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The Green New Deal and Accursed Wealth

The Green New Deal and Accursed Wealth

Pulp mills, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Accursed Wealth! O’er bounding human laws,
Of every evil thou remains’t the cause:
Victims of want, those wretches such as me,
Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee:
Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed,
And thine our loss of labour and of bread.

Al Gore missed this memo, written at some time between 1809 and 1813, by the poet John Clare in Norhamptonshire, England. However, in his latest op-ed, It’s Not too Late – The climate crisis is the battle of our time and we can win, in the New York Times, September 22, 2019, the former Vice President helpfully notes that the fastest-growing occupation in the United States is solar installer and the second fastest- growing is wind turbine service technician. The loss of Clare’s world is un-remediated. The loss of our world, apparently, is salved by the growth of mostly low-wage ‘green-tech’ jobs. Clare, at least, identifies the cause of his loss – Accursed Wealth, or, as we might call it today, capitalism.

Gore, in his best, ever youthful, Gee-Wiz journalese proclaims that, “…we are in the early stages of a sustainable revolution that will achieve the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the digital revolution, made possible by new digital tools”. John Clare’s erstwhile bucolic freedom had been proscribed by the British parliament’s Enclosure Acts early in the nineteenth century, under which he lost his rights to the common lands that were seized for the benefit of proto-capitalist land-owners newly cognizant of the wealth generated by grazing sheep. Wool, like cotton, was a fiber fundamental to the modern capitalist ethos whereby the acquisition of wealth transcended the interests of both humanity and the natural world.

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What World Do We Seek?

What World Do We Seek?

If David Attenborough (the British Natural Historian, narrator of the video series, Planet Earth and a national treasure in the U.K.), gives a speech to the UN proclaiming the end of civilization and few hear it, does our world still collapse? If the President releases the Congressional report on climate change on Black Friday and no one heeds it, does it have an impact? If Trump tweets his denial of the substance of the report (which strongly affirms the reality of global warming) – does that mean anything at all? And, if the U.N. releases a chatbot designed to empower the people of the planet (at least, those with access to Facebook) to act in reducing carbon emissions, does that signal a democratization of the process or a profound cynicism as to the likelihood of an organized, intra-government, legislative solution to the climate catastrophe?

We are being stress-tested on our ability to survive in the multiverse, the fractured continuum of space, time, matter and energy thatmanifests in parallel worlds wherefactual and counterfactual narratives co-exist.

We are being asked, by our political circumstances, to believe in both truth and untruth, the fake and the real, and yet retain our equanimity. We are being asked to hold two opposed ideas in our mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function – a feat that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered “was the test of a first-rate intelligence”. We are being asked to consume and to conserve; to change and to sustain; to believe in progress – time’s arrow, and in the everlastingness of a regenerative natural world – time’s cycle.

We are being asked to believe in the possibility of continued fossil-fueled economic growth while that phenomenon’s miasmic specter of global warming threatens to destroy the productivity and habitability of vast swathes of the planet.

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The Last History of the United States

The Last History of the United States

Photo Source Boston Public Library | CC BY 2.0

The words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”, from America’s Declaration of Independence, stands as one of the finest historical examples of what Hitler, and later Goebbels, called the big lie. Hitler wrote in Mein Kamf (1925) “that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily…” In Jill Lepore’s These TruthsA History of the United States (2018), she painstakingly exposes the truth that America is founded on hypocrisy.

The greatest fear of the Founding Fathers was democracy. Their intent was to establish a white aristocracy of wealth largely based on the productivity of African slaves.  Lepore shows that they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams of avarice and power. She shows that big lies and little lies have subsequently sustained the illusion of democracy in the United States and the façade of inclusivity and freedom it presents to the world. The nation’s underlying hypocrisy is rarely challenged; instead, political factions compete to demonstrate (or at least propagandize) their fealty to its foundational “truths”. Along the way, the means of communication, from broadsheet to newspaper, radio, TV, computers and now the internet have serially compounded the ability of partisans to disseminate their truths – to propogandize more effectively.

The narrative she weaves, over almost 800 pages, is more requiem than history – the ship of state, in her telling, now wallows adrift on a rising ocean bereft of a mainsail.

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Modernity’s Long Twilight 

Modernity’s Long Twilight 

Photo source wongaboo | CC BY 2.0

While Marx expected the industrial proletariat to spearhead the socialist revolution, it is now left to those who resist the burning of the last of the planet’s fossil fuel – which continues to engorge the hyper-capitalism of the early twenty-first century – to usher us into the gloaming: the dappled shadowland of Modernity’s long twilight where we begin to make living arrangements that fully recognize the critical symbioses of the human and nonhuman.

Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG.org) in Ventura County in Southern California is fighting big, medium and little oil as they rapaciously squeeze the last reserves of an oil-rich county by drilling, fracking, and even tar-sands extraction right in the middle of the Oxnard plain, one of the richest row-crop regions in the state. There is, at this point, no such-thing as responsible oil and gas. But as CROG’s executive director, Kimberly Rivers, explained to me, this milquetoast designation is necessary to maintain ‘a seat at the table’. This is a table that is sliding irrevocably into the trash-heap of history. But for now, attendance at the last supper of the depraved predation of the earth’s crust provides a few scraps of satisfaction in the reining in of the worst acts of malfeasance by the County and oil industry cabal.

CFROG are fighting oil interests on the basis of their bureaucratic over-reach facilitated by a County Planning Department long used to the laissez-faire, rubber-stamp continuance of long-ago conditional-use permits extended time and time again often covering new methods of monsterish extraction, flaring and waste-water re-injection without enforcing the terms of the California’s Environmental Quality Act – because the original permits pre-date the passing of the legislation signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1970. Oil drilling, oil spills and resistance to the environmental damage they cause have a long history in Southern California.

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Waiting for the Debris Flows

Waiting for the Debris Flows

In J.M. Coetzee’s 1980 novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, his characters sit around in an isolated colonial fort in a nameless desert country, awaiting their destiny – an invasion of the barbarians. The novel concerns its characters’ slow realization of their complicity, as agents of the Empire, in their fate. Something very similar is happening here on the eastern fringe of southern California’s Thomas Fire burn area as we await the rains and the debris flows that will surely follow – as they did, earlier in the year, with such devastating results in Montecito, further to the west.

This analogy, to fully flower, depends on two things. The first is that the fire was intensified by global warming. It came, early in December, after six years of drought, towards the end of a dry first half of the rainy season and in the midst of N.E. Santa Ana winds of unprecedented intensity. The second is that we are both culpable and complicit in the first by the fact of our living in a society driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Implicit is the connection between the two.

The motley assortment of ex-pats who populate Coetzee’s desert fort have more reason to debate the benefits or provocations of their colonial mission impacting the peoples they have (we presume) earlier displaced, although they too, even without the benefit of a course in post-colonial studies, come to accept their role in the disruption of a pre-existing social ecology and the acts of revenge this will ultimately generate. They sit and wait for an invasion by the people who, by destroying their world, they have made barbarians.

Meanwhile, in our now certified fire-safe house (but still surely vulnerable to debris flows) situated in the wildland-urban-interface, we sit and wait for other acts of weather terrorism provoked by the Empire’s eviscerations of the earth’s crust.

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Weather Terrorism, W.T.F.? 

Weather Terrorism, W.T.F.? 

Photo by The National Guard | CC BY 2.0

As the predicted storm pounded the narrow canyons in the hills above Montecito early in January, a rumble began to overtake the percussion of hard rain on scorched earth. It built, once the torrent of water had dislodged first soil, pebbles, small rocks, then boulders, into a mighty thunder as the mud gathered speed over the resin-slicked surface of the newly burned wild lands.

From out of the Wildland-Urban-Interface, the mudslide drove down into the leafy suburbs of Montecito and tangled with the fragile infrastructure that supports the life-styles of the rich and famous, the merely rich, and all those others who call this Santa Barbara suburb home.  It smashed through homes, businesses and, most critically, fractured the system of pipes, suspended across the naturally occurring drainages, that link a chain of reservoirs that serve as the community’s water source.

The broken pipes unleashed a sea of nearly ten million gallons of fresh water released from the reservoirs because their electrically operated control valves were inoperative in the storm related blackout. Much of the mud and water found its way to U.S. Route 101 which runs from Los Angeles to the Oregon border. The section that runs through Montecito, a few hundred yards east of the beach, was transformed into a rock and tree strewn delta where water ran twelve feet deep in places and over 100,000 tons of debris were spread along its length. The highway was reopened recently after a two-week closure. Restoration of the area’s water supply will take longer. Both were the collateral damage of extreme weather events.

We are a species in retreat. Pusillanimous descriptions of our geo-historical circumstances such as ‘climate change’ are daily challenged by the occurrence of extreme weather events that disrupt society, destroy infrastructure, and obliterate human life.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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