Monday, May 2, 2011

Can Civilization Survive Industrialism?

An increasingly frequent and quite disturbing occurrence are the public pronouncements from people who should know better, such as climate scientists and environmentalists, that nuclear power can be a solution--temporary or otherwise--to our energy woes and quickly collapsing economy and environment.

NASA's Jim Hansen is the latest to join James Lovelock, George Monbiot and the other high-priests of the Church of the Techno-fetishist at the Rocky Mountain Institute in shilling for continued exploitive development with the myth of a need for green economic growth. Some people are pointing out that Bill McKibben seems to be not far behind. Even Lester Brown of all people has called for a need to protect and reinvigorate economic growth as long as it's done "greenly."

Why would otherwise intelligent people be advocating a return to the normal that brought us to the edge of this cliff, albeit with a fresh coat of green paint?

Is a green apocalypse (sustainable apocalypse, anyone?) really any better than what the captains of industry and their financiers have in store for us? The left likes to disparage religious fundamentalists, but the Green Divas' vision of a techno-rapture seems to be every bit as divorced from reality. They say their goal is to save civilization from the imminent collapse that is becoming harder to deny, but that's just a cover story. What they're really trying to protect is Industrialism, and it makes no difference whether the economic system at its base is capitalism or socialism.

Industrial civilization, which requires constant economic growth, which means continuing to regard Earth as both an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for waste, has become conflated with the concept of civilization. Intentionally destroying one's life-support system is just about the best definition of insanity I know of. It is anything but civilized.

Although, as we start discussing alternatives we must also keep in mind that civilization as we know it has some rather glaring shortcomings apart from Industrialism--just ask an Indian or any of the other peoples who have experienced genocide for land grabs. Or, open yourself to feel the suffering of other species and the planet itself from the onslaught of unrestrained growth, resource extraction, towering mountains of toxic waste, and festering pools of radioactivity just so a CEO somewhere can build yet another summer home in a protected wetlands.

One point I keep reiterating is that Industrialism is actually anathema to civilization, regardless of how Industrialism is powered--nukes, fossil fuels, or photovoltaics. It requires economic cannibalism in its single-minded drive to grow and subsume. Industrialism (not to be confused with technology) devalues both people and planet, and the underlying paradigm it emerges from--force based ranking hierarchies of domination and a pathological sense of the other--must be delegitimized and replaced.

Industrialism, however, is only one disease whose symptomology expresses in the wounds of empire. Others are spiritual transcendence, scientific reductionism, and various stripes of dualistic dichotomies that all assume a linear, mechanistic, disconnected universe that is unfriendly to life--at least in the here and now.

Yes, it is somewhat mind-boggling that Western minds claim this to be true--the latter point especially--while simultaneously insisting that they're rational.

Fortunately, there is a systemic alternative to all of this. It entails reconnecting with nature (our inner nature, each other, our communities, other species, and our living world--our planetary life support system) and relocalizing our communities and economies as a foundation for change. Reconnecting and relocalizing will improve quality of life for all life. This alternative is solidly based in the systems science of non-linear dynamics in an interconnected and interdependent universe, employs the principles of steady-state economics, and works with and benefits from the self-organizing tendencies of living systems to create mutually supportive relationships. Thus, it would require less energy and effort to make available more of what really matters in the human quest for progress and prosperity than the status quo of Industrialism can even dream of.

Which brings up the other point I keep repeating--we must realize that economic growth and increasing market share are not necessary for either progress or prosperity. We could quite rationally decide to shift our focus to becoming better instead of bigger. If we were to factor in all the waste in the current system, and add in planned and perceived obsolescence, the rational conclusion is that we don't actually need all the energy we're producing today, let alone additional capacity from nuclear power. Standard of living would hardly be affected, and quality of life would measurably improve.

Becoming sustainable does not necessitate moving back to the cave. Should we decide to keep our wits about us (I know, little historical precedence, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible) sustainability and technology could co-exist. We must start being intelligent instead of restrictive regarding family planning, and realize any industry deemed necessary in a sustainable future will have to be clean and zero waste to meet one of the basic tenets of sustainability: The ability to stay within the balance point among population, consumption, and waste assimilation so our life support system can recharge and regenerate.

The systemic alternative I'm advocating is perfectly in keeping with true human nature. It would allow the innovation of an inquisitive, intelligent species to truly blossom as it would no longer be shackled by the limiting, self-serving growth imperative. It would focus on creativity, compassion, and nurturance; it would seek to fulfill our senses of community, belonging, and acceptance instead of offering addictive substitutes and creating pharmaceuticals (or building more prisons) to deal with the pathologies that arise (greed, aggression, narcissism, etc.) from withholding natural expectations for fulfillment in order to further consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a self-selected elite.

This latter system is the one that we the people must exercise our power to withdraw the legitimacy we have granted it. We can, and must, start implementing a practical, affordable alternative that can rationally, emotionally and spiritually provide the fulfillment we seek in both expressing and achieving our potential.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who is more delusional, the Left or the Right?

I had a very interesting conversation the other day with a Republican activist--a true Republican, not a Tea Partier. I was explaining relocalization from a political perspective, and she replied that this was a message that Republicans needed to hear, as it tends to resonate with traditional Republican values (think Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt).

She was also wondering if I had any thoughts on how Tea Partiers in general could so willingly accept statements that had no basis in any aspect of reality that pertains to the known universe we spend our daily lives in, and if there was some core defect in that particular political demographic.

Now, I don't generally have a problem with being thought of as a lefty, at least along what is generally accepted as the political spectrum today. Even though I prefer to think of myself as neither left nor right, but out in front (definitely NOT the middle), I had to point out that the left today exhibits the same defective cognitive tendencies in accepting utter nonsense as if it were truth.

The example I used to make my point was the increasing "disappointment" with Obama policies now that the hopium has just about worn off, even though the rabid core of the Democratic Party continues to mindlessly defend him.

Let's honestly examine the facts known before the 2008 general election. Obama is an Ivy League lawyer (not a show-stopper in and of itself, of course, just look at Van Jones. But let's connect some more dots). His campaign received major donations from BigEnergy (hmm, this should start raising some red flags over allegiances as well as ideologies). Finally, he was vetted by the center-right Democratic Leadership Council--over Hillary Clinton, no less--before he was allowed to win the Democratic primary. As this latter fact is the real show-stopper, why would people be disappointed that Obama was doing exactly as he was trained, and is expected, to do?

The left, and especially the liberal elite, rather staunchly refuse to address the fact that we have less freedom today, fewer social liberties, and a larger and more powerful police state under the US's first African-American president than we did under the presidency of Ronald Reagan--and we can no longer blame it all on bush jr. Our overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as fast as the rhetoric of a green energy economy. Corporate welfare is further entrenched with the insurance industry's disease care medical model and the left accepts it as health care reform.

For pure comedic value, though, Tea Partiers do take the prize. Keep your grubby gum'mint hands off my Medicare. The tendency of the radical right to accuse Obama of being a socialist fascist--a contradiction in terms which displays their ignorance of both political terminology and history--is every bit as ignorant as the left claiming Obama has progressive tendencies. Calling Obama a socialist is somewhat mind-boggling when you consider that no actual socialists think that Obama has a single socialist bone in his body. He is a corporate stooge and staunch defender of the status quo Kleptocracy and their agenda of free-market imperialism.

A reality based politics would have today's right embracing Obama much more enthusiastically than the left does, and I'm far from the first to make this observation. But we find ourselves in the rather depressing situation where a carnival freak show has been substituted for rational political discourse, very few seem to have noticed, and even fewer seem to care. What's there to worry about? Wal-Mart is still discounting cheap toxic plastic crap from Asian sweatshops and local governments still give them millions in tax breaks and exemptions for the privilege of covering the health care costs of their minimum wage part-time workers--and this is the economic "normal" both right wings of the Corporate War Party want to return to as the minions on both sides cheer them on.

So, which end of the political spectrum is the most delusional? It sure looks like a toss-up to me.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Monbiot Goes Strangelove

A number of people have already commented on environmental writer George Monbiot's recent coming-out for the captains of industry with his fresh and exciting love affair with nuclear energy. So, I don't want this to seem like piling on, but this issue isn't going to go away as long as we (Western industrial humans) continue to cling to the growth myth, or even continue with the assumptions that "economic recovery," "increasing energy demands" and a "return to normal" are even in our best interests--either short or long term.

In his article, Seven Double Standards , Monbiot starts by asking why we don't hold other forms of energy to the same standard we're trying to impose on nuclear. So, let me start by giving the short answer--because they don't produce thousands of tons of radioactive waste for which we still don't have a feasible method of disposal. Low level radiation is not the issue. While most of his seven points are good ones, especially why we unquestioningly accept deaths as a matter of course in the coal industry, they are mainly a distraction from the questions we should be asking.

Monbiot is within the environmental majority in seeing the benefits of greatly reducing our overall ecofootprint. I believe he genuinely cares about the welfare and well-being of people, other species, and Earth itself both now and for the future. He believes that anthropogenic global warming and the reasonable probability for disastrous consequences accurately describes reality and that the status quo response is wholly inadequate.

But, like so many others today, he frames his response to life threatening crises in the terms and with the assumptions of the dominate paradigm that created these crises.
It is taken as a given that human ingenuity will rescue us and we can go on with livin' large in a green economy using clean renewable energy--never mind those pesky little concepts like entropy, conservation, and finitude.

While more accurate than many over the years in his description of the damage being done and the sure likelihood of further increases in destruction and suffering by staying the course of business as usual, Monbiot doesn't seem willing to lay the blame on Enlightenment thinking, let alone examine the deeper roots from which this mindset emerged and is being nourished. He falls rather firmly in line with Maggie Thatcher in claiming There Is No Alternative. Even though Monbiot insists this isn't what he's saying, he pulls in references from others who also claim abandoning nuclear power will surely result in increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Monbiot believes in a false dichotomy that comes straight from industry PR when saying the only two possible options to increasing nuclear energy capacity are to either burn more fossil fuels (and we agree that's a singularly bad idea), or "To add even more weight to the burden that must be carried by renewables."

Now, there is no doubt that industrialism is a burden on renewables. But, surprise, industrialism is a burden on humanity and Earth. There is also no doubt that human ingenuity must be pressed into service, and starting to do so sooner rather than later would be a singularly good idea. However, stating these are the only two possible paths for humanity's energy future is a case study for the opposite of ingenuity.

We don't need the majority of the stuff that's being produced (let alone new versions every six months), and we don't need wars of empire. Dealing with those two issues alone would remove the need for any new nuclear power capacity, remove the need to replace reactors ready to be decommissioned, and remove well over half of the need for fossil fuels. If we were to start producing what we do need to last and be easily repairable, implement some sensible conservation measures (like not keeping our cities lit up like a cheap Nevada whorehouse at night), and decentralize (but remain standardized and safety regulated) the energy grid, we'd be just about down to an energy demand that renewables are already producing today and well within their ability to pick up any additional slack if needed.

Then there's building our homes and businesses to require less heating and cooling instead of using the cheap ticky-tack construction approach, and all the other low-hanging fruit options everyone is already familiar with. Estimates are that these will get us 23% of the way down to where we need to be just on greenhouse gas emissions, so they're a good idea regardless of their additional energy savings.

If we also factor in the high percentage of people leading lives of quiet desperation (Thoreau) (without which the travel industry couldn't sell "getting away" and would become a mere shell of itself)--those 50% of Americans who take at least one prescription drug per day, and which led to America being ranked 149th out of 150 countries on the UN happiness scale--we start to see even more clearly and completely how much less energy we actually "need". Because if what we're doing now isn't making us happy, will doing even more of it make us happy, or just a whole lot unhappier? After all, it is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society. (Krishnamurti)

When is the environmental left going to become willing to start supporting organizations and electing representatives who are willing to speak this truth and begin implementing the relocalization alternative that can be shown to improve quality of life? To help people understand that sustainability has real meaning and that it is within the capabilities of humans to decide to start moving in that direction. One thing I can pretty much guarantee is that we won't develop a sustainable future as long as people who should know better keep insisting that it either can't happen or isn't necessary.

Mainstream editorial writers are starting to talk about the need to at least switch fuel sources "without either bankrupting or enslaving the citizenry." (M.D. Harmon, Portland Press Herald ) They realize that biofuels are too expensive to produce without government subsidies, but then the logic flys out the window. We don't need Saudi oil, we just need to lift the ban on drilling off-shore and in ANWR. We need more nuclear power plants, lots of them, really fast. Our demand for energy must be met, and this demand must continue to grow for the sake of the economy--often coupled with the myth this is the only way to lift the developing world out of poverty, with poverty narrowly defined against a Western consumerist model. Sanity seeps back in slightly when they admit we sure can't look to the government to solve this problem, but disappears even quicker with thinking that capitalism can be counted on to solve our energy problem, as long as all regulatory and environmental fetters are removed.

The willful ignorance of the supposedly educated and well informed never ceases to amaze, and mortify, me. Don't call for conservation, don't call for efficiency increases (in the product, its manufacture, and its use), and don't insist on using the Precautionary Principle. Don't think about any of the other factors I mentioned above, and definitely don't call for ways to do more with less. And whatever you do, don't dare mention that the problems we're facing with rising energy costs, shrinking supplies, and increasing biospheric toxicity are a direct result of capitalism's growth economy in support of Industrialism. This is economic cannibalism. Its only logical consequence is ecocide while material wealth continues its upward consolidation into fewer hands until it finally catastrophically implodes.

The only unknown is which will occur first. The implosion or a biosphere inhospitable to life.

It's time to honestly look at the damage our energy demands are doing to the environment and to our spirits. And then to examine the implementation of a rational alternative.

It's time to shift the foundation of the debate. It's time to discover the dynamic resiliency and increased opportunities in steady-state local living economies. It's time to start strategizing to power down, instead of sucking up every last iota of fossil fuels--or shifting even a fraction of the "demand" to the more potentially destructive nuclear industry--in order to support overly consumptive and wasteful lifestyles which require an economic model of infinite growth to service debt that has absolutely no basis in reality. It contravenes the laws of physics. It's not just loss of habitat and species being driven to the brink of extinction, but the ability of the biosphere to support life as we know it that's being lost as we keep breaking links in the food chain simply to continue corporate profits, keep the GNP graph on a positive slope, and the ruling elite firmly in control as they continue to successfully carry out class warfare.

The degree of madness that underlies this frenetic activity is approaching the unfathomable. And it seems to have terminally infected even the best minds of the environmental left.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Press Conference Statement

I was invited to speak today at a press conference organized by the peace, justice, and sustainability community to examine the tragic events of this past Saturday in Tucson that left six people dead and 14 more wounded. Representatives from 14 groups delivered prepared statements. Following is mine.

My name is Dave Ewoldt, and I'm the executive director of Natural Systems Solutions. Our work emerges from the field of ecopsychology, and one focus is the use of natural systems principles to facilitate the transition into a sustainable future. It is in that context that I prepared my remarks.

We are exhibiting many symptoms of a very sick society. Foremost today, of course, is that we're destroying our one and only life support system to continue an entirely irrational system of infinite economic growth on a finite planet. But, there's another symptom of our cultural pathology that I want to address today.

The rhetoric of hate and fear is propagated and enticed by the only interests that it truly serves--elite power and control hierarchies. These special interests maintain their control by keeping us divided against ourselves. Whether you are a member of the Tea Party or the Progressive Movement, the problem is not big government, but bad government--a government that has been bought by corporate and financial interests that put profit and power before and above people and planet.

Today's so-called conservative movement, which it should be apparent has nothing whatsoever to do with traditional values that seek a better future for all--that has both Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt turning in their graves--has adopted the language of war and retribution; a language that seeks to settle differences by "targeting" and "taking out" your opponents; a language that normalizes violence, aggression, and exploitation for personal benefit; a language that divides and pits us against each other in order to keep us too distracted from where the problem really lies.

We are a culture that sanctions death. We illegally invade and occupy sovereign nations that don't play along with our business interests, and use unmanned drones to drop bombs on civilian populations. We are the arms dealer to the world. Our death... I mean defense... industry and prisons are the only growth sectors left that we don't outsource and off-shore in our economy.

But what is most important to realize in a culture that has lost its way is that there is an alternative to all this that we could consciously choose. While it may sound strange to ears long accustomed to the story of scientific reductionism, materialism, and separation that has emerged from Enlightenment thinking, the alternative follows known patterns of mutually supportive ecological relationships that have been working quite well for billions of years to keep the project of life itself progressing. This alternative starts by no longer allowing those who act against our best interests--against the best interests of life itself--to dictate the terms of the debate.

We could decide to focus on those aspects of being truly and fully human that work with the creative life force such as nurturance, compassion, cooperation and use our intelligence to focus our innovative spirit on creating a sustainable future. A future based on the principles of ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy. We can no longer afford to continue denying that true justice cannot exist without sustainability, and without justice there will be no peace.

Otherwise, our days will continue to be filled with too many that resemble this past weekend. The choice is up to us, and change begins by making new choices.