kingnorth, David Suzuki now saying it’s too late, let alone all the Near Term Extinctionists like Guy McPherson predicting the ultimate apocalypse, a growing number of activists are calling it a day, deciding that we have to shift from global activism to local.  And I agree too.  But you probably knew that already…..  it’s time to hunker down.

In Defence of Inaction

Filed under: Preparing for Civilization’s End — Dave Pollard

I have, of late, had a falling out with many of my fellow ‘progressives’, similar I suppose to that of Paul Kingsnorth, who is being savaged by Naomi Klein and others for giving up on the environmental movement and non-local activism, and by humanists for losing faith in our species’ capacity for innovation and change.

I should say at the outset that I agree that our political and economic and legal and educational and social systems are dreadful, unfair, teetering, and totally inadequate to our needs. I agree that this is a world of horrific inequality, inequitable and unjust privilege, massive suffering, and outrageous patriarchy. I agree that corporatism and corruption and propagandist media are rampant and destructive and destabilizing. I agree that militarized police and torture prisons and drone killing and massive global surveillance are repugnant and a fundamental threat to our personal safety and security and the very principles upon which our nations are founded.

And I fully acknowledge that the fact I’m white, male, boomer generation and relatively wealthy provides me with enormous privilege compared to others, including relative freedom of movement, freedom from fear of harassment and assault, and greater social, political and economic opportunity.

But when I hear arguments that “we need” to stand up for our ‘inherent’ rights and freedoms, and wrest ‘control’ of the levers of power from the obscenely wealthy elite, and denounce and protest injustice and inequality, and acknowledge and renounce our role as privileged oppressors, as the first steps to a true social revolution and political and economic reform, leading, somehow, to a radical redistribution of wealth and power, and a more just society, I am reduced to despair.

I used to believe people, and perhaps some other creatures, had ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’. I believed that someone was in control. I believed there were answers to the predicaments we face.

But now I realize that there are no rights or freedoms. The concept of rights and freedoms is a sop that the rich and powerful of this world use to appease the fury and frustration of the poor and disenfranchised. The ‘granting’ of rights and freedoms means nothing, because they can be and are taken away whenever those in power choose to do so, and are simply ignored when they interfere with the exercise of power or accumulation of wealth by those who allowed them to be granted.

We don’t have freedom of expression, or speech, or assembly: under the current surveillance state I can be stopped, arrested, held indefinitely and incommunicado, tortured, ‘disappeared’ or simply killed, by a drone or in a secret gulag, whenever someone in power decides I’m a threat to that power.

Likewise, there is no ‘upward mobility’ for just about any demographic segment of our human population worldwide; most people are trapped, socially and economically, right where they are, no matter what may happen to the place where they live.

There is no true democracy, anywhere: the real decisions are made in secret meetings between bought politicians (many of them in power fraudulently or due to gerrymandering and other corruptions of the ‘democratic’ process), who represent only their rich and powerful donors, and the bankers, lawyers and corporate executives. The ‘laws’ and ‘regulations’ are just smokescreens to make it look as if the people’s interests are being considered.

There are no rights of recourse against corporate abuses: most industries are oligopolies, and corporate law is designed to protect them and their wealthy shareholders and executives from the wrath of outraged citizens, while enabling these corporations to sue citizens who pose any threat to their profits or ‘leadership’.

All that’s happened over the past three decades is that the illusion of rights and freedoms has largely disappeared, as those with wealth and power ratchet up the rhetoric that militarized police, torture prisons, ubiquitous surveillance and the oppression of dissent are ‘necessary’ for public safety and security (especially the safety and security of the rich and powerful).

There are no rights or freedoms. There is only power, and its exercised in the interest of further enriching the rich and further concentrating power.

I used to be outraged and angry about all this, but now I’m just letting it go. It’s just too easy to see this as a moral struggle, as a fight against pathology, greed, and tyranny. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think everyone’s really trying to do what they believe is best, not only for their loved ones but for everyone. I know some of these people, and their stubborn, destructive wrong-headedness is completely understandable to me (from their strange but deeply-held worldview).

Increasing concentration of power doesn’t mean that there is an ‘elite’ in control of everything in our society. Vast wealth and power does not translate to control, especially in a world where all our systems are collapsing simultaneously: our economic systems, running on the fumes of belief in perpetual industrial growth; our nearly-exhausted energy and resource systems, utterly dependent on ample and cheap oil (one barrel of oil replaces 12 person-years of labour, and we currently use 100 million barrels per day); and our climate systems, which have long passed the tipping point to catastrophic change comparable to that of the ‘ice ages’ (though in the opposite temperature direction).

The rich and powerful are as much prisoners of these massive, complex, crumbling systems, as much cogs in the machine, as the rest of us: they just get better wages and benefits than the rest of the inmates, and will until the systems fall apart, at which time they’ll be no better off than anyone else.

No one is in control. The enemy, if there is one, is not a cabal of elites, but a set of co-dependent collapsing systems that every one of us has a vested interest in trying (insanely) to perpetuate. Systems we have all helped co-create and are almost all dependent on.

David Korowicz, in his study On the Cusp of Collapse, explains how our massively complex global human systems are far beyond the control of any coordinated group of people:

Our daily lives are dependent upon the coherence of thousands of direct interactions, which are themselves dependent upon trillions more interactions between things, businesses, institutions and individuals across the world. Following just one track; each morning I have coffee near where I work. The woman who serves me need not know who picked the berries, who moulded the polymer for the coffee maker, how the municipal system delivered the water to the café, how the beans made their journey or who designed the mug. The captain of the ship that transported the beans would have had no knowledge of who provided the export credit insurance for the shipment, who made the steel for the hull, or the steps in the complex processes that allow him the use of satellite navigation. And the steel-maker need not have known who built the pumps for the iron-ore mine, or how the oxygen for the furnace was refined.

We cannot hope to ‘fix’ these systems through political or economic or legal or educational reform, or putting some more democratically-minded group ‘in control’ of them. Fighting for possession of the steering wheel of a car careering over a cliff cannot produce useful change. Even trying to bring down our economic systems before they do even more damage is probably futile: It’s unlikely to significantly accelerate, mitigate or delay the inevitable collapse, and I’m not sure its effect on catastrophic climate change would be substantial either. There is simply no point trying to change any of these systems; it’s a waste of time, and, as Buddha said “Our problem is we think we have time.” But some would insist we try anyway, so at least “we can say we tried”. I think that’s a pathetic argument.

So here we sit, all of us, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, with no real ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’, no hope of ‘reforming’ massive, self-reinforcing and entrenched systems utterly out of our control, coming apart because they are totally unsustainable, and no credible knowledge of what might work to even mitigate the imminent and catastrophic end of the industrial ‘growth’ economy, the end of the all-too-brief age of abundant cheap energy, and the end of a short few millennia of astonishingly stable climate.

The question we must each ask ourselves, I think, is this:  If we acknowledge that our systems and hence our civilization cannot be reformed or ‘saved’, what can we do now that will make a real difference, for the future, in our communities and for those we love?

The insanely rational answer to this question, I think, is (a) probably nothing, and (b) it’s too early to know.

So if I seem impatient or annoyed when you ask me to be outraged or supportive in your movement to reform civilization, I’m sorry. I think it’s too late.

I’m in the process of writing a book of stories of how all of this might play out, just one scenario, the story of, in the short term, a Great Migration of billions of people towards the poles in search of livable habitat (what an amazing, terrifying and liberating journey that could be!), and, in the longer term, the blossoming of thousands of local communities, new and unimaginably diverse, self-sufficient, joyful and utterly alive human cultures, whose total impact on the planet will be, due to our much smaller numbers and minimal energy and technology resources, pretty insignificant. I need to write such a new story to be able to begin to let go of the old, civilized one.

Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe there’s more I could (I’ve stopped saying “should”) be doing: learning new essential skills and capacities, helping in the process of rediscovering how to build and live in community together, healing myself and helping others heal from the ravages of civilization’s innumerable, constant and monstrous stresses, and just trying to live a joyful, exemplary, modest and graceful life. I may get around to these things. But for now I’m just writing, watching, reflecting, trying to figure it all out.

It’s too early and too late, I think, to do anything more.

Requiem for a Species

20 01 2014

Dave Pollard

Dave Pollard

Another top post from Dave Pollard whom I still read even when travelling……..  sometimes I think reading people like Dave is the only way I stay sane.

Originally posted here……

I‘ve added professor Clive Hamilton’s new book Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change to my “Save the World Reading List” (retroactively). It’s the natural next step after the 15 essential readings and really sums up where we (our species and our planet) are now.

Clive starts out by saying what climate scientists know but are afraid to say:

Over the last five years, almost every advance in climate science has painted a more disturbing picture of the future. The reluctant conclusion of the most eminent climate scientists is that the world is now on the path to a very unpleasant future and it is too late to stop it. Behind the facade of scientific detachment, the climate scientists themselves now evince a mood of barely suppressed panic. No one is willing to say publicly what the climate science is telling us: that we can no longer prevent global warming that will this century bring about a radically transformed world that is much more hostile to the survival and flourishing of life. This is no longer an expectation of what might happen if we do not act soon; this will happen, even if the most optimistic assessment of how the world might respond to the climate disruption is validated.

In the first four chapters, he reviews the science of climate change (including the methane release and other positive feedback loops that auto-accelerate greenhouse gases), explains why we have passed the tipping point, why we (and our politicians) want growth to continue forever, how our consumerist culture has evolved, why we’re prone to believe greenwashing, the psychology of denial, and the inevitability of the emergence of dangerous, corporatist-funded “junk science”.

Chapter 5 describes the civilized human’s disconnection from nature that has allowed all of this to happen. Clive explains the malleability of our mental constructs of reality, self, and belonging and how they (we) have changed our worldview. (The chapter includes a fascinating and succinct statement of the Gaia Hypothesis written by Plato in the 4th century BCE!)

In Chapter 6, he deconstructs the discredited ‘fixes’ to global warming: carbon capture, the switch to renewables, substituting nuclear energy, and the use of climate engineering (geoengineering). I think he underestimates the perils of nuclear energy (not only the massive cost of reactors and how they would bankrupt our already-overstretched economy, but the challenge to post-civilization societies of preventing, for the next million years, the last century’s human-made radioactive wastes from causing even greater devastation for millennia to come). But otherwise this examination of proposed fixes is a good update to George Monbiot’s Heat. Chapter 6 includes an interesting and terrifying review of the politics of geoengineering, focused on the deranged proposals of right-wing darlings Edward Teller and Lowell Wood, that leads to the horrific conclusion that, because it’s so inexpensive and tempting to desperate, arrogant people, unilateral geoengineering efforts are not only likely, but probably inevitable.

In Chapter 7, Clive explains what we can expect, based on the latest projections, when runaway climate change hits us full-bore over the next few decades:

  • the uncontrollable burning of most of the world’s remaining tropical, subtropical and temperate forests due to latent heat
  • the prevalence of desertification, disappearance of glacial melt, massive water shortages and endemic high rates of heat-related deaths in the world’s temperate zones (including the Western US and Canada; worst in Southern Europe, the Middle East, much Southeast Asia and most of Mexico and Central America)
  • an ice-free world, with a commensurate rise, sooner or later, of 50-70m in sea levels
  • unprecedented and chronic floods, storms and monsoons
  • the death of almost all ocean life
  • large-scale collapse of human infrastructure not designed for such extreme and frequent weather events
  • massive numbers of climate change refugees, migrating (mostly north) thousands of miles in search of lands that are still habitable and arable

He dismisses human plans for resilience and adaptation in the face of such catastrophic (and specifically unpredictable) events, and says instead we must prepare for “a process of continuous transformation” of the way we live — societies and cultures in a constants state of rapid flux. He confesses:

It was only in September 2008, after reading a number of new books, reports and scientific papers, that I finally allowed myself to make the shift and admit that we simply are not going to act with anything like the urgency required… The climate crisis for the human species is now an existential one. On one level I felt relief: relief at finally admitting what my rational brain had been telling me; relief at no longer having to spend energy on false hopes; and relief at being able to let go of some anger at the politicians, business executives and climate sceptics who are largely responsible for delaying action against global warming until it became too late…

We [now] have no chance of preventing emissions rising well above a number of critical tipping points that will spark uncontrollable climate change. The Earth’s climate [will now] enter a chaotic era lasting thousands of years before natural processes eventually establish some sort of equilibrium. Whether human beings [will] still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point. One thing seems certain: there will be far fewer of us.

The final chapter on “what to do” focuses largely on learning to accept and deal with grief and loss. Clive explains:

For those who confront the facts and emotional meaning of climate change, the [death we mourn] is the loss of the future. [Our grief] is often marked by shock and disbelief, followed by… anger, anxiety, longing, depression, and emptiness [which we suppress through] numbness, pretence that the loss has not occurred, aggression directed at those seen as responsible, and self-blame… [Denial and avoidance are] defences against the feelings of despair that the climate science rationally entails…

Healthy grieving requires a gradual ‘withdrawal of emotional investment in the hopes, dreams and expectations of the future’ on which our life has been constructed. [But] after detaching from the old future [it is our nature to] construct and attach to a new future. Yet we cannot build a new conception of the future until we allow the old one to die, and Joanna Macy reminds us that we need to have the courage to allow ourselves to [first] descend into hopelessness.

conception of art after the collapse of civilization culture by afterculture

This is the reason, I think, why I am now driven to write upbeat imaginative stories set several millennia in the future, once the crisis has passed. It is easier and perhaps healthier to see the coming collapse not as the end of something, but as a period of disequilibrium, a challenge, that we must endure in order that our descendants can live in a much better society than the one we live in today. It’s an attitude of willingness for self-sacrifice that many of our ancestors shared.

Clive goes on to explain how the loss of our future brings about a loss of meaning, and so we have to create a new story about ourselves and our purpose.

He suggests that we will reach the point at which, as much as we respect the law, we will have a moral obligation to ignore it, to mitigate or at least briefly delay the onset of runaway climate change through illegal actions. As I have written lately, I think that is a matter both of personal conscience and personal worldview: I have come to appreciate, through my study of complex systems, that such actions, useful as they may be in achieving short-term benefits for those we care about, will ultimately have no long-term effect, and they entail considerable personal risk as our surveillance society anticipates and ramps up efforts to suppress such actions ruthlessly. But I also appreciate and admire those willing to fight the system despite those personal risks and its ultimate futility.

I come back to the four safer actions we can take now to prepare, I think, for the convulsive period ahead:

  • Live an exemplary, joyful, present life: Be a model of living in the present, joyously, every day, living a life that’s aware, generous, responsible, sustainable and full of learning, wonder and love. Rather than dwell on the future or the past or what could have been done or is going to happen, focus on making the world better for yourself and those immediately around you now. Perform what Adam Gopnik calls “a thousand small sanities“. Seek to exemplify what Richard Holloway calls “an attitude of contemplative gratitude“.
  • Re-learn essential skills and knowledge that will make you and your community more self-sufficient and resilient when centralized global systems — governments, big corporations, trade, industrial agriculture, energy etc. — fall apart. Learn to make clothes, or to grow your own food organically, or how to mentor a student to learn how to learn, or how to facilitate a group to work more effectively together. And learn more about yourself as well — how to make yourself well, what triggers you or frightens you (and why), what you do really well, and what you really care about.
  • Discover your neighbours and connect with them, and learn how to build and live in community, where sharing is more important than owning. Learn how to care about, and even love, people you really don’t like very much. When hierarchies collapse, what we’ll be left with is community. Get to know yours.
  • Work with others to help them, and you, to heal from the damage this culture has already done to us, physically and emotionally, and to cope with the fear, the guilt and the grief we all start to feel when we realize what we have done to this planet, with the best of intentions, and what we’re going to face as a consequence.

This is What a Desolated Earth Looks Like

13 12 2013

This is What a Desolated Earth Looks Like

David Pollard

David Pollard

ANOTHER great guest post from Dave Pollard…….  I am really warming to this man.  I wish I could write as well as he does.  I don’t know how I missed this from his website, maybe I started following it after it was posted, but it’s rip roarer, and frankly the chart just says it all.  As the late Albert Bartlett used to say, “Humanity’s greatest shortcoming is its inability to understand the exponential function”.
When I think back to all those alarmingly optimistic replies to my Automobile Deathwatch post at the AIMN, it is plainly obvious not one of those people even know about the exponential function.  the numbers have us by the short and curlies.

(post updated Sept. 5 at the request of several readers, to move the chart down to later in the post, delete the third abandoned-city photo, and add a more engaging image at the beginning of the post; in light of the title of the post this new image is perhaps ironic, but I think it works ~~ Dave)

image of the Vancouver skyline, taken last month by the author

There is an old story about the invention of the chessboard, in which the inventor as his reward asks for one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling until all 64 squares are full. The seemingly modest request adds up to many times more than all the wheat the world has ever produced. The purpose of the story is to teach about our inability to grasp the impact and unsustainability of accelerating increases in anything, particularly in the final stages. Even when more than half of the squares have been filled the inventor’s request still seems manageable. It is only when it is too late that its impossibility is realized.

I’ve had many people tell me this story doesn’t apply to our current population, production, consumption and pollution curves because they’re not doubling every day, or anything close to it. They miss the point. Our current production and consumption of resources is growing at an annual rate of about 2% — indeed, our globalized economy depends utterly on continued growth, to fund the interest on the staggering debt that enables this growth. Without it, our economy would — will — collapse. Even the liberal media trumpet the necessity and desirability of continued (or resumption of) endless growth (though they’d like its benefits a little more equitably distributed, please).

A bit of mathematics will show that continued growth at a mere 2% per year will result in a doubling of production and consumption every 35 years. For simplicity’s sake lets call that a “generation” (people are living longer and having children later than they used to). So let’s retell the story a slightly different way.

Imagine that each generation a spokesperson is selected by the human race to meet with Mother Nature and announce what the species needs for the next generation. For the first million years or so of human life on Earth this is a pleasant affair, since the demands in the first 30,000 meetings do not increase at all. Then, about 300 generations ago, the demands begin to increase by about 40% each generation (as human population increases by 1%/year). Mother Nature is not pleased, arguing that humans are taking more than their share, but she allows it to continue, even though it brings about the start of the sixth great extinction of life on Earth, and decimates the larger mammals that were essential players in many of the planet’s ecosystems.

Then, about 11 generations ago, the demands begin to increase by 100% each generation (as new industrial technologies enables human production and consumption to grow by 2% per year). As this industrial era begins, human population is growing by 3% per year, so even with production growing at 2% per year, this ushers in a period of unprecedented poverty and suffering. Even when population slows in the most recent generation to just 1% per year, there are already billions of struggling people demanding that production growth increase by more than population, so they can escape from poverty.

Mother Nature is exasperated. Because most humans now live in cities, disconnected from the natural world, they cannot appreciate why it is unreasonable for their species to consume the resources needed for other creatures and future generations. She shows the human representatives the folly of growth, using the chessboard story and the history of previous civilizations that tried to grow beyond their means, but generation after generation our representatives don’t believe these lessons apply to such an ingenious species as modern humans. As the industrial age advances, humans increasingly fight bloody and Earth-poisoning wars over resources, since the clumsy distribution systems humans have created fail to use these resources effectively or distribute them equitably.

Still, for 11 more generations, each human generation’s representative demands twice as much as the one before. Finally, Mother Nature has had enough. In 2012 she sits the representative down and confesses that there simply aren’t enough resources left to meet the demands for another human generation. In the generation just past, she says, humans have consumed a fourth of all the resources of the planet. Only half of the planet’s resources now remain, and the human representative is essentially asking for all of it. Even if I could give you that, she says, it would leave nothing for other creatures, and nothing for future generations.

The human is unconvinced. Looking around, there are lots of forests to be seen, lots of food growing, still plenty of fresh water in many places. The weather is usually pretty good and stable — no incontrovertible evidence of climate change. Human ingenuity is at work inventing new forms of renewable energy and food, and finding ways to extract energy that had been thought inaccessible. Human population is stabilizing, and within another generation it might even level off. What is the problem?

Mother Nature reminds the representative of the chessboard lesson. Humans propose to use twice as much in the coming generation as in the last. That’s more than all the resources that have been consumed by humans in the million years since they appeared on the planet. She shows the cost of the last generation’s 2% annual growth, and asks the representative to imagine twice this cost over the next generation:

She points to the oceans, once so teeming with life that wild creatures, including humans, needed only to wade into the stream and they could easily catch enough food for a month. Eighty percent of the life in the oceans is gone, and what remains is suffering in the sewage of human wastes. Acidification, and pollution including a sea of discarded plastic large enough to be visible from space, has desolated the oceans. Imagine that twice over a generation from now, she says.

She points to the grasslands, the former home of thousands of now-extinct species. They have been replaced entirely with monoculture farmland, and since the soil is not meant to handle such crops it has been exhausted, blown away, and now must be replaced with massive amounts of fertilizers made from oil, ploughed with machines that run on oil, soaked with pesticides that poison everything, and seeded with GMO crops whose ‘patented’ seeds are sterile and which are infesting what remains of diverse cropland and exposing crops to the same massive monoculture risks that produced the horrific famines of the past. Look at the pictures of dust-bowl farms in 1933, she says, and see what these once-astonishing grasslands will look like in another generation, when there is no cheap oil to spread over the millions of square miles where grain grows today. And in both your farmland and cities today your unquenchable thirst for water, combined with the shrinking of your mountain glaciers, is causing groundwater levels to drop as much as 8 feet per year, so in another generation your wells and reservoirs may all be dry. Imagine that, she says.

She points to the forests, reduced to half their former extent and now threatened by unregulated clear-cutting and large-scale burning, and in temperate zones by insects and viruses moving in from tropical zones thanks to global warming. At current, accelerating rates of depletion, she says, they will all be gone in a generation. Gone! Imagine a world in 2050 where the only trees are those maintained in parks and gardens and tree ‘reserves’, surrounded, thanks to your inability to grow crops without cheap oil, by weeds, brush and desert stretching on for a thousand miles. Can you imagine living in a world without forests, she asks?

She points to the seacoasts, where most humans live and where soil was once richest. Talk to your scientists about sea-level rise, and what will happen in the next generation, she says. What just last year they thought would not happen for two centuries they are now saying could happen in a generation. And every week they get a new surprise — they are learning that while climates may stay unchanged for a millennium, they can change suddenly and dramatically in a decade, and there is no way of predicting the consequences. Imagine a billion people underwater, along with half the world’s infrastructure, in a generation. Imagine cities that once housed millions of people just abandoned, she says; Why couldn’t you learn the lesson of Katrina?

As for your cities, she says, do you have any idea how much of the resources you are asking for go to keeping your cities standing? By themselves, without the import of food and water and oil (and concrete and steel and manufactured goods, most of them made of or with oil), your cities would quickly crumble. Don’t believe me? Look at the pictures (below) of modern, abandoned cities; they are the pictures of your unsustainable cities a generation from now. What will it take for you to understand that your civilization is built on the availability of cheap energy, and there is no more cheap energy. This generation alone will use up a billion years’ accumulated reserves of stored energy, leaving nothing for the generations to follow — except abandoned, unliveable cities, monstrous decaying relics amidst a desolated planet.

Image of abandoned Siberian city.

Image of abandoned Japanese city. Images from Dark Roasted Blend.

So I cannot give you what you ask, Mother Nature concludes. It is not that I won’t — I cannot, just as the man who promised the chess inventor his grain cannot. I am sure you will try to take it anyway, and that makes me very sad. You are going to learn a hard lesson, one that will probably take several generations to play out. After that, your demands of me will probably be small, and there will once again be time for regeneration, for other forms of life to recover from your excessive demands, for balance, for peace, and I hope, for your species to reconnect with the Earth, so that you need no longer ask me for what I cannot offer.

John Gray, in his book Straw Dogs, concludes that the only way our civilization can continue is by desolating the Earth, at an accelerating rate, until it is exhausted, and that this is precisely what we will do. Although I grieve for what we have done to our planet, and the destruction and suffering we cause and condone every day, I grieve much more for what we will do in the coming generation, in the desperate folly to try to keep it going just a little longer. There will be more destruction, more suffering, more misery, more desolation in the generation to come, I fear, than in all the generations past combined. The worst atrocities always occur when things are most desperate and hopeless.

History and literature are replete with examples and stories that show us that this is our nature. We cannot and will not change until we must, and we won’t realize we must until it is too late to prevent our civilization’s madness from taking its most ghastly, almost unimaginable toll. We will stay in denial until we cannot, believing that somehow we can innovate out our way out of the impossible predicament we have created for ourselves. And distracting ourselves in the meantime — pondering for example the choice between ‘leaders’ who advocate ecocidal publicly-regulated growth and those who advocate ecocidal unregulated, privatized growth — the Tweedledums and Tweedledees of planetary desolation.

I’ve tried to depict this desolated future in Mother Nature’s words, rather than in pictures, because the pictures are too much for me to bear. I could show images of clear-cuts, of massive factory farms, of befouled water and dying fish and birds, of dust-bowls where farms once thrived, of child labour and slave labour, of sandstorms blowing through China’s industrialized, drought-stricken cities, of dry wells and dry cracked earth and lifeless crops, of prison and refugee camps filled with despair, of slums of mind-numbing, impossible poverty. What would that achieve, except perhaps to get you angry or upset, for no useful purpose?

I have come to a ghastly realization about what we have done, and what we are doing, and what lies ahead, and why. I understand that no one is or has been in control of this, and that no one conspired or wanted this to happen, and thus no one is to blame, no one is responsible. And I appreciate that thanks to the complexity of everything, we cannot prevent or even significantly mitigate the dreadful future we are so hopefully embarked upon. I live with this terrible knowledge, and occasionally share it on these pages, and often wonder why I do.

I guess it’s because I can’t just stay silent, can’t just pretend everything is going to be all right. And because sometimes it helps just to know there are others out there who understand, when so many either do not, or do not want to.

“There is no time”

12 12 2013

The Fire This Time


A guest post by Dave Pollard



A few days ago I watched the documentary Chasing Ice, as part of our local Transition initiative’s film series. What really struck me in the film was the narrator’s four word comment about 1/3 through the film when he was discussing what we can/should do about arctic melting and runaway climate change:

“There is no time.”

Just that. He meant that there is no time for us to continue to do what we have been doing — the politicking, stalling, denial, endless debate and research. But what these four words mean to me, and I think at a visceral and perhaps subconscious level what they now mean to many people who are informed about what is happening in our world, is that there is no time for us to pull back from collapse, no time to avoid or even mitigate runaway climate change and the emergence, later this century, of a climate on Earth as different (7-8oC) from today’s (though in the opposite direction) as the climate during the most recent glacial maxima (colloquially, “Ice Ages”) 20 and 140 and 260 and 340 and 440 thousand years ago.

During these “Ice Ages” much of the planet’s land mass was covered in ice an average of 2 km thick, and the regions adjacent to the ice-covered areas suffered constant windstorms that transformed them into scrub and desert, and beyond that desert, what are now semi-tropical areas were covered in boreal forest. Equatorial areas then, in addition to being much cooler than today, see-sawed between prolonged periods of monsoon-like rains and periods of extended drought.

What will our planet be like with 7-8 degrees of warming in the next few decades? Weather will likely be more extreme (more flooding, desertification and fires, and, later, much higher sea levels) and much more turbulent, but instead of only the equatorial areas being habitable by significant human numbers, as happened during the “Ice Ages”, only the polar areas, with whatever vegetation will have emerged there in that short time, will likely be habitable in the coming “Fire Age”.

The Fire This Time.

There is no time for us to avert this. But there is time to imagine potential future scenarios and how we might react to them, to increase our resilience to the large-scale changes to our way of living it will bring, and to prepare ourselves for them (intellectually, emotionally, and capacity-wise that is — for the coming Long Emergency, hoarding assets and building bunkers is not a viable strategy).

What complicates the future scenario for our planet is that we are also nearing End Games in our global economic and energy/resource systems, as I diagrammed in my post last month. Neither system is sustainable for more than a few more years, a few decades at most, and both systems affect the rate of atmospheric pollution and hence the extent and timing of runaway climate change.

I’m writing a series of articles that explains all this in more detail for the fledgling Sustainability Showcase magazine, but the chart above summarizes the interrelationship of our economic, resource/energy, and climate/ecological systems, and how ‘collapse’ (i.e. dramatic and uncontrolled unbalancing and change, with largely unpredictable consequences) of any of these systems would likely affect the other two. Here’s the prognosis in a nutshell:

 Best case (Eisenstein) scenario: Shift to Sharing Economy precipitates near-term, gradual collapse of the industrial growth economy, which will leave some of Earth’s energy and resources in the ground and delay and slightly lessen runaway climate change. [Or similarly, major early unexpected impacts of climate change (e.g. pandemic) precipitate near-term, gradual economic collapse, with the same results.]

Worst case (Ehrenfeld) scenario: Politicians ratchet up the economy to extend industrial growth a little longer, exhaust energy and other resources faster and more completely, then use nukes to try to mitigate energy exhaustion, all leading to faster and more severe runaway climate change and total economic collapse and energy/resource exhaustion.

All scenarios end with runaway climate change. This is kind of hard to comprehend, but once you realize how delicate the balance is that has kept our planet in a brief paradisiacal near-stasis climate for several millennia, and how often runaway climate change has happened in our planet’s past (for many reasons, mostly unknown), it’s not too hard to accept. We’ve just unwittingly accelerated the process this time.

There will be large scale species extinction — it’s already begun and it’s also not a new phenomenon on this planet. Life will go on. Some like it hot. There will be a steady exodus toward the poles by many species, with varying degrees of success. What will evolve in the planet’s new super-hot, super-stormy zones is anyone’s guess.

From that perspective, the timing of the collapse of this civilization’s unstable, global, oil-and-growth dependent industrial economy, and whether we plunder the last of the easily-accessible energy, soil, water, minerals, forests and other resources (a billion years’ worth of accumulated riches) before the climate destabilizes, may seem a bit moot. But it will be very important for our immediate descendants, and for many living today.

As the table above shows, we have little say in (or control over) how all this unfolds. But we have a little. The sooner we bring down our rapacious and wasteful economy, the less severe and longer delayed ecological collapse will be — and the more resources will be left for post-collapse life.

We can (and some say should) help precipitate that economic take-down, through direct action against its most grievous activities — tar sands, nukes, deepwater, shale, mountaintop removal, rainforest razing, ‘blood’ mining, factory farming, forced/slave labour etc. And we can precipitate it by walking away from that teetering economy and shifting our activities to that of the sharing economy — by using, gifting and conserving local, organic, low-energy, durable goods and services in community with each other, without the use of fiat currencies.

Beyond that, there’s not much we can do to prepare for The Fire This Time, except learn some useful new skills, learn how to build (and live in) community (anywhere), get and stay healthy, and cultivate what we might call a resilient, adaptable attitude. Some of the qualities I think might be part of such an ‘attitude’ — a way of being in the world — are (in no particular order) being:

  • generous
  • self-aware and self-knowledgeable
  • attentive (“present”)
  • curious and imaginative (they’re not the same thing)
  • able to let go (open, forgiving, patient, even ‘stoic’)
  • challenging (able to think critically)
  • self-expressive and articulate
  • appreciative and grateful
  • playful, joyful, and able to see beauty everywhere
  • able to relish simple pleasures
  • contemplative, gentle, and at peace

We can’t be these things if we’re not, of course, and the stresses of our modern lives make it hard to be them. But, joyful pessimist that I am, I believe most of these qualities are in most of our natures, if we can find space for them, and let them come out. Adversity tends to bring out the best in us, and we’re now in the headwinds of a maelstrom.

It’s hopeless, but we’ll be fine. One day, everything will be free.