Another climate conference has once again come and gone, echoing hollow promises and ugly unspoken realities. I won’t waste anyone’s time analyzing the verbiage of this so-called agreement which failed to even mention the term fossil fuels, probably at the behest of those who financed the entire farce, i.e. the carbon-extraction companies. Suffice it to say that countries were approving fossil fuel exploration projects before the ink of the global climate agreement had fully dried. As long as corporations are able to push environmental and social costs off their balance sheets and onto the backs of the weak and defenseless, dirty coal will be burnt and the cheapest slave labor will be employed. Questioning root causes like our inherently unsustainable way of life is still very much taboo and will remain so even after our descendants are sifting through the wreckage. Sure, mainstream publications have expanded their coverage of man-made climate change and global warming, but these existential threats to life on Earth remain an enigma to the vast majority, a footnote in some obscure textbook.
Retailers on the East Coast talk about a crisis for winter clothing sales because the weather has been too unseasonably warm to attract buyers, but nary a mention of man’s role in influencing these abnormal events, such as a super El Niño amplified by global warming. As the developed world continues to roll the climate chaos dice, we now face a higher chance of turbo-charged El Niños every 4 to 12 years and all the destruction that they bring —mass coral bleaching events, die-offs of marine mammals, record flooding and drought, crop failure and famine, refugee crises, etc. This year’s El Niño is on track to becoming the strongest on record with meteorologist Eric Holthaus exclaiming, “Our planet’s climate has undergone a step-change this year.”:
This climate “step-change” may also be indicative of a considerable underestimation of the Earth’s climate sensitivity. What should be painfully obvious by now is that the carbon footprint for everyone will have to decrease dramatically and quickly in order to slow emissions. In other words, the world’s richest will have to radically alter their lifestyles. That’s never going to happen in any variant of capitalism, a system so entrenched that it is inconceivable to imagine anything substantially different taking its place. Instead we get things like corporate greenwashing, carbon trading, decades of climate conferences, First World offshoring of manufacturing emissions into the Third World, and out-and-out fraud like the VW auto emissions scandal. The problem has been identified for nearly half a century, yet we continue to deceive ourselves with half-baked solutions and hypocritical indignation. The inertia of the system is simply too great and the dominant culture has a tendency to kill the messenger of bad news, so there is a strong incentive to sugarcoat things, but a deus ex machina is nowhere on the horizon. We’ll only change in response to the hard realities from an increasingly inhospitable planet. Sunken costs and material incentives built into our socio-economic system prevent radical change and fetishize the myth of the easy techno-fix, a yet-to-be-invented technology that will magically sustain modern civilization while at the same time keep the wolves of ecological collapse at bay. Even more delusional, a prominent tech magnate has urged humanity to pursue interstellar colonization before we render the Earth uninhabitable, but as an internet commenter quipped, “A post-nuclear war, global warming-baked and hyper polluted Earth will still be paradise compared to Mars.” Some technophiles admit the future actually looks rather grim:
…But the most worrisome threats are not merely anthropogenic, they’re technogenic. They arise from the fact that advanced technologies are (a) dual-use in nature, meaning that they can be employed for both benevolent and nefarious purposes; (b) becoming more powerful, thereby enabling humans to manipulate and rearrange the physical world in new ways; and (c) in some cases, becoming more accessible to small groups, including, at the limit, single individuals…
Just as technology is not neutral, so too is the economic system driving this technology. The institution of capitalism, which has been copied and exported all over the world since WW II, has established widespread acceptance for the condition of mass production, mass consumption, and waste at an ever accelerating rate, pushing the world deeper and deeper into ecological crisis. For example, the ubiquity of plastics now exhibits itself as microscopic pieces on every beach in the world and in our dinner with trillions more pieces in the oceans than previously thought. Scientists estimate that nearly all sea birds will be ingesting some sort of plastic by 2050. In spite of this growing evidence of a plasticised planet, the production of plastics has only increased while recycling remains an effort in futility:
For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 3.9 percent increase over 2012’s output. With a market driven by consumerism and convenience, along with the comparatively low price of plastic materials, demand for plastic is growing. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year – link
There’s no going back from this global complexity trap we’ve built around ourselves. All those bits of plastic will end up in the sedimentary layer of the Anthropocene along with elevated concentrations of CO2, radionuclides from nuclear fallout and waste, as well as novel metals and pollutants never before seen. Once underway, mass extinctions cannot be reversed, especially when driven by over seven billion pleasure-seeking, individualistic “consumers”. Materialism and greed, we are told, are natural human instincts, and they are all too eagerly rewarded by an economic system which reduces everything to a financial object and monetizes every aspect of the natural world. Today’s environmentalism is, as Derrick Jensen pointed out, similar to the palliative care given to prisoners in Nazi Germany death camps. The emaciated ecological ghosts of so many species are right before us, yet nearly everyone is blind to the unfolding catastrophe of the 6th mass extinction:
…we lose a huge chunk of the world’s diversity that will never come back. We lose the potential for communication with other lifeforms, with the only remaining ones eventually whittled down to domesticated animals or weed species that thrive in civilized man’s destructive footsteps. The conversation of life itself is turning into small talk, but the only recognition that seems to be made by this culture is how [biodiversity loss] “reduces carbon storage”. How trees and animals can provide “ecosystem services”, as if they existed for nothing more than to continue the existence of the mad king ape. – pathofraven
Yes, we are pretty far gone when a four minute comedy routine makes more sense than anything broadcasted on the evening news. Corporate mass media-controlled public debates have degenerated into infomercial sound bites. In a society where success is measured by the key metrics of money and profit, it should be no surprise that a wealthy, xenophobic businessman is able to garner mass appeal by hogging publicity and playing on the fears and base desires of the populus. “Make America Great Again” is a catchy slogan for a society ignorant of the collapsing world around them and oblivious to the over-consumptive, profligate way of life that is proving to be their undoing. For a celebrity-obsessed culture whose world is falling apart, the next logical choice for its leader would seem to be a reality TV show star who says he can restore the illusion of the American dream and build a great wall to keep all the riff-raff out.
A fascist right-wing administration might just provide that extra push that takes us all over the edge into collapse. With the Presidency largely serving as a figurehead position for the Deep State, I’m not convinced a different candidate would make a measurable difference in the grand scheme of things anyway. Our “democracy” is, after all, just one more illusion in a bread-and-circus election cycle:
“Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” – Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
So while terrorism takes center stage in the overstretched Empire of Amnesia, remember this simple fact: 303 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide in the last decade while 320,523 Americans were killed because of gun violence in that same time period. Random mass shootings, capitalism’s “free market” genocides, the disruption of the Holocene’s stable climate regime by anthropogenic climate disruption, tipping points in the earth’s biosphere, terminal industrial disease, and many other things come to mind that pose a much bigger danger to the average American, but the War on Terror, conceived as open-ended, serves as a conveniently omnipresent boogieman for jerking the chain of the taxpayer and justifying the growth of an intrusive security state. What better way to control the masses as the wheels continue coming off the global economy and the biosphere becomes evermore threadbare. The rich will retreat into their luxury spider holes until the coast is clear.
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.
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.
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 HarveyFirestone, 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.
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?
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!
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.
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: Motherboard, wfs.org, and yalescientific.org)
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:
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:
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.”…
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.
When past predictions of future catastrophic events like ice sheet melt, spreading tropical diseases, and forest fragmentation start to become reality while no substantial means to prevent them from happening has ever been implemented, you begin to question the phrase so often bandied about that “it’s never too late.” It was never too late decades ago and we’re still holding out on that hope. Despite any techno-utopian fantasies you hear in the news, economic activity and growth are still linked to CO2 emissions. Until this fundamental truth is dealt with, we’ll all be spinning our wheels and wringing our hands over our continued descent into ecological and societal collapse. Perhaps this is part of the reason I have not blogged recently. As Leonard Nimoy expressed in his last twitter message, I think I’ll try to enjoy the here and now while I’m alive…
The following is a guest post by commenter BP:
The majority of people visiting collapse and post-peak sites are Caucasian, disillusioned, with a slimmer majority subset being male; in other words, representatives though not participating members of the failing power elite. If these collapsitarians did wield real power, they wouldn’t be deeply dissatisfied with the present social arrangement and secretly hoping for an honest to goodness smokin’ homecookin’ cracklin’ good ole’ fashioned apocalypse to happen in their lifetime. You know, just to spice things up a little bit and provide some entertainment because industrial living can be such a boooooring, regimented drag, man. Tick tock. Time to get up, time to eat, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, rinse and repeat. Even regularity in our shitting is considered desirable in this totalizing system. Watches are slave driving devices – a shackle – your very own drill sergeant and task master all rolled into one convenient portable sleek wrapped modern design. Little wonder you have so many suit and tie clean-cut preppie American Psycho types with their rictus eternally sun shining grins (everything’s alright, everything’s fine, everything’s okay) resorting to extremes: bungee jumping, sky diving, narcotics and gambling, binge eating, binge shopping, binge TV watching, auto-erotic asphyxiation, any and all manner of titillation and stimulation just to get a rise. We’ve been dulled and sanitized, tamed and neutralized. The demographic comprising most of the power elite also happens to be the one most likely to become serial killers preying on their own species. If you live in a foreign land you might argue there’s no difference between Ted Bundy and the president. Either way, it’s another fun-filled pet project to while away the hours with. But I don’t want to give anyone any ideas, and I won’t be held accountable for what you do when you turn off your addictive electronic stimulus delivery systems aka computers tonight, even though we excel at passing responsibility onto something else. The lengths people will go… And these are the lucky ones who still have jobs. YAY!! I don’t even want to imagine life on the other side – we’ll all get there soon enough. Why spoil the surprise?
So raise your hands if you’re waiting for a giant or gradual (does it really matter?) clusterfuck that results in a significant reduction in our species’ numbers, because whatever you think is likely, it’s a necessary precursor to what ever comes next. The table has already been set and our carcass is the main dish.
Now that you’ve had your fill, how about some desert? I have a thought experiment that shouldn’t take too much time. Suppose you’ve decided to kill yourself. You’ve set a date, (a week from tomorrow), a time (midnight), thoroughly planned the method (hanging), bought the needed supplies (rope – duh!), and are dead set on following through. How, if any, would your life change in the time remaining? I’ll indulge in some fantasy since there doesn’t seem to be enough of that going around and Star Wars isn’t out until December. For starters, you could max out your credit and buy that car you’ve always fancied – you know, the one that runs on limited gasoline? You could also screw a few whores and not worry about contracting a venereal disease or what you’d have to say to your wife. Gorge on that chocolate cake and go for seconds topped with ice cream this time, downed with cola and chased with both pizza and hamburgers for desert. Why not? Fuck blood pressure, you’re going to die anyway. Then after your attention deficit disorder kicks in, you could switch to watching porn, wasting time playing Modern Warfare while eating Doritos and not feel one ounce of guilt that you could be doing something more with your life. Consume shit you don’t need to your heart’s content without any second thoughts! After all, ecologically speaking, we’re consumers! Let’s take a moment to give Capitalism some credit. It found a way to manipulate our basic human nature for its own ends and boy has it ever worked. Nothing has mobilized humanity – not pharaohs, despots, kings nor gods – like the wage economy. The best part about the whole affair is you can live without consequences because, in case you forgot, you’ll be dead in a week. Sound familiar? It’s a rarity these days when ideas and reality coincide. Yep, you guessed it. That’s exactly what our species has been doing – living large like there’s no tomorrow – and it’s hastening our eventual collective suicide.
And is that such a bad thing? There’s way too much despair, self-pitying, and despondent anger on these websites. Outside of our narrow anthropocentric perspective, the human race’s demise might even be cause for celebration. If that’s too much, at least it needn’t be mournful. After all, our history on this planet has proven that, if nothing else, we’re two legged, genocide-wreaking, blood-thirsty assassins. The only species that kills for fun, whether it be bipeds, quadrupeds or any other number of peds, we’ve obliterated them all. I’m confused by all this concern about surviving in a post industrial world. Are our souls (if we even have them) really worth saving? Even if a band of hardy survivors manages to achieve some semblance of harmony with their environment, sooner or later some marauding horde is going to come along, fuck things up, steal their shit, and rape their women. Hey, we’ve had a good ride. Nothing lasts forever. Time for something else to take a turn so we can join the dinosaurs. We aren’t going to change or magically turn into peaceful, loving breathren. That’s simply more wishful thinking, a romanticization of a few mythological hunter and gatherer tribes of the past projected onto the future. The reality is we rape, love, murder, bully, give and take, enslave, create music, art, math, and take pleasure in sadism (see UFC, boxing, WWE, Clausewitzian Warfare aka NFL, the latest scandal, the natural disaster channel aka The Weather Network/CNN and your generic horror movie and cop drama), all of which is hard-wired into our DNA. The human race is folly and cleverness stuffed into a complex paradoxical package. There’s no shame in that. I don’t see the point in worrying over what’s out of our control and what can’t be changed. It’s better to laugh than cry and maybe that’s all we can do. Time to stop demonizing the species.
And isn’t it also time we accept ourselves as natural? Our criticism of all the havoc we’re wreaking on the planet implies we’re outside, removed from nature; ironic since this divide is also acknowledged as part of the problem. Nature – ‘The Environment’ – is something we act upon – not a part of. Bullshit. We’re terrestial, carbon-based omnivores. There’s not an ounce of artificiality about us. That includes the products of our actions like the much-maligned villainous scoundrel PLASTIC. Dah, dah, dah, daaahhh. So what if humans synthesized 22 out of 117 periodic elements? That manipulation, as the word implies, came at our own hands with existing elements crashing together in high-speed accelerators. A polar bear – that sacred symbol for the ineffectual environmental movement – and its particular combination of constituent elements didn’t occur naturally on Earth for most of the planet’s history either. It will soon return to that condition in short order. And what of the indignant protest that plastic doesn’t degrade? Be patient. If our species lasts long enough, which I doubt, it might get to witness that little miracle. After all, a lot can happen in the next few billion years. Making the case that plastic is natural is not to say it isn’t disruptive. Any new arrival on the scene disrupts the existing order. Some things more than others. But it still derives from the Earth, doesn’t it? And so do we. And eventually, that’s where we’ll end up – 6 feet under. Maybe it’s better if that happens sooner rather than later. But it’s going to happen one way or the other regardless the constant declarations of ‘we have to do this…,’ or ‘if we don’t do that…,’ I hear on forums, in the news, at home. We’re good at giving ultimatums that we’ll never see through. Every day there’s a new resolution and self-imposed limitation proclaimed with the most dire urgency. The truth is we don’t have to do anything. The Earth will correct a wayward entity and return to balance. The catch is the new stasis doesn’t have to include us. Even if we could do something, it’s too little, too late. So do yourself a favor, enjoy your life and stop worrying so much. Maybe even laugh once and awhile. If you want to plant a tree – do it. If you don’t – knock yourself out. There are no imperatives. We’ve been unduly harsh on ourselves. Trying to be judge, jury, and executioner is just too damn exhausting. Well, my watch tells me it’s time to go to bed. Just another day in the life of the species… Tick Tock, Tick Tock.
“I fear their euphoria of merchandise will have no end and they will entangle themselves to the point of chaos. They do not seem concerned that they are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things…” ~ Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami leader and shaman
Another year has turned over on Earth, home to an exothermic, bipedal omnivore known as capitalist carbon man whose expanding numbers and army of fossil-fueled machinery spans the globe. There’s nothing subtle or restrained about his reign of terror. He pokes and prods the climate change beast while taking for granted the stability of the Holocene, a peculiar aberration in the paleoclimate record. Plotted on a graph, the history of Earth’s climate resembles the jagged teeth of a demonic monster, a volatile creature whose abrupt and catastrophic shifts have wiped landscapes clean of most life. The consequences of burning the equivalent of an olympic sized swimming pool of oil (300,000 liters) per second, year after year, into the atmosphere will ultimately prove lethal to the planet’s habitability. Recently, scientists were surprised to discover a “Delaware-sized methane cloud” hovering over the U.S. southwest, the remnant of “years of intentionally released and errantly leaked natural gas during fossil fuel drilling operations.” No less problematic to the Earth’s homeostasis are the many other destructive habits of capitalist carbon man such as moving ten times more dirt than all natural processes, fixing more nitrogen than all terrestrial bacteria, and producing more sulfate than all ocean phytoplankton.
The exponential melting of Earth’s cryospheric regions is a foreboding harbinger of devastating sea level rise, altering oceanic and jet stream circulation, changing hydrologic cycles, and wholesale disruption of the entire planet’s biospheric system. A brief retrospective of our unfolding environmental meltdown by a major news source concludes that “2014 will likely go down as the year that melting polar ice caps graduated from being a geographic abstraction to a symbol of the irreversible ways we’ve warped the planet.” News reports continue to grow more ominous with recent warnings that the oceans are on the verge of belching their decades of stored heat from human industrial activity. CIVILIZATION is in the process of going ‘poof’ as its leaders play monkey politics and the masses are drowned in a sea of consumerist images. As Dr. McPherson recently pointed out, gallows humor is the 6th stage of grief for coping with a civilization that is blind to its own demise.
“Going Green” is a Marketing Slogan and Inverted Totalitarianism is the Most Successful Form of Tyranny
“We already are on the edge of what is possible,” Mr. Löllgen said in an interview at his Düsseldorf office. “Is it worth it if we as a country succeed in reaching our targets in reducing carbon emissions, but sacrifice good jobs and our industrial base?”
Another misleading headline I get tired of reading states that humans may be headed for a 6th mass extinction. Let’s clarify this statement once and for all by admitting emphatically that we are well in the throes of a mass extinction which will likely include ourselves within this century. By all rational evidence, industrial civilization with its billions of inhabitants cannot survive without fossil fuels. The only way capitalist carbon man will ever be sustainable is as fertilizer beneath the crumbled concrete and asphalt ruins of industrial civilization. Don’t expect any mea culpa from a culture which has been programmed to believe converting all of nature into inanimate symbols of wealth is “progress” and “development”. Not even the dire warnings of esteemed scientists and religious leaders can break the spell cast by capitalism and its definition of progress. Our institutions have become intransigent, petrified monoliths to which all will be sacrificed.
“I think the notions of free will and self-determination have the appearance of reality during a civilization’s gestation and expansion phases, when there is more opportunity and social mobility. As things calcify, instruments becoming institutions that serve their own ends, the facade is harder to maintain. Human existence has always been contingent and constrained by circumstances. These ‘free’ notions are illusions, narrow windows of perception with a limited range of influence during times of transient prosperity.” ~ BP
The term inverted totalitarianism, coined a decade ago by philosopher Sheldon Wolin, describes America’s brand of despotism in which “every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.” Opposition to this dominant consumer culture is systematically co-opted and suppressed by the marginalization and alienation of alternative thought. Neoliberal capitalism governs not only states and economies, but extends right down to an individual’s behavior and way of living:
One of the goals of neoliberalism is to foster a population of individuals who will play an active role in their own self-governance by interacting with the market and consumption through calculated acts and investments… sets of rules and conditions are established between institutions, economic and social practices, and patterns of behavior. They generally function outside of conscious awareness and they habitually influence social behavior. Examples of dominant consumer culture discourse include the political linking of consumer sovereignty and choice with freedom, the linking of citizenship and national pride with consumption, the work and spend treadmill that many people choose to pursue, the commercialization of childhood and adolescence, and the celebration of consumer values through the mass media and advertising.
– Social Psychology and Theories of Consumer Culture: A Political Economy
Who better to label people as “unpatriotic” if they acknowledge the reality of climate change than the host of TV’s quintessential symbol of capitalism, The Wheel of Fortune? Beneath this digital web of commercials and TV infotainment is the iron fist of militarized local police and the panopticon surveillance state which can quickly stomp out those troublesome malcontents who break free of the American hologram. What better way is there for controlling entire populations than to condition them to enjoy their chains of slavery? America’s form of tyranny, a blend of covert and overt oppression, is the most successful in the history of mankind.
None of This Can Really Be Happening, Can It?
With all the disjointed and delusional thinking out there, I feel compelled to write a blog post periodically to get the facts straight and assure myself that what I see and hear every day is really happening. Yes, we really are terraforming the Earth into a barren wasteland while convincing ourselves that it’s worth it for the sake of a cubicle job and life in cookie-cutter suburbia. Yes, we really are ruled by the Washington-Wall Street-Pentagon complex. No, you will never get the raw truth from mainstream news outlets. Yes, I’m getting older and need to exercise more because a sedentary lifestyle is as bad as smoking. Yes, industrial civilization is still on track to collapse within my lifetime. As Robert Crumb’s mystic guru Mr. Natural exclaimed, “The whole universe is completely insane!”
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a holiday created from romanticized myths about grand and cordial feasts between pilgrims and the indigenous people whose lives, land, and culture would soon be exterminated from coast to coast. Truth be told, Thanksgiving sprang from the imaginative mind of Sarah Josepha Hale, an author and editor who campaigned for nearly two decades to make it a national holiday before winning over President Lincoln who made it official in 1863. Some historians believe Lincoln used the creation of Thanksgiving as propaganda during the Civil War to paint Northerners as the true founders of the nation whose cause in the war was virtuous and just. In her writings, Hale also pushed the delusional belief that the “United States government was founded without bloodshed.”
Today the holiday has become fully merged into the capitalist superstructure as a time to binge on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and puddings just before camping outside consumerist temples for the true day of worship… Black Friday. Riots and mob violence are generally tolerated on Black Friday since it is the key event kicking off the holiday shopping season and driving up corporate profits. Protests and riots for social justice and equality are seen as threats to the capitalist status quo and are systematically undermined, quelled, and co-opted. As I explained in a previous post, the events in Ferguson dominating the headlines are rooted in our socio-economic system.
A few recent thoughts on Twitter about Ferguson and the state of the “civilized” world…
We could go into great detail about each of the above comments, supporting them with a multitude of facts and references, but I think they speak for themselves and summarize quite well the disintegrating social fabric in America and across the world. Compounding the problem of our sociopathic and sclerotic economic system are the environmental crises of climate change, ocean acidification, resource depletion, and overpopulation, none of which can be successfully dealt with unless we address the system that underlies them all, i.e. capitalism and its energy-intensive way of life. The facts tell us it’s much too late to do anything to save ourselves, but this hopeless mindset only serves to empower those at the top who continue to profit from this corrupt and self-destructive system. It’s past time to step outside our comfort zone and do something to try and save a piece of the web of life fast disappearing before our eyes.
The following poem by William S. Burroughs resonates with what has gone horribly wrong in America and perhaps what has always been wrong.
Another election cycle passes and the American people responded with the lowest voter turnout since WWII. The staged events of today’s political rallies will soon be composed solely of people paid off with corporate bribes to wave flags and chant slogans. As ever more corporate money floods into the faux democratic process, participation by the average citizenry has plummeted. Americans are now more disillusioned with the charade of “American democracy” than at any time in history:
Confidence in Congress as an institution is at 7%, the lowest measurement in history and lower than any other institution tested, including organized labor, banks and big business. Views of the honesty and ethics of members of Congress are at 8% on average, one percentage point above lobbyists, but one point below car salesmen… – link
We are also undoubtedly becoming more callous and insensitive to our fellow-man when a 90-year-old gentleman is arrested for feeding the homeless from a church kitchen. In fact, we’ve lost all our humanity and exchanged it for the almighty dollar. Neoliberal capitalism has permeated very aspect of social and civic life, creating a new epitaph for the demise of such a mean-spirited culture —‘death by dollars’.
You Are What You Eat
I just became aware of Dr. Suzanne de la Monte’s studies on the food industry’s use of sugar in all its products in order to fabricate a consumer “bliss point” for maximizing sales. Capitalist industrial civilization has bred a morbidly obese creature conditioned to overeat processed food spiked with sugar, fat, and salt. A high-fructose diet has undoubtedly turned the cognitive skills of many into mush. John Oliver recently used a clip from her work in his takedown of the sugar industry:
“De la Monte has done her research by feeding healthy rats the equivalent of a North American diet, complete with all the sugars and fat. All her rats ended up demented.” – from the documentary The Secrets of Sugar
The IPCC stated back in 2007 that emissions would have to peak in 2015 to avoid a rise of 2°C, but since that is not going to happen, they are putting their hopes in technology that could pull CO2 out of the atmosphere while conceding that such techniques are “uncertain” and “limited”. Mankind’s grave is already deep enough, yet we keep digging. Just as China’s coal consumption has registered a drop for the first time this century, India has announced it will pick up the slack by planning to double its coal production to meet the country’s soaring energy demand. Poland has rejected the IPCC target of zero emissions by 2100. In the U.S., new data has revealed that climate change has become the most politically divisive issue in the U.S.
According to energy expert Nate Hagens, modern-day carbon man’s metabolic energy consumption makes each of us a 30-ton primate. It appears the Pavlovian conditioning of modern man to energy dense fossil fuels and capitalist wealth have irrevocably hacked and rewired his brain’s reward system. The autopsy results for the age of the Anthropocene will read: “fossil fuel overdose” and “suicide by CO2”.
…In 2012 study, researchers in Singapore found that greenhouse gas emissions from hydropower reservoirs globally are likely greater than previously estimated, warning that “rapid hydropower development and increasing carbon emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs to the atmosphere should not be downplayed.”
Those researchers suggest all large reservoirs globally could emit up to 104 teragrams of methane annually. By comparison, NASA estimates that global methane emissions associated with burning fossil fuels totals between 80 and 120 teragrams annually…
The report writers, based on data kept by the Zoological Society of London, studied 10,380 populations of 3,038 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles from 1970 to 2010. Over these four decades, the average decline of these vertebrate species was 52 per cent – all in less than two human generations.
Amongst freshwater species the population decline was a staggering 76 per cent, owing to habitat loss, land fragmentation, pollution and invasive species.
In the same period terrestrial species declined by 39 per cent through unsustainable land use and increased poaching, often spurred on by wildlife crime syndicates.
Marine species declined also by 39 per cent, to include large migratory seabirds, many shark species and also sea turtles.
A major contributory factor to marine loss of life was through by catching (accidentally catching, in certain fish net sizes, species which were of no market value and then casting these dead fish overboard), illegal fishing and overfishing of the same fishing grounds.
Currently we need a 50 per cent bigger Earth to allow the regeneration of the natural resources we consume…
…By 2050, we will have an extra 2.4 billion people in our world, with urban populations increasing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion. In 1970, there were only two megacities (over 10 million people) – New York and Tokyo; in 2014 there are 28 such cities – 16 in Asia, three each in Europe and Africa, four in Latin America and two in North America, all totalling 12 per cent of the world’s urban population.
The United Nations (UN) predicts that in 2025, there will be 37 megacities with eight new ones in Asia. Also in the pipeline are meta-cities – conurbations of over 20 million people – through the amalgamation of megacities…
…The report interestingly mentions that the diversity of human languages in our world is strongly correlated to areas of high plant diversity. Some linguists have predicted that 90 per cent of the world’s languages will expire by the end of this century…
Here is an interesting graph created by Paul Chefurka which shows that the combined biomass of humans with their farm animals exceeds the natural carrying capacity of the earth sevenfold:
In the graphic, the “wild animal” biomass doesn’t include insects, bacteria, or marine organisms.
I used three data sources to develop the chart: a paper by world-respected ecological scientist Vaclav Smil, called “Harvesting the Biosphere”, linked below; world population estimates from the Wikipedia articleof the same name; and the UN’s Medium Fertility variant for the human population in 2050 (9.6 billion).
The definition I used for Global Carrying Capacity is, “The biomass the planet can support without the assistance of human technology or fossil fuels.” The impact of human activity has gradually eroded the Earth’s carrying capacity over time, which is why I show the red dotted line sloping down to the right. The degree of erosion is very hard to estimate. My guess is that we may have lost around 25% by this point, some of which would of course be naturally regenerated over time in the absence of human activity. Any biomass above that dotted line has to be supported by human technology and energy supplies (which at this point are mostly from fossil fuels).
The conclusion is that we have been living in the midst of an accelerating Global Mass Extinction Event for over 100 years already. Unfortunately we’ve been too fixated on human issues like economics and politics to even notice, let alone realize what it means. Those who did realize the significance, both to wildlife and the human species, have been powerless to act in the face of economics and politics.
Paul gives the following further explanation for the graph:
The definition one uses for “carrying capacity” is so loose as to make it quite arbitrary. Here’s the definition I used: “The global carrying capacity is the total biomass of the organisms under consideration that the planet can support without the assistance of technology or fossil fuels.”
Accordingly, I estimated the carrying capacity in this case as being about the same as the world’s wild animal biomass in 10,000 BCE, with the assumption that the unassisted carrying capacity of the world would have been fully utilized at that point. I estimated the wild animal biomass in 10,000 BCE as being somewhat less than the combined wild and domestic animal biomass in 1900, per Smil. I made it lower in order to account for the technological intensification of farming already well under way by that time.
The slope of the carrying capacity line is arbitrary, because it’s impossible to determine how much we have actually eroded the world’s unassisted carrying capacity. We just know that we have. I chose the slope to correspond to my belief that we’ve eroded it by about 25% at this point. The actual slope is therefore somewhat editorial.
The Dalai Lama says, “Affection, a sense of community and a sense of concern for others are not some kind of luxury. They’re about the survival of humanity,” but the socio-economic system that rules the world is characterized by hyper-individualism and self-interest devoid of moral constraints. A system that enshrines greed and mocks equity and the public good will never be able to find a solution to the tragedy of privatizing the commons.
All lights are about to go out. No more electricity. All forms of transportation are about to stop, and the planet Earth will soon have a crust of skulls and bones and dead machinery. And nobody can do a thing about it. It’s too late in the game. Don’t spoil the party, but here’s the truth: We have squandered our planet’s resources, including air and water, as though there were no tomorrow, so now there isn’t going to be one.
~ Kurt Vonnegut
The following video message is from Dr. Erik Pianka, an esteemed American biologist, one of the world’s most accomplished field ecologists, and author of the classic 1983 book Evolutionary Ecology. This video was made roughly four years ago. Not much has changed in the interim other than everything getting progressively worse —more people, more cars, more garbage landfills, more greenhouse gas emissions, more ocean acidification, more extinctions, etc…
Farming is never going to go back, regardless of how much rain we get next year, to the way it was in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a long-term era of scarcity.
California is much bigger than it was when these reservoirs were built, 40 or 50 years ago. There’s more water going to cities and the environment now. That boom era of California farming, I think everyone recognizes, is just a thing of the past.
They used to flood-irrigate everything here. When I was a kid, growing up, you’d walk outside in the middle of summer, six or seven months since the last rain, and it would be humid outside because there’d be so much irrigation going on. You hardly ever see anything flood-irrigated anymore. That time, that’s just not coming back.
The solution is not the techno-utopian fantasy of cold fusion. Even if cold fusion was a realistic possibility, the creation of unlimited amounts of ultra-cheap energy wielded in the hands of techno-capitalist man would surely spell disaster for any last vestiges of life that might have survived the omnicide of capitalist industrial civilization and the age of fossil fuels. A good steward of the Earth’s resources and web of life would never have perpetuated the 6th mass extinction and defiled the planet that gave birth to his kind while arrogantly naming himself Homo sapiens (Latin: “Wise man”).
Capitalist carbon man acted like a bull in a china shop, throwing his weight around and blindly destroying everything in his path. Now he wants to invent even more disruptive tools with which to save himself from the very techno-nightmare that he has already created? He treated the biosphere like a buyosphere, and money was his God. His epitaph was inscribed long ago by Oscar Wilde who perceptively said, “They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Tragically, humans had their chance in a magnificent paradise and they blew it in spades.
Over the ages, a number of empires have exploited and looted the resource-rich lands of Africa. At its height, the Roman Empire stretched from Scotland in the northern hemisphere to the deserts of Africa in the south. The Romans stripped their North African territory of its trees, making it their breadbasket of grain production. Originating in central Africa, malaria was likely spread to the center of the Roman Empire on their cargo ships. Passengers on their boats could have carried malaria in their bloodstream before becoming symptomatic, and water barrels on board could have harbored mosquito larvae. In fact, the DNA work of Dr. Robert Sallares has proven that the most lethal form of malaria helped topple ancient Rome. Fast forwarding to today, the blow-back from industrial agriculture and transnational corporate land grabs in Africa has now reached the shores of the hegemonic American Empire in the form of a deadly tropical disease called Ebola.
The Roman Empire seized fertile African land by brute force, but in modern times capitalist industrial civilization takes over Third World countries with the stroke of a pen. Structural adjustment loans by such tools of western power as the IMF and World Bank are signed requiring privatization of the economy and government cuts in social spending. Vast tracks of forests are cleared for mining or monoculture crop production such as palm oil. Subsistence farmers are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and forced to migrate to cities in search of work. Deprived of adequate healthcare and the opportunity to earn a livable wage, these urban poor live in squalor and are driven to hunt in the surrounding forests for a cheap source of protein known as bushmeat. Fruit bats, a keystone environmental species, have been identified as an Ebola virus host that has spread the disease through bushmeat consumption, habitat destruction, and human encroachment. Thus the neoliberal agenda of ‘developed’ nations has acted to create the atmosphere from which this pandemic arose.
Due to the long history of exploitation by outside powers, native Africans are justifiably wary and prone to conspiracy theories involving intervention by Western institutions as well as their own governments which have been, to a great degree, corrupted by the resource curse. These unpleasant facts are, of course, never mentioned by the MSM because it might spark a flicker of moral compunction in the ‘developed’ world which has ended up with so much of Africa’s wealth in the form of rare earth minerals used inside electronic devices, gold and diamonds in jewelry, or petrol pumped into vehicles. The horrific realities behind conflict minerals are always kept out of sight and out of mind by the next consumer diversion.
The following video is a brilliant lecture by Rob Wallace, evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer, discussing the epidemiologic links between the current Ebola outbreak and the socioeconomic policies of capitalist industrial civilization.
“Pathogens routinely trace society’s inequalities and expropriations like water traces cracks in ice… Ebola represents such a case. The shifts in land use in the Guinean region where the new strain apparently emerged are connected to the kinds of neoliberal structural adjustments that, alongside divesting public health infrastructure, open domestic food production to global circuits of capital… [The corporate agribusiness land acquisitions in Africa] are markers of a complex policy-driven faith change in agroecology…that undergirds Ebola’s emergence here.” ~ Rob Wallace
In biology there is a phenomenon known as the Allee effect which occurs when a species declines to a critical population threshold, becoming too spread out over a large area to find a mate for reproduction and thereby making a crash to extinction all but inevitable. The Allee effect applies to infectious diseases as well, and if you can knock down an outbreak below an infection threshold through such methods as vaccinations or proper sanitation, then the outbreak can burn out on its own. However, as Rob Wallace wryly states, “…structural problems can render emergency responses null and void, no matter how much Bill Gates pays out.” In other words, we may have destroyed the ecosystem’s natural ability to keep such pathogens in check and from expanding out of control in the future:
“…commoditizing the forest and neoliberal dispossession may have lowered the region’s ecosystemic threshold to a point that no emergency intervention can drive the pathogen population low enough to burn out on its own. The pathogen will continue to circulate with the potential to explode. In short, neoliberalism’s shifts aren’t just a background upon which such emergencies take place. It is the emergency as much as the virus itself. And history has demonstrated this time and again. Faith changes and social organization, for better and for worse, change epidemiologies. Domesticated livestock served as sources for human diphtheria, influenza, measles, mumps, plague, pertussis, rotavirus, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness, etc. Ecological changes brought about upon landscapes by human intervention selected for spill-overs of cholera from algae, malaria from birds, and dengue fever and yellow fever from wild primates… We can pretend otherwise for Ebola, but in protecting the rationals for institutions and policies that likely brought about such outbreaks, if as byproducts of a greater economy alone, we will surely only compound the problem. If not by Ebola this year, then perhaps something else next.”
In addition to the ecosystemic impact of industrial agriculture and global circuits of capital, our highly mobile society and the consequent climate disruption from fossil-fueled globalization have worked to propel the spread of invasive species, diseases, and pathogens:
The following graph show the increase of invasive species since 1500 with an explosion in the last 100 years:
Below is a chart showing the increase in bacterial resistance for selected pathogens. “For example, Staphylococcus aureus resistant to methicillin has increased almost 70% since about 1975.” The dawning of an antibiotic apocalypse is upon us:
“FRONTLINE investigates the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals and whether it is fueling the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance in people. Plus an exclusive interview with the family of a young man who died in a superbug outbreak that swept through a hospital at the National Institutes of Health.”
Amplifying what some call peak antibiotics is the fact that in our capitalist economy, the perverse incentive for monetary profit discourages pharmaceutical companies from developing new antibiotics; there is no market for curing… only prolonging:
…Ebola emerged 40 years ago, and, Dr. Chan said, there were no vaccines or other remedies because it has traditionally been confined to poor African countries. A profit-driven pharmaceutical industry had no incentive to make products for countries that could not pay, she said.
The risks of neglecting health care in developing countries are global, Dr. Chan said, adding that “when a deadly and dreaded virus hits the destitute and spirals out of control, the whole world is put at risk.”… – link
The fragmented and “crapified” nature of America’s for-profit healthcare system has also factored into the fumbled response to Ebola’s invasion into America, as Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism explained recently:
…the statistics say compared to other developed countries, US processes and outcomes are at best mediocre using the best of some admittedly flawed metrics (look here), yet our costs are much higher than those of comparable countries. Furthermore, on Health Care Renewal we have been connecting the dots among severe problems with cost, quality and access on one hand, and huge problems with concentration and abuse of power, enabled by leadership of health care organizations that is ill-informed, incompetent, unsympathetic or hostile to health care professionals’ values, self-interested, conflicted, dishonest, or even corrupt and governance that fails to foster transparency, accountability, ethics and honesty…
…The US health care system is now heavily commercialized. Health care corporations, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, are often lead by generic managers who subscribe to the business school dogma of the “shareholder value theory,” which seems to translate into putting short-term revenues ahead of all other goals. Thus they have been“financialized.” At least in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, such financialization appears to now be global…
…from 1983 to 2000, the number of managers working in the US health care system grew 726%, while the number of physicians grew 39%, so the manager/physician ratio went from roughly one to six to one to one (see 2005 post here). As we noted here, the growth continued, so there are now 10 managers for every US physician…
There is little wonder why the Ebola outbreak caught the WHO so flat footed as they spent months making mealy mouthed statements but never coordinating an effective response. The Gates foundation is the WHO boss, not governments, and if they weren’t demanding action, then the desperate people affected by Ebola weren’t going to get any…
…The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged an additional $50 million to fight the current Ebola epidemic but that too is problematic, as Director General Chan describes. “When there’s an event, we have money. Then after that, the money stops coming in, then all the staff you recruited to do the response, you have to terminate their contracts.” The WHO should not be lurching from crisis to crisis, SARS, MERS, or H1N1 influenza based on the whims of philanthropy. The principles of public health should be carried out by knowledgeable medical professionals who are not dependent upon rich people for their jobs.
The Gates are not alone in using their deep pockets to confound what should be publicly held responsibilities. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was contributing $25 million to fight Ebola. His donation will go to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation. Most Americans are probably unaware that such a foundation even exists. Yet there it is, run by a mostly corporate board which will inevitably interfere with the public good…
Essentially, both ISIS and the Ebola pandemic are crises of the corporate state’s own making. Vast sums of money have flowed into America’s war machine to fight the terrorist threat of ISIS, yet the specter of a global pandemic has elicited a much more belated and tepid reaction from the leaders of our brave new privatized and financialized system of government. As with climate change, it has become clear once again that the health of the world and its people cannot be trusted with these adherents of neoliberal capitalism, and as I stated in a previous blog post, the conspiracy is systemic and legalized. The virus of capitalist industrial civilization appears to be on an unstoppable trajectory of burning itself out within our children’s lifetime.
“It was a nice run for the biosphere, but it finally came down with a lethal disease, homeostasis lost, the pyramid of life reduced to the pancake of life.” ~ James
Championing the rapacious conversion of the Earth into dead commodities and its peoples into soulless consumers, the adherents of capitalism have succeeded in entrenching their ideology into the minds of the vast populations as the only viable economic system and way of life. Mesmerized by the electronic gadgetry of the digital age and singing the praises of the “free market”, atomized citizens blissfully hack away at the tree of life that supports them. The bio-destructive power of capitalist industrial civilization stamps out the poetry of nature, silencing entire ecosystems. This essay by Kenn Orphan describes the mindless march towards self-destruction and the redemption that comes by bearing witness to it.
“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” – Carl Sagan
We are all witnesses to the Great Dying, a sixth mass extinction, the last one being 65 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs. This is not hyperbole; it is a defining feature of our age.
Countless species are falling prey to the wealthy’s indifference, militarism and folly everyday. As in ancient civilizations, the wealthy and the privileged are generally the last to feel the pain of collapse, yet are most often the root cause. And compared to the mass of humanity we share this planet with, and as a result of rapacious exploitation and plunder, Americans, and westerners in general, are the wealthy and the privileged of modern civilization.
Despite overwhelming evidence of crashing ecosystems, many of us living in the twilight years of the American empire seem oblivious to the canaries in the coal mine. Every…