Canticle of the Sun

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As a young boy raised in the rigid catechism of the Catholic Church, I was no stranger to contradiction and non sequitur.

The high, arching vaults of cathedral whose vertical volume is designed to put man in his place among the towering edifice of the saints, the superimposed almost miniature scale of the pews, the oppressive silence of a vast and empty church.

The looming spectacle of towering oak confessionals, hushed inside with heavy curtain, and black, pitch black, it takes a few moments to find the kneeling pad and to position yourself near the thin fabric partition panel, a wooden core perforated with small holes from which movement and shadow emerge.

A rustling ensues and an invisible door slides open, exposing the partition to the priest’s chamber on the other side. You cannot see but you can hear.

The priest speaks in a thick Irish brogue, first in Latin then after an appropriate incantation, in English. I tremble in the darkness as the sins of a 12 year tumble out, slowly and haltingly at first, then uncontrollably. A tidal wave of transgressions, the bad words spoken, the stolen candy, the parental disrespect, the poor scholastic performance, all of it comes out. There is no consolation, no hope of salvation, the depths of hell soon to open up and engulf me, the oxygen is gone and I begin to suffocate, the pregnant pause and heavy silence of the invisible priest validates the certainty of my demise.

The priest pauses, taking it all in, his mind weighing the calculus of just penance for such sins of the living. Venial and mortal are weighed against gravitas and malign, the 20 century old calculator passed through the ages whirrs and crackles, and the penance is announced: 

“Two laps around the rosary beads and six Hail Mary’s will settle the accounting nicely. To be completed immediately.” 

I emerge from the dank confessional into a beam streaming from stained glass clerestory windows, light in step and free of heart, the banality of the exchange from sinner to winner lost in the eager imagination of a 12 year old.

For this is the story of a centuries old institution, full of hypocrisy and theology squandered through the millennia, as it attempts to rehabilitate itself.

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Handwritten sign on farm fence during Texas drought.

The Church occupies a precarious space between irrelevance and populist hypocrisy on the one side, and the frothy wrath of conservative thinking, chaired by Capital on the other. Chastened by its post-Enlightenment fall from grace, the Church tentatively sought out the meager ground of allowable existence bifurcating these two forces.

As a result, the Church’s positions are filtered to maintain an uneasy equilibrium between these opposing dictates.

The Church long ago decided that a post Enlightenment bias toward hypocrisy and irrelevance was preferred, as at least survival was possible. Tangling with the forces of Capital in its unwavering march of exploitation, both of labor and of environment, was clearly a more ominous undertaking than offending suburban church ladies by turning a blind eye towards meaningful social commentary.

But the fetters of Capital were but a primer for the existential challenges the Church has always faced since time immemorial. The conservative Church has millennia of expertise at a very deep level in not only understanding external threats, but in countering them- effectively.

These existential threats come in several forms, but one of the most damaging comes from the positioning of Man within Nature.

The essential premise is the concept of Dominion, a stated Church philosophy that Nature is under the dominion of Man, entirely subservient to and dictated by Man. Dominion taken literally asserts mastery or control over a subject, the fundamentalist view takes this further into (theological) Dominion of government and other religions not compliant with Christianity. Taken in this form, Dominion reflects a dangerous authoritarian system- even fascist- means of societal structure.

The Roman Catholic interpretation allows for Dominion in the context of the greater good, a collectivist view which is not absolute. This is drastically different than the fundamentalist view which has no room for greater good considerations.

We can see the slippery slope emerge and morph through the ages until the intersection with Capital and its attendant system of value production. Herein we see a definition of the “greater good” that becomes increasingly influenced by Capital until it becomes entirely subsumed to represent any conceivable exploitation of the environment in the pursuit of profits.

The Church’s liberalized interpretation of Dominion becomes its own worst enemy.

Another significant factor in the theological scrum of ideologies is the notion of monotheism, versus pantheism and polytheism.

These concepts juggle the position and relationship of Man to the Environment, and a central objective of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular is displacing these alternative theisms by a singular omnipotent and externalized God.

This displacement is essential to establish Christian dominance in all matters-science, and sociology included. Christianity wants no competitors, no sharing of power, no interference from pagan idolatry, it insists on a zero tolerance policy.

Pantheism in particular has a much more integrated understanding of the relationship of Man and Nature by deifying aspects of nature, a position considered heresy by the mainstream Church.

Acknowledging that elements of Nature are sacred is a concession to neo-paganism- an existential threat to the Church which has spent millennia trying to unravel these alternative belief systems.

The Church systematically dismantled these pluralistic options to establish, maintain, and control theological dominance- a strategy that remained effective for 1600 years, notwithstanding a few religious wars and dust-ups along the way.

But what we are left with is a dismissal of Nature, and enforced subservience, and an attack stance towards any belief system that suggests any outsized importance for Nature beyond relying on an externalized God.

These manifestations are relatively benign in a pre-Capitalist world with insignificant populations, but an explosion in population coupled with the intersection of Capital proves to be a poisonous elixir.

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Merger of Capitalism and Christianity

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The constraints of dominion and a subservient Nature pass through the millennia, benign at first with (relatively) small numbers of humans embedded in a vast tableau of Nature, then exploding into crisis with the intersection of Capital and the Industrial Revolution.

Against the backdrop of the Industrial revolution, the ascendancy of Capitalist value production, and importantly, the tectonic shift from an agrarian lifestyle of self-sufficiency to a wage labor economy, there arises an increasing and profoundly powerful exploitation of the environment.

This manifests in two dimensions, firstly, on the input side as natural resources are extracted at an increasing rate in support not just of an exponentially increasing population, but of the added and significant burden of creating profit for profit’s sake, for which there is no end and no demand limits.

On the output side, the waste products of unlimited value production are unleashed on the environment as recklessly and wantonly as possible, so as to avoid any reduction in surplus value. Controls and environmental regulations are criticized as “job killers” and discarded, a not so subtle reminder that your ability to eat is dependent on their ability to profit.

But the cognitive dissonance of these conditions are painfully obvious, and Capital needs a compelling narrative that will support its ceaseless plunder.

It finds a willing if unlikely partner in the nascent American Christian movement that arose during the early to mid-20th century.

While Catholicism held back from full throated endorsement of the robber baron business model, the Christian fundamentalist and Evangelical movements exploded onto the scene with full endorsement.

In retrospect, the alliance between Christian fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Capitalists should have been easy to foresee as inevitable. The Catholic Church’s long standing focus on the plight of the poor, and its ascendancy in American society became troubling to many on the Right. The size of the Catholic constituency began to grow within American culture to the extent that the dream of a parallel, Catholic society become feasible to implement, and in fact the Catholic Church did just this, with thousands of Catholic schools built and staffed by (mostly) clergy and nuns.

In and of itself this parallel culture of a differing and more restrictive moral fabric was not especially concerning to conservatives, the focus on the plight of the poor however was very disturbing.

After all, several hundred years of caring for the poor, providing sanctuary within Church buildings, sheltering refugees, etc., one might begin to ask why are these people here, and what conditions exist to precipitate this plight.

And there are more than a few folks who would very much like that these questions not be asked- because they are very afraid of the answers.

In response, the Right girded its loins to prepare for a campaign of discrediting and aggressive preventative measures, posturing against recognizing systematic exploitation of the poor, and eventually, applying the same tactics to environmental exploitation as well. In this fashion, fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians founded a counter offensive against the as yet unspoken undercurrent of Marxist underpinnings buried deep within Catholic theology.

As chronicled in Princeton professor Kevin Kruse’s book “One Nation under God, How Corporate America invented Christianity”, Capital, fearful of the burgeoning support for New Deal policies, began to associate itself with Christianity to establish a moral imperative for so-called free market business practices.

Back in the 1930s, business leaders found themselves on the defensive. Their public prestige had plummeted with the Great Crash; their private businesses were under attack by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from above and labor from below. To regain the upper hand, corporate leaders fought back on all fronts. They waged a figurative war in statehouses and, occasionally, a literal one in the streets; their campaigns extended from courts of law to the court of public opinion. But nothing worked particularly well until they began an inspired public relations offensive that cast capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.

The two had been described as soul mates before, but in this campaign they were wedded in pointed opposition to the “creeping socialism” of the New Deal. The federal government had never really factored into Americans’ thinking about the relationship between faith and free enterprise, mostly because it had never loomed that large over business interests. But now it cast a long and ominous shadow.

Every Christian should oppose the totalitarian trends of the New Deal.

It wasn’t until Billy Graham mobilized the Evangelical right in the early fifties that the movement really took off.

They all believed religiosity, if widely and officially deployed, would be a mighty weapon in the battle against collectivist liberals at home and Communists abroad. As their ally, Billy Graham, preached in 1951 at one of his ever popular crusades, Americans urgently needed to rededicate themselves to “the rugged individualism that Christ brought” to the world.

Accordingly, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, corporate leaders marketed a new ideology that combined elements of Christianity with an anti-federal libertarianism. Powerful business lobbies like the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers led the way, promoting this ideology’s appeal in conferences and P.R. campaigns. Generous funding came from prominent businessmen, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E. F. Hutton, Fred Maytag and Henry R. Luce to lesser-known leaders at U.S. Steel, General Motors and DuPont.

Rev. James W. Fifield, pastor of the elite First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, led the way in championing a new union of faith and free enterprise. “The blessings of capitalism come from God,” he wrote. “A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.”

Christianity, in Mr. Fifield’s interpretation, closely resembled capitalism, as both were systems in which individuals rose or fell on their own. The welfare state, meanwhile, violated most of the Ten Commandments. It made a “false idol” of the federal government, encouraged Americans to covet their neighbors’ possessions, stole from the wealthy and, ultimately, bore false witness by promising what it could never deliver.

This malignant coupling of commerce and Christianity was hugely successful, culminating with the addition of the words “In God We Trust” on all US paper currency in 1957. The stage was set for the usurpation of Christian principles with Capitalist principles, as the saints and martyrs of Christendom were exchanged for the imprint of US president’s faces on US currency.

A new religion was born.

******************************************************************** Liberation theology

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The problem with focusing on the plight of the poor is that sooner or later, the threads of class consciousness begin to emerge.

The rise to prominence of Latin America within the Catholic Church in the ’60’s and ’70’s brought forward a disruption to the fundamentalist juggernaut operating at full steam in North America.

Led by Gustavo Gutierrez and other Catholic intellectuals, the nascent movement of liberation theology emerged, informed by the subtle undercurrent of Marxist class struggle embedded in Orthodox Catholicism.

At its core, liberation theology re-emphasizes Catholicism from the perspective of the poor.

A more detailed examination of the principles of liberation theology nets some surprising tenements. It turns out much of the first few centuries of Church teaching viewed the poor in a much more sympathetic light, and directly associated exploitation as causality for the condition, and further, assigned a series of accusations of sinfulness at to those who were doing the exploiting.

Hence, one of the primary missions of the Catholic Church was not just to eradicate sin, and to provide recompense for those that succumb, but importantly, to side with and defend the exploited.

The underpinnings of this renewed focus on the poor from early Church teaching reveals that the response to poverty from those more fortunate, should not be just charity giving from surplus, but giving from sustenance as well. In other words, personal sacrifice, but also a rejection of material possessions even to the point of personal suffering.

Further, liberation theology makes a significant breakthrough in our understanding of right and wrong, it legitimizes the concept that sin is not just an act of individual moral failure, it can also be an act of organizational failure, e.g. not only can people sin but institutions, governments, and economic systems can also be sinful in their very existence and practice.

These points may seem obvious, but they represent a profound contradiction within the mainstay of Christian Conservativism off all stripes, which demands fealty to the rigid dictates of individuality, only individuals can sin and therefore only individuals have accountability.

This represents an existential threat to right wing Christianity, and as easily anticipated, the full court propaganda press goes into warp drive to head off any traction that may be had by such musings. These arguments are particularly troubling to American Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, as these types of viewpoints obliterate and contradict the central thesis of America’s religious consolidation with Capitalism. Indeed, the National Review published an article “The secret roots of liberation theology” which claims this was concocted by the Russian KGB. We just can’t have this gaining any momentum, so one should expect a flurry of these types of smear articles as the Pope’s encyclical becomes more widely distributed.

This does symbolize a renewed battle of ideologies chaired by strange bedfellows, now apparently led by a new champion, the Catholic Church

Is the Church struggling for relevancy? Is an activist posture forthcoming that activates 1 billion lumpen proletariat into the vanguard, through a coupling of class consciousness, ecological destruction, and limits to growth?

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The Red Pope

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Nikki Manaj’s preposterous attire symbolizes the tongue and cheek rebuttal of a “Red Pope”, as a communist sympathizer who embodies in his recent encyclical, a call to “un-American” action theories, a Pope who overextends his position and segues into science, economics, and other topics far afield of his domain expertise.

After all, he calls for an end to endless growth, rampant consumerism, excessive consumption by the wealthy, and cessation of environmental destruction.

How dare he!

Everyone knows the American dream, that indefatigable strain of individuality, the boot strap mentality to step over every obstacle at any and all costs, that deepest reliance and valorization on the individual, this as anyone knows, is the very cornerstone of spirituality, after all God wants you to be strong and rich!

But the Pope, in the encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ says not so much.

In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.

A challenge to the free market ideology? Why, this is blasphemy. But we have seen similar observations in the previous exhortation, wherein the consumerist free markets were challenged for the first time with papal authority. This encyclical, however, goes much, much further.

To be sure, most of the controversy and commentary on ‘Laudato Si’, is focused on the destruction of the environment. Readers of this blog will find nothing new or interesting in these claims, as they are self evident, and although they are a strong and recurring theme of the encyclical, I find other elements much more interesting.

Perhaps the most powerful thrust of this Pope’s directive is the restating of Christian priorities from social to economic. The Christian right has seized on the culture wars of women’s reproductive rights, same sex marriage, women in the priesthood, etc. as not only central issues, but the very backbone of a ideological spectrum that extends to denial of racism and denial of climate change. These superficial cause celebres, distract and deflect attention away from critical issues and rely on principles of substitution to activate fundamentalist solidarity.

In contradiction to these movements, the current Papal encyclical as well as the previous exhortation resets the priorities to elevate inequality, climate change, and ecological destruction as a by-product of value production, as the key topics of concern.

This substantially deflates the Christian Right’s standing and values, and sets into motion a conflict and dialogue that ultimately may not end well.

These top level contradictions quickly devolve into further disagreement, especially in subjects such as property ownership.

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).

I’m guessing John Locke missed this part.

But the real issue, long since lost in Capital’s co-opting of biblical principles is the notion of an equity position for all inhabitants.

One of the more interesting comments in the encyclical, although not covered extensively, is the concept of a Jubilee, a long standing biblical reference to a resetting of the ownership economy approximately every 50 years.

……. Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Lev 25:10). This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked. At the same time, it was an acknowledgment that the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone. Those who tilled and kept the land were obliged to share its fruits, especially with the poor, with widows, orphans and foreigners in their midst: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Lev 19:9-10).

Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace……….

Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone. Hence every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective Catechism of the Catholic Church, which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged. The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone”. These are strong words. He noted that “a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man”. He clearly explained that “the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”.

Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favor only a few”. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.

This would appear to be a pretty straightforward indictment of the rentier class, again with disruptive conclusions regarding property rights.

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good

If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.

Clearly there is a pattern emerging centering on strong critique of our socially accepted concept of property rights, linkage to ecology and use for the greater good, and the continuing acceleration of vast inequality.

With this linkage established, the encyclical moves into discussion of root cause responsibility, which is named generally as “consumerism” but when explored in more detail we see commentary specific to excessive consumption and overproduction.

Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life.

Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world. Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not necessarily correspond to their real worth. This frequently leads to an overproduction of some commodities, with unnecessary impact on the environment and with negative results on regional economies.

In perhaps one of the most powerful passages in the encyclical, the endless cycle of consumerism, inequality, and environmental destruction is laid bare:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”.

This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends.

The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.

It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

I believe the encyclical has touched on some critical founding principles in its pursuit of re-establishing relevance to the Catholic Church. First, considerable text has been devoted to the walking back, rehabilitating even, the concept of Dominion over Nature. Much of the previous definition had been exclusionary of any meaningful deification of Nature as noted earlier, and was ultimately co-opted by Capital to allow a profit driven land and resource grab with appalling veracity. Coupled with Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian support, this was cemented into American thinking and remains a formidable intellectual obstacle.

Will the encyclical succeed in resetting environmental priorities to a restorative, rather than profit driven cycle? Of course the answer is no, and even if it could, it is likely too late.

Considerable text has also been allocated to the discussion of the integration of science and technology into Church teachings. This represents a good step forward, although it took quite some time (400 years!) to come up with a way to reconcile science with the necessary mysticism of a religion. Rather than considering science as the enemy (with apologies to Galileo) the pope has instead embraced science to ultimately support a morality statement in mobilizing against climate destruction. I think this is a pretty clever way to take the position.

If I permit myself a bit of altruism, one might see in the encyclical a roadmap to a different world, a different place and a different outcome. Surely if this prescription were followed as suggested for 21 centuries we would have a better place? I think the answer to this is yes, but it requires a revisionist perspective, to overlook the 16 centuries of power dominance and various and sundry atrocities of the Church, the take-no-prisoners approach to leadership which contributed greatly to the world we have now.

But I suspect the greatest impact of the message is not directed to the 20% of the world participating in excessive consumption, who will likely never change of their own volition.

Perhaps it is meant for the 1 billion who are not. The 1 billion who will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. What might they do with this information?

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The dawn of the second day of the Easter Triduum came for me with a strange mission- stewardship of the Vigil Candle. As a 12 year old altar boy, I had been bestowed the symbolic responsibility of insuring the lighted Vigil candle remained that way during my shift.

The lighted paschal candle symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit, in that darkest of days between Crucifixion on the cross (Good Friday) and the Resurrection (Easter Sunday). As a lay person one might conjure this a period of instability, indeterminate, a body lying in state with no clear connection to either world, an ethereal space between the earthly bounds of sin and exploitation and the soul cleansing transition to afterlife.

The fragility of the flickering candle light represents that it can go either way.

In the pre-dawn hours I walked alone the familiar route from my house to the church. Alongside the church was the entrance to the priest’s chambers, down a long path bordered by Calla lilies and lush elephant ferns to the rear of the church. Inside chambers was a veritable forest of dark baroque woodwork, neatly organzied apothecaries, hanging vestments and the strong lingering odor of incense. There was a small closet with altar boy gowns, it was first come/first serve to find a usable size, and I was fortunate enough to find one that fit.

I was noticed by the poor sap with the earlier shift, he needed no encouragement to leave his post on the altar, shed his gown quickly and head for the door.

I took his place on the altar, kneeling for what promised to be a long three hours with my eye on the flickering candle.

For a 12 year old, spending the pre-dawn hours alone in a darkened church, lit only by flickering candles under the watchful eye of various saints and church luminaries, is not an assignment that one relishes. The mind wanders, reflecting first on memorized phrases from ritualized catechism, from other worldly repose the minutes and hours while away to more traditional boyhood daydreaming- anything to stave off the fear of impending doom.

Shocked from my reverie by a sharp jab, I turned to see an elderly woman poking me frantically. There was no speaking allowed on the altar, she was no doubt one of a small army of lay persons that brought flowers and attended daily early mass- apparently from lack of anything better to do. She gestured emphatically towards the vigil candle.

The flame had gone out.

Say Goodbye to the Holocene Epoch

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Mankind’s exothermic machine of industrial civilization recently blew past the 400ppm CO2 mile post, causing a few passengers to exclaim, “Homo sapiens have never existed at these levels of heat-trapping gases!” Hundreds and even thousands of years will pass before the full aftermath from our fossil fuel orgy plays out, but we’ll see plenty of nasty surprises in feedback loops and tipping points this century, perhaps most notably sea level rise. Another area of glaciers once thought to be stable has fallen to the human CO2 spike which is occurring 14,000 faster than natural processes and 10-200 times faster than the PETM extinction event. Every so often I feel the need to try to wrap my mind around these horrific statistics and re-examine our place in time as we continue whistling past the graveyard. Keeping in mind that we have yet to take our foot off the gas pedal of economic growth, I’ll try to make sense of what we are doing to the earth by looking back at paleoclimate records when such atmospheric conditions did exist:

The last time carbon levels reached 400 ppm, and “mean global temperatures were substantially warmer for a sustained period,” was probably 2-3 million years ago, in the Mid-Pliocene era.
Sedimentary cores taken from a Siberian lake north of the Arctic Circle shows that mid-Pliocene atmospheric CO2 measured between 380 and 450 parts per million. Those same cores contain fossil pollens from five different kinds of pine trees as well as numerous other plants we don’t find in today’s Arctic.
Temperatures were 2-3 ˚C higher—about 4-6 ˚F—above pre-industrial levels.
Arctic temperatures were between 10-20 ˚C hotter.
Sea levels were, on average, between 50 and 82 feet higher.
A warmer Arctic saw the spread of forests and forest biology to the far reaches of the north.
Many species of both plants and animals existed several hundred kilometers north of where their nearest relatives exist today.
The Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Current experienced enhanced heat transport pushing warm water further to the north. Similar heating in the Pacific impacted the areas as far north as the Bering Sea.
Arctic ice was “ephemeral”, as in, not permanent, and melted in the warm season.
North Atlantic regions warmed considerably.
– Australopithecus afarensis, an early hominid at the time, roamed East Africa and slept in trees, eating mostly fruit, seeds, roots, and insects with the occasional lizard and scavenged meat.
(sources: Motherboardwfs.org, and yalescientific.org)

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Until this prehistoric hominid changed its diet to high protein,
expanding its brain to enable complex tool and weapon-making,
it was easy prey for the saber-toothed tiger.

The prehistoric environment described above is not compatible with modern-day civilization and its billions of infrastructure and supply chain-dependent people. Billions will perish without the technological exoskeleton that houses, feeds, and nurtures them. Nearly all are under the spell that our money system, economy, and energy resources are somehow more vital to us than the environment upon which those manmade structures were built. What they don’t realize, or appreciate, is that nature’s ecosystems are what provide the foundation for any civilization if we want breathable air, potable water, arable land, and a planet hospitable to humans. We have gone a long way in undermining this foundation and now hold the dubious honor of being this planet’s first sentient beings to predict, document, and witness their own self-inflicted demise. This was the Holocene, as discussed here. Notice the red “temperature anomaly” spike at the very end of that era. Put in context with other geologic eras, it looks like this. See the difference? The Holocene was a very stable period compared to any other time in the deep past, but we wrecked it with our greenhouse gases. The climate system’s lag time prevents us from seeing the full effects just yet, but changes in the earth’s hydrologic cycle and weather patterns are already apparent. In response to such changes, trees are adjusting the speed at which they cycle water.

I peg the dawn of the Anthropocene at the mid 19th century when fossil fuel consumption began to take off, ramping up anthropogenic climate change:

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If we expand our historic view of industrial civilization’s gargantuan appetite for energy, we see it as an aberrant blip in evolutionary time when Homo sapiens, fueled by hydrocarbon, disrupted all the major biochemical processes of the planet.

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We have a 10% chance that the earth will warm 6°C by 2100 according to scientists, but the fossil fuel industry is betting it’s a sure thing by planning its future business around magical, nonexistent technologies that would remove CO2 emissions. Notwithstanding the armchair technotopian dreams of a future world that includes driverless cars, zero-point energy, and asteroid mining, we are living at the peak of capitalist industrial civilization which produces a continual flood of products promising to improve and enhance our lives but which, in the end, only complicate them. We are trapped between mindless consumerism and the thoughtless destruction of the environment. Tim Garrett calls our dilemma a double bind. The only thing that will save us from a deadly warming of the planet is the very thing that will destroy most of us if it happens —the complete crash of the global economy and its CO2 emitting process of “building wealth.” Homo economicus is too busy converting his rich environment into monetary tokens to think about the consequences of what he is doing or perceive the impending crash of the earth’s biosphere that will take care of the human overshoot problem and all the transient material wealth that has been covetously accumulated and guarded. Rising oceans, floods, fire, drought, and various superstorms from a damaged biosphere will take it all back and destroy it. For a species that has created a throw-away society, such an end is fitting. With every loss we inflict upon biodiversity, extinction creeps ever closer toward us. The consequences of ignoring the hard laws of physics, chemistry, and biology will be dire:

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Countries once thought of as having relatively stable and developing economies like Brazil are now openly contemplating the use of their military in order to keep the megacity São Paulo from spiraling out of control in the face of severe climate change-driven droughts. And in the so-called First World country of America, president Obama’s science adviser is warning that “climate change could overwhelm California,” a state that grows a large percentage of what the country eats:

…The huge inertia built into the energy system — a $25 trillion worldwide investment in a mainly fossil-fuel infrastructure — is colliding with enormous momentum in the climate, which responds slowly to the buildup in greenhouse gases. The world is not even yet fully experiencing the results of emissions put into the atmosphere years ago, he said. It will take decades to turn both systems around.

“If we stopped emitting today, the temperature would still coast up for decades to come,” Holdren said.

He recalled sitting on a presidential science advisory panel during the Clinton administration.

“Quite a lot of folks were saying the impacts of climate change are uncertain and far away, the costs of dealing with it are large and close — therefore, we should wait and see what happens,” Holdren said.

“Well, like it or not, that’s pretty much what we did.”…

Wall Street investment fund guru Jeremy Grantham is predicting a “severe upheaval in agriculture as a result of climate.” I wonder if he still holds faith in mankind’s techno-fixes. Interestingly, the CIA is shuttering a secretive climate research program called Medea that studies how global warming could worsen conflict. Its closure to the public will end much of the access that climate scientists had to its data, leaving me to wonder if such information was becoming too sensitive for national security reasons. Perhaps it would be too hypocritical and cynical even for the CIA to be studying climate change as a conflict multiplier when the U.S. military, the planet’s single largest polluter, is exempt from auditing its own CO2 emissions and is drawing up plans to turn the Arctic into a war game zone. As with all nations’ militaries, The U.S. is not interested in protecting the Arctic, but exploiting this “new frontier.”

The mental traps and psychological defense mechanisms employed by the naked ape makes him a basket case of contradictions and ironies, simply adding more insurmountable obstacles to the insoluble problem of capitalist industrial civilization. That’s why we love dystopian operas that reflect our own twisted culture and capitalist society.

A sobering video…

Extreme weather events are rapidly increasing. Right now we are in the 6-sigma risk zone of climate change.

AGW Amplified Drought is Increasing its Destabilization of Countries Around the World

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The town of Potosi, Venezuela was flooded in 1985 to expand the Uribante-Caparo Reservoir for a hydroelectric dam. For the next twenty-six years, the only visible trace of the town was the 85 ft tall steeple of the church, which usually poked above the surface and was used as the high water mark for the reservoir. Recent droughts starting in 2010 have caused the ghostly ruins of the church and town to reemerge.

Amid a continuing drought and persistent, intense heat waves afflicting South America, Venezuela is another developing country in the cross hairs of anthropogenic global warming. Like its neighbor Brazil, the country’s electrical needs are heavily dependent on hydropower which provides roughly two-thirds of demand. In recent days temperatures have climbed to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, making 2015 the hottest year on record for Venezuela in the last 60 years and forcing its citizenry to crank up their air conditioning. In response to a stressed electric grid, the government is now rationing electricity in order to avoid further blackouts. Scientists have known for some time that AGW would cause such blackouts due to hotter temperatures, more severe storms, as well as other factors of a warming atmosphere. In fact, such disruptions to the electrical grid have doubled since 2003 and 75% of heat waves are now attributable to climate change. Nevertheless, much of the population still thinks any serious effects of AGW are in the distant future even though today we are seeing the destabilization of weaker, marginal countries like Venezuela whose resilience to collapse was already compromised by long-standing mismanagement, corruption, and dependency on high oil revenue for government funding. Venezuela is estimated to suffer a 7% economic contraction due to the drop in oil prices. In The Middle East, climate change helped topple Syria and it looks like the 4,000 year old state of Iran is now in danger:

“Approximately 50 million people, 70% of Iranians, will have no choice but to leave the country.”…

Kalantari said that Iran and Egypt are two countries that due to excessive resource usage are currently “exposed to a serious crisis.” However, he said that Egypt’s water exploitation is only at 46%, a “big difference” from Iran’s 97%.

“To understand the depth of this tragedy, look at the water exploitation of other countries: Japan 19%, America 21%, China 29%, India 33% and countries such as Spain, which has geographical similarities to Iran; it’s only 25%,” he said. He added that according to international standards, surface water exploitation should not be more than 30%, and that most advanced countries have set maximum levels of 25%. – Link

Free-market ideologues believe Venezuela’s energy crisis is solely a problem of ‘isms’, socialism vs capitalism, and the improper pricing of commodities, but in a world of ecosystem collapse and resource scarcity, no type of ism that runs a fossil fuel-based civilization is going to work. Capitalist carbon man is incapable of monetizing the true value of the earth’s ecological systems because he operates within an economic paradigm that forces him to externalize costs at every turn, leaving the eco-costs of burning ancient carbon to present and future generations. As long as a good’s price signal fails to ‘internalize’ these eco-costs, then price signals will fail to alter social behavior on a scale necessary to avoid climate catastrophe and social collapse. There is no viable free market solution for irreversible glacial melt, acidifying oceans, exponential SLR, or the accelerated 6th mass extinction. Alternative energy will not stop what has already been set into motion. Climate change is market failure writ large for a bubble civilization that is so far off into overshoot that the marketing slogan of a “green, sustainable future” has become a cruel joke.

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Turning towards the so-called First World, Lake Mead registered its lowest water level in 78 years and Las Vegas will soon be sucking the dwindling waters of the lake bottom from a nearly completed third water intake pipe that cost roughly a billion dollars to construct. California’s air quality is deteriorating due to wildfires from bone dry conditions while Starbucks sells $1.95 bottles of spring water drawn from the state’s precious groundwater. Do we really know the value of water when we build megacities in the desert and irrigate crops on arid land? The UN reports that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.

I recently asked a real estate agent in Phoenix, AZ if she was aware of the looming water problem in the Southwest and she said she had recently attended a seminar on the topic and that state authorities were working hard on the water shortage because they anticipate problems within the next couple years. I then asked if any of her clients had brought this subject up with her and she stated, “Never, you are the only one.” We then went back to the business of finding me a home on the edge of town and overlooking the open spaces of the Sonoran Desert, a region I have lived my entire life and grown to love. This complete detachment from reality bothers me, but at the same time I feel a sort of comfort in letting go of my worries and getting lost in the madding crowd. I know the dangers are growing, but I’m at peace with the knowledge that nothing I do individually will make any real difference in the trajectory of the Anthropocene.

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I thought of moving to a place with ample water like the Pacific Northwest, but the California drought has crept into Oregon with nearly two-thirds of the state now affected and Gov. Kate Brown declaring drought emergencies in seven counties. Lots of drying firewood up in that tinderbox corner of the country. The water crisis is expected to spread across America. I think I’ll just enjoy the view from where I am rather than uprooting to far-flung places that are just as vulnerable to a rapidly changing planet. Better the Devil you know, right? There’s no escape for anyone except in our imaginations where we toy with the delusional thought that some sort of last minute techno-fix will come along to put the CO2 genie back in the bottle or that mankind will suddenly become enlightened and cooperate globally to rein in this growing cancer of capitalist industrial civilization.

In Native American culture, a ceremony is carried out when one comes back from war in order to cleanse the individual of the impurities and evil spirits that have polluted their mind. Spending time in the Sonoran Desert away from any human crowds and techno-crap gadgetry is the ritual I practice to cleanse my mind of the horrors we have unleashed on the world. How long before these little sanctuaries in the desert fall victim to urban sprawl, pollution, and a disfigured climate? I don’t know, but I’m willing to keep them secret and protect them with what little time we all have left on this planet.

The Twilight of Our Tale: Part Three

Originally posted at Prayforcalamity.com
By TD0S

“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”

– Alan Watts

Rains have come hard. Explosions of thunder pull me into a state of half dreaming amid the depths of night. Come dawn, the morning light is not blue, but a thin coffee brown as it fills our cabin. After making breakfast on the woodstove, the millions of rattling hooves racing across our steel roof begin to slow, and then peter out completely. I pull on my overalls and slip on my muck boots to head up to the front of our land where the chickens are no doubt waiting to be let loose into their yard. After gathering eggs, I walk to a back field to scatter our wood ash, and it is there that I pick the first oyster mushrooms of the year off of a wet tree stump.

Soon I am wandering about our land, drawn by the sprouting sea of trout lilies to venture into the pockets and corners where I rarely step. Water runs in the wet weather creeks. Toothwort flowers paint the ground with the faintest flecks of pink. A downed hickory branch has me taking high steps and bracing myself on a maple trunk. My hand feels the rough surface. I move to a shagbark hickory, and drag my fingers down his body. Shaped like tongues of fire, draped down the tree’s mass like plumage, for a moment I think of a rooster’s hackles. I wonder if bats are sleeping under the shagbark’s skin.

Mayapples have just barely begun to poke through the clay, and I look for the Sparassis mushroom which blooms in the same place every year, and looks like a cross between cauliflower and coral, but I am too early for her on this morning. Moisture hangs in the air, the slightest humidity, as I listen to the water in the creek and the songbirds and the wind. I find myself overwhelmed. Here in this moment I am surrounded by – no – interwoven in what I can only call truth. I feel sadness and euphoria and altogether present. All at once it becomes very clear to me that our salvation lies waiting for us in these fecund and wild places, and in the next moment, I think about just how many of them will be destroyed today. As the scent of moss centers me, in region after region the scent of diesel portends doom where bulldozers and feller-bunchers and generators are all rumbling into motion across the globe.

What does it mean to know a thing? So much of what we think we know boils down to a complex interaction between an onslaught of various symbols, each of those brought into being by human minds, and then let loose to transmute into an ever evolving web of concepts and ideas, each only as meaningful as would be allowed by the human mind receiving them.

There is a stark difference between what we perceive subjectively with our senses and what we can communicate with our words. My experience of walking through the forest this morning cannot be communicated no matter how much I try. Similee and metaphor offer attempts at emphasizing the color or form of that which I saw or touched, but without seeing or touching yourself there is no possible way for me to truly translate my experience to you. Words themselves are symbolic, and even though you may say “mountain” or “river” the picture that generates in my mind of a mountain or river will not be the picture you had in your head when you spoke. The picture in my head will almost certainly bear no resemblance to the mountain that you spent a month backpacking upon or the river that you went fishing in with your grandfather at age eleven.

Mountains and rivers are fairly fixed concepts too, so imagine the disparity in our minds’ interpretations of such notions as “republican,” “wealthy,” “patriotic,” “good,” “happy,” “sane,” or “environment.” It must be true that a great bulk of the time we are not even speaking of the same things when we are speaking of the same things.

The world is being killed. The living skin of the planet on which we reside is being killed. It is people doing the killing and they are doing it for reasons they often can’t really comprehend. They are told that they need to do what they are doing, and the words used to convince them are symbols and representations of concepts which are even murkier symbols and representations of…of what really? It doesn’t even matter. It is noise. Human noise. A cacophony of the howling mad all yelling in a disharmonic unison. It is a story that is just good enough to convince people to point guns at each other while they command those others to work.

It is a story that means nothing to forests, rivers, mountains, and oceans.

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!
Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!
Moloch Whose ear is a smoking tomb!

“Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the mind!”

From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Our delusion spins away from center caught in the centrifugal force of entropy. We are animals endowed with functions of body and brain to move through our environment successfully navigating the challenging and changing conditions before us. Somewhere along the way people began altering the environment instead of navigating it. Further along the way people began killing those who warned against the pitfalls of such behavior. Today we try to maintain sanity as we dance with a demon under carnival lights, pretending to be one thing then another then another with the different phases of the day, just hoping to placate the beast with every coin we drop into a parking meter, with every late fee we write a check to pay, with every punch of the time clock when we would rather be anywhere else.

Won’t someone please come and scatter the cinders of this hell? Our prayers are answered by an automated system. Press one to leave a message. Press two to hear these options again.

We know that the system is insane, that it doesn’t care for us, that it is killing the planet, and that it grinds our spirits into meal along the way. So why retreat further into the isolation and alienation that is laid out for us like a deathbed? Why spend so much time logging on to forums and chat boards and reading the assessments of strangers? Are you are seeking a friend, or maybe a sage? Are you looking for someone to finally tell you that we all in unison are going to stop playing the game on the count of three?

Here is the best I can do for you: Log off. Sign out. Shut down the tablet, the phone, the laptop. Sell your television, or hell, just destroy it so it doesn’t poison the next person. I know that existing within this paradigm is painful. I know the weight and misery that dealing with all of the requirements forced upon you by other people, faceless and nameless and uncaring, can generate. But retreating into the wrinkles of the Leviathan’s pale smile is not the cure. We cannot rescue and resuscitate our spirits when our blood courses with alcohol, Prozac, and corn syrup. We cannot slay the loneliness in doors, tribeless, illuminated by the dim glow of a screen.

Further, you need to stop looking for a plan. Stop trying to figure out how to make the workable work or the unsustainable sustain. Society is the demon. Civilization is the leviathan. The wise of Middle Earth knew that no good purpose could be achieved with the dark lord’s ring, it had to be destroyed in the fires where it came into being. Society is not redeemable. It cannot be made good.

So let up a big Bronx cheer to all of the politicians and bureaucrats and high-minded engineers and NGO white collars who continually try to sell you their version of the scheme by which the demon can be bridled and made to do the bidding of the righteous. One moment’s glance at a news feed will turn up hundreds of these schemes, littered with plans for progressive taxation, solar panels, deregulation, and geo-engineering. They are wasting what precious little time might remain, and worse, they are convincing you that you are powerless and that they are powerful. The truth is that they are the overseers of this plantation, and you alone hold the key to your liberation.

So I toast to the scofflaws, the turnstyle jumpers, the shoplifters and the squatters. I raise my glass to the tribal warriors who set RCMP vehicles on fire while defending their homes and to the ELF ninjas who by night drive spikes into trees and pour concrete into bulldozer exhaust pipes. I sing “solidarity” to the black clad youth who set ATM’s on fire and to the white haired granny who flips the police the bird from the bus window as she makes her way to knitting group. If society is irredeemable, we must be anti-social, and breathe the liberated breath that comes with finally giving ourselves the permission to feel such things. We can choose how we manifest such feelings into action, and in no way do I expect anyone to do anything they deem inappropriate for their set of circumstances. Your individual resistance can be poetry, it can be stealing a box of pens from work, it can be the time-honored tradition of carving your anger into a bathroom wall. All that matters is that we never let the demon in, not completely, and that the part of us that we keep for ourselves remains wild and untouchable

But may I humbly suggest, that we need to touch the Earth. We need to sit in circles with our tribes. We need to experience the world subjectively through our many senses, and to know that our subjective experience of the land around us contains more truth and validity than all of the photographs and recordings humming away on spinning hard drives in an office tower somewhere. We have to value the direct experience of our individual lives and try however we might to cross the divides of time to remember that which the demon and his acolytes have beaten, and raped, and killed to make us forget.

We are the earth made animate, and our brothers and sisters, the animals and forests and rivers and stars, are crying out to us to stop. To please just stop.

I started my series of essays last fall asking, “What are we to do when we simultaneously need a thing and yet are destroyed by it?” The house, civilization, our domestication, the story that we were told and that we re-tell every day, all were supposed to be tools to serve us. It is clear beyond doubt that this is no longer the case if it ever was. We have become the tools of our tools. It is time to bury them. It is time for a new tale to explain who we are, and we are each one of us free to write that tale, and to sing it to our children.

This is me signing off. I have said what I have to say, and it has been hard on my body and spirit to do so. As I type these words the sun now shines down on the red buds and magnolia flowers opening at the tips of the tree branches outside my home. My daughter is playing and I am clicking at keys. The asymmetry of my bent body ignoring the wonders of life in this moment is glaring. Look at your world. Enter into it. For the love of God, go outside, be in the place where you are, and connect with it. Better still, See where it needs defending and defend it. On the count of three.

One. Two. Three…

Catastrophic Sea Level Rise within Three Generations

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What makes exponential growth so deceptive is that, no matter the growth rate, things always starts out with a period of slow growth, but then quickly change over to a rapid buildup with a characteristic doubling time. Before you know it, you are overrun with rodents, overwhelmed by bacteria, and surrounded by urban sprawl. As Albert Bartlett exclaimed, “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” And so it goes with the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Within a few generations we will find ourselves inundated by rising oceans at the same time that surging temperatures are making large swaths of the planet uninhabitable. Various positive feedbacks are amplifying the exponential rate of ice melt, rendering useless the IPCC’s linear-model forecasting of global sea level rise(SLR). Upwelling of warm ocean waters are melting both polar regions from the bottom up, and the resulting large freshwater pulses are already slowing down ocean currents. The oceans are losing oxygen. Reflective Arctic sea ice is fast disappearing and a blue ocean event is just around the corner. Melting polar and glacial ice and thermally expanding ocean water have accelerated SLR to the highest rate in at least 6000 years, and an estimated 69 feet SLR has already been set into motion.

From recent satellite data and scientific studies, SLR appears to be in the beginning phase of an exponential growth pattern that will decimate thousands of coastal cities by 2070. Last year we learned that the ice mass loss rate from both Greenland and Antarctica has more than doubled in the past 5 years. Ominously, the West Antarctic ice sheet has been found to be less stable than originally thought. Warming ocean waters are infiltrating beneath the ice shelves and irreversibly melting West Antarctica from below. And more recently we learned that the stability of East Antarctica is being undermined in the same insidious way. In fact, Antarctic ice shelves have been thinning up to 70% faster than average in some spots. These ice shelves extend out over the polar waters and are what hold back and support all the land-based glacial ice. Once the ice shelves are eroded, land ice will have an open path to slide down into the ocean and melt, greatly accelerating SLR. Congruent with these disturbing trends is the revelation that SLR has been increasing much faster than we thought in the last couple decades. The rate of change per year has been 3.2mm since 1990 versus 1 to 1.4mm for the previous nine decades. That is a 100% to 200% increase in just the last couple decades. Adding to SLR is the frenzied pumping of groundwater by drought-stricken farmers and municipalities. In a cruel twist, SLR will only worsen fresh water scarcity by causing inland salt water intrusion, raising the fresh water table, and altering freshwater streamflow. SLR will reshape geography, changing coastal estuaries, wetlands, and forests. Radically altering such natural topographical features will inevitably change rainfall patterns. Permanent and intermittent flooding will allow for the expansion of tropical diseases such as cholera and malaria, and more frequent and intense hurricanes and monsoons will increase the number of cases and duration of exposure to pathogens and diseases.

Dr. James Hansen has argued all along that 5 meters of sea level rise by the end of the century is possible, saying:

“…IPCC treats sea level change basically as a linear process. It is more realistic, I believe, that ice sheet disintegration will be non-linear, which is typical of a system that can collapse.”

Hansen had posited a doubling time of ten years for land ice melt rates, but satellite data has revealed a doubling time that is occurring twice as fast. This would put those measurements more in line with the projections of physicist/climatologist Paul Beckwith who calculates we may be on track for a 7 meter(23 feet) SLR by 2070 if the doubling period of ice cap melt from both Greenland and Antarctica hold up over this century. Paul tells me that the recent developments described above support his views. Interestingly, there was a study published in 2013 that stated an eventual 23 foot SLR would be locked-in by the end of the century under BAU emissions based on best estimates of global temperature sensitivity to pollution and the finding that every degree Fahrenheit of global warming results in a global average long-term SLR of 4.2 feet. That study, however, did not take into account the exponential rate of ice melt now occurring.

What will 23 feet SLR look like? For some fairly accurate visuals, take a look at Nickolay Lamm’s work. In the U.S. alone, 1500 communities would be underwater at high tide. With its porous limestone substrate, South Florida would be completely lost:

Sea Level Rise 6 meters

Most nuclear plants are located along waterways for easy access to water for coolant purposes, making them vulnerable to storm surge flooding in a world of expanding oceans. Since decommissioning a nuclear power station is a long, expensive, and dangerous process, I can’t imagine we will have the time, money, or forethought to safely get rid of all these time bombs before most of them are swallowed up by the ocean and go Fukushima on the world. In addition, melting ice sheets and SLR can set off the most destructive of earthquakes and volcanoes. The toxic wreckage left behind by capitalist industrial civilization will linger around for millennia to haunt anyone who does manage to survive in this hellish future.

The year is now 2015 and the human population is still shooting skyward as if there is some sort of bright techno-utopian future on the horizon, the high priests of capitalism are still praising endless growth, fossil fuels are still the predominant energy source on the planet, and the masses still can’t get enough of celebrity gossip. No need to worry about the future. I’m sure if there’s a buck to be made by holding back the rising tides, we can count on some capitalist lurking in the shadows to fix the problem. Sea walls will do the trick, right? Humans are looking more and more like ants on a floating turd: “When the log turns over we will all be dead…”

Update May 8, 2015:

A new study shows another ominous jump in the rate of growth in SLR. Robert Scribbler blogs about the staggering 30% increase here:

…new findings paint an even starker picture. For a recent study, headed by Shuang Yi and published on April 30 in Geophysical Research Letters provides evidence that, since 2010, annual rates of global sea level rise have shown a strong uptick. The study, entitled An Increase in the Rate of Global Mean Sea Level Rise Since 2010, notes:

The global mean sea level (GMSL) was reported to have dropped 5 mm due to the 2010/11 La Niña and have recovered in one year. With longer observations, it is shown that the GMSL went further up to a total amount of 11.6 mm by the end of 2012, excluding the 3.0 mm/yr background trend. A reconciled sea level budget, based on observations by Argo project, altimeter and gravity satellites, reveals that the true GMSL rise has been masked by ENSO-related fluctuations and its rate has increased since 2010. After extracting the influence of land water storage, it is shown that the GMSL have been rising at a rate of 4.4 ± 0.5 mm/yr for more than three years, due to an increase in the rate of both land ice loss and steric change.

In short, the study finds an average rate of sea level rise of 4.4 mm per year, or 30% faster than the annual rate from 1992 to 2009, during the period of 2010 to 2013. For these, more rapidly rising, sea levels the study identifies clear causes. The first is an increasing rate of land ice loss. The second is what is termed as ‘steric change’ — a scientific phrase that both identifies ocean thermal expansion due to warming combined with changes in ocean salinity, which also impacts sea surface height.

I emailed this recent finding to Paul Beckwith and here’s what he had to say:

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The Twilight of Our Tale: Part Two

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Author: td0s

Cross-posted at Pray for Calamity

Part 2

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

-Kurt Vonnegut

Daffodils have thrust their green blades through the warming soil, and despite the softly falling sleet tapping on the still barren branches in the forest all around me, spring is here to stay. With spring came the thaw, and last week my gravel driveway was subsumed by the clay Earth under the weight of my truck. Life lessons are everywhere if we listen. Watching hundreds of dollars worth of heavy limestone sink into mud tells me something about man and his works, about diminishing returns, entropy, and desire.  It also tells me that if we had no capacity for laughter, we would likely have all died long ago.

This is going to be a year of stone for me. A friend helped me acquire many tons of reclaimed, hand hewn brownstone which I will now have the pleasure of carrying and stacking one at a time around the perimeter of our home. It was not long ago that I finished filling the trench atop which our cabin is built with gravel, all carried into place by hand in five gallon buckets.

Such work gives one time to think.  And to re-think.  And then to think some more.

One of my favorite writers of the current era is John Michael Greer. He posts a weekly essay at his website thearchdruidreport, and he posts a monthly essay on his more esoteric blog thewellofgalabes. Aside from his amazing ability to step back from the time we are living in, and to try to view the world through a wider temporal lens, he also has been keen enough to brave the topic of our subjective perception of reality. As the edifice of civilization weakens, such ideas are of great importance.  From his piece “Explaining the World.

“Most people nowadays think of the world as a static reality, over which time flows like water over rocks on the bed of a mountain stream, and to this way of thinking the rocks and the water are both “out there” existing by themselves without reference to any human beings who may or may not be observing them.

The interesting thing about this sort of thinking is that scientists pointed out a long time ago that it’s wholly incorrect. The world you experience is not “out there;” what’s “out there,” as any physicist will tell you, is an assortment of subatomic particles and energy fields. Your senses interact with those particles and fields in idiosyncratic ways, triggering electrochemical flows in your nervous systems, and those flows produce in your mind – we’ll discuss what that last word means later on – a flurry of disconnected sensory stimuli, which you then assemble into an image or representation.”

What Greer then goes on to extrapolate is that, in essence, the world as you experience it is a story you tell yourself based on cultural, biological, and sensory factors. Philosopher Thomas Metzinger delves into the same territory with his book, “The Ego Tunnel,” in which he ultimately postulates that a self does not objectively exist. As a biological entity of significant complexity and mobility, traveling through an unpredictable environment, we require an internal sense of wholeness to navigate the events we are presented with. The combination of a sensory image of the world before us combined with the perception of a unified center that is ínside as opposed to outside, creates what Metzinger calls, the Ego Tunnel.

Metzinger’s work is involved and discusses our perception of time and where we reside within it, and ultimately describes the same phenomenon Greer wrote about from a neurological perspective.  The long and short of such theories is that, we are a story that we tell ourselves.  Most of this story is delusion.

The more in-depth explanation is that our perceptions of ourselves and of the world in which we live are representations. You are a story that you tell yourself. The world around you is a story that you tell yourself. When you become despondent with the state of things, wondering why people aren’t rising up and changing the world for the better in light of just how bad the facts of our situation are, remember that by and large, we are not motivated by facts so much as we are motivated by stories. Remember as well that stories, like all of the creations of human beings that are intended to serve us as tools, are subject to the laws of diminishing returns. This is to say, they have shelf lives of usefulness. When a story people tell themselves no longer serves them under the conditions in which they exist, and when more effort goes into preserving the story than people gain in benefits from believing it, the story becomes useless, and the people who are wholly bound to it, who benefit the most from it, can become dangerous.  This applies to individuals as well as to entire societies.

Writing of a demon that destroys souls and leaves vacuous skinwalkers wandering the landscape in search of fried cheese and alcohol is certain to anger some readers. In our culture, objectivity is king, and any suggestion of a non-quantifiable phenomenon is treasonous to the dogma established and maintained by the church of math and science that proclaims their order has brought us all of the good we see in the world – medicine, computers, Instagram – and that those who promulgate non-measurable ideas are the source of all that is evil – superstition, war, fear, etc.  They would say my talk of demons is nonsense that only obfuscates the truth of our circumstances.

I claim no objective truth. I make no promises that the right Geiger counter or infrared camera will detect the fell beast behind the persistence of the system. But I do humbly suggest that the story we have been told – and have ourselves been retelling – is a story that is doing more harm than good. As evidence for my claim I present the tragedies unfolding in the world right now that are colliding in an exponentially more dangerous synthesis with every passing day.

Let’s be clear, the people responsible for acidifying the oceans, clear cutting the rainforests, and completely inundating our very blood and tissues with industrial fire retardants and other carcinogens are people who all subscribe to a particular story about themselves. It isn’t the people who tell themselves a story in which they are children of a mother Earth, bound by responsibilities to their ancestors, descendants, and land bases who are causing these traumas. It isn’t the people who tell a story in which the animals and the plants and the rivers are alive and sentient who are operating slaughterhouses, mono-cropping Round-Up Ready soy, or leaching coal ash into waterways.

We know which people do these things. We know the story that they tell themselves, because we are barraged with it. It is a hot iron brand that scars our hearts from birth or maybe before. We are hopelessly traumatized by and unflinchingly committed to this tale.

It goes like this:

We are the wisest ape, having discovered our place in an objective and material universe we set out conquering nature and are on a trajectory to move off toward colonizing the cosmos. Having beat back the jungles of irrational superstition we have ascended to the summit of being, as civilized and democratic individuals we have conquered our Hobbsian state of nature which was always nasty, brutish, and short. Our very nature is one of yearning for constant technological progression that consistently nets benefits in health, freedom, intellect, and ability.

But this is a tale, a myth, a television screenplay. As individuals we have been cast as characters, and we have lived the story so entirely for so long that we have forgotten that we dance about a thespians stage.

Nature cannot be conquered. Nature is not a thing apart from ourselves. We are spun of the same swatch of fabric as every tree, spider, moss, and pebble. Technological progress has brought us a body burden of toxicity and a land base that is struggling to survive, not to mention a near total erosion of personal autonomy. Behind every smart phone is a dragline, a smokestack, a poisoned waterway, and a whole mess of miserable human workers, shackled to cubicle or an assembly line while overseers look on, weapons aimed.  Not to mention the entire host of police, spies, and spooks all collecting every bit of data you generate should ever a case need to be manufactured to demonstrate your guilt.

And then there is us. We see ourselves as job titles, confused by shiny badges and expensive suits. Roles are internalized and we believe that police, and judges, and presidents are as real and immutable as rocks and rivers and trees. We forget that a throne is just a chair, and never even question the true nature of chairs. So as the world falls into chaos, as armies of maniacs establish oil empires, currency unions, and caliphates, we must remember that these are all just stories that have out lived their usefulness in a time of diminishing net energy and growing ecological catastrophe. This will be the hallmark of our age; a cacophony of myths from all corners of the globe parading into a Colosseum at the end of history, waging war to see who can stand as grand master of the steaming heap of slag and bones together they have wrought, all before the grand consequences of several millennia of civilization come torrenting down upon us like a deluge.

What story will be left standing to define who and what we are?  Stream live with the Google app. Vote for your favorite cultural delusion at #TeamBabylon.

Previously I wrote that a driving reason so many people daily scroll through blogs and forums and news feeds all reporting in on the latest horror stories civilization had to tell is because, they are in effect, hoping to come upon a plan. Maybe today will be the day some individual or group will have posted an effective guide as to how we can all finally come together and act to destroy the current hierarchies of power, end the needless daily violence doled out by agents of state and capital, and maybe even to reverse the ecological destruction that is wiping out innumerable species and habitats.

I wish I had that plan to offer, but I don’t.  I’m not sure that anyone could. This is an unsettling thought for many because we are so used to conceiving of problems as necessarily having solutions, as if both are cast simultaneously in a factory somewhere and the existence of one thus proves the existence of the other. Of course, when most people consider the totality of the crises bearing down on us, when they seek solutions, what they are really seeking are solutions that fit into the narrative of their current existence without disturbing its boundaries. This is to say, the solution must not involve too much discomfort, heartache, or death. It certainly must not call into question who we believe we are and what we believe we have been spending our entire lives or even our collective history doing.

Our blood is just too precious to spill. Our story is just too important forget, or God forbid, to erase.

So you, dear reader, my digital comrade, my friend unmet and so far away, are going to have to figure out how to endure. To persevere.

These times are bigger than you or I, and indeed, all times likely are. Remember, we are hunter gatherers who have been endowed by nature with a plethora of tools for navigating and thriving in the environment in which we evolved, and whether by some stroke of cosmic irony or demonic cruelty, we now live removed from the environment in which those particular tools serve us best. You exist as you do to successfully participate as a tribe member in an organic environment of subjective experience.  Instead you stand in line, you sit in traffic, you fill out the paperwork in duplicate before retiring to your domicile dominated by right angles to sit with your eyes open while advertisers spoon-feed you your dreams.  Awash in symbols and slogans and a depressing amount of pornography, is it any wonder that the bulk of the population requires some sort of stimulant or depressant or anti-depressant or anti-psychotic just to keep from lashing out?

To quote a bit of pop culture, “The odds are never in our favor.”

So I apologize, I have no plan for solving the massive and converging crises of age, but I do have some thoughts on how to persevere.  Every one of us is laden with emotional and psychological baggage, and as we move through ever more difficult and tragic circumstances it will not be of service to anyone to cling to old narratives and myths that have outlived their usefulness.  The work of finding a truer tale, a better tale, a story that we can tell ourselves that is healing and has the ability to carry us for generations will be difficult and will likely take a long, long time.  But we have to stop telling the wrong story.  The story we need to be telling is one we will all write together over the coming generations, and the process of altering from what is to what will be is likely to be heart wrenching and backbreaking for a long time to come.  For a beginning to be made, and one must be made, we must remember to catch ourselves in the moment when we demand that others keep up their end of the current tale, when we out of habit demand that they continue playing the old roles.  We cannot be afraid that if we walk away first, we will walk alone. The desire to end the current story is palpable, it percolates just beneath the surface.

In this moment we may not have the collective power to slay the demon, but dammit we can stop doing the heavy lifting of immiserating one and other for him simply by being so very careful about what we pretend to be.

Bloodwatch

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When past predictions of future catastrophic events like ice sheet melt, spreading tropical diseases, and forest fragmentation start to become reality while no substantial means to prevent them from happening has ever been implemented, you begin to question the phrase so often bandied about that “it’s never too late.” It was never too late decades ago and we’re still holding out on that hope. Despite any techno-utopian fantasies you hear in the news, economic activity and growth are still linked to CO2 emissions. Until this fundamental truth is dealt with, we’ll all be spinning our wheels and wringing our hands over our continued descent into ecological and societal collapse. Perhaps this is part of the reason I have not blogged recently. As Leonard Nimoy expressed in his last twitter message, I think I’ll try to enjoy the here and now while I’m alive…

Snap 2015-03-27 at 03.44.20

The following is a guest post by commenter BP:

The majority of people visiting collapse and post-peak sites are Caucasian, disillusioned, with a slimmer majority subset being male; in other words, representatives though not participating members of the failing power elite. If these collapsitarians did wield real power, they wouldn’t be deeply dissatisfied with the present social arrangement and secretly hoping for an honest to goodness smokin’ homecookin’ cracklin’ good ole’ fashioned apocalypse to happen in their lifetime. You know, just to spice things up a little bit and provide some entertainment because industrial living can be such a boooooring, regimented drag, man. Tick tock. Time to get up, time to eat, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, rinse and repeat. Even regularity in our shitting is considered desirable in this totalizing system. Watches are slave driving devices – a shackle – your very own drill sergeant and task master all rolled into one convenient portable sleek wrapped modern design. Little wonder you have so many suit and tie clean-cut preppie American Psycho types with their rictus eternally sun shining grins (everything’s alright, everything’s fine, everything’s okay) resorting to extremes: bungee jumping, sky diving, narcotics and gambling, binge eating, binge shopping, binge TV watching, auto-erotic asphyxiation, any and all manner of titillation and stimulation just to get a rise. We’ve been dulled and sanitized, tamed and neutralized. The demographic comprising most of the power elite also happens to be the one most likely to become serial killers preying on their own species. If you live in a foreign land you might argue there’s no difference between Ted Bundy and the president. Either way, it’s another fun-filled pet project to while away the hours with. But I don’t want to give anyone any ideas, and I won’t be held accountable for what you do when you turn off your addictive electronic stimulus delivery systems aka computers tonight, even though we excel at passing responsibility onto something else. The lengths people will go… And these are the lucky ones who still have jobs. YAY!! I don’t even want to imagine life on the other side – we’ll all get there soon enough. Why spoil the surprise?

So raise your hands if you’re waiting for a giant or gradual (does it really matter?) clusterfuck that results in a significant reduction in our species’ numbers, because whatever you think is likely, it’s a necessary precursor to what ever comes next. The table has already been set and our carcass is the main dish.

Now that you’ve had your fill, how about some desert? I have a thought experiment that shouldn’t take too much time. Suppose you’ve decided to kill yourself. You’ve set a date, (a week from tomorrow), a time (midnight), thoroughly planned the method (hanging), bought the needed supplies (rope – duh!), and are dead set on following through. How, if any, would your life change in the time remaining? I’ll indulge in some fantasy since there doesn’t seem to be enough of that going around and Star Wars isn’t out until December. For starters, you could max out your credit and buy that car you’ve always fancied – you know, the one that runs on limited gasoline? You could also screw a few whores and not worry about contracting a venereal disease or what you’d have to say to your wife. Gorge on that chocolate cake and go for seconds topped with ice cream this time, downed with cola and chased with both pizza and hamburgers for desert. Why not? Fuck blood pressure, you’re going to die anyway. Then after your attention deficit disorder kicks in, you could switch to watching porn, wasting time playing Modern Warfare while eating Doritos and not feel one ounce of guilt that you could be doing something more with your life. Consume shit you don’t need to your heart’s content without any second thoughts! After all, ecologically speaking, we’re consumers! Let’s take a moment to give Capitalism some credit. It found a way to manipulate our basic human nature for its own ends and boy has it ever worked. Nothing has mobilized humanity – not pharaohs, despots, kings nor gods – like the wage economy. The best part about the whole affair is you can live without consequences because, in case you forgot, you’ll be dead in a week. Sound familiar? It’s a rarity these days when ideas and reality coincide. Yep, you guessed it. That’s exactly what our species has been doing – living large like there’s no tomorrow – and it’s hastening our eventual collective suicide.

And is that such a bad thing? There’s way too much despair, self-pitying, and despondent anger on these websites. Outside of our narrow anthropocentric perspective, the human race’s demise might even be cause for celebration. If that’s too much, at least it needn’t be mournful. After all, our history on this planet has proven that, if nothing else, we’re two legged, genocide-wreaking, blood-thirsty assassins. The only species that kills for fun, whether it be bipeds, quadrupeds or any other number of peds, we’ve obliterated them all. I’m confused by all this concern about surviving in a post industrial world. Are our souls (if we even have them) really worth saving? Even if a band of hardy survivors manages to achieve some semblance of harmony with their environment, sooner or later some marauding horde is going to come along, fuck things up, steal their shit, and rape their women. Hey, we’ve had a good ride. Nothing lasts forever. Time for something else to take a turn so we can join the dinosaurs. We aren’t going to change or magically turn into peaceful, loving breathren. That’s simply more wishful thinking, a romanticization of a few mythological hunter and gatherer tribes of the past projected onto the future. The reality is we rape, love, murder, bully, give and take, enslave, create music, art, math, and take pleasure in sadism (see UFC, boxing, WWE, Clausewitzian Warfare aka NFL, the latest scandal, the natural disaster channel aka The Weather Network/CNN and your generic horror movie and cop drama), all of which is hard-wired into our DNA. The human race is folly and cleverness stuffed into a complex paradoxical package. There’s no shame in that. I don’t see the point in worrying over what’s out of our control and what can’t be changed. It’s better to laugh than cry and maybe that’s all we can do. Time to stop demonizing the species.

And isn’t it also time we accept ourselves as natural? Our criticism of all the havoc we’re wreaking on the planet implies we’re outside, removed from nature; ironic since this divide is also acknowledged as part of the problem. Nature – ‘The Environment’ – is something we act upon – not a part of. Bullshit. We’re terrestial, carbon-based omnivores. There’s not an ounce of artificiality about us. That includes the products of our actions like the much-maligned villainous scoundrel PLASTIC. Dah, dah, dah, daaahhh. So what if humans synthesized 22 out of 117 periodic elements? That manipulation, as the word implies, came at our own hands with existing elements crashing together in high-speed accelerators. A polar bear – that sacred symbol for the ineffectual environmental movement – and its particular combination of constituent elements didn’t occur naturally on Earth for most of the planet’s history either. It will soon return to that condition in short order. And what of the indignant protest that plastic doesn’t degrade? Be patient. If our species lasts long enough, which I doubt, it might get to witness that little miracle. After all, a lot can happen in the next few billion years. Making the case that plastic is natural is not to say it isn’t disruptive. Any new arrival on the scene disrupts the existing order. Some things more than others. But it still derives from the Earth, doesn’t it? And so do we. And eventually, that’s where we’ll end up – 6 feet under. Maybe it’s better if that happens sooner rather than later. But it’s going to happen one way or the other regardless the constant declarations of ‘we have to do this…,’ or ‘if we don’t do that…,’ I hear on forums, in the news, at home. We’re good at giving ultimatums that we’ll never see through. Every day there’s a new resolution and self-imposed limitation proclaimed with the most dire urgency. The truth is we don’t have to do anything. The Earth will correct a wayward entity and return to balance. The catch is the new stasis doesn’t have to include us. Even if we could do something, it’s too little, too late. So do yourself a favor, enjoy your life and stop worrying so much. Maybe even laugh once and awhile. If you want to plant a tree – do it. If you don’t – knock yourself out. There are no imperatives. We’ve been unduly harsh on ourselves. Trying to be judge, jury, and executioner is just too damn exhausting. Well, my watch tells me it’s time to go to bed. Just another day in the life of the species… Tick Tock, Tick Tock.

The Twilight of Our Tale: Part One

Originally posted at Prayforcalamity.com

by TD0S

Part 1

“Protect your spirit, for we are in the place where spirits get eaten.”

John Trudell

Spring is moving in quickly, more quickly than I might necessarily want. My arms are worn enough to keep me from complaining about the break from hauling and splitting firewood, and sleeping the night through instead of waking up at three a.m. to stoke the embers and add more fuel to the stove is a welcome respite. I am quite concerned however, that the season for collecting maple sap may be cut abruptly short. For the best syrup season, night time temperatures need to drop below freezing, and day time temperatures need to rise to just shy of forty degrees Fahrenheit. A week ago, nights were just above zero and days didn’t creep past twenty. This week, nighttime lows hover in the high thirties and the days are approaching sixty. Of course, this could be a fluke, and I don’t want to scream “climate change” with every strange localized weather event, but the songbirds seem to be dropping anchor for the season, and I am recording the details of this winter’s drastic waning in the ledger book of such things in my mind.

The arrival of spring brings for me a surge of energy as I feel life return to the above ground world from the root-balls and burrows where it slumbered during the frigid and dark portion of the year. Spring also brings with it a workload beyond what I ever have time for, so the energy I feel running through my limbs as the sun shines down on my jacketless body is quite a gift. I mention such things because as the days lengthen and grow warmer, I have commitments in the garden and about the homestead that keep me from writing, so this will likely be my last piece for a good while. Such a hiatus comes none to soon, as I feel I am running short on things to say for the present time.

Why do we seek such writing anyway? If you’re like me, you are reading this very piece as you drink your morning coffee or tea. You are mustering the wakefulness required to go about your daily activity, but before you do, you are washing your mind in a bit of confirmation bias concerning the state of the world. Everything is going to hell, and on a daily basis you check in with the news feeds and blogger community to peruse the latest data points that confirm what you already know: climate change is accelerating as superstorms and droughts increase in ferocity. The people in power are still maniacs insistent on walling themselves off from the public with cordons of brutish and overly armed police. People without power are still being brutalized when they stand up for their dignity or merely exist between a capitalist and a resource. Some species went extinct. Some rainforest was clear-cut. Some stretch of ocean was overfished, or used as a radioactive dump-site, or both.

Rise and shine, the world is right where you left it when you went to sleep last night. Now go to work.

A few days ago I asked a young man I know who works as a dishwasher in a deli, “Why do you get up and go to work every day?” He answered, “To pay the bills.” I then asked, “What would happen if you didn’t pay your bills?” “I would be evicted eventually,” he replied. It quickly became evident that I was engaging in an exercise more than I was asking sincere questions, and he quite happily humored me as we ran through the entire sequence of events that would follow his not paying his bills. There are the police who would serve his eviction and the consequences they would face if they refused to do so, the police chief who would fire them, the mayor that would fire him if he didn’t terminate non-compliant police, and on, and on down the line. It wasn’t a new line of thought for him, and after playing the game of hypotheticals, I asked him what was behind this whole machination of human dominoes that forces people to work doing things they hate, like washing dishes in a deli.

He said, “Money. Greed.”

I offered a different possibility. “There is a demon behind all of this, manipulating us. It is an invisible and nameless demon that is trying to eat our souls.”

He laughed. I told him I was serious.

Perhaps you don’t believe in demons. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that no matter how much we know, individually and collectively, no matter how much anger we harbor, no matter how much we hate what it is our bodies and minds are engaged in for hours at a stretch every single day, we still go and do it. Minute by minute, hour by hour, no one is standing there making us do anything. It is all internalized. We are obedient. We are docile. We are domesticated.

Here is where you jump in and interject that bosses and landlords and police and judges all are waiting in the wings to punish disobedience. Of course they are. I don’t disagree. But remember, there are more bosses and landlords and police and judges all waiting behind the first set to make sure they keep to the rules and continue the game of civilization uninterrupted. Though this is obvious I point it out for a reason: there is no one to kill. There is no one person who if eliminated would provide for us the opening we need to stop the insanity of industrial civilization and to build something new, something sane, something with the potential for longevity.

Thinking of such things reminds me of “The Grapes of Wrath.” In the story, Steinbeck writes a scene in which the agents of the landowners come to tell the tenant farming families that they have to leave.

“Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there-quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

The tenant farmers are pushed to anger at the blamelessness and absurdity of their situation.

“We’ll get our guns, like Grampa when the Indians came. What then?

Well-first the sheriff, and then the troops. You’ll be stealing if you try to stay, you’ll be murderers if you kill to stay. The monster isn’t men, but it can make men do what it wants.”

Steinbeck does a masterful job outlining the maddening and perplexing nature of our conundrum; people comprise the system, people act out their roles within the system, but people are not the system. So what the hell is the system? It seems so innocuous. It is rules. It is expectations. It is a series of triggers by which one human action results in an automatic response by another human who is just doing their job, and if they weren’t doing it, someone else would be. Of course, I am not trying to absolve any single person of the responsibility they bear for the actions that they individually engage in. I am however, interested in exploring the construction of the invisible forces that keep all of us participating in a system that we know is toxic to us physically and spiritually, as well as to the living planet at large.

It is so easy to blame the system. It’s just a word, and it is a stand in for the pieces and the whole of everything we see that is wrong with the way human society is behaving. Poverty? Blame the system. War? The system. Racism? The system. But what is the system? If it is just rules, expectations, and essentially stories that we tell each other, then why is the system so hard to change? Why is it so seemingly immutable? Why are we so damn helpless and ineffective at altering something so fragile, so simple, so made up? Could all of us really be so captured by something invented, something spoken into being and jotted down on flimsy pieces of paper? It’s as though we all began playing a game, only to realize that the game was playing us, and once begun there was no way to stop playing, even as we watched our movements destroy the world.

Maybe there is a demon after all. Maybe ignoring the demon, pretending it is not there endangers us further. Maybe the demon is an eater of souls, and its strategy is to diminish our power and our will through mindless labor, through a dulled existence of symbols and static, flashing lights and loud noises, addiction and poisonous food. Maybe for millennia, this demon has been slowly at work, gaining strength and refining its strategy, inserting its desires and ploys into our lives as politics, as capitalism, as war, as revolution, as status, as sex, as culture, as normal, as human nature.

Is it so hard to believe? Look around. Walk through a gas station. Look at the racks full of five hour energy bottles, E Cigarettes, scratch and win lottery tickets, chili cheese flavored corn chips, male enhancement pills, and thirty two ounce aluminum cans full of Monster and malt liquor. Step outside and see the fifty-foot glowing signs advertising Arby’s, Taco Bell, and some nameless pornography and sex toy megastore. Each establishment is serving up a small slice of death, of slavery, of misery. Each storefront and corporate logo is masking a sweatshop, a slaughterhouse, a slave, an oil spill, as another species gone from the Earth forever.

But we don’t believe in demons. We are too rational for that, too objective, too advanced. At least, that is the story we tell ourselves. But then I look around at the tortured landscape and the careless people moving through it who don’t seem to notice that they are traversing a spiritual wasteland, and I have to wonder.

Maybe when we go to the internet in the morning and look for the daily headlines and editorials, we are really looking for a friend, someone of like mind to join us in our knowledge and our fear of the events taking shape all around us that individually we are just too damn small to do anything about. Like office workers who jumped from the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center, we want someone with whom we can hold hands as we take the plunge into a future that has no good outcomes.

Or maybe, we are looking for hope, logging on and scrolling past link, after, link, after link until we find what we have been waiting for; a set of instructions. No more data points, no more statistics and measurements confirming what we already know, but a plan. For God’s sake, the catastrophe is spelled out in neon lights and it howls from a megaphone all day, every day. I have more awareness than my mind can bear, but what the hell am I, are you, supposed to do about it? We are so small. We are just one person. We are already late for work.

Step one: Protect your spirit, for you are in a place where spirits get eaten.

Living in Bizzaro World

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bizarro

Bizzaro Code: Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”

For the past few days I’ve been nursing a bacterial infection on the dorsal aspect of my left hand with topical cream and oral antibiotics, and my hand appears to be healing quickly. I’m relatively healthy and this is the first time I’ve ever had this sort of thing happen to me. Left untreated, such an infection could fester for months, perhaps developing into an abscess and becoming life threatening. In a world of post-antibiotics, a tiny break in your skin could spell death for you. Despite a recent discovery of a new class of antibiotics, we’re still headed for a post-antibiotic age and unless we reform our system of profit-incentivized healthcare, infectious diseases will have plenty of poverty-stricken hosts within which to flourish and spread throughout the world. The wealthy are not hermetically sealed off from such human disease vectors. Anthropogenic climate disruption is already increasing the expansion of such pathogens and as with everything else connected to this grand climate experiment we’re conducting on ourselves, preparing for the consequences is an afterthought:

“We have to admit we’re not winning the war against emerging diseases,” Brooks says. “We’re not anticipating them. We’re not paying attention to their basic biology, where they might come from and the potential for new pathogens to be introduced.” – Link

Leading UK climate scientist Kevin Anderson has a new lecture out in which he explains how the world can have a 50% chance of staying below a 2ºC world (40% emissions cuts by 2018 from the wealthy, 70% by 2024, and over 90% by 2030.) The global wealthy are those defined as earning $30,000 a year. I posted Kevin Anderson’s video on a thread at Peakoil.com , and vox_mundi replied:

I’ve been following Kevin Anderson since his presentation at the 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference in 2009 at Oxford.

His points are inarguable – and that was before the positive feedback which we are beginning to see. His analysis is covered in the paper, Beyond Dangerous, and other participants assessments are here.

Whether or not Sao Paulo survives this year is immaterial because climate change is not going to be kind to their part of the planet in the coming decades. Unfortunately, this applies to just about everywhere else.

Vox_mundi is the one helping to keep all of us updated on the water crisis in São Paulo with his postings. The evidence tells me we have breached the tipping point for the desertification of Brazil. One thing to always keep in mind about the 2ºC climate goal is that it’s an arbitrary and politically convenient number set by business-as-usual bureaucrats:

Why was the limit set at 2ºC?
It was pretty much arbitrary, but characterized by policy and political folks as the amount of warming that the scientific community had established would “prevent dangerous” climate impacts. Danger, of course, being a relative concept. Former NASA scientist James Hansen and other researchers have concluded that 2°C of human-made warming would trigger natural feedbacks that could end up doubling that amount of warming. Setting the limit was widely seen, however, as one of the few positive outcomes from the 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen…
– Link

By all evidence(both scientific and individual observation), climate sensitivity of the Earth is much higher than most know and even a 1ºC rise is too much. The idea that staying at or just below a 2ºC warming can save us from catastrophe is a myth. For those who don’t know, climate sensitivity is:

…defined as how much the average global surface temperature will increase if there is a doubling of greenhouse gases (expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents) in the air, once the planet has had a chance to settle into a new equilibrium after the increase occurs. In other words, it’s a direct measure of how the Earth’s climate will respond to that doubling.

We currently have a CO2e of 484ppm, nearly double that of the pre-industrial levels. As we approach the doubling level of 560ppm, then we can expect an average global increase in temperature of somewhere between “1.5 to 4.5ºC”, according to the latest mainstream research. The argument can therefore be made that we have already triggered the collapse of industrial civilization just by considering only the one global tipping point of climate change out of a total of nine planetary boundaries currently being monitored, four of which we have already crossed.

With the following headlines recurring every year, who are we fooling that these emissions will be reined in within our lifetimes:

Snap 2015-02-22 at 15.19.15 Snap 2015-02-22 at 15.20.04

To deal with the uncomfortable realities of manmade climate change, the Right practice denial of manmade climate change, while the Left employ the psychological process of displacement. Thus, no real solutions will ever come to fruition due to a great degree by these self-defeating mental traps. It’s also easy to forget or overlook these harsh truths when, as Democracy Later tweeted, “It is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcotized by technological diversions.” 

Capitalist industrial civilization has created a real bizarro world for itself from all the geopolitical blowback of resource wars and dark politricks, the entrenched vested interests of the military industrial complex and fossil-fuel conglomerates, the financial chicanery of the wealthy elite, and all the hi-tech gadgetry and weapons in the hands of every virulent extremist. ISIS now appears to even have their own TV show interviewing prisoners in cages before they make another snuff film. The world just seems to be getting more screw-balled by the hour. What the fuck is this?:

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.59.31 PM

Nafeez Ahmed has an excellent article on the failed state of Yemen and its slow collapse into a post-oil, post-water Mad Max land. Their primary crop is now qat, a mild narcotic plant whose cultivation sucks up even more of their dwindling water aquifers. As someone on Reddit said:

I know its sexier to focus on the collapse of rich states, such as America and various nations in Europe and Asia, but it will most likely be Yemen and other nations that provide a prediction of a future to come. Largely the modern nation or multicultural state will start to break down, beset by escalating crises in disaster, capital, and factional management until civil war breaks out. From that death spiral, who knows how far it will go…

In addition to a perfect storm of ecological and social problems that include overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change, there is also the baggage of imperialist U.S. foreign policies –arming and aiding corrupt and brutal kings/dictators, funding and arming radical extremists like Osama bin Laden’s jihadists in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, etc. in an effort to control global oil supplies and trade routes. In Bizzaro world, don’t expect any leaders of American Empire to touch those root causes with a 10,000 mile remote-controlled drone.

There Will Be Blood

By TDoS
Cross posted from Prayforcalamity.com

“He said that men believe the blood of the slain to be of no consequence but that the wolf knows better. He said that the wolf is a being of great order and that it knows what men do not: that there is no order in this world save that which death has put there.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

In Theodore Kacynski’s manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” he lays out many premises concerning the existence of man in relation to technology and technological societies. One of these premises is that modern people in technological societies are afraid of death because they have never lived. They have not used their bodies, minds, and souls to their full potential, and thus even in old age, feel like they are yet to begin. Kacynski writes about the primitive man who in his sixties, having seen the successful life of his child and feeling the weariness in his muscles and bones, does not fear, but welcomes his turn to sleep. Where these intuitions were passed on, cultures of indigenous peoples were able to form warrior societies whose success rested on the fact that individual braves had no fear of death. They viewed themselves as one with their people and their land, both of which were timeless, granting them strength of conviction when the situation called for it.

When we hear of people dying in our culture, such news is often quickly followed with statements about the unfairness of one dying so young. Even a fifty-year-old heart attack victim will generally be granted laments and declarations that their passing was too early. While of course the loss of a loved one is saddening, there does appear to be a trend throughout this culture that seems to speak of death as if it is not the ultimate outcome of every life. Death, like the environment, is but another inconvenience to be conquered by our cleverness.

In this culture, there is language of “rights” concerning life. It is said that individuals have a “right” to life, meaning then that death is some violation against the individual. There are even those who would like to extend such rights to animals. No one, according to modern people enculturated by the dominant dogmas, is supposed to die. Ever.

Of course, every living being is only so for a limited time. Death and birth are two phases in the same biological process, and where there is the latter, inevitably we will come to the former. What I find so maddening, is that this culture, so lacking in its ability to confront death, let alone to create and support the psychological and emotional infrastructure to deal with death, is such an efficient bringer of death. How a people so vocally dedicated to peace and the preservation of life can then unflinchingly create nuclear and biological weapons, institute economic castes which immiserate the majority to establish the privilege of the minority, and daily exterminate upwards of two hundred species is possibly the grand irony of our time.

The mind reels.

When just last month, the study “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” was released, it got a lot of traction across the internet. The study, prepared by eighteen scientists from various international universities, grabbed headlines by claiming that human civilization had crossed four of nine environmental boundaries.

Of course such studies digitally shared from hard drive, to hard drive, to hard drive have never served to accomplish much in the way of real world action towards deindustrialization, and likely this one was and will remain no different. The trend seems to be that alarming data confirming that human industrial civilization is driving the global ecology to ruin, likely even to the near term detriment of this very civilization, only ends up spurring on those who believe that human industrial civilization can be done in a less harmful way, perhaps with the addition of more solar panels or the subtraction of capitalist motives.

Those who dare argue that civilization, and industrial civilization in particular, is the root cause of the destructive habits which are bringing all living beings to a point of potential collapse or extinction, are routinely dismissed as extreme. Such critics, before dismissal, are reminded of the dominant culture’s primary directive; “We cannot go backwards.” Suggestions that we must, in order to maintain a survivable habitat, drastically reduce reliance on industrial methods, products, and infrastructure are waved off as impossible, insane, or even genocidal. Defenders of the dominant culture and systems of industrial civilization claim that such reductions in technological application will axiomatically mean reductions in human population, and thus are off the table. These claimants are either oblivious to the fact that “going forward” with the methods and practices of the dominant culture would be at least equally genocidal, if not more so, or they harbor a quasi religious belief that human invention will save us from every single problem caused by previous scores of human invention. Always ignored is the clear fact that so called “going forward” will mean an increase in human population before the ecosystems which support them collapse, meaning there will be more humans to die when drought, famine, sea level rise, resource scarcity, and every other calamity currently rising to crescendo ultimately manifest in a symphony of systemic failures that existing political, technological, and economic structures are incapable of mitigating.

And then there are the non-human genotypes that most defenders of the dominant culture refuse to ever enter into their calculations.

When someone refuses to acknowledge a solution to a problem because it will indirectly involve death – even when the solution in question is attempting to select fewer deaths sooner as opposed to a great many more deaths later – this person is inserting hidden premises into the discussion, the most obvious of which is that people alive now have the right to exhaust the health of the land which people not yet born will need to rely on in the future. If upon the suggestion that we must globally act to deindustrialize in order to prevent overwhelming climate catastrophe, a person floats the counter argument that such deindustrialization will result in a reduction of currently available medical technologies, and is therefore an unacceptable proposition, this person is inserting into the discussion a premise that the lives of those who would no longer have access to the medical technologies they require are more valuable – this is to say, they have more of a right to survival – than the lives that will be lost – human and non – when industrial civilization fails and brings down with it the functioning ecology of the planet.

Such premises, to me, seem insane. A patent refusal to acknowledge the bare reality that all life, including human life, requires as a foundation a healthy and viable habitat is either obstinacy or a shameful level of ignorance. Claiming that one group of humans has more of a right to survival than others, or that humans have more of a right to survival than the rest of the web of life, is doubly insane.

At the end of it all, defenders of the status quo are not defending life, they are defending lifestyle. Proponents of the dominant culture and its myths of progress are really arguing for their own comfort, of both body and mind. Changing nothing presents no difficult ethical questions or messy physical conflicts. Going forward is the easy choice. This fact alone should ring alarm bells.

Why is death so unacceptable? If we cannot come to grips with death, then we will find ourselves collectively at an impasse where no necessary action will be taken, and industrial civilization will continue unimpeded on its course devouring forests, wiping out species after species, washing away topsoil, and rendering the oceans a lifeless acidic soup of plastics in various stages of photo decay. Somewhere buried in all of this is yet another premise; that to elect the death of even one is unacceptable, but to remain passive while existing systems dole out death to many is forgivable. Human agency seems to be the determining factor. The people who own and operate chemical plants that cause regional cancer clusters in children are forgiven. The death of one million pinpricks is too diffuse to assign blame. On the other hand, to intentionally kill the CEO of such a chemical company would be an outrage. It would be a tragedy. People on TV would say he died too young.

The dominant culture not only protects those high on its hierarchy, blurring lines of responsibility for the actions they take in the name of progress, but it also blinds every day people from the realities of just how it is they come to have the things that they do. Major systems of production and distribution that segregate individuals from the sources of their food, their clothing, the materials that built their homes, the fuels that power their cars and gadgets, create an illusory sense of existence. If a person perceives that food comes from a grocery store, gasoline from a pump, shoes from an online retailer, it is reasonable to believe then that this person’s perceptions have been skewed into believing that nothing must ever die for us to consume whatever we want in whatever quantities we desire. As long as the blood is on someone else’s hands in some other land far from sight, then there is no blood at all. It is this willful blindness to the day to day functioning of industrial civilization on the part of the world’s wealthier populations that allows a people draped in slave made textiles who are kept fed by the mechanistic rape of stolen land powered by stolen oil to stare up with their doe eyes and without a hint of irony ask, “But why do they hate us?”

So it is that so often we hear the claims of “green” capitalists who declare we can have our planet and kill it too. We are to shut our eyes and believe that solar panels, electric cars, fair trade mocha lattes, soy burgers, iPads, internet service, and all of the pills and processes in a modern hospital all just manifest from the ether. The rainforests clear cut, the oceanic dead zones caused by agricultural run off, the open pit mines, the oil spills, the nitro-tri-fluoride and other greenhouse gasses, and all of the whips and prods physical and not that herd about the masses of humans who do all the lifting, stitching, assembling, dismembering, and dying to bring such wonders to our shopping carts just don’t add up to dry shit.

That is how the dominant culture deals with death. It hides it. And when it can’t hide it any longer, it calls it “business.”

Various indigenous tribes have been able to maintain steady populations. In fact, for millennia, a handful of commonplace practices aided in keeping a tribe or band’s numbers in check. Breastfeeding infants until they were four years old helped prevent mother’s menstrual cycles from resurging, thereby keeping birth numbers down. The use of abortifactant herbs also helped women in the event of untimely pregnancies. When a group’s population was at a point where another child would bring great hardship, some tribal people would turn to infanticide. Picture the heartbreaking scene, as a mother lays a newborn infant on a cold hillside to freeze as the sun sets on a winter day. On the other end, tribes would at times decide not to work to heal ailing elderly members, and instead would begin ceremonial death rites when an older person fell ill.

This is the cultural imperative I am interested in. The ability of a people to confront the hard reality of their lives, and to make the soul wrenching choices that they must make in order to survive is not present in the civilized paradigm, not when it comes to allowing death. This is a delicate topic, to be sure, but one of necessary import as the world now hosts almost eight billion people, while conversely non-renewable resources are consumed at increasing rates, and the ecology is pushed beyond the breaking point.

Cultures that accept the inevitability of death create ceremonies and social forms for processing death. This is not to suggest that these people do not feel the pain of loss when a loved one passes, but rather to highlight that they develop a maturity surrounding death. They can talk about it. They can incorporate it into their survival strategies. They do not treat it as a cosmic betrayal of the individual’s right to exist for seventy-five years before a midnight expiration in a beach condo in Florida. Most importantly, cultures that make room for death do not become locked into a suicidal social paradigm, refusing to veer in their direction because doing so would result in the death of some, even when going forward would result in the death of all.

In my last essay I spoke of needing a new cultural ethos in order to prevent the wanton annihilation of the Earth’s life giving systems. This psychological and spiritual evolution must include maturity in the matters of death. Culturally, we must not shun death from our view, for when we do, we push his presence beyond sight, but not beyond efficiency. Beyond the hedge where death lurks ignored by modern man, he does his work still, and he plots against those who believe they have banished him with their cleverness. He plans a great party indeed.

My daughter is nearly a year old. She is my connection to the future, as my parents and ancestors are my connection to the past. I love her to my core, each cell in my body resonating with an urge to guard her, protect her, and to see to her survival. I think about the emptiness that would devour me if she were to die, so I do have a sense of the gravity concerning that which I have written. I look at my little girl, and the truth of life comes to me plain as the new day: we cannot banish sorrow. Heartache is the handmaiden of joy. The history of our species is the history of finding the strength to endure when it seems that all is lost, and when we see no reason to go on, feeling that the ground holds us still.

The complex problems we face require sober, adult analysis, but here and now we lack the methods and ceremonies necessary to act as a mature culture. Our unwillingness at all levels to confront uncomfortable realities has made dangerous adolescents of us, as our orgy of consumption and self aggrandizement has pushed the planet to the brink. There are tasks which demand our collective attention, and undertaking them, while necessary, will not be without consequence. There are few good options on the table before us. Meeting such difficult questions head on, with humility and grace, is the mark of greatness.

It is time to ask, “who are we?” and “who do we want to be?” As we stand right now, we are a belligerent cult of ego, drunk on the self, screaming our greatness as we charge forth trampling everything underfoot. We have a lot of work to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. Death rides whether we call for him or not.