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Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism

Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism 

As the Earth’s ecological systems upon which we depend accelerate in their slouch towards Bethlehem, our society faces an existential crisis.  The effects of climate change are far direr than we initially expected.  Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 415 ppm for the first time in over three million years.  The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C describes that we face an increase in global average temperatures of 1.5 degrees C as soon as 2040. Furthermore, the two degrees of warming that scientists widely argue is the final major threshold before permanent, large-scale climatic shifts leading to ecological collapse, is no longer some far-off possibility or hyperbolic fear-mongering, but an imminent reality.  The future we face in this new Earth is marked ever more frequent and intense fire and flooding, famine and disease, droughts and storms.

Similarly, compounded by decreasing habitat availability from deforestation, overfishing, and resource overuse, climatic shifts are already being accompanied by staggering and consistent losses in biodiversity.  Published last month, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ Global Assessment Report concluded that the second-fastest mass extinction event in planetary history is underway; the current rate of extinction is 100 to 1000 times greater than historical background rates.  Over one million species are at risk of extinction within the next few decades.

As they perceive the horsemen beginning to saddle up their mounts, many of my friends and colleagues in the environmental community have succumbed to anxiety, if not despondency.  It is all too easy to become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision on how to proceed given the enormity of the problem and the lateness of the hour.  Indeed, given their scale, global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss have been called hyperobjects which humans cannot comprehend despite their pervasive effects that are and will be experienced by everyone in some way.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How much will the US Way of Life © have to change?

How much will the US Way of Life © have to change?

On the future of farming, socialist science, and utopia

Image: Karla S. Chambers

Debates about the Green New Deal—Ocasio-Cortez’s version and occasionally radical varieties such as that of the US Green Party—have incited much discussion about paths to utopia. Central to these conversations is the labour question: who will do the work of making the world, and how will that work be apportioned? And how much will the US Way of Life © have to change?

Ecologically-minded socialists and degrowthers tend to point out that cheap energy and excess material use are built into the socio-technical structures of capitalism. Getting rid of capitalism requires replacing capitalist technology. We must build, literally, a new world, which may require more labour and much lighter consumption patterns in the core, especially among the wealthy. Eco-socialists also tend to be more attentive to agriculture’s role in development in the periphery and core.

Eco-modernists tend, instead, to focus on eliminating exploitation while maintaining as much as possible of the physical infrastructure and patterns of consumption of capitalism. They imagine machines that will take the place of the current ecologically destructive physical plant, including in the countryside—prototype AI bots to supplant fruit pickers, or non-existent carbon-dioxide-sucking machines in place of restorative agriculture, a proven method of sequestering atmospheric carbon. Very frequently, they imagine a totally post-work world, creating the conditions for a new utopia: Fully Automated Luxury Communism.  

Those who hold the latter position often forget that the current distribution of labour is the fruit of a very specific historical moment, marked not merely by a temporary cheapness of energy—and tell Bangladesh, the Seychelles, or your grandchildren that petroleum is cheap—but specific sectoral allocations of labour in farming, industry, and services in the core states.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Let’s get ‘creaturely’: A new worldview can help us face ecological crises

Let’s get ‘creaturely’: A new worldview can help us face ecological crises

No farmer has ever gone out to the barn to start the day and discovered that a baby tractor had been born overnight. For farmers who work with horses, the birth of a foal would not be surprising.

That observation may seem silly, but it highlights an important contrast: Machines cannot reproduce or maintain themselves. Creatures can.

The tractor comes out of the industrial mind, while the horse is creaturely. The tractor is the product of an energy-intensive human-designed system, while the horse is the product of an information-intensive biological process that emerges from earth and sun.

The implications of this difference are rarely acknowledged in the dominant culture, but we believe they are crucial to explore, especially with new political space opened up by the Green New Deal for discussing ecological sustainability and economic justice.

In the short term, humanity needs to devise policies that respond in meaningful ways to today’s multiple, cascading ecological crises (including, but not limited to, rapid climate disruption), which present risks now greatly accelerated and intensified well beyond previous predictions. If that seems alarmist, we recommend “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” for details.

To put uncomfortable realities bluntly: In ecological terms, things are bad, getting worse faster than anticipated, leaving humanity with increasingly limited options. Everyone agrees that there are no quick and easy fixes, but we want to push further: Do not expect any truly sustainable fixes to emerge from the industrial mind.

That’s why we believe it’s crucial to discuss not only policy but the need for a new worldview, one that can expand our imaginations. The distressing realities of our moment in history need not be the end of our story, if humanity can transcend the industrial and get creaturely.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Singing Frogs Farm: The Science Of Healthy Soil

Singing Frogs Farm: The Science Of Healthy Soil

Focus on biology over chemistry

Three years ago, I interviewed Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser about the remarkably effective model being pioneered at their farm, Singing Frogs Farm, a small micro-farm in northern California. It quickly became one of Peak Prosperity’s most popular podcasts of all-time.

Developed over years of combining bio-intensive land/forestry management theory with empirical trial & error, the farming practices at Singing Frogs have produced astounding results.

First off and most important, no tilling of any kind is done to the soil. No pesticide/herbicide/fungicide sprays (organic or otherwise) are used. And the only fertilizer used is natural compost.

These practices result in a build-up of nutrient-dense, highly bio-rich topsoil. Where most farms have less than 12 inches of ‘alive’ topsoil in which they can grow things, Singing Frogs’ extends to a depth over 4 feet(!).

This high-carbon layer of soil retains much more water than conventional topsoil, requiring much less irrigation than used at most farms (a very important factor given the historic drought the West is suffering).

All these advantages combine to enable Singing Frogs Farm to produce 5-7 harvests per year on their land, vs the 1-2 harvest average of other farms. And since the annual crop yield is so much higher, so is the revenue. Most other farms in northern California average $14,000 in gross revenue per acre. Singing Frogs grosses nearly $100,000 per acre — a stunning 5x more.

This week, I sit back down with Paul and Elizabeth to discuss the science behind their latest farming practices & techiniques, the importance of biology over chemistry when it comes to gardening, and the hands-on workshops they offer, and what they think it takes to make a ‘resilient farmer’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Employment, Ecology, Extinction: French Students Take on the System to Save the Species

Employment, Ecology, Extinction: French Students Take on the System to Save the Species

Photo Source Manifeste étudiant pour un réveil écologique | CC BY 2.0

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

– Upton Sinclair

On my last day of teaching Environmental Studies, I posed a question to my students. I explained that for some time in my childhood, my father worked in the airline industry. “What does this have to do with the environment?” I asked. Sadly, even after an entire semester, few if any of my students could make the connection. Air transportation is one of the most polluting industries. Depending on the type of car you use and the amount you use it, one to two flights can generate the same amount of carbon emissions as a whole year of driving. From the consumption of fossil fuels, to the toxic substances utilized or emitted such as jet fuel and de-icing fluid, to all of the disposable products and packages within the plane and the airport, to so much more, there is nothing sustainable at all about air travel. Thus, for a part of my childhood, the majority of our family income was derived from a highly polluting industry that has contributed greatly to the dire environmental predicament we are currently facing.

Of course, mine is not the only family whose income is linked to environmental destruction. In fact, one could make the case that nearly all American households, especially the most affluent, have made their money through directly or indirectly exploiting and polluting the environment (and often exploiting people as well). For example, a conference on “Peace Engineering” just concluded, which implored engineers to consider “ethics, social good, the biases and unintended consequences of the technology they build.”

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Quantum, Jazz and Dada – 3

Max Ernst Ubu Imperator 1923

Ilargi: This is part 3 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here, part 2 is here.

Here’s Alexander:

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Human Development

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.”
– David Suzuki

As human minds first started to emerge from the ocean and step onto the shores of Africa, they increasingly began to respond to their own presence. Hominids co-evolved through the complex social structures generated through the ecosystem engineering of tool using communities, forming a kind of “multicellular” cognition. The unique features of human cognitive evolution emerged from the dense feedback between brains, bodies, and their environments. As humans learn to engage with the material world around us we transform our collective developmental processes. “The structure of the brain reflects its history: as an evolving dynamic system, in which one part evolves out of another”. (20)

Tools made available whole new energetic niches for early hominins while sharing and cooperation increased group resiliency. This stimulated the growth of new neural structures capable of mediating the growing complexity of hominin interaction with the world. It is from these socio-cognitive ecologies that the phenomena we call history has emerged. What is clear from our deep past is that cooperative behaviour is overwhelmingly the dominant evolutionary characteristic of our species.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Quantum, Jazz and Dada – 2

Hannah Höch Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany 1919

Ilargi: This is part 2 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

Here’s Alexander:

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Energy, Ecology and Ecosystems

Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

The concept of energy is essentially an accounting process we have devised for describing the relationships of flow and transformation observed in the fundamental structure of the universe. It is an elegant concept, whether discussing the life of stars, the feeding of bodies or the intensity of industries, the movement of energy is remarkably consistent. In other words, it is very hard to lie about. It has one key characteristic in its movement through systems, the creation of feedback between material structures. Matter congeals from energy, planets and the basic chemical elements of life originate in novae, bronze is forged with fire and earth.

Positive feedback structures the growth of energetic systems and negative feedback shapes their stability. Stars and atmospheres remain balanced between gravity and the void, bodies respire, species co-evolve, ecological cycles persist. A self-similar pattern begins to becomes apparent in the flows of energy and matter through our universe.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Quantum, Jazz and Dada – 1

Marcel Duchamp Nude descending a staircase 1912

Ilargi: Much to my surprise, I received a mail from an old friend. Alexander Aston last wrote for the Automatic Earth in 2014. But he hasn’t been idle. Alexander is presently finishing his doctorate in archeology at Oxford, after prior degrees in philosophy and history. And for this article, he’s been thinking about how upheaval and collapse tend to lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. A view that’s -too- rarely contemplated. It’s so long I cut it into three parts. Please don’t miss any of them.

Here’s Alexander:

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Introduction

This paper is not about Quantum, Jazz and Dada per se, but rather a meditation on those radical bursts of human creativity that occur during historically destructive moments. Ultimately, my thesis is quite simple. Barring the possibility of extinction, humans are on the precipice of the most radical social reorganizations in the history of the species. In navigating this process of transformation, if we wish to create a world worth living in, it is necessary to understand the interactions between energy, ecosystems, cognitive development and social organization.

Without a grasp on the interdependence of these relationships there is no hope for shaping our world in a healthier manner. What is historically unquestionable is that periods of radical upheaval result in drastic reconfigurations of belief, meaning and knowledge.

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Wake up. Stop dreaming!

Wake up. Stop dreaming!

Wake up, stop dreaming

“The sun is in the sky again
There’s a hole in the ocean
And water’s pouring through.
Oh, wake up stop dreaming
And wipe the sleep from your eyes.
Are you frightened of heights?
Are you falling”?

-Wang Chung song lyrics.

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” wrote Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac . “Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

I fell in love with woods, pasture and creek living on my grandparent’s farm when I was a child.  After my family moved to the nearby small rural community I found my dose of ‘nature’ walking down a dirt road to the lake, where I would sit with my back against a giant cotton wood tree and look out over the water.  Someone loaned me a copy of the geologic history of our community’s lake.  I was fascinated to learn that it was a remnant of the last ice age; the basin formed from an iceberg that calved off the retreating ice sheet and buried in sediment where it slowly melted over decades.  During a particularly bad drought in the ‘30’s the shore had retreated and farmers plowed the lake sediment.  The lake had existed here for thousands of years and we often found arrow heads in the nearby land.

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Degrowth: A Call For Radical Abundance

When orthodox economists first encounter the idea of degrowth, they often jump to the conclusion that the objective is to reduce GDP.  And because they see GDP as equivalent to social wealth, this makes them very upset.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I reject the fetishization of GDP as an objective in the existing economy, so it would make little sense for me to focus on GDP as the objective of a degrowth economy.  Wanting to cut GDP is as senseless as wanting to grow it.

The objective, rather, is to scale down the material throughput of the economy.  From an ecological standpoint, that’s what matters.  And indeed some orthodox economists might even agree.  Where we differ is that while they persist in believing (against the evidence) that this can be done while continuing to grow GDP, I acknowledge that it is likely to result in a reduction of GDP, at least as we presently measure it.  In other words, if we were to keep measuring the economy by GDP, that’s what we would see in a degrowth scenario.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay, because we know that human beings can thrive without extremely high levels of GDP.

There are many pieces to this argument, but I want to focus on one here in particular.  One of the core claims of degrowth economics is that by restoring public services and expanding the commons, people will be able to access the goods that they need to live well without needing high levels of income.

Take London, for instance.  Housing prices in London are astronomically high, to the point where a normal one-bedroom flat can cost upwards of $1 million.

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A Sufficiency Vision for an Ecologically Constrained World

A SUFFICIENCY VISION FOR AN ECOLOGICALLY CONSTRAINED WORLD

Owing to the limits of eco-efficiency and the need to liberate environmental space for the global poor, new policy instruments should be designed to bring about ecological fair sharing between countries and a new economy based on the concept of sufficiency.

EU economic policies should pursue an equitable downscaling of Member States’ environmental ‘throughput’, namely the rate at which they use energy and raw materials. Since a constant increase in the transformation of natural resources into goods and services is ingrained in our current economic system, this downscaling challenges the dominant economic belief in the feasibility and desirability of infinite economic growth. This implies a new direction for societies, one in which they will organise and live differently from today.

The sufficiency transformation would mean that people work fewer hours in paid employment, share jobs and services, and lead more social and less materialistic lifestyles. Although economic activity would be more localised, the state would have an important role both to limit material and energy use, and redistribute income and wealth. Many new policy ideas for an economic paradigm shift have been developed and discussed at the academic and grassroots levels in recent years. And finally NGOs have started talking about this too with Friends of the Earth Europe recently publishing the booklet Sufficiency: moving beyond the gospel of eco-efficiency which includes several policy proposals to advance the debate towards a post-growth economy.

Why the economics of enough

We live in a world where more than 2 billion people still live on less than 3.10 international dollars per day. While the global share of people living under this poverty line has been in steady declinefor the past few decades, there is very little hope that this trend can continue without a change of paradigm.

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An Engineer, an Economist, and an Ecomodernist Walk Into a Bar and Order a Free Lunch . . .

An Engineer, an Economist, and an Ecomodernist Walk Into a Bar and Order a Free Lunch . . .

Photo source NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | CC BY 2.0

Humanity’s and the Earth’s prospects have been dimming for the past year and a half. But they’ve been bleak for a long time; as little was being done about the global ecological crisis before January 2017 as has been done since. Neither then nor now has the national or world power structure acknowledged that deep reductions in human resource use and economic activity, but with sufficiency for all, are necessary. Instead, the most popular proposed “solutions” would double down on human ingenuity and market forces, the two factors that have been central to creating our predicament in the first place.

. . . So the bartender says, “OK, I’ll start you a tab and bring out your lunch”

With the political-economic road to an ecological civilization seemingly blocked for now, too many of our allies are following detour signs toward dubious industrial and post-industrial fixes.

The mother of invention is the quest for new markets, and, as Thorstein Veblen once quipped, it’s invention that’s the mother of necessity. If a technology will sell, society is obliged to accept it. In this new century, Silicon Valley and Seattle have weaponized the invention of necessity, and innovation for innovation’s sake has become the driver of the human economy. Material and energetic limits are wished away; money, human brain power, and soon, artificial intelligence will miraculously transcend all limits.

That’s all hogwash, of course. The ecological economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, in his 1971 book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, and those who followed him have shown that no technology can repeal the Entropy Law—that there is not and will never be a free lunch. Today, those realities are being studiously ignored by innovators, disruptors, and other perpetual-motion specialists.

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Ecology: The Keystone Science

Ecology: The Keystone Science

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters | CC BY 2.0

A missing piece from most critiques of modern capitalism revolves around the misunderstanding of ecology. To put it bluntly, there will be no squaring the circle of mass industrial civilization and an inhabitable Earth. There is no way for energy and resource use, along with all the strife, warfare, and poverty that comes along with it, to continue under the business as usual model that contemporary Western nations operate under.

There is also the problem of constructing millions of solar panels and gigantic wind farms to attempt to bring the entire world’s population to a middle class existence based on a North American, or even European levels of energy use. All of the hypothetical robots and artificial intelligence to be constructed for such a mega-endeavor needed to enact such a project would at least initially rely on fossil fuels and metals plundered from the planet, and only lead to more rapacious destruction of the world.

The dominant technological model is utterly delusional. Here I would urge each of us to consider our “human nature” (a problematic term, no doubt) and the costs and the manner of the work involved: if each of us had to kill a cow for food, would we? If each of us had to mine or blast a mountain for coal or iron, or even for a wind turbine, would we do it? If each of us had to drill an oil well or bulldoze land for a gigantic solar array next to many endangered species or a threatened coral reef, would we?

My guess would be no, for the vast majority of the population. Instead, we employ corporations and specialists to carry out the dirty work in the fossil fuel industries and animal slaughtering, to name just a few.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Systems Thinking, Critical Thinking, and Personal Resilience

As a writer focused on the global sustainability crisis, I’m often asked how to deal with the stress of knowing—knowing, that is, that we humans have severely overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity, making a collapse of both civilization and Earth’s ecological systems likely; knowing that we are depleting Earth’s resources (including fossil fuels and minerals) and clogging its waste sinks (like the atmosphere’s and oceans’ ability to absorb CO2); knowing that the decades of rapid economic growth that characterized the late 20th and early 21st centuries are ending, and that further massive interventions by central banks and governments can’t do more than buy us a little bit more time of relative stability; knowing that technology (even renewable energy technology) won’t save our fundamentally unsustainable way of life.

In the years I’ve spent investigating these predicaments, I’ve been fortunate to meet experts who have delved deeply into specific issues—the biodiversity crisis, the population crisis, the climate crisis, the resource depletion crisis, the debt crisis, the plastic waste crisis, and on and on. In my admittedly partial judgment, some of the smartest people I’ve met happen also to be among the more pessimistic. (One apparently smart expert I haven’t had opportunity to meet yet is 86-year-old social scientist Mayer Hillman, the subject of this recent article in The Guardian.)

In discussing climate change and all our other eco-social predicaments, how does one distinguish accurate information from statements intended to elicit either false hope or needless capitulation to immediate and utter doom? And, in cases where pessimistic outlooks do seem securely rooted in evidence, how does one psychologically come to terms with the information?

Systems Thinking

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Only ‘collective intelligence’ can help us stave off an uninhabitable planet

Only ‘collective intelligence’ can help us stave off an uninhabitable planet

Humanity needs new tools to overcome the global crisis of collective insanity

Published by INSURGE intelligence, a crowdfundedinvestigative journalism platform for people and planet. Support us to report where others fear to tread.

The world faces an unprecedented convergence of crises. The ecological crisis, which points to a near uninhabitable planet by end of century if business-as-usual continues, is perhaps its most apocalyptic dimension. But the ecological crisis is intimately bound up with the business-as-usual political, economic, and cultural structures of industrial civilization-as-we-know it.

The crisis

Last year, I reported on an analysis by British investment firm Scroders, which concluded that at our current rate of burning fossil fuels, global average temperatures would rise by as much as 7.8C by 2100. The catastrophic collapse of GDP at this point, by more than 50%, would be the least of our problems. Also unleashed would be uncontrollable amplifying feedback processes that would lead to the loss of most of the world’s coral reefs; the disappearance of major mountain glaciers; the total loss of the Arctic summer sea-ice, most of the Greenland ice-sheet and the break-up of West Antarctica; acidification and overheating of the oceans; catastrophic sea-level rise swamping major cities from London to New York; the collapse of the Amazon rainforest; and the loss of Arctic permafrost; to name just a few.

The ecological crisis is, then, bound up with both our civilization’s addiction to oil, gas and coal; and its addiction to endless economic growth. The imperative to continuously grow our economies has pushed forward an escalating hunger for hydrocarbons as the fuel for that growth. And yet, with every year, we encounter increasing evidence that we are depleting the planet’s natural resources at unsustainable levels — beyond the planet’s capacity to renew itself.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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