Your Worst Enemy


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Cross Posted from:

Cold northern air pushed south for a few days granting us the slight chill we have come to expect on a November morning. Heavy winds rattled the bare fingers of oak and hickory like blades of prairie grass. Woodsmoke seasoned the air and warmed my soul as I walked the compost toilet bucket out to the pile to be dumped and covered. Two days later temperatures were right back up again as firearm deer hunting season opened. I wanted to spend my Sunday morning waiting quietly in a tree, scanning the ridge line for a sizable white tail, but decided against it when I saw that the high for the day would be seventy degrees. The forecast calls for the cool air to return, so for now, I postpone the hunt, and cross my fingers in the hope that driving home from work late at night I will see a freshly hit roadkill deer that I can harvest instead. Their habitat long converted to highway, I honestly prefer making use of a collision killed deer than pulling the trigger anyway.

The collapse blogs and forums are often rife with talk of such things. There are those who suggest that in a world where grocery stores are shuttered or where there is no money to purchase what they might still contain, people will need to return to hunting and foraging where possible. At such suggestions, there are those who counter that the skill to harvest and process and meat is lost of the vast majority of the population. There are others who then counter that actually, in such a scenario the fields and streams would quickly be stripped bare of any game or fish as hordes of people begin shooting at anything that moves, whether they know how to properly process and preserve the meat or not. After years of collapse minded discussion on the internet, I think it is fair to say that there are many pockets of cliches and conventional wisdoms that have taken root and found their loyalties. Fast collapse, slow collapse, hyper inflation, deflationary depression, bug out, bug in, long slow die off, near term human extinction, etc. ad nauseam. Flow charts of collapse hypothesis each complete with their experts and their laundry list of survival purchases.

Over the years I have found myself settling in the realm of thought promoted by the Dark Mountain Project. I do my best not to make a lot of predictions that don’t go beyond vague guesses at trends, and I primarily try to push the notions of personal and communal endurance, adaptability, and dignity. History’s arc is very long, and it is easy to find ourselves as individuals belonging to a time that we believe from where we stand to be of particular importance or meaning. Such assumptions are vanity. The decline of industrial civilization, yes, will result in the creation of miserable conditions for most of humanity, and as we live through and beyond such times, we shall be tested. We are not going to solve the major crises. We are going to be called upon to endure them. Such endurance is likely beyond many in the western world who have never imagined, let alone suffered true hardship. The age of fossil fuels has not only softened rich bodies, but it has softened rich hearts and minds. It has convinced many that death and pain are an unfairness, one that we could, and should, banish from existence. More vanity. More hubris. To be sure, more blindness, as such soft minds are closed off to the suffering and death that formed the foundation of their very comfort to begin with.

Banish your vanity now. Welcome the dirt under your fingernails. Accept that you are not, nor your culture, the protagonist in a meaningful drama. Visions and stories you have created in your mind in which you are a central performer are phantoms of your own amusement. Dispel them. Be here. Take a good stock of who you actually are.

Mutant zombie bikers (MZB’s for short) are the foil of those who monitor collapse. MZB’s are the unwashed masses. Unprepared for collapse, they don their truck tire armor and necklaces strung with the teeth of their victims and then move over the suburbs and hinterlands seeking families and farmers to massacre in their grand quest for canned peaches, gasoline, and murderous skin harvesting glory. They are the primary enemy portrayed in the dystopian future sketched out in most collapse related conversation.

I would like to offer a counter notion; your worst enemy will be yourself. This suggestion, I hope, can steer us from the primacy of the notion that navigating social collapse is going to be best achieved by those who most willingly point guns at everyone else.

If in fact, a grand collapse of sorts occurs and the social and economic systems that the vast majority of people rely upon fail, it will not likely be a man built like a WWE wrestler riding a tricked out Harley and brandishing a flaming nail bat who kills you. It will be your own inability to work with a group. It will be your own lifetime of poor health choices. It will be all of the ebooks about wild edible plants that you downloaded and never read. It will be your hubris, your panic, your depression, your anger, and primarily your inability to adapt to unpredictable and ever changing conditions.

For what it is worth, this is the concept I would like to toss into the gyre of collapse discussion. How self improvement now not only increases one’s chances of survival in the event of any emergency, short or long, but further, how such improvement greatly benefits one’s life even in the absence of societal breakdown. Successfully navigating dire circumstances that present physical, mental, and emotional challenges requires fortitude on all fronts – body, mind, and soul. Doing the work to improve oneself on these fronts is not likely to be a waste should calamity never strike, in the same way that “prepper” purchases of five years worth of EZ Mac and banana chips might be. Mice will never eat your improved physical stamina. A flood will not wash away your uncluttered mind.

Let’s face it, life in the modern era in western nations has shaped most of our interactions to flow along the patterns and dictates of the economic system; capitalism. Short, shrift transactions where one exchanges paper notes for food do not establish a bond between buyer and seller. More often than not, the owner of such food is not even present, and we interact with low wage workers who operate cash registers, and the bulk of our acquisitions of necessities is at the behest of a system which at times even generates resentment of all the other humans around us. We are infuriated by traffic, long lines, and crowded spaces. Community bonds are threadbare. True reliance on one and other that flows equally back and forth is rare. So what happens when this social and economic paradigm crumbles? Do you have the ability to work well in a group? Can you keep from yelling or being over bearing? Do you dominate conversations and interrupt others? Do you dismiss women or people who aren’t white? Do you even notice if or when you do these things? When the humans around you become a de facto band that must cooperate to survive, can you set your ego and your ideology aside? Can you be the first to give before having received? Can you politely disagree? It may seem silly to present such concerns, but truly, communication has been so degraded by generations of commercial transaction replacing communal reciprocity, not to mention newly invented forms of abbreviated, faceless, eye-contactless device to device texting, that I think a focus on just being able to talk to one another in order to effectively organize crisis response should be a priority. Do you really want to find yourself outcast because everyone around you thinks that your a blowhard asshole?

Of course, habits that trend in the opposite direction could be just as deadly. Are you a doormat? Do you speak up for yourself? Are you easily manipulated? Do you fear speaking your mind when your opinion is unpopular? Can you say “no” and mean it? An ability to judge when to defer to group dynamics and when to pull back from activities you believe to be foolish, dangerous, or a waste of energy is crucial. Of course, navigating the emotions and egos of others is a delicate matter, and doing so forms the basis of politics. When your life is on the line, you will need to swallow your pride one day, draw a line in the sand the next, and hopefully make the right choice as to the when and why for both.

Meanwhile, our habits and addictions will haunt us when all of the usual patterns change, and then change again. If right now you are a smoker, a drinker, if you are addicted to sugar, to caffeine (my personal drug of choice) or just happen to need a particular anti-depressant or antipsychotic to get out of bed, how will you fare when the chemicals your brain requires to function are not available? What is your current physical status? Here in the US, the lion’s share of the population travels by some form of petroleum powered vehicle on a regular basis. Has this made you a bit soft around the middle? Or has a steady diet of sugar softened you sort of all over? The ability to walk long distances over varied terrain while carrying a load, perhaps water, perhaps wood, perhaps a child, would probably serve well. The ability to defend yourself without a weapon, would probably serve well. The ability to live two weeks on nothing but mashed turnips without flipping out on everyone around you at the slightest annoyance because your body is craving a Diet Coke and a Parliament Light might just serve you well.

And I am not pitching machismo. I know too well that a smile, a nod, a low calm voice, can in the right circumstances carry more power than a grounded right cross. Well rounded and adaptable, clear headed and resourceful, that is what I am pitching.

This is why I decry the prepper mentality of stockpiling large caches of goods. That is just consumerism. That is just altering a bad habit to feel like a good habit. Sure, having food in the house, useful tools, toilet paper and jumper cables does make sense. Twenty-Five buckets of mylar sealed white sugar is an absurdity. No matter what emergency you encounter, be it a car accident on a stormy evening, a house fire, or full on “the-grid-went-down-thanks-to-Chinese-hackers-cracked-out-on-energy-drinks-and-promises-of-state-provided-communist-love-girls,” the one thing you will always have on you, is you. Your mind, your body, and your spirit are primary. If these are out of balance or in a dysfunctional state, why would you assume that a Rubbermaid Tub full of Pepto-Bismol would be of any use?

You need to fill your mind, hone your body, and steel your spirit. This is a constant as we live. The work never stops. But as we travel, and work at our wisdom, our knowledge, and our fitness, we must also learn how to successfully integrate this blossoming self with others. Communities don’t just happen, because trust doesn’t just happen; communication doesn’t just happen.

Tribe is hard. Manufactured tribe, anyway. I have never experienced a true tribe; a family linked through time and space, culture and common cause. What I have experienced are groups of people who came together with grand purpose. The torment of hours long meetings with Occupy, the drama of interpersonal conflicts with pipeline blockades, the sheer inability to commit to the work required at failed communes and intentional communities; I have seen it all. In each case, there was success and their was failure. In each case, good intentions ran head first into fatigue, a lack of resources, and at times, post traumatic stress. And in each of those cases, the greater support system of society still existed as a fall back. Dirty, cold and hungry, I watched people do unexpectedly amazing things, no doubt. But stores still had food, even if the only food we could afford was in the dumpster. We could check out, step back, any time we wanted. When the stress of it all was too much to bear, one could return to the “real world” and level out. A collapse scenario will offer no such quarter.

It is said that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I am not trying to sell some notion of myself as complete or without flaw. I am just as guilty of seeing myself not as I am, but as I have imagined myself to be. I possess plenty of traits and habits which I need to work to better, starting with my ability to calmly and accurately communicate. If I were slower to frustrate and to anger, that would likely be a boon. Despite the constant work that living in a post collapse world would require, I could personally benefit from a greater ability to slow down, to sit still, and to meditate. To just breathe and exist. I think it would strengthen my spirit, even if only by allowing me to take in more beauty and joy that I currently let pass me by in favor of tending to endless tasks. We talk tirelessly about survival, but forget sometimes that without attention to the things that make life worth living, we can never truly thrive.

The time to work on ourselves, is now. Your communication, your patience, and your tolerance, all are best improved now while daily caloric intake doesn’t necessarily rest upon them. The time to break habits of sloth, or poor diet, or of resistance to any work that makes muscles sore and brow sweat, is now. The time to take self dense classes and to increase your self confidence and endurance, is now. The time to abandon phantom notions of your protagonist self in favor of honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously relieving yourself of your doughy first world comfort requirements, is now. Take cold showers. Eat more vegetables. Forgive small debts. Compliment and be patient with others. Walk.

Of course, the hard part is that the pizza is still hot, the beer still cold, and the new season of Game of Thrones is on, and all of it is available twenty-four seven and you wouldn’t even have to speak to another human being, let alone be kind to them, to get any of it. And there is work. And there are bills to pay. Maybe next month when I get a little further ahead. I’ll quit smoking. I’ll quit drinking. I’ll spend less time on the internet and more time with other people. Next month.

You are your worst enemy, but you don’t have to be.

The Autumn Breathes


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By TD0S at

Deep in the hardwood forest I watch the first orange light crest over the eastern ridge as dawn unfolds casting its warmth on the surface of the yawning Earth. Poplar trunks stand firm above the gold and brown leaf cover that now mulches the hopeful seedlings while granting the white tail deer an auditory advantage over those who would stalk them through the hollers. At this time of year the forest exhales and retreats from the above ground toil of photosynthesis to a season of focus within the dense and teeming skin of the planet. Without the brush and laden bough, one can see for miles across the waves of ridge and ravine. Sound is without obstacle, and seems almost propelled by the chill wind when it punctures the otherwise heavy silence. The feeling is one of calm, of that restfulness that comes when one crawls into bed and their leg muscles finally release the day’s tension. Autumn contains a library of lessons, none of which can be learned until one is still, patient, and not fucking talking.

My year was not what I had planned for it to be. Many tasks remain undone. Our family was interfered with by a local government body, and we are now in the process of installing an overpriced septic system for our cabin. It is a headache, to be sure, dealing with puffed up bureaucrats and their ad hoc adherence to antiquated and at times contradictory laws. As is often the case in this society, compliance is cheaper and faster than justice. Proving to a judge my case that I should not be required to acquire such a system would find me spending more money, time, and personal energy than just going along with the racket that the good old boys and connected families have established in these parts. I have made my peace with the conflict, and am calmly dancing through the hoops laid out for me. When all is said and done, the cabin I built with my two hands will be a legal residence in the event that we ever decide to move and to sell our land. Property value and all that, right?

Here we are again, dear readers, staring down another winter in which we can together reflect on the state of the world, both the portion that modern humans point their attention at, as well as to the far larger portion where, as Cormac McCarthy wrote, “Storms blow and trees twist in the wind, and all of the animals that God has made go to and fro.” Despite a massive downturn in the global economy, money moves and the smokestacks belch their poison. To be sure, man’s world of markets and digital notations percolates. An event is brewing that portends itself in plummeting rig counts and commodity prices. What grand show this event will perform for people rich enough to have a stake in it is to be seen. The rest of us will scrape by like the peasants that we are until even scraping fails, and only bloodletting remains.

Superstorms and hurricanes ravage from Texas to Yemen. Starved and hopeless human beings are playing the only card they have and abandoning the sure death that awaits their children in the war ravaged and drought plagued middle eastern and north African regions. Rich white people who are to blame for such wars, droughts, and famines are bellowing from the America’s, clear across Europe, and down to Australia about the brown victims of centuries of Anglo-capitalism and how they are not supposed to do anything but suffer their circumstances in place. Where these white adherents to national boundary and culture were as the US, UK, and other global powers were setting about to wage war and destabilize governments in these now uninhabitable places, I’m not exactly sure.

This is the crisis unfolding. This is what it looks like. Real life plays out a lot more slowly than the Hollywood scripts that have to crunch collapse adventures into one hundred and twenty minute films complete with explosions, comeuppance, and a love story for the girls. Tracking the decline of global industrial civilization is seemingly gaining in popularity, and it is all too common for those new to such a curiosity to expect an impending grand finale in which all bets are off; the power grid fails, store shelves empty, gas pumps get bagged, and all hell breaks loose in suburban cul-de-sacs where soccer moms in body armor pump 7.62 into hordes of urbanites (read: blacks and latinos…OK, and maybe a few white guys with neck tattoos get plugged for good measure) who are scouring the once idyllic portions of America in search of condensed soup and cheerleaders for their rape rooms.

Instead another year grinds by in which forest fires destroyed more than they ever had in North america, heat waves killed thousands in Pakistan, sea levels continued their upward march, and political institutions seemed ever more and more inept in the face of all the compounding emergencies that industrial civilization faces. Even my own humble region was affected by unseasonable levels of rain this July which were punctuated by a night of flash flooding that tested my mettle and resolve as I spent hours trying to find an unblocked path home.

Of course, we know that there are no solutions, not for the major crises. There is no putting back what is broken, and limits to growth are not optional. They are not suggested daily values. Sustainability isn’t a lifestyle choice. That which cannot be sustained will not be. For us as individuals, families, tribes, and communities, there is only endurance. How do we get by, and not just with the calories in our gut to labor forth, but with the joy in our hearts to make us want to carry on? Times of decline are times of darkening in the human heart and soul. Atrocity follows shortage. A world of hunger, hate, and blood is a world in which human conscience is called upon to rise, to shield, to burn brightly, despite less and less obvious motivation to do so.

The year draws down and grants us all yet another season to breathe. Let us use the time wisely.

And you thought Greece had a problem?


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Author: Norman Pagett (The End of More)


While we might think of money as supporting our economy, only energy can support the solvency of a nation, and only surplus energy can fulfill the aspirations of its rulers and the desires of its citizens. Until the advent of the industrial revolution, and in particular the universal availability of cheap oil, that energy could only come from territory that could produce sufficient food and other essentials for any level of civilized living. We might ‘demand’ that our leaders provide new hospitals, schools, roads and all the other things that make life comfortable, but without the necessary surplus energy to do it, it is impossible. No political posturing or promises or taxation can change that.

Most deny it, but we live in an energy economy, not a money economy. Without the continually increasing forward thrust of energy input, no economy can exist in the context that we have become used to.

Not just the Greeks, but those charged with governing every nation on Earth, have lost sight of the fundamental law of collective survival: if a nation doesn’t produce enough indigenous surplus energy to support the demands of its people, they must beg, buy, borrow or steal it from somewhere else, or face eventual collapse and starvation until their numbers reach a sustainable level.

Our lifestyle support system has been based on that premise since prehistory. Nomadic tribesmen, probably in the region of present day Iraq, had the bright idea of fixing borders around land, then growing their food supply instead of chasing after it. Fences and borders meant land could be owned and given value that could be measured in energy terms.

What we know as civilization is based on that simple concept. Land and its potential energy became capital, and our genetic forces ensured it was exploited to the full. Primitive farmers knew nothing of calorific values, or capitalism; only that too little food meant starvation, sufficient food averted famines, and surplus food offered prosperity. No one wanted to starve, few were content with sufficient, so the drive for surplus became relentless. It still is; only the scale has changed, it has become the profit motive in everything we do. Everybody wants a payrise, few refuse one. We are all capitalists, we differ only by a matter of scale.

Enclosed land needed strong control and the will to fight for it. Strength prevailed while weakness went under as resource competition ebbed and flowed across tribal territories. If land produced enough spare food and other necessary commodities, it was possible to equip and feed an army, and use it to occupy more territory. In that way collective energy could rapidly roll up small territories into a nation or an empire, create warlords and kings, and give credence to gods who were invariably on the winning side.


Possession of land and what it produces is the hidden support of what we now understand as our economy and the viability of our infrastructure. Conflict makes that economy even more profitable and one that is built on power and aggression provides the potential for endless resource warfare, whether bloody or political. In 1941 Germany invaded Greece using the bloody version. In 2015 Greece is experiencing the political version. As a small weak country Greece lacks the resource strength to resist.

The more land that could be held and ruled, the more food-energy could be produced. Surplus energy that came in the form of meat and grain and timber was too big to carry around, so tokens of gold and silver became an accepted measure of energy value.

Different civilisations arose and used different monetary systems, but all broadly followed the pattern we are locked into now: those who controlled the land controlled the energy that supported the prevalent economy, whether primitive or sophisticated, warlike or peaceful. With sufficient surplus and a big enough labour force held in some kind of serfdom or dependency, tokenized energy could be diverted to pay for the construction of cities, castles and cathedrals. While the labour of men to build them, the allegiance of soldiers to guard them, and the faith of priests to pray over them might be bought with gold and silver, the system depended on a supply of food and basic commodities well above subsistence level, ultimately provided by the heat of the sun. That’s why the great early civilisations and empires began in the warm tropical and sub tropical regions of the world. And why Eskimos did not field armies, build cities, or inflict the hysteria of mass religion on themselves; they didn’t get enough sunshine to provide the energy resources.

That gave rise to the factors we still live with today: warm productive stable land sustains a bigger healthier population. People eat and procreate, need more sustenance, and demand that their leaders provide it, so the thrust of constant expansion is inevitable in order to feed them. This was as true for small farming settlements between the Tigris and the Euphrates, as it was for the Roman Empire. It was the force that drove the European industrial powers outwards to carve up Africa, the Americas and the Far East to give a privileged section of humanity a prosperity that has been unique in our history. Those of us who enjoy those privileges have lost sight of where they came from, and how fragile they are.

Consequently we are still locked into the same energy-hungry capitalist dynamic, only now we believe that money has not only been substituted for the energy that created it, it has replaced it. In most people’s minds, the illusion of money has supplanted tangible, hard resources. Energy is no longer regarded as necessary to sustain prosperity; we can print it, or better still, make it appear electronically.


Who needs oil? Keynesian economics says that perpetual growth will come through passing bits of coloured paper or plastic from hand to hand at an ever-faster rate.

The leaders of every advanced industrial nation are driven to promise this kind of ‘growth’ to their people, for no better reason than because there has always been growth, so our future will be growth driven too; they and we know no other way. We believe the lie that money itself has taken on an intrinsic worth of its own.

The Greeks fiddled their accounts, joined the EU and accepted the common currency of the Euro and the collective certainty of the money-driven nature of growth, at a time when oil was $25 a barrel. With oil so cheap, any concern about indigenous energy sources was irrelevant. They had a world class (oil dependent) shipbuilding and sea transport industry, and (oil dependent) tourism was booming. In the late 90s, when oil had fallen to $18 a barrel, they borrowed $11 billion to buy still more energy to burn in order to stage the 2004 Olympic games. Greek prosperity depended on infinite supplies of hydrocarbon fuel, but they followed the common belief in infinite money.

When the price of oil peaked in 2008, the crash was inevitable. The certainty that money represented wealth was destroyed by the price of oil, but they borrowed billions more to try to prove it hadn’t. Any reason was better than reality: that you can’t run a cheap energy economy on expensive energy.

The latest clutch of Greek politicos got themselves voted into office because they told the Greek people what they wanted to hear: that prosperity could be voted into office, as if the availability of indigenous energy within their borders was a matter of political choice. Alexis Tsipras believed the Keynesian fantasy and convinced himself that borrowed money put into endless circulation will generate wealth and ‘growth’. $11 billion spent on the now derelict Olympic stadium should have served as a warning, but it didn’t.


More ‘bailouts’ have been agreed; the Greeks will now settle back into their soporific lifestyle and the headline writers will find something more newsworthy. But the hammer of reality has only been lifted temporarily from the anvil of their economy. In a year or so, when the Greeks have spent their latest loan, it will crash down again, harder.

The Greeks are not money-bankrupt, they are energy-bankrupt.

But so is every other nation, to a greater or lesser degree. Saudi Arabia is in a worse state of energy bankruptcy than the poverty stricken Greeks, they just don’t know it yet.

A century ago, Greece had a population of around 5 million, and had only partially freed itself from control by the Ottoman Empire. Despite wars, revolution, hyperinflation and foreign occupation during the 20th century, it remained poor but largely self sufficient as a pastoral country. During that period, the population doubled, due in a large extent to reclaiming Turkish held territories in the early 20th century. In a worst-case scenario, if Greece defaults on its debts, and drops out of the EU and the European currency, 11 million Greeks will be left to feed themselves at a very basic level. They will have no choice but to fall back on a more primitive lifestyle, forgo the luxuries bought by oil consumption and live on the energy sources within their own borders. When they do that, their energy bankruptcy will disappear.

100 years ago, Arabia had a population of 1.5 million, and was also a region of the Ottoman Empire. The term Saudi had not been prefixed to it and the Gulf States did not exist. Their people were basically nomadic, with no concept of national identity, or civilization approaching the Greek level. Though under nominal control of the Turks, they were effectively protected by their hostile desert. Living was primitive, but like the Greeks, self sufficient on their terms.

Then in 1938 oil was found in Arabia, now the population is over 30 million. The current excesses of Saudi Arabia are too familiar to need recounting here. We’ve all watched the Saudis use their oil to build unsustainable cities in deserts, where previously there had been none. They have used their oil to suck finite water out of aquifers and desalinate seawater to maintain the fantasy of endless prosperity. They buy in every conceivable luxury and try to outdo each other with meaningless towers of vanity that they see as expressions of wealth and status. They build because they can, believing the economic nonsense that spending energy-based tokens, i.e. money, creates profit and wealth. Just like the vanity of the Greek Olympic venues, the glittering towers of Riyadh and Mecca and Jeddah are seen as a source of commercial prosperity that will deliver and provide cashflow long after the oilflow has dried up.


As the Greeks discovered when the energy flow stopped going into their arenas, they began to disintegrate. Without constant energy input, money embedded in concrete, glass and steel can only show a return if more money (energy) is constantly added to resist the ultimate certainty of entropy. No one has pointed out that while Saudi towers may be designed to last 100 years, the oil-energy that supports them will run out in less than 30, maybe as few as 20 years. (It has been suggested that Saudi might become an oil importer by 2030, though exactly where the imported oil will come from, or how it might be paid for, is not clear). Then the towers will start to fall apart just as the Saudi economy will fall apart because the oil-energy they use to fuel such vanities is borrowed from their own future. And they will have no means of repaying it; their creditors are not foreign bankers, but their own young and dispossessed. They will violently reject the certainty of a life as goat herders and camel traders if only for the reason that they wouldn’t know how.

Just like the Greeks they will demand that the lifestyle they know carries on unimpeded by the reality of energy shortage. They will try to borrow money to maintain it, with the same result. Bankruptcy on the Saudi scale will make the Greek version look like a small bank overdraft. Unlike Greece, the desert is hostile to human life at the current Saudi density, and needs constant input of food, water and air conditioning to survive 50o C summer heat.

11 million Greeks can feed themselves from their own land. 30 or 40 million Saudis are going to have to face the brutal truth that they can’t. The Saudis currently produce about 10 million barrels of oil a day, and they have to use one third of that to keep themselves alive and in the luxury they think they need. They have created an artificial existence entirely dependent on trading oil for food, and face a future of actual starvation, because there will not be sufficient surplus food energy available anywhere in the world to prevent it once the oil has gone. At current rates of growth their population is projected to reach 60 million by 2050 so between now and then a sudden and catastrophic end to the oil-excess is certain. That life-subsidy of one barrel of oil in three will rapidly disappear, with Saudi using constantly depleting oil to buy food at constantly increasing prices in a race to stay alive. Unemployable young men face a non-future where their luxurious privileges are stripped away by forces beyond their control and understanding. With the oilwells sucked dry, the US fleet will sail away from Bahrain, and discontent will manifest itself into riot. In perhaps only 10 or 15 years, Saudi Arabia as a viable nation will not have sufficient indigenous energy to prevent collapse. There will be nowhere to buy, beg, borrow or steal it from, and no oil for export. Which is where Greece is right now.

Since the oilwealth kicked in and the population exploded, Saudi now has a youth bulge in their population. 37% are under 14, 51% are under 25. Already the unemployment rate in the 16 to 29 age range is reported as 29%, possibly much higher. Of those with graduate level jobs, most have been absorbed by the public sector, with Shias being actively discriminated against by the dominant Sunnis. Jobs requiring technical skills are filled by foreign workers. Effectively this means that virtually all wages and unemployment benefits are paid out of oil revenues. This is where violent unrest will come from when the oil flow begins to dry up. Already Saudi has paid out $billions in freebies to pacify their unemployable young men, while maintaining the unreality of gasoline at 16c a liter, effectively using oil to subsidise itself.

With its oil wealth diminishing, Saudi is a ticking time bomb, split by religious factions and sectarianism, confined by repression at a medieval level and surrounded by religious zealots who see infidel industry being supported by the holy oil that rightfully belongs in the land of the prophet. Compared to that, Greece is an oasis of tranquility.

Masked Sunni gunmen pose for a photo during a patrol outside the city of Falluja April 28, 2014. Iraqi soldiers say they have been trapped in and around the western city of Ramadi. They say they have run low on tank shells, lack aerial cover and armoured vehicles, and have been hit by high casualties and desertion rates. In March and April, ISIL seized a dam in Fallujah, flooded farmland on the outskirts of Baghdad in Abu Ghraib, and drained offshoots of the Euphrates river; the Iraqi government evacuated the main prison for Sunni detainees in Abu Ghraib because of the ongoing clashes; and militants, thought to be from ISIL, bombed the country's oil pipeline to Turkey.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT) - RTR3MZIX

For a different energy/economy collapse scenario, move on to China.

There, energy is being locked into unusable real estate on a truly colossal scale, concentrated on building cities in places where there are no people to live in them. City after city is being constructed right across the country, creating an illusion of ‘Gross Domestic Product’, where officials can only achieve recognition by the rate at which infrastructure is built. A building without people in it is disregarded as irrelevant. 6 million people enter the Chinese job market every year. Construction creates employment, GDP means everything and urbanization targets must be reached.

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment. Prime Minister Li Keqiang, November 2013

If an apartment block or shopping mall costs $10 million to build, then that is the ‘value’ of the building on the ledger of national prosperity. If it stands empty for years, the ‘value’ is somehow retained. In China, the motivation is different to that in Saudi Arabia or Greece, but there is the same determination to spend money on projects that are intended to deliver infinite commercial prosperity based on the imagined value of the building itself.

They are building dozens of fully functioning cities on the assumption that workers will show up to fill them. But of course those workers will need food as well as ongoing and permanent employment, which isn’t going to be there, so the ghost cities will not have the means to exist. The cities are where people are supposed to live, the countryside is where food is supposed to be produced.


But both need vast quantities of oil to function. At the current rate of growth of around 8% a year, by 2035 China will (in theory) be using the same volume of oil currently consumed in the world now. That won’t happen of course, because the world oil supply is the same for China as it is for Saudi Arabia, twenty years, maybe much less, no matter how much they buy in and hoard. The Chinese desperation for oil will become critical, just as Saudi exports begin to become unavailable. As supply tightens, so conflict over it will increase, thus restricting supply still further until conflict brings oil production to a virtual standstill. But the Chinese ‘ghost cities’, just like Saudi towers, are intended to last a hundred years.

The figures don’t add up; it’s arithmetic too frightening for most to contemplate. China is dependent on its ever increasing production system to generate new jobs. That drives suicidal pollution and insatiable resource consumption because like capitalist governments everywhere, growth must be prioritized over the environment. Growth without oil is impossible so while the ghost cities of China have a value according to government statistics, they produce nothing; and until they do, will have no value at all. Even if some workers do manage to occupy parts of the ghost cities, without oil there won’t be sufficient power to keep them functioning. Under the inflexible second law of thermodynamics, without constant energy input, entropy takes over and buildings begin to deteriorate from the moment they are completed.

Detroit has followed a different path to bankruptcy.

Detroit Ruins

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant (September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan) serve as canvas for graffiti artists. 78,000 abandoned buildings are strewn across Detroit’s 142 square miles.

Whatever the causes of Detroit’s demise, and there can be said to be many, the overall picture is one of declining energy input. People moved out and no longer spent money on making the city a viable entity. The car plants closed, removing the need for people to be there, the loss of inhabitants removed their collective energy, and the city began to fall apart. The result is unequivocal: remove energy input, and any artifice declines, decays and collapses at an accelerating rate.

Detroit is a bankrupt microcosm of the USA: a nation of 330 million people built entirely on the capitalist system needing infinite expansion, drawing on finite energy borrowed from a future that is unsustainable.

America differs little from the disaster scenarios of Saudi Arabia and China. Finite water is being relentlessly pumped out of depleting aquifers, and finite hydrocarbon is being turned into fertilizer to produce food while cities are forced to grow in hostile deserts. The products of Detroit and cheap fuel allowed suburban sprawl to spread 50 miles out from city hubs across the nation because food and water could be delivered, sewage disposed of and climate altered to personal taste. Declining oil supply will render suburbia hostile to modern living as we know it; the local environment may look different, but the effect on human existence will be the same as the excesses of Saudi or China.

Saudi Arabia, China and America are examples of what our future is going to be. But every nation is promising itself a prosperous future while borrowing from it at an ever-increasing rate, making certain that it cannot exist.

The input of oil into national economics has not exempted humanity from the laws of physics. The trappings of civilization have not altered our fundamental rule of existence: whether your station in life is humble or exalted, if you don’t produce food from the earth on a personal basis, your life depends on someone, no matter how many stages removed, converting sunlight into food on your behalf. Not only that, it must be sold at a price you can afford within a stable environment. Essentially, civilization is just that. Remove it and most will starve while those with enough personal resilience will have no option but to revert to hunter gathering or even scavenging, because what we call civilization is as fragile as the oil it sits on. For the millions of homeless people living on the streets in our ‘civilised’ cities, civilization is over. For them there is little hope of a return to prosperity, with a good job, a warm home and security.

History shows that a radically destabilized environment results in war, famine, disease and death. Any one of those four can and will exacerbate the other three.

Our civilization is becoming increasingly unstable, and right now the four horsemen are getting restless.

In one hundred years time, would you prefer to be living in the United States, China, Saudi Arabia…..or Greece?

The End of the Oil Age.


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Author: Norman Pagett (The End of More)


But how can we define an oil age? It has been about 150 years since the first deep oilwells were sunk, and just over 200 years since the viable steam engine was developed. The two are linked, because the steam engine made deep drilling of oilwells possible and gave us access to a hundred million years worth of fossilized sunlight. Perhaps we have not strictly had an oil age, but rather the first and only age where we enjoy vast amounts of surplus energy that we have extracted from hydrocarbon fuels, of which oil is the most energy dense. It has brought us material wealth, and the means to indulge in wholesale killing of each other and all other species. It gave excesses of food and a population that consumed that food and grew to five or six times the sustainable level of the planet. In the timespan of human existence, the ascendance of modern industrialised man has been a short flash of light and heat that has briefly lifted us out of the mire of the middle ages, but at a considerable cost to the environment.

Our mistake has been to think of that elevation as both divine and permanent. That certainty of permanence explains the mad scramble to come up with ‘alternatives’ and ‘renewables’ in the last decade or two. Something to keep current politicians in office and the masses pacified. It is important that we accept the seductive indoctrination that prayers will be answered and technology will continue to deliver all that can be imagined. The majority have come to believe in the economics of cornucopianism, where wishing for something will make it happen, while ignoring the reality that everything we have is derived from finite hydrocarbon fuels. If we spend enough money, alternatives will always be found to sustain our lifestyle. They won’t of course, and the conflicts that have been fought over oil are proof that they won’t. The pivot of world oil economy is Saudi Arabia, (the concept of ‘Saudi America’ is too ludicrous for discussion here), but that fantasy land of sand dunes and tall towers is being encircled by fanatics who know that when the jugular of global oil is cut, the industrial complexity of the developed west will die.

When (not if) that happens, we might be lucky to hold onto an existence akin to that of the 14th century, which is what the religious zealots want to inflict on all of us. If we’re unlucky, then we must expect something that will be much darker and as yet inadmissible to modern minds that do not have the scope to deal with its implications. That infers an unpleasant imagery of pre-history that we prefer to ignore. Understandably, most think the same way; this is why we cling to the comforting promise of ‘infinite growth’. The alternative is just too awful. Instead we have been encouraged to believe that we can do without oil and not only still run around on wheels, but have a purpose for doing so. And by some means yet to be invented, keep our wings as well.

Our oil age will not end through lack of it, but by fighting over what’s left. So choose your luck‐factor and take that thought where you will, you are on your own with it. Many reasons are given for starting wars, but ultimately there is only one: the pursuit of (energy) resources. Human greed drove improvements in weaponry, and the means of destruction and acquisition became more deadly over thousands of years even though there was more than enough for everyone. The input of oil was the game changer of warfare; history over the last century has shown that conflict was not diminished, but amplified, by the prosperity and technology created by oil. Since the 1860s when black gold gushed from the earth, the economic and political thinking of the pre‐oil era was seamlessly grafted onto the industrial potential of the 19th century, thereby enabling Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and many others to accumulate fabulous wealth. Their business acumen was undeniable, but none of it could have been brought into existence without energy-rich oil. The use of fossil fuels in our military machines industrialised our methods of killing while at the same time becoming synonymous with progress and commerce. War became a business, the purpose of which was the acquisition of more energy in the pursuit of profit. Battlefield deaths on an industrial scale were an unlisted debit on balance sheets.


WWI started with the muscle power of horses and ended with tanks, demonstrating the murderous scope of mechanized warfare. Recognizing the critical value of oil and its sources, leaders carved up the Middle East to ensure its supply. An exercise in map making in the 1920s by the English and French civil servants Sykes and Picot set the scene for carnage that has raged throughout the Middle East ever since. Arbitrary lines in the sand were drawn, artificial oil states in the Persian Gulf region were created without regard to tribal affiliations, and a quarrelsome orphan Israel was dumped into the lap of unwilling Bedouins. As the quantity of oil there became apparent, all the major nations were drawn into the race for it because those who controlled this key resource were certain to subjugate those who did not.

The critical nature of oil made WWII inevitable. To sustain their empires, the Germans and Japanese slaughtered their way across Europe and Asia in a grab for resources, primarily oil. They promised infinite prosperity and their peoples cheered them on while deaths elsewhere were being counted in millions. With most of the world’s known oil supplies in the hands of his enemies, Adolf Hitler knew he had to have the oilfields of southern Russia and the Middle East to sustain his war machine. He failed, and his dream of a ‘Greater Germany’ collapsed not because of inferior soldiers but because there was insufficient energy input to sustain his plan for world domination. Hitler’s perception of infinite growth in his ‘thousand year Reich’ mirrors our present-day view of ‘permanent affluence’: vast quantities of oil had to be burned to sustain his fantasy. In our desperate scramble for ever-diminishing energy resources, we are in the same mad race to perpetuate the delusion of infinite economic growth. The oil pendulum has swung the other way with roughly 85% of world oil now outside the borders of the USA and Canada in countries not always of a friendly disposition. And just like the Fuhrer, political leaders of today are promising that which is beyond their means to provide. To mask this reality, they have invaded oil-producing nations in the name of ‘freedom’, claiming ‘victories’ which have left only wreckage and simmering animosity behind. So too did Hitler spread a similar line of propaganda that he was liberating other nations from the threat of communism. The second world war that left Europe and Japan flattened in 1945 might be seen as history, but it was just the first of many oil wars, and the politics of it were a side issue. WWII serves as a grim reminder of how violent and destructive humans can be in their ruthless pursuit of energy resources. Hitler’s own ‘oil age’ lasted just twelve years, and it set the pattern for the world oil age that is now in terminal decline.


Don’t be deceived by the democratic righteousness that defeated Hitler’s fascism. 150 years earlier the American empire was created with the same kind of energy grab. The European immigrant peoples who forced their way across America from the 1700s onwards needed resources on which to survive and to sustain the prosperity of an expanding nation just as the Germans and the Japanese did in 1940. The native inhabitants of the American continent were in the way of civilization and progress; their subjugation was a precursor to what happened later in Europe and Asia. Expansive prairies had to be cleared to convert the energy locked in grain and meat to feed the invaders and provide negotiable currency. This self-perpetuating process went into overdrive with the discovery of oil, and the ultimate conversion of that oil into more food resources and hardware added to the wealth of the growing nation. An expanding population needed employment, and the raw energy from oil, coal, and gas supplied it. America and the rest of the industrialised world had the means to build bigger, better, faster machines in endless succession, and created the most powerful country on earth. Everybody was going to be rich, forever. The universal law of consumption was relentless: more demanded more.

Meat and grain grew with relatively little human intervention, but other crops needed to be worked with human muscle. So the slave trade came into being. Slavery might be given many unpleasant names, but essentially it is the acquisition of one energy form to convert it into another for profit. Buy and feed the slave, use slave labour to do work, sell the product of that work. By the time the slave is worn out, several more will have been produced. This was simple economics by 18th century standards but the human consequences were again horrific, costing more millions of lives. It also brought on the American civil war where the slave‐muscled South was overwhelmed by the industrialised muscle that drove the armies of the North.

All the European empires forged out of so-called ‘empty lands’ across the world followed a similar pattern of resource acquisition and an absolute disregard for weaker peoples. It is an unpleasantness that we choose to ignore, but it confirms the killing force that drives us to acquire and convert energy to our own use. The seemingly limitless amount of oil and its energy density appeared to be the answer to all our labour problems. Oil became our ultimate slave. Or so we thought.

We now have maybe 20 years worth of usable oil left. There are certainly no more than 30, perhaps as little as 10. If one of the crazy sects running loose in the Middle East managed to get hold of a nuclear device, setting it off on the Gharwar oilfield of Saudi Arabia, it would be endgame overnight. That is perhaps too bleak a prospect, but we should not discount that notion entirely.

Burning oil field, Ahmadi Oil Fields, Kuwait, 1991, Phaidon, Iconic Images, final book_iconic

Before our oil to food arrangement, the planet supported something over one billion people. We now have over seven billion, and the mothers of the next two billion are alive now and approaching the age of reproduction. Preachers, scientists and politicians will not stop the basic human function of eating and procreation, so if unchecked nine billion people will be here by 2040/50, and set to go on rising after that. Every new arrival expects to be fed, watered, clothed and housed, but by no stretch of the imagination will the global food system be able to feed that number let alone sustain them with what would be expected by way of the most basic material comfort. No one dares to stand up and make the rather obvious point that we are not going to reach 9 billion. Something has to give, and that giving is going to be very unpleasant.

In the first decade of the 21st century, numerous wars have been fought over oil, and are being fought now. Wars are fought over resources because on nature’s terms, gentle contentedness is not a good strategy for survival; we are collectively powerless against genetic forces that dictate our lives no matter how much we protest otherwise. Downsized to whatever level, nature will ultimately force the choice of survival or death, and the outcome will be of no consequence other than to you and yours. To expect humankind to change within a single generation is stretching credibility beyond breaking point. Those who look forward to a life of bucolic bliss in a downsized oil‐less world might do well to think about that. Whether killing and butchering an animal to eat it, or invading another nation to secure oil supplies, we must appropriate energy sources to facilitate survival. You may think there’s a choice about doing that, but there isn’t, other than in the matter of scale. Whether paying a butcher to cut and wrap your steak, or paying soldiers to invade Iraq, securing sufficient energy to live is what we have to do to survive.


For the moment, nature keeps us supplied with oil, and we’ve pulled off the neat trick of converting it directly into food. Not knowing when our oil is finished and our food supply will run out is the little teaser for the early 21st century. Right now, most people think that food comes from supermarket shelves and freezers, which is just as well. The food trucks moving around the country are basically mobile warehouses, delivering food just in time for it to be consumed. When the realization dawns that the food trucks have stopped, the food held in stock by retailers will be stripped bare in hours. The oil age for everyone will have come to an end.

But oil carries man’s destiny in far more subtle ways than food supplies. It holds nations together. The USA is a vast territory of disparate peoples and ideas, held together by a common bond of prosperity and a basic consensus that government and law generally works for the good of all. And the inhabitants of empires are always convinced that theirs is permanent and protected by gods. That definition would apply to many large nations to a greater or lesser degree. But the bonds that hold it together, godly or otherwise, are entirely subject to availability of affordable oil. Empires (and the USA is an empire) remain whole so long as the means exists to maintain them. Oil has become that means.

Without oil, the nation will begin its decline into disparate regions. Without interconnecting transport, the United States of America cannot remain united. The force necessary to prevent a breakup will not be there, so within a decade (probably far less) of oil supply failure, the USA will cease to exist. The cracks are already there along linguistic, economic, racial, political and geographic lines. Even now it would be possible to take a pretty good guess at where those regions will split off.

This will be denied and resisted of course, but armies and police forces have power only as long as their fuel lasts. They will be unable to prevent secession in whatever form it takes. It might just be that Washington will come to govern not much more than the original colonies. Given a suitably deranged political leader and prayers to the right god, fully armed groups are ready to believe that the ‘American Dream’ can be restored. Such demagoguery sets the stage for years of regional violence over the basics of life, particularly food and water. The horror of it will be justified by warped views of right and wrong, clinging to a denial mentality magnified beyond any imagining by the privation that an oil-less society will bring.


This scenario is not exclusive to the USA. The British Empire was built on coal. When the coal was gone the empire faded away. Then in the 80s and 90s the UK became awash with cheap oil from the North Sea, and everyone was reasonably prosperous, particularly Scotland. Now the oil surplus has gone, and the UK is in decline again as a net importer. The ‘oil prosperity’ is fading away. Scotland is losing its main source of income and wants to secede from the United Kingdom, convinced that independence will somehow restore their wealth. Things will get very unpleasant when they realize that an independent Scotland will eventually be reduced to the economic level of Greece. The link between oil and the ability to eat is clear. The UK has to import 40% of its food, and much of the rest depends on oil to produce it, which also has to be imported. It is the end of the UK’s oil age, but few admit to it being the end of a food age as well. The same problem is being revealed in the current fiasco of the European union, but a little more advanced than the USA and UK. Oil-fueled prosperity is falling dramatically in the poorer southern countries. Greece, Spain and Portugal and a swathe of smaller nations have to import all their oil which only worked when oil was cheap. Now it’s expensive, and they are facing bankruptcy. 50 years of ‘unity’ is dissolving like a mirage in the face of the difficulties that smaller states are suffering. Without cheap oil, their economies cannot function, and so are disintegrating. United Europe needs oil to stay united just as the USA does. Russia’s oil dependent economy is crumbling, and Putin is having to make threatening postures to divert attention from his problems. His oil age is ending in a different way and yet we cannot tell if his posturing is just that, but a shortage of resources in the past has invariably brought conflict.

Move to the Far East and the nations around the South China Sea are all threatening one another, again the focus of the argument being the oil and gas fields of the region. They all know that without oil they cannot survive, and are prepared to fight for every last drop of the stuff, no matter what the cost. As a measure of what the dispute is about, the volume of oil in question is 11 billion barrels. One billion barrels is less than a month of world consumption. They are preparing to fight over the last dregs in confirmation of man’s desperation over oil shortages. Eventually, this problem will hit every nation and individual on earth as our oil‐crutch is kicked away. And with the oil age fading into history for us all, there will be no shortage of violent resistance to this inconvenient truth.

Will technological innovation save us?…

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.


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.


Merger of Capitalism and Christianity


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


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?


The Red Pope


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?


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:, and


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:


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.


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:

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 3.43.24 PM

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.

time off

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.

time off

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

“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:


Update July 10, 2015:

The big story this week:

This post appears to becoming reality.

Update July 20,2015:

xraymike79 on Twitter- -Famous climate scientist outlines alarming scenario Doubling time for W Antarctica ice loss may be as short as 10 yrs http---t co-bbN0OWBq81-

Update July 23, 2015:

James Hansen’s controversial sea level rise paper has now been published online

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.