Quantity vs. Quality

Brave New World Revisited – Revisited – Part 2

Click HERE for Part 1

Crowds of people wait in the check-in ar

In the highly populated world we experience today along with 7.7 billion human beings, what are the effects of over-population on human health and well-being, democratic political and government institutions, and overall quality of all life?

In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley suggests that by failing to do anything systematic about human breeding, we insure that our expanding population is of inferior biological quality. Since we strive medically to make sure that everyone lives to reproductive age, we are also insuring that all genetic predispositions to disease and infirmity are preserved and spread throughout our gene pool.

As my ecology professor told me some 50 years ago, “Someday everyone will wear glasses and have diabetes.”

Huxley also suggests that in addition to a decline in general healthfulness, we are experiencing a decline in average IQ. Looking about our world as it is, one might think that, but, of course, I would never say this. Such thoughts would be hopelessly politically incorrect, harking back to the eugenics movement, which has, seemingly forever, forestalled any rational discussion of purposeful management of human development.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, at the same time George Orwell was crafting 1984, and Aldous Huxley was continuing to critically examine human society, leading to Brave New World Revisited ten years later, B. F. Skinner was writing Walden Two, a novel about an experimental Utopian community based on his own ideas about behavioral engineering.

There was considerable recognition of the path modern civilization is taking, with regard to the relationship between Homo sapiens and the natural world, prompting a search for alternative lifeways that might ease the burden of human presence on the planet. I flirted briefly with the Intentional Communities movement in the 70s and early 80s, but drifted away when I found it was largely a spiritual rather than a science-based pursuit.

the-concept-of-overshootOur biggest problem as a species is that we have no predators to keep us healthy and strong, and we are incapable of rationally controlling our own breeding to keep our numbers in check to prevent environmental overshoot and resultant collapse. Overshoot occurs when a population temporarily exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

As a consequence, individually and as a species as a whole, we are becoming increasingly unhealthy, decreasingly intelligent by any measure, and decreasingly fit to the prevailing environmental conditions. We are so dependent on our constructed environment and cultural support systems, that we can no longer function in the natural world without them.

More importantly, our constant population and economic growth is rapidly changing the natural world, destroying natural habitats, extirpating species and making a wasteland of what little natural world that remains.

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The result is an escalating spiral down the porcelain parkway to oblivion, at least for humans and what we refer to as civilization, that is, the totalitarian domination of the entire planet, above ground, below ground, on the oceans and even unto their deeps.

Fortunately for all life, two things work against this seemingly unstoppable trend: inescapable evolution and unavoidable natural processes.

Despite overweening hubris, Homo sapiens is still subject to the processes of natural selection and evolution. Though we pretend to have substituted culture for evolution, the reality is that we are evolving (see the above mentioned diabetes and poor eyesight), though most likely not in ways we will appreciate in the long term. The culture we prize so highly is singularly out of step with the natural world and the preservation of conditions to which humans have accommodated for the past several thousand years. As those conditions change, the rigid cultural expectations of the dominant culture may be incapable of accommodating the new ecological regime.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, and Mother Nature is stepping up to the plate. Natural processes will out in the end in the fullness of time, and Homo sapiens, if we have not already joined the Sixth Great Extinction Farewell Party, will evolve and acculturate to the new conditions, fewer in numbers, greater in physical health and cultural diversity, and living in greater harmony with the many other species and ecosystems.

 

The Madness of Crowds

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“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.” 

Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast

Ed Abbey’s words were prophetic when he wrote them, even more so now than he realized in his too short life.

We live in a world of crowds, everywhere, from the street outside our doors, to our daily work and play, in our parks and “open” spaces, we live in a teeming mass of humanity, an ever-growing technocratic occupation of every square inch of this much abused planet.

One birth every 8 seconds; one death every 12 seconds; one international migrant (net) every 34 seconds; a net gain of one person every 16 seconds. Oops, here comes another one. Scoot over and make room.

Yes, our societies have become more authoritarian, repressive and murderous. In the great bell shaped curve of human behavior, where only a percentage of the population acts badly, more people means more people acting badly. Thus increasing numbers of  laws, regulations and rules, and the accompanying and rapidly proliferating number of lawyers, regulators and rulers.

Impact = Consumption X Population

The impact of the human species on every other species, and their habitats, is a function of per capita consumption multiplied by the number of human beings, both of which are increasing at a prodigious rate. Any reduction in per capita consumption is rapidly overwhelmed by increasing population.

The greatest threat to life on this planet is not climate change, nuclear proliferation or wandering asteroids. Those are distractions, economic opportunities, political footballs. The greatest threat is human growth and profligacy, overweening hubris and inability and unwillingness to consider the consequences of our own actions, and inaction.

Population control is the most defiled of all subjects for cogent deliberation and understanding, and the most urgent. It is socially incorrect, economically unthinkable and political suicide. Population control is the bastard stepchild of the global growth industry, the unquestioned acceptance of the assumption that economic viability necessitates continuous and ever increasing population and economic growth. More than the ideology of the cancer cell, human growth is the evolutionary path of the dinosaur, that had to develop two brains in order to manage their overwhelming bulk. So far, humans have only one brain, and that one only firing on three cylinders.

Homeless camps in every community, out of control crime everywhere, proliferating imperialism internationally and decreasing political capability locally and nationally, all are symptoms of a human population that has outgrown its ability to care for itself, and the biosphere that supports us.

“There is no justice, sense or decency in this mindless global breeding spree, this obscene anthropoid fecundity, this industrialized mass production of babies and bodies, ever more bodies and babies. The man-centered view of the world in anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, antinature, antilife, and–antihuman.” 

Edward Abbey, Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside

Celebrating May Day

May Day!

It’s a fine May Day morning here on the Left Coast. A bit of fog lingering, rapidly thinning. The sun is just beginning to warm the chill morning air.

May Day is traditionally a day of diverse messages: a celebration of spring with May baskets, May pole dancing, burgeoning flowers, beautiful young women in flouncy dresses, colorful and raucous parades. More recently than the ancient tradition, May Day was declared a worker’s holiday commemorating the Haymarket affair, when a demonstration in support of an eight-hour for day turned into riots when police fired on the crowd. In some countries, May Day became a celebration of militarism and imperialist excess, demonstrating the folly of humans with access to too much power and too little wisdom.

The historical context of this day seems to have been lost to the current generation of cell-phone impaired and distracted youth and the overweening culture of consumerism, newsertainment and political inanity. Few May baskets are left on porches these days, May poles rarely grace school yards with fluttering ribbons, and many workers think of an eight hour day, if they think of it at all, as a nostalgic luxury.

Nevertheless, it is indeed Spring, the Earth, in our hemisphere, is slowly warming, migrant songbirds fill the air with their optimistic songs, patient greenery stretches both up and down, striving for sun and warmth, drops of sparkling dew trembling on leaf tip and grasping tendrils, deepening their roots into the warming soil.

Let’s celebrate May Day on this fecund Earth as a day of renewal, revival, and rededication to saving what little is left of the wild, not just for future human generations, but for itself and its own well-being.

Reviving Radical Environmentalism

Radical Environmentalism has fallen on hard times.

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Ever since “The Death of Environmentalism” by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger appeared in Grist in 2005, accompanying the global obsession with climate change, environmentalism, real environmentalism, has evaporated under a flood of climate change hysteria, with side branches of Extinction Rebellion, Green New Deals and corporate managed school walkouts.

Keith Makoto Woodhouse’s 2018 book, The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism, tells the sad tale of the rise and demise of radical environmentalism, from its roots in the New Left, SDS and Aldo Leopold’s traditional conservationism, to Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society confrontational tactics, to the rise of Washington-based Big Greens and the inevitable compromises that turned radical environmentalists into corporate toadies and hunter-gatherers of government funding.

It’s a weird new world we live in these days, with the United Nations touting climate disaster to pump up their Sustainable (sic) Development program, to fund economic growth in less developed countries so they can join the global economy freight train rushing toward the collapsed bridge over Extinction Canyon.

Now we see impressionable children paraded before the ubiquitous media eye, reciting their memorized mantra of climate disaster caused, so they’ve been indoctrinated to say, by burning fossil fuels.

Climate change hysteria is the ultimate separation of human beings from Nature. Climate alarmists and their unthinking followers, call for us to “fight climate change,” to “stop climate change,” and in its most benign form, to “reverse climate change,” as if climate is something outside of human beings that we can control at will. Climate change alarmism is the ultimate expression of our species’ hubris (is there any other kind?).

If we are to rescue radical environmentalism from the clutching claws of climate change alarmists, we must also revive an understanding of ecology, evolution, geomorphology, and, most of all, a common sense perception of the world we share with billions of others species on this benighted planet.

To cultivate this perspective, find a patch of undeveloped Earth, get down on your hands and knees and stick your nose into the plant and animal life at your feet. Stay there for a day or two, maybe three, until you know intimately every creature crawling in and around every plant in your field of vision. Then, when throughly familiar with that wilderness, stand up on your hind legs and look around you, in a 360 degree scan of the roundabout thereof. Expand your awareness of the wilderness at your feet, to the wilderness surrounding you. It’s there, even if, temporarily, hidden under roads, houses office buildings and other monuments to human folly. The same biophysical processes are at work wherever you look, inescapable, perfectly natural (Nature-all), continuing apace as they have since the beginning, if there is one, of this Universe thing we inhabit.

Once you are thoroughly at home with your own bleeding piece of earth, your dealings with local government, developers, Chamber of Commerce growth maniacs, militaristic imperialists and other butchers of things natural and good, take on a depth and authenticity unavailable to those drifting in a sea of social media, cell phone obsession and dislocated, electronic distraction.

“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”

Radical environmentalism is a revolutionary awakening that brings into sharp focus the yawning chasm between human ignorance and uncaring profligacy, and the natural world that arises of itself within and around us. Once awakened to this all-encompassing reality, one can never see the world in any other way.

I’ve been walking this path for a long time. For a glimpse of my travels and travails, go to The Way of Nature, and join me as we look beyond our toes at the edge of the abyss, turn around and take our first steps forward.

Parks Without People

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In a recent thoughtful opinion piece in Sierra magazine, the house organ of the Sierra Club, editor Jason Mark tentatively floats the concept of “parks without people,” areas where human beings are not allowed, where natural processes can proceed without human impacts or manipulation.

This is not a new idea, as proponents of wilderness have grappled with the concept for decades, struggling to find a balance among political and economic expediency, ecological reality and human cultural history. Wallace Stegner’s 1960 “Wilderness Letter” clearly laid out the case for the benefit of wilderness to the human psyche. In his 1991 book, Wilderness on the Rocks, Howie Wolke thoroughly explored the concept of wilderness, the contradictions inherent in its definition and application to the real world of natural ecological relationships and human profligacy.

“Wilderness” is a fragile, human defined concept, that is complicated by a detailed examination of a world in which every square inch is influenced and modified by overwhelming human domination of the planet.

Nevertheless, the idea has merit, not as Mark explains in the subtitle of the article: “What if we were to create nature preserves that were strictly for science?”, but in its idealogical purity.

What if we were to create nature preserves strictly for the place itself, for the natural habitat, for the species who live there as their only home?

Isn’t the preservation of biodiversity, habitat and non-human species of merit in its own right, regardless of its benefit to humans? Or can value only be communicated as a human concept that has no meaning in a non-human context?

Mark points out the range of practical difficulties of promoting and developing this approach in the economic and political society that dominates management of undeveloped lands today, with quotes from a government bureaucrat and a scientist:

Jon Jarvis, the former director of the National Park Service: “… the establishment of protected areas and parks are a political construct, built on public support. If you don’t have some level of public use, you won’t have public support.”

Arthur Middleton, a UC Berkeley wildlife biologist: “We need baselines, some ability to know something about what happens in the absence of people. But to be blunt, it doesn’t seem within the reality in the US.”

Another side argument to this discussion is that humans are a part of nature and therefore if we preserve wilderness and natural habitat, we benefit humans as well. The E. O. Wilson Foundation’s Half-Earth Project takes this middle ground approach “to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.”

Meanwhile here at home in Our Fair County, local government officials sprinkle their Strategic Plans with meaningless buzzwords and aphorisms, such as “sustainable,” “climate disruption,” and the most dreadful “vibrant environment,” all the while conducting business as usual, widening highways, building more and more insanely tall, glass and concrete apartment houses, parking garages and million dollar single family homes.

Despite the flood of rhetoric and neologisms, everything humans do is, of necessity, anthropocentric. “Parks” must have people, because that’s what the word means: “an area of land, usually in a largely natural state, for the enjoyment of the public, having facilities often owned, set apart, and managed by a city, state, or nation.” In order to demonstrate relevance to potential funding sources, bureaucrats describe all projects in human terms. Thus, natural areas are referred to as parks, and developed as parks for human use, because there is no perception of any bureaucratic or economic justification for saving undeveloped land for itself.

Balancing human needs and desires with the intrinsic needs of natural ecosystems, habitats and species requires a revolutionary change in our relationship with the biosphere in which we live and from which we obtain everything we need and desire. This revolution cannot be achieved until we change the way we think about the natural world and our place as one species among many.

The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.  Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Climate Cycles, not Climate Crashes

Gary Patton’s Blog, We Live in a Political World, cites Jessica Stites, Deputy Editor of In These Times. as claiming:

“within 100 years, many of our cities will become uninhabitable, submerged under oceans or deadly hot. Storms will become more violent. The gentle planet we’ve known will be no more.”

I have a Doctorate in anthropology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where my dissertation and post-doc research was on the chronology of occupation of the Bering Strait from 2500 BP to the present. I published papers on the effects of climate change on human population movements in Siberia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. I did dendrochronological and dendroclimatological research on driftwood and archaeological wood from Siberia, St. Lawrence Island and the Alaska mainland. I studied tree ring research at the University of Arizona Tree-Ring Research Lab, and climate change at the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute.

I agree that many indigenous cultures have, in the past, “demonstrated [the] ability of the human species to adapt to changing conditions.”

I strongly disagree that “the extinction of the human species is a very real possibility,” with respect to climate variability. I strongly object to the statement “within 100 years, many of our cities will become uninhabitable, submerged under oceans or deadly hot. Storms will become more violent.”

There is simply no evidence to support these alarmist predictions.

Patton also cites Dahr Jamail’s book “When the Ice Melts,” as justification for these alarmist claims. I must point out that Dahr Jamail is not a climate scientist nor an anthropologist, nor a scientist of any sort. He is a journalist, one with a long record of unrealistically inflammatory rhetoric regarding what he calls “climate disruption,” which is in reality natural climate variability.

Yes, many glaciers are retreating, as are many glaciers advancing. That’s what glaciers do and have done for millennia, long before human civilizations developed. Climates around this planet (and all the other planets in the solar system) vary cyclically in tune with its variable travels around its star, and our planet’s own internal cycles of the closely coupled ocean/atmosphere system.

Does atmospheric CO2 and CH4 warm the planet? Yes, up to certain point. Does increased atmospheric CO2 result in increased global warming? No one knows, as this has never been tested. Does human produced atmospheric CO2 threaten runaway global warming? Not in the slightest.

Jamail and Stites’ dire “predictions” are not supported by climate science, not even by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a policy making organization, not a scientific research organization.

Should we “civilized” cultures change our ways to be in closer harmony with natural cycles? Of course. Human population growth coupled with cultures based on unlimited consumption cannot continue in a world of finite resources. We not only must change our ways, we most certainly will.

Humans may think we live in a world separate from Nature, but Nature functions otherwise. Humans are subject to the same ecological cycles as all other species. There’s no exit strategy. There’s no other planet to escape to. This is our only chance and either we figure out how to get it right, or Nature will haul us back into place in ways we make not like.

The choice is ours.

 

Why Start the New Year on January 1?

It’s the night before the New Year and all through the town, all the people are stirring, getting ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It’s an old custom, ingrained in our culture, seemingly as natural as night and day.

But why January 1st? What’s so special about this day that we celebrate it as a new beginning?

The easy answer is that the first month of the year is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman God who looks both forward into the future and backward to the past, just as all the pundits have been doing for the past week. Julius Caesar created a calendar with Janus’s month at the beginning, named after himself as the Julian Calendar, which was used from 45 BC until the 11th Century.

We don’t use the Julian calendar anymore, because it didn’t agree with the exact time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun, thus getting further and further out of date with the seasons as time wore on, as it often does. This was inconvenient and verily it troubled many of the new Enlightenment thinkers of the time.

So Pope Gregory started a new calendar in 1585, that inserted a leap year to keep the seasons and the calendar in sync. We use the Gregorian Calendar today, with January 1st as the first day.

But wait, why did my ancestors in the Olde Country start their year on March 25th, thus messing with the heads of future genealogists trying to pin down vital records of their distant 11th Great-Grandfather?

Well… as you might already know, pagans and other non-Christian folks counted their days, nights and years by the seasons and by celestial phenomena, which we retain in our culture as the Winter and Summer Solstice and the Spring and Fall Equinox. There were lots of other nature based holidays to celebrate as well, which helped a lot of medieval folks get through some pretty tough times.

Originally, the new year was celebrated either on the Winter Solstice, when daylight hours once again began to lengthen and the ascent from a long dark winter was begun. Others chose the Spring equinox as the time of renewal, and growth of things green and warm, a suitable occasion to start the new year.

When the Christian religion spread from Rome to the hinterlands, wily Christian theologians discovered it was more effective to co-opt the old pagan holidays and rename them to match the new belief than to try to do away with them altogether. Thus, the Winter Solstice became Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, and the New Year was set to begin on March 25, marking the Annunciation, the announcement that Jesus Christ was born, starting the whole Christian year.

This went on for some 600 years, until, in 1752, ecclesiastical squabbles over the true date of Easter resulted in resetting the date of the Gregorian New Year back to the old Julian January 1st.

So here we are, poised on the cusp of a new, Gregorian, January 1st New Year!

Have a Happy New Year whenever you start it!