"In Wildness is the preservation of the world"

    One of my favorite activities is people watching. When Jean and I take Amtrak to our various destinations, we love to sit in the terminals and watch the never ending panoply of human beings passing by. What an amazing biodiversity! So much variation, one has difficulty realizing that Homo sapiens is a single species.

    One species we are, however, characterized by an almost infinite ability to change with the times, adapt, accommodate, get by, and respond to changing conditions through any mechanism other than evolution.

    The most pressing problem I see now is that the majority of humans have distanced themselves from the “natural” world through a manufactured infrastructure. This has resulted in an almost complete disconnect from Nature, certainly a widespread lack of understanding of natural systems, ecology and interrelationships among humans and life in general. Here’s a particularly egregious example of the outcome: Photos of beach tourists prove they are disconnected from Nature.

    The result is a government and regulatory structure that responds to human centered demands at the expense of the natural world, with little regard for the effects of economic and human population growth on habitat, species, and resources for all life. We see it every day here in Santa Cruz, a supposedly “enlightened” populace, concerned with all manner of things “progressive” (sic), except, in almost every instance, things environmental. Supposed “environmental” excuses are trotted out to support most any project the Powers that Be wish to pursue, for their own economic and social reasons.

    Thus, the once Greenbelt (no longer), Arana Gulch, was destroyed and turned into a playground for humans, based on the excuses of saving an endangered species and “getting people out of their cars and onto bicycles” (another lie, proven false). The Santa Cruz tarplant has now been extirpated from its only home, as a result of neglect and active destruction of its federally designated critical habitat. More cars now drive to Arana Gulch than ever before, and those who traveled by bicycle before the destruction continue to travel by bicycle on their preferred routes.

    “Forcing” change resulted in a continuation and intensification of the status quo, and increased loss of natural habitat.

    Ignorance of ecology and the natural world, coupled with a political system dominated by corporate interests and money has resulted in self-centered, destructive and ultimately suicidal societies that have reduced the biosphere to marginal viability, bordering on self-destruction.

    The only way to stop or even slow down the destruction is to tear down the barriers to human understanding of Nature and natural systems. Get rid of cell phones and cell phone towers. Eschew automotive travel and get back on our feet, walking upright and free, not crammed into spam cans on our butts. Tear up half the roads and unstraighten the rest, unpave the parking lots and return them to native vegetation and animals. Round up the growth maniacs and send them off to an island in the South Pacific where they can build sand castles to their hearts content. Retire airlines and cargo planes and use the metal to build light and efficient railroads, linking villages and communities spread aesthetically across the continent. Stop city growth at an ecologically sound limit, and don’t give in to development pressures to build more and more housing. Create incentives for residents to stay and live in place and stop moving on to “new” territory when they see the smoke from their neighbors’ BBQ.

    Get kids away from computers in school and out into the natural world. Let them lead their parents back to natural understanding of the real world, the natural world, our true home in the wild.

    “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau

Economic growth is the Problem, Not the Cure

European Activists Against Economic Growth

Europe has suffered under unbridled capitalism far longer than the United States. Here’s what they’ve learned:

“…degrowth emerges as the only economically viable formula, not just in benefit of nature but also “to restore a minimum of social justice, without which the world is condemned to destruction.”

Here in the United States, the growth maniacs are still in control, and economic growth is the elephant in the living room. And it’s billed as the main attraction, the only attraction. Stand up in a city council meeting anywhere in the country and question the concept of economic growth and count the uncomprehending stares. You’ll be branded as a crank, as unrealistic, as an idealist.

Growth is the water that our economy swims in. We can’t see it and we can’t know that it is drowning us.

Right for all the wrong reasons

The hue and cry in Copenhagen is emotional, largely sincere, opportunistic and political. Science is but a shrinking handmaiden in service to more powerful forces. Protesters are demanding changes in the way humans organize their economic efforts throughout the world and especially in developing nations. Though they are demanding positive change, they may be doing so for all the wrong reasons.

There are two basic camps in the discussion. On the one hand are the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) proponents, claiming that climate change is caused by anthropogenic CO2 production, and we must reduce atmospheric CO2 in order to avoid a climate catastrophe. On the other hand are the climate change deniers, who claim that climate change does not exist, and is a conspiracy of environmental groups, developing nations and one-world government supporters. Somewhere in the wilderness between these two camps are climate change skeptics, those who examine the data, methodology and conclusions of climate change research and dare to cast doubt on the “consensus” reality of both camps.

In fact, these are only the black and white extremes of a multicolored reality that masks the true nature of the political, economic and social forces at work in the climate change debate.

The AGW side claims we must act quickly to reduce atmospheric CO2 in order to reduce anthropogenic CO2 forcing of global warming. Yet, we do not understand the complex interaction of greenhouse gases of all flavors (methane, water vapor, CFCs, etc) and their relative contributions to global positive energy imbalance. Nor do we understand
the role of solar magnetic fluctuations, cosmic rays, global cloud formation and oceanic heat in long term cycles of climate fluctuation. We don’t even know what causes ice ages, let alone decadal temperature fluctuations.

It is premature to assume that anthropogenic CO2 is solely responsible for the observed upward trend in global average temperatures, if indeed such a concept as global average temperature has any meaning at all. And it could be a grave mistake to assume that by lowering CO2 levels in the atmosphere to a certain arbitrarily determined level that we are safe from climate fluctuation for ever and ever, Amen.

The danger is that we are proposing to put all of our climate mitigating eggs in one CO2 basket, while ignoring all the other factors involved in climate fluctuation evident throughout geologic history, and failing to prepare for the effects of climate change on our societies, regardless of its ultimate cause. We are proposing to commit our economic effort to one end, assuming that will be the solution to our problems.

What happens if we are wrong? We have cast our fate to the winds of of CO2 reduction, and abandoned any other approach to dealing with climate change.

If instead, we work to reduce ALL human economic activity in ALL societies in the world, we would then reduce all factors in human society that are contributing to environmental imbalance. We would reduce CO2 production, as well as production of all greenhouse gases and pollutants. We would reduce habitat loss, deforestation, desertification, resource depletion, topsoil loss, salt water intrusion, fresh water depletion, ocean dead zones, species extinction. We would begin to degrow our societies to fit within the carrying capacity various bioregions of the earth in a gradual, designed decline, rather than a precipitous crash.

It is not CO2 production alone that threatens human societies across the
globe, as well as all other life. It is the unrealistic and unsustainable neoclassical economic concept of perpetual economic growth that is driving human societies to social and perhaps even species extinction.

Without abandonment of the concept of economic growth, it doesn’t matter what level we reduce atmospheric CO2 to, even if that were possible. The human economic growth juggernaut will overcome any such simplistic band-aid approach.

Degrowth, economic contraction to a steady state economy, is the only viable solution to the natural environmental constraints on human economic activity.

If we don’t choose to do it ourselves, Mother Nature will do it for us.
And we won’t be happy with the outcome.

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.