Stepping back from the precipice


Over recent years, Climate Change (aka Global Warming or Anthropogenic Climate Change) has taken over as the driving influence of local, regional, state, national and international governments and social organizations.

We are constantly bombarded by dire warnings of imminent doom resulting from our profligate CO2 emissions causing increasing climate change and all of its alarming effects on human civilization and the natural world.

And yet, strangely, nothing changes. The number of cars on the streets and highways continues to increase. Highways are jammed. Garages remained stuffed to the ceilings with stuff, purchased in shopping sprees of lemmingly dimensions. Two and three cars wait patiently in the driveway and parked on streets for the daily trip to the 7-11. Electricity consumption increases at the demand of proliferating electronic devices and their ubiquitous charging stations. TeeVees must be bigger and bigger, demanding more and more energy 24 hours a day.

If climate change is such a big deal, why aren’t we drastically changing our societies to do something about it? Why are we increasing our impacts on our planet instead of reducing them?

For that matter, what specifically can those who are concerned about the impacts of human consumption and development do to drastically reduce or even stop them? How can we change human civilization, cultures and societies, such that humans live in balance with natural geophysical cycles?

These are deep, big picture questions that I’ve never seen fully addressed in any forum or by any agency. George Monbiot, in his continuing series on restoring democracy has come the closest to examining the deep societal, governmental and economic factors that contribute to the increasing impacts of human societies on the natural world.

Judging by today’s headlines, no one is paying attention.

There are ways forward, backward or maybe sideways that could forestall the inevitable outcome of the present course of human growth and development.

In future posts, I’ll explore this vexing conundrum of our present unsustainable civilization, and the necessary reforms, and revolutionary changes required to step back from the precipice, turn around and take a step forward.

Chicken Little Comes Home to Roost

Over-concentration on climate change as the greatest challenge to human civilization obscures the fact that humans have been operating unsustainably since fossil fuels were developed as the basis of human population increase and industrial production.

Fossil fuels are a temporary energy source, based on accumulations of millions of years of solar based photosynthesis. We are using up these energy reserves in hundreds of years, 10,000 times faster than were originally produced. We are now well into the end of the Age of Oil, the energy source of choice for Western civilization.

It’s just a coincidence that we are also discovering that our energy choices are influencing naturally occurring climate variation in ways that make our global environment less well suited to the patterns of development of Western Civilization. We are producing wastes, in this case carbon dioxide and other gases, faster than they can be assimilated in the biosphere through natural cycles.

This deadly, to humans, combination of borrowing energy from the past and limiting human energy choices in the future, in resulting in the unavoidable demise of our way of life, Western civilization. In order to significantly change the outcome we face, we would have to stop all greenhouse gas production, stop all burning of fossil fuels and reduce human population by a third. Even then, atmospheric and terrestrial processes already set in motion will continue on their present path.

As a result of our dominant social, political and economic systems, our governments do not have the will to change our way of being by taking the steps necessary to make a significant difference in the outcome. Like it or not, the future will have less energy availability, less food, less money and more and more strife and chaos.

The good news is that after human population and industrial activity decline, things will be better, for the remaining humans and the rest of the living world. Fortunately for all, there will be insufficient energy for our descendants to rebuild the same society we see crumbling about us today. Our ancestors will be forced to live within their means, unlike us, and will return to life as a part of Nature, not apart from Nature.

It’s hard and it’s fair.

The Nature of Humans

As I’ve commented before, I’m wary of distinguishing between “Nature” and “Not-Nature” with regard to human beings.
Humans are part of “Nature,” that is, Homo sapiens is a species of animal that co-evolved with all other species. It’s important that we internalize this reality. 
When we deny the reality of our basic “Nature-ness,” we allow ourselves to engage in behavior that is destructive to the world of Nature. We ignore the fact that what harms Nature harms us as well. We give ourselves license to take from Nature without giving back, to take from Nature faster and in greater amounts than can be naturally replenished. We allow ourselves to create waste and “throw it away,” into Nature, faster and in greater quantities than can be naturally assimilated. We forget that there is no “away.”
It’s also important to understand that humans cannot bring about the “End of Nature.” Even if humans fail to end our profligate ways, resulting in global environmental “collapse,” Nature will abide. It may be that Nature will change to a form that does not support intelligent (sic) upright featherless bipeds, but it will still be Nature and natural systems will continue to operate as they have since the beginnings of life on this planet.
Nature Bats Last is not just a bumper sticker.
There’s no getting around the bitter fact that we can’t do anything we want and get away with it. We might as well get over it and get on with the task of becoming responsible members of the community of life on this tiny, much abused, whirling mudball we call Earth. Our friends and neighbors on the planet will welcome us with open arms, legs, wings, flippers and pseudopodia.
An article in Mother Earth News, Coming Home to Nature, speaks elegantly about the unity of humans and Nature.

Two Worlds?

Gary Patton, in his Two Worlds blog, posted an interesting rumination about the concept of Two Worlds, the human created world, and the non-human, aka “natural” world.

 Viewing the Universe as “Two Worlds” has merit from an analytical standpoint. It puts the propensity of humans to ignore the “real” world into sharp relief.

But it’s a dangerous viewpoint from the standpoint of doing something about it. Despite virtual (human created) “reality,” which, of course, is not reality at all, all life is subject to the inescapable laws, restrictions and realities of the world/Universe as it is. The Universe does not distinguish between reality and the human perspective. The Universe is the All That Is. And the human world is a microscopic tic in Spacetime.
Civilization, if that’s what it is, is not long for this Universe. It is already declining so severely as to be unsupportable, nay, unsustainable. Civilization is devolving into marginalized local societies, as it began, and will soon enough descend into a second, deeper Dark Age that will have insufficient energy and resources available for any semblance of recovery.
Not to worry, write it off, it was a bad deal from the start and never got any better. The Universe will be better off when Homo sapiens joins the rest of the biosphere as a contributing member of the cosmic community. That which cannot go on forever, doesn’t.
“The World” is a human concept, connoting the “Human” World. The Universe is reality, whether perceived by humans or not.
One world at a time, please.

Degrowth Time Has Come

In his speech to Klimaforum 09, the People’s Climate Conference in Copenhagen:
Degrowth Seminar, Copenhagen Klimaforum09, Miguel Valencia lays bare the basic dichotomy in modern human societies. It is not North vs. South, or East vs. West, it is traditional village life versus modern, centralized, hierarchical, industrial, consumerist society.

“Liberating the social imagination means revitalizing the village by producing for local needs and consuming local produce; organizing micro- cooperatives and micro-syndicates; reducing work-time voluntarily and cutting consumption, and constructing new ecological communities with rigorous rules. It also means growing vegetables by our own dwellings or nearby in the eco-region; to walk and bicycle for everyday mobility; to modify toilets and water facilities; to separate residues for reuse and recycling; to support local money, savings and loans, and to use or produce hand-made products. Abandon the use of automobile, bottled water and red meat consumption.”

The purpose of the mainstream Copenhagen climate conference is a desperate attempt to maintain the human economic status quo in the face of clear evidence of its destructive effects on non-industrial societies and the non-human world. The Klimaforum 09 gathering throws the social and environmental contrasts between the industrialized and non-industrialized world into sharp focus and reveals the ultimate futility of attempting to prop up an unsustainable world view.

Valencia’s speech should be plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the world, distributed as broadsheets on every street corner, read aloud at peace, environmental and social justice gatherings everywhere. This is the voice of the future and the dying wail of “Civilization” brought to account for its profligate ways.