What you will find on this page: VIDEOS: The Ballad of the Dunny Roll; If God came back; Weathergirl gone rogue; Greensumption; ARTICLES: Richard Heinberg; Jeremy Leggett; John Pilger; Chris Hedges; Noam Chomsky; Peter Russell; Brian Snyder; BOOKS: Noam Chomsky’s latest book, “Requiem for the American Dream,” (video); Knowledge Wars, by Peter Doherty (video); power of concentration (video); The Earth from Space (video)
The Uncomfortable Corner
Caution: Read no further if you don’t want to have your mind set and lifestyle challenged with thought provoking ideas, questions, states of reality, complexities, contradictions and paradigms – elephants in the room. I offer the following articles and books for further reading for those willing to take up the challenge. The points of view and opinions expressed in the articles are not necessarily mine. But first we go to the weather report.
Source: Weather Girl goes Rogue
2020: The Year Consensus Reality Fractured
December 2020, Richard Heinberg’s Museletter #334:
Virtually everyone agrees that 2020 was an abomination. An entire industry of opinion writers is busying itself with end-of-year handwringing, scouring every online thesaurus for adjectives to express just how horrible the last twelve months have been. But what facet of the awfulness to focus on? For the appalled chronicler, the most obvious starting points are the coronavirus pandemic, which has left illness, death, shuttered businesses, and lost jobs trailing in its wake, and the chaotic US presidential election, in which the soundly defeated incumbent has attacked and seriously weakened the very foundations of democracy on his way out the door.
These two baskets of grim news (pandemic and election) have been accompanied by a shift in the national (and, to some extent, global) zeitgeist—a shift that’s been obvious to anyone paying attention, but that’s nevertheless challenging to capture in words. Let’s call it the fracturing of consensus reality. While it won’t be the top story of the year according to most news roundups, it may end up being just as impactful as anything else that’s happened during our latest orbit of the sun. And that’s saying something. What’s Real? Let’s All Agree: As social and linguistic creatures, we humans—operating in groups—create shared mental worlds. We perceive sensory data, then we verbalize and conceptualize those perceptions, and finally we check our verbalized and conceptualized accounts of reality with other people. Over time, a consensus emerges. READ MORE HERE
December 16, 2020: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.” Those were the principles that underlaid most of the Tsarist governments in the final 80 years of Romanov rule. It was a slogan and a belief system, Russia’s version of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Eventually, under the leadership of a poor autocrat, Nicholas II, it would lead to the Russian Revolution and the brutal murder of Nicholas and his family. Yet between its coining in 1832 and the Revolution in 1917, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” established a framework for a nascent totalitarianism.
The nascent totalitarianism matured under Lenin and was “perfected” under Stalin, but the Soviets used a different tripartite slogan: “Peace, Land, and Bread.” Despite its less reactionary tone, the Bolshevik’s slogan was even more effective in creating a totalitarian state, perhaps because of its more positive spin. After all, who could oppose peace, land, and bread?
State totalitarianism never emerged in the West. Yet totalism is alive and well in the USA, and it is underlaid by its own tripartite foundation: “Technology, Economy, and Nationality.” These three concepts may not be an explicit slogan (yet) in the way “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality” was, but they are the aims of American totalism.
Totalism and Totalitarianism
First, we must differentiate between totalitarianism and totalism. Totalitarianism is the control of individuals by the state. As defined by psychologist Robert Lifton, totalism is the control of individuals by other individuals or groups. Thus, a cult is totalist but not totalitarian. Furthermore, unlike totalitarianism, totalism does not require leadership in a single person or governing class. Totalism can be an emergent characteristic of the group. In this case, totalism is not monitored by a Gestapo-like police state but by other members of the group.
The USA and other Western societies are not totalitarian, but they are totalist. Rather than autocratic leaders dictating and enforcing cultural norms, we enforce these norms ourselves. Yet without autocratic leaders, who benefits from this totalism? In the short term, we all do via an increase in the number and diversity of our material possessions. Yet, like nearly every totalitarian regime in history, our totalism is not sustainable and will collapse as the costs of our prosperity and possessions erode the ability of the totalism to function. READ MORE HERE
“Consumer Confidence” or Subtle Salesmanship?
August 2020, Brian Czech, Steady State Economy: Have you ever wondered about the odd pairing of “confidence” with “consumer?” Isn’t confidence supposed to reflect something more virtuous than your shopping cart? When you’re confident, you’ll be comfortable in your own skin, right? It’s all about who you are, not what your stuff is. Confidence is supposed to play out in places like football fields, gymnastic events, stages, and maybe weddings, not shopping malls and dealerships. In its highest form, confidence melds into bravery. It takes some real confidence to break up a fight or charge into battle. What kind of “confidence” is needed for buying shoes or iPads or even cars?
Nor is confidence the same as bluster, arrogance, or braggadocio. In fact, confidence is most convincingly exuded in modest dignity. Boasting, on the other hand, indicates the opposite of confidence: insecurity, neediness, and, in the extreme, sociopathy (as “certain individuals” have demonstrated in recent years). Well, that’s what the word “confidence” connotes for me, at least. I’m confident it would to most others as well. But let’s check the dictionary, just to be safe.
According to Merriam-Webster, the confident person is “full of conviction: CERTAIN.” That’s meaning #1, and highly relevant. The point I’m making, though, is driven home even more profoundly with meaning #2: “having or showing assurance and self-reliance.” While Fish May Be Innocent, Odd Pairings Are Fishy…. read more here
United States: An Obituary
June 2020, Richard Heinberg’s Museletter #328:
The United States of America was problematic from the start. It was founded on genocide and slavery, and, while frequently congratulating itself on the rights and freedoms it granted its citizens, never managed to confront the demons in its past. The question would arise repeatedly, generation after generation: rights and freedoms for whom?
Nevertheless, the immigrants who founded a nation on a stolen continent managed to show up in the right place at the right time. The luck of geography and history insulated them from most wars in Europe, while supplying them with vast forests, navigable rivers, rich topsoils, valuable minerals, and much of the world’s most easily accessible coal, oil, and natural gas.
The result, after a century-and-a-half of wealth accumulation and industrial buildup, was global dominance. America invented and taught the world the magic formula of consumerism: cheap energy + advertising + consumer credit = ever-growing levels of commerce, employment, tax revenue, and return on investment. The transformation of nature into quantifiable wealth via energy, technology, capital investment, and labor had never before occurred so rapidly, or on so grand a scale.
The 20th century was without question the American century. After World War II, which was fought at a distance from American soil, the dollar became the world’s reserve currency, and there could be little doubt who was in charge. Even though politicians in Washington insisted that their nation led by example and shouldn’t be thought of as an empire, any other nation’s hesitance to adhere to US rules resulted in a CIA-engineered coup, an invasion, or economic sanctions. Read more here
May–June 2020, Science Direct, Elsevier Journal: Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit. Many organizations are drowning in a flood of corporate bullshit, and this is particularly true of organizations in trouble, whose managers tend to make up stuff on the fly and with little regard for future consequences. Bullshitting and lying are not synonymous. While the liar knows the truth and wittingly bends it to suit their purpose, the bullshitter simply does not care about the truth. Managers can actually do something about organizational bullshit, and this Executive Digest provides a sequential framework that enables them to do so. Read more here. Do not be mistaken, this IS an academic paper.
(An excellent article providing a useful summary of where we are at – up the creek – with an interesting conclusion to contemplate)
8 January 2019, The Guardian, When the ice melts: the catastrophe of vanishing glaciers. As global temperatures rise, shrivelling glaciers and thawing permafrost threaten yet more climate disruption. How should we confront what is happening to our world? By Dahr Jamail.
The fall lasts long enough that I have time to watch the blue ice race upward, aeons of time compressed into glacial ice, flashing by in fractions of seconds. I assume I’ve fallen far enough that I’ve pulled my climbing partner, Sean, into the crevasse with me. This is what it’s like to die in the mountains, a voice in my head tells me.
Just as my mind completes that thought, the rope wrenches my climbing harness up. I bounce languidly up and down as the dynamic physics inherent in the rope play themselves out. Somehow Sean has checked my fall while still on the surface of the glacier.
I brush the snow and chunks of ice from my hair, arms and chest and pull down the sleeves of my shirt. Finding my glacier glasses hanging from the pocket of my climbing bib, I tuck them away. I check myself for injuries and, incredibly, find none. Assessing my situation, I find there’s no ice shelf nearby to ease the tension from the rope, so Sean will not be able to begin setting up a pulley system to extract me.
I look down. Nothing but blackness…. Read more here
9 November 2018, CASSE – Steady State Economy: Perhaps the main reason people reject the need for a steady state economy is some form of cornucopianism, the belief that technological progress will overcome all ecological and physical limits, allowing endless economic growth into the indefinite future. Cornucopianism has several flavors, and I will describe three: mainstream economics, eco-modernism, and singularity theory.
Mainstream Economics Fuels Cornucopian Ideas
First, let’s examine how mainstream economics feeds a belief in cornucopianism. Most mainstream economists argue that as resources become scarce, their prices increase and that this incentivizes suppliers to produce more, innovators to develop substitutes, and consumers to demand less. They claim centuries of empirical support for their beliefs. Take for example the need for energy sources to fuel societies. The English economist William Stanley Jevons once said there was no conceivable substitute for increasingly scarce supplies of coal, but then we discovered oil. Oil production in the U.S. peaked in the 1970s, declining rapidly thereafter, and global production would inevitably peak sometime around 2012. Then the oil industry found deep sea deposits and refined hydraulic fracturing, while innovators developed alternative energy technologies. Oil production in the U.S. has surged back to its previous levels, global production has continued to rise, and solar energy prices are plunging.
To mainstream economists, climate change is a bit pesky, but it just requires internalizing ecological costs into market prices. They argue that technological advance, together with economic growth, will save us from any scarcity. But the folly in this idea is that demand does not stabilize or reduce just because new innovative sources (of fuel, for one example) become available. Demand continues to rise in parallel as new sources are found, new technologies are created, and economic growth is pushed to accelerate—to find more and use more. Demand becomes a runaway train, one that drives not an overflowing cornucopia of supplies (fuels, products, or anything else humans need), but rather drives a perpetual cycle of endless need that is never satisfied, an overflowing cornucopia with food going rotten. Read More here
30 August 2018, Prof. Keith Booker, Guide to the classics: Donald Trump’s Brave New World and Aldous Huxley’s dystopian vision. A year-and-a-half into the presidency of Donald Trump, some see this administration as the stuff of dystopian nightmares. Trump’s apparent disrespect for truth is suspiciously similar to the manipulation of history in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. The crass, three-ring-circus texture of the current crowd in Washington recalls the degraded America depicted in Mike Judge’s 2006 cinematic farce Idiocracy. However, the English writer Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic Brave New World might provide the best dystopian gloss on our contemporary predicament. Like most good dystopian fiction, Brave New World is not a prediction but rather a diagnosis of dangerous tendencies in Huxley’s present. One of the most striking elements of Huxley’s vision of the future involves factories in which infants are designed to perform specific social functions. These Stepford babies are later conditioned through standardised educational practices. This motif is not primarily a cautionary tale about the potential abuse of genetic engineering. Rather, it is a commentary on existing class inequalities and the use of education to reinforce social obedience. It exemplifies the fundamental tendency of capitalism to convert humans into commodities, interchangeable and bereft of genuine individualism……
….. Huxley’s vision of a World State underestimates the staying power of nationalist rhetoric, of which Trump’s “America First” agenda is but one example. Yet, amid the mad scramble to exploit all potential sources of cheap labour, we have established trade networks that extend into all the nooks and crannies of the global market. These networks involve individuals and institutions from a wide variety of cultures. When combined with the current trend toward the globalisation of world culture, these networks are so effective that a World State seems redundant, if only in terms of capitalist business practices. Culture is key to the functioning of Huxley’s entertainment-oriented society. The populace is numbed by happy-making drugs that have “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects”. Read more here
4 August 2018, Naomi Klein, Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”. THIS SUNDAY, THE entire New York Times Magazine will be composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud. And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unraveling of planetary systems, from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to massive algae blooms in China’s third largest lake.
The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received. We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”…..That’s also why it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.
According to Rich, between the years of 1979 and 1989, the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted, the partisan divide over the issue had yet to cleave, the fossil fuel companies hadn’t started their misinformation campaign in earnest, and there was a great deal of global political momentum toward a bold and binding international emissions-reduction agreement. Writing of the key period at the end of the 1980s, Rich says, “The conditions for success could not have been more favorable.” And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too shortsighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing earth,” Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”…….All of these flaws have been well covered, so I won’t rehash them here. My focus is the central premise of the piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favorable” to bold climate action. On the contrary, one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet. Why? Because the late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.
10 July 2017, New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think…..In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these
warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule. Read More here
If the above is way too gloomy for you here is a review of the article seeking a better balance – good luck! Here is another review… I suppose we will just have to wait and see…. and one more from The Guardian.
5 May 2017, The Guardian, Clive Hamilton, The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it. After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in. Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual. Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale. Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy. Read More here
23 May 2016, New Statesman, What will it take for people to care about climate change? Record-breaking heat wave in Rajasthan reveals how badly we lack the necessary infrastructure to cope with the human suffering climate change is already causing. The question of whether or not climate change is real is rapidly becoming less urgent than what can be done to alleviate the human suffering it is causing. In Rajasthan, north-west India this week, the mercury hit 51 degrees celsius (123°F). That’s the hottest temperature on record in the country. Hospitals are swamped with patients suffering heatstroke and dehydration. The year’s harvest is shrivelling in the ground. People are cooking to death on public transport. Yesterday, a camel left alone in the sun went mad and chewed its owner’s head off. That’s how hot it is in Rajasthan right now…..The British national sport of complaining about the weather is becoming increasingly insensitive. After three centuries of merrily conquering other nations and building bonfires out of their resources to light our way to a place of power in a burning world, we are still inhabiting one of the only landmasses where the weather isn’t actively trying to kill us all the time. Pleasant as it is to carp and moan every time the temperature moves outside the ten-degree range I happen to find comfortable, the temperate, drizzle-through-the-sunshine British climate is pretty much as good as it gets, on a global scale. In fact, on that same global scale, Britain has some claim for having had the most benefit out of fossil fuels for the least climate cost. If we’re not going to cough up reparations, the least we can do is stop whining.I mention all this for two reasons. Firstly, because the manifestations and implications of climate change are frightening wherever you happen to live, and I find sprinkle of weak humour makes the whole thing bearable, makes me less likely to panic and tap out of the entire discussion as something that’s not relevant to me right now because for the meantime, at least, I’m comfy indoors and it’s raining outside. Secondly, because when the lives and livelihoods of so many are at stake – when the topic for discussion is not tens or thousands but millions of people actually cooking in the unnatural heat – you run into a phenomenon that rationalists call “scope insensitivity”. Let’s say that my nightmare is overwhelming, inescapable heat. I can imagine, viscerally, physically, how it might feel to be trapped in a 51 degree… Read More here
19 January 2016, Tomgram: Bill McKibben, The Real Zombie Apocalypse: Night of the Living Dead, Climate Change-Style How to Stop the Fossil Fuel Industry From Wrecking Our World .…..Something similar is happening right now with the fossil fuel industry. Even as the global warming crisis makes it clear that coal, natural gas, and oil are yesterday’s energy, the momentum of two centuries of fossil fuel development means new projects keep emerging in a zombie-like fashion. In fact, the climactic fight at the end of the fossil fuel era is already underway, even if it’s happening almost in secret. That’s because so much of the action isn’t taking place in big, headline-grabbing climate change settings like the recent conference of 195 nations in Paris; it’s taking place in hearing rooms and farmers’ fields across this continent (and other continents, too). Local activists are making desperate stands to stop new fossil fuel projects, while the giant energy companies are making equally desperate attempts to build while they still can. Though such conflicts and protests are mostly too small and local to attract national media attention, the outcome of these thousands of fights will do much to determine whether we emerge from this century with a habitable planet. In fact, far more than any set of paper promises by politicians, they really are the battle for the future. Access article here
14 May 2015, Common Dreams, Per Espen Stoknes: The Great Grief: How To Cope with Losing Our World. In order to respond adequately, first we may need to mourn.….Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity. Read More here The writer concludes: “To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference. And with this deepening, an extended caring and gratitude may open us to what is still here, and finally, to acting accordingly.” I would suggest that if there is mourning needed before action can happen then maybe it needs to be got through rather quickly as there are many millions who do not have the luxury of such contemplation and they need our help to lessen the burden they are already living with now.:
6 April 2015, The New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?….Climate change shares many attributes of the economic system that’s accelerating it. Like capitalism, it is transnational, unpredictably disruptive, self-compounding, and inescapable. It defies individual resistance, creates big winners and big losers, and tends toward global monoculture—the extinction of difference at the species level, a monoculture of agenda at the institutional level. It also meshes nicely with the tech industry, by fostering the idea that only tech, whether through the efficiencies of Uber or some master stroke of geoengineering, can solve the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions…. Read More here
4 September 2014, Noam Chomsky: The End of History? The short, strange era of human civilization would appear to be drawing to a close. It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end. The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend…. Read More here
7 February 2014, COIN (UK) Moving Stories report: This report highlights powerful, inspiring and often traumatic stories. Testimonies from ten regions across the world have been compiled from local news reports, academic journals and interviews recorded by civil society groups. The stories highlight different kinds of movement affected by slow– and rapid–onset disasters. The stories show us that movement linked to environmental change happens very differently in different parts of the world. The stories also reveal that individual decisions to move or stay vary widely even in response to the same disaster. There is no “typical” migrant. Moving Stories demonstrate the reality of migration and environmental change. A number of stories show how people have used moving seasonally and temporarily, rather than permanently, as a way of adapting to changing environmental conditions. Several stories demonstrate that remittances from other migrants have increased the resilience of people affected by disasters. Most importantly these testimonies give a human voice to this complex and controversial issue…. How can moving become an empowering way for some people to adapt to climate change? What is the role of remittances in building resilience to climate change? Will our existing legal frameworks for protecting the rights of people who move be up to the job in a generation’s time? Go here to download report
MuseLetter #322 / March 2019 by Richard Heinberg
The House is on Fire
A: The house is on fire!
B: You sound so shrill. Can’t you say something witty or insightful?
A: How about this: The house is on fire!
C: We’re never going to be able to do anything about the house until we defeat capitalism first.
A: But the house is on fire NOW! If we don’t do something right away, we’ll all die!
D: You liberals are always saying the house is on fire. Fire is what makes our house economy work. Putting out the fire would be bad for business, and business creates jobs. Just simmer down.
A: But it’s really true! Can’t you feel the heat?
E: The world is so unfair. Underprivileged people are always the first ones to feel the heat. We should devote all our efforts to overcoming prejudice and inequality. That’s the most important thing.
A: But can’t we do that WHILE we do something about the fire?
F: You’re just scaring everyone. I’ve lived in this house all my life and we’ve had problems, but we always overcame them. The most important thing is to have an optimistic attitude.
A: Ack! I’d leave, but so many people are blocking the door. We’re all in this together, and the house is on fire! Can’t somebody do something?
G: It’s really tiring to hear you bleat on about fire. Nobody’s going to listen to you until you find fire solutions that offer everyone tangible benefits in their lives—more jobs, a stronger economy, higher corporate profits, better national security. It’s your negative framing that’s the problem.
A: No, the problem is that the house is on fire! Maybe there’s a window I could get to, if only there weren’t so many people in here. Seems like it’s getting more crowded all the time.
H: Have you seen Engorged? It’s the new streaming channel with 200 billion hours of entertainment—movies, music, sports—that lets you peer through other people’s devices to watch them watching whatever you’re watching. It’s so cool!
A: I think there’s a window over there… but I’m getting awfully hot. And it’s so crowded I can’t move. (go to PDF download for full article)
There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss: We depend on technology. It wakes us in the morning; grows our food and cooks our meals; transports us to and from work or school; entertains us; informs us of world events; enables us to communicate with family, friends, and coworkers; lights, heats, and cools our homes and offices; and treats our injuries and illnesses. We are so reliant on our machines that we barely lift a skeptical eyebrow when we’re encouraged to believe that new technologies will solve the most severe global challenges humans have ever faced—in particular, the three big problems of climate change, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. Why shouldn’t technology overcome these challenges? It does everything else for us, after all. Yet in many respects these very problems are side effects of past technological development.1 Climate change is a side effect of burning fossil fuels—sources of energy that power virtually all aspects of the modern human world, including transportation, manufacturing, and food systems. Rapid population growth has occurred due to improvements in sanitation, medical care, and agriculture…..In this manifesto, Richard Heinberg examines where this incredibly pervasive belief falls apart and offers compelling evidence for why we can’t count on technology alone to save us from climate change, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. Read More here
27 July 2017, Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute) provide yet another response to David Wallace-Wells doom and gloom article below: It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.” So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?
15 March 2017, Richard Heinberg, Disengage from the spectacle. Behold today’s edition of Empire’s End—the biggest, best-ever 24/7 reality TV show! It’s been decades in preparation, with a budget in the trillions, a cast of billions! Its hero-villain is far more colorful and pathetic than Tony Soprano or Walter White. One day he and his team of oddball supporting characters appear to be winning bigly; the next, they’re crashing and burning. We’re all on the edges of our seats, alternately enraged, horrified, thrilled, or brought to tears in uncontrollable laughter. Who could bear to miss a minute of it? Still, maybe at least some of us are better off severely limiting our consumption of American national news just now. It’s not that events in Washington won’t affect us. They most assuredly will. Rather, I’d argue that there are even more important things to attend to, over which we have far greater agency. I’ve invested as much attention in the outrage-of-the-day distraction machine as anyone, spending scores of hours reading news reports and analyses, and I’ve written at least a half-dozen essays about our current tweeter-in-chief. And I’m here to tell you that full immersion in the news cycle is just not healthy. Some readers may find this conclusion too cynical. I propose it only after a great deal of thought, and on the basis of two premises.
First Premise: We are at the end of the period of general economic growth that characterized the post-WWII era. I’ve written extensively about this, and there’s no need to repeat myself at length here. Suffice it to say that we humans have harvested the world’s cheap and easy-to-exploit energy resources, and the energy that’s left will not, much longer, support the kind of consumer economy we’ve built. Further, in order to keep the party roaring, we’ve built up consumer and government debt levels to unsustainable extremes. We’ve also pumped hundreds of billions of tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and oceans, putting the entire biosphere at risk. Yet our current economic and political systems require further, endless growth in order to avert collapse. Almost no one wants to discuss this situation—neither politicians nor economists. Therefore the general public is left mostly in the dark.Read More here
MuseLetter #284 / January 2016 by Richard Heinberg: Climate Holism vs. Climate Reductionism. Climate change may be the biggest threat facing humanity, but the way we’re currently going about fighting it just ensures that, even if we prevail, another threat will follow, and another, and another. To explain why, it’s helpful to review a philosophical debate that’s simmered throughout the past couple of centuries. With the advent of modern science came a general predisposition toward an attitude called “reductionism,” the essential notion being that complex phenomena can best be understood by breaking them down into their component parts. Reductionism unquestionably works in many situations. For example, we can better understand the physical attributes of many materials if we study their molecular structures and their elemental atomic constituents. Chemistry is rooted in physics, and cell biology is rooted in chemistry. On the other hand, however, some attributes of complex systems— especially living systems—are impossible to predict or understand on the basis of even the most thorough cataloging of their parts. For example, psychologists have spent decades trying to explain consciousness through a study of the molecular structure of brain tissue, but have gotten essentially nowhere. It appears that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain. An “emergent property” is something that “emerges” when component objects come together in a certain relationship so as to form a higher-level aggregate object, a property that cannot be predicted on the basis of a thorough knowledge of constituents. Even simple materials often have emergent properties: ordinary table salt is composed of atoms of sodium and chlorine, neither of which by itself has any hint of the taste of “saltiness.” Access Museletter here
MuseLetter #283 / December 2015 by Richard Heinberg:The last Museletter of this year contains two essays. The first essay, Can We Have Our Climate and Eat It Too?, was written during the Paris climate talks which have just finished to much fanfare. World leaders have agreed on an aspirational goal of keeping climate change below 1.5 degrees Celsius, unfortunately they have yet to agree on sufficient action to make it so. My essay searches for some clarity in this fog of wishful thinking. The second essay this month is a tribute to my friend Doug Tomkins who died last week. Doug was one of a kind in his dedication to protecting the beautiful world we live in. Access MuseLetter here
16 June 2014, Want to Change the World? Read This First, by Richard Heinberg: History is often made by strong personalities wielding bold new political, economic, or religious doctrines. Yet any serious effort to understand how and why societies change requires examination not just of leaders and ideas, but also of environmental circumstances. The ecological context (climate, weather, and the presence or absence of water, good soil, and other resources) may either present or foreclose opportunities for those wanting to shake up the social world. This suggests that if you want to change society—or are interested in aiding or evaluating the efforts of others to do so—some understanding of exactly how environmental circumstances affect such efforts could be extremely helpful. Read More here
The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises: How do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful, award-winning collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses. The Post Carbon Reader has proven to be a valuable resource for policymakers, college classrooms, and concerned citizens. To access various ways to download this free reader – go here. If you want to download individual chapters continue to the bottom of the link.
20 February 2017, Jeremy Leggett’s Blog, Appropriate Civilization versus New Despotism: State of Play one month into the Trump presidency. (as you read you will find Jeremy is sounding just like Richard Heinberg!)
Suddenly believers in the possibility of a better civilization, one rooted in increasing human co-operation and harmony, find ourselves in a world where demagogues can now realistically plot the polar opposite: a new despotism rooted in rising isolationist nationalism and human conflict. The more we dig into how the demagogues and their supporters have organised their recent successes, in particular in using technology to manipulate voter beliefs on an industrial scale, the more terrified many of us find ourselves. Yet at the same time, tantalisingly, our visions of a better civilization, one appropriate for common security and prosperity among nations in the 21st century, seem more feasible today than they have ever been, at least in some of their component parts. In this struggle between two vastly different world views, a kind of global civil war seems to have broken out in the last 9 months or so.
I am changing this blog to reflect these changed times. For years now I have been chronicling only two relevant themes: climate and energy. Starting with this blog, I will be covering seven. After the evidence of Donald Trump’s opening month as US President, I no longer think it is valid to consider climate and energy separately from the bigger global picture.
I invite the reader to consider my seven chosen themes as dials, each of which will need to be turned up near to full positive in the next decade. They are labelled climate action, energy transition, tech for good, truth, equality, reform of capitalism, and common security. This list is not comprehensive in capturing the struggle between appropriate civilization and new despotism. But I contend that if most of these particular dials are turned down anywhere near full negative, demagogues will have found their road to new despotism, and we can expect a future based on unbreakable police states. Let me summarise my sense of the global setting of each of the seven dials in turn, as things stand.
- climate action. Turning this dial up requires being on course for the Paris Agreement target of under 2 degrees of global warming.
- energy. Turning this dial up requires being on course for a clean energy future both in order to address climate change and to escape the multiple ways that fossil fuels err humankind towards societal problems, including mass killers like air pollution, terrorism, and war.
- tech for good. Turning this dial up will require artificial intelligence and robotics to be applied with appreciable net benefits for society as a whole.
- truth. Turning this dial up will require tech to be used for improving the processes of liberal democracy, including quality and verifiability of information, and the transparency thereof.
- equality. Turning this dial up will require significant narrowing of the income gap, both within the developed and developing worlds.
- reform of capitalism. Turning this dial up will require much more attention to market failures.
- common security.
3 July 2015, The Winning of The Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett Chapters 1 – 22 of 34 May 1st, 2013, to June 28th, 2015 Humanity is in a race, a kind of civil war.
Believers in a safe future fuelled by endless sunlight and related forms of clean energy combat defenders of finite carbon fuels often careless of the impact they have on the world by clinging to coal, oil, and gas. Jeremy Leggett fought for the light side for a quarter of a century as it lost battle after battle to the dark side. Then, in 2013, the tide began to turn. By 2015, it was clear the light side could win the war. Leggett’s front-line chronicle tells one person’s story of those turnaround years, and what they can mean for the world. If you do not know who Jeremy Leggett is access info here and also access free download of book. More chapters to come each month – finishing at the Paris talks
21 September 2017, The Killing of History: Reporting from New York, John Pilger describes the re-writing of the history of the Vietnam War in the 10-part television series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Millions died “in good faith”, they say. And so yet more wars are justified – as President Trump tells the world he is prepared to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.
Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”. Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives. I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”. The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971. Read More here
March 2017, John Pilger – The Coming War on China (film) When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of 6 August, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, unforgettably. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, ‘disappeared’, a political embarrassment.
Another shadow now looms over all of us. This film, The Coming War on China, is a warning that nuclear war is not only imaginable, but a ‘contingency’, says the Pentagon. The greatest build-up of Nato military forces since the Second World War is under way on the western borders of Russia. On the other side of the world, the rise of China as the world’s second economic power is viewed in Washington as another ‘threat’ to American dominance. To counter this, in 2011, President Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, which meant that almost two-thirds of all US naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific, their weapons aimed at China. Today, some 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. They form an arc from Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. It is, says one US strategist, ‘the perfect noose’. In secrecy, the biggest single American-run air-sea military exercise in recent years – known as Talisman Sabre – has rehearsed an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca, cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa. It is largely this fear of an economic blockade that has seen China building airstrips on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea. Last year, Chinese nuclear forces were reportedly upgraded from low to high alert. This is not news, or it is news distorted or buried. Instead, there is a familiar drumbeat identifying a new enemy: a restoration of the psychology of fear that embedded public consciousness for most of the 20th century. The aim of The Coming War on China is to help break the silence. As the centenaries of the First World War presently remind us, horrific conflict can begin all too easily. The difference today is nuclear. Read More here. If you do not think this has anything to do with climate change, think again!
27 May 2016, John Pilger, Silencing America as it prepares for war. Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun. The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places. “We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.” So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie….The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama. The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter… “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone. Read More here
Chris Hedges – TruthDig
6 December 2015, Truth Dig – Chris Hedges, Apocalyptic Capitalism. Chris Hedges has been an investigative journalist for decades, based in America, and seen war close up for too many assignments. He is also a very, very angry man. The following is a dose of a future of disruption and collapse – no holds barred.
The charade of the 21st United Nations climate summit will end, as past climate summits have ended, with lofty rhetoric and ineffectual cosmetic reforms. Since the first summit more than 20 years ago, carbon dioxide emissions have soared. Placing faith in our political and economic elites, who have mastered the arts of duplicity and propaganda on behalf of corporate power, is the triumph of hope over experience. There are only a few ways left to deal honestly with climate change: sustained civil disobedience that disrupts the machinery of exploitation; preparing for the inevitable dislocations and catastrophes that will come from irreversible rising temperatures; and cutting our personal carbon footprints, which means drastically reducing our consumption, particularly of animal products. Read More here
21 October 2015, Truth Dig, A Future That Didn’t Deliver. For fans of one of the most beloved hit movies of all time, today is monumental. As “Back to the Future” enthusiasts have been pointing out for at least the last year, Oct. 21, 2015, is the day Marty McFly rides Doc Brown’s DeLorean-turned-time-machine 30 years into the future. The vision of the future depicted in 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II” (“BTF2”) has become iconic. McFly lands in a world that looks pretty much like the ’80s, only with way cooler stuff. Kids ride hoverboards, adults drive flying cars and everybody enjoys insta-pizza and something called Perfect Pepsi. There’s even a “weather service” that doesn’t just accurately predict, but entirely controls when and for how long it’s going to rain….And so we arrive at a kind of “Back to the Future” nostalgia in which we yearn for a future—a 2015—that, we bizarrely lament, has failed to arrive. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. By now, robots should be doing all the work, though somehow we should still all have jobs and purpose; the nuclear family should be as it was in the McFly ’50s (a golden age of nuclear) and the only thing warming on our planet should be the roast in the food replicator. Read more here
July 2017, Peter Russell: Get Real, Ray, A Critique of Ray Kurzweil’s Predictions. Ray Kurzweil recently announced his year-by-year predictions of the future. Here are just a few samples (full list here):
- 2020 – Personal computers reach a computing power comparable to the human brain.
- 2025 – The emergence of mass-market human implants.
- 2031 – 3D printed human organs used in hospitals at all levels.
- 2041 – Internet bandwidth will be 500 million times more than today.
- 2045 – The earth will turn into one giant computer.
- 2099 – The technological singularity extends to the entire Universe.
I’m not sure exactly what this last item means, and how it fits with communication being limited to the speed of light, and whether he means the entire visible universe up to 4.5 billion light years away, or the (possibly infinite) universe beyond that, and why other advanced civilizations haven’t already triggered this. But I’m sure a mind like his has thought all that through. Here I would like to point out a more down-to-Earth shortcoming of this genre of utopian technological futurism. They assume business as normal in terms of scientific and technological progress, and generally fail to include the very real crises facing humanity in the coming years. To sober ourselves up from Kurzweil’s lofty predictions, let us consider some of these challenges and their potential impact. At the forefront is climate change. It is happening much faster than most scenarios predicted, and given the potential for runaway climate change once the tundra thaws, we could be witnessing some devastating consequences in coming years: major crop failures and famine, extreme weather events, millions dying of heat stroke, massive migration. These and other potential impacts will send shockwaves through our already vulnerable economic and social systems. Read More here
Is the Future My Responsibility? Peter Russell’s closing speech given at a Conference – Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland, 2001
We like to think of ourselves as the most intelligent species on this planet. But it is now becoming clear that we are destroying our planetary habitat. If we carry on as we are, we wont be here in thirty or forty years time. Yet despite this awareness we don’t change our behaviour. We continue destroying our habitat. Is this intelligent? It’s more like insane. The question we must ask is Why? What’s wrong with us? Some people argue that there is an intrinsic fault with humanity. We are self-centred, short-sighted, greedy beings, and that’s it. If that were true we may as well pack up and go home now. There’s not much hope. But I don’t think the problem lies in the way we our brains are wired, but in the way we think–in our attitudes, our assumptions, and the programmes that run us. What we think is important in life. In other words, our values. Read More here
Books worth having on the shelf and hopefully read first!
The Knowledge Wars, by Peter Doherty: Climate scientists have warned that we need to change our behaviour in ways that may be inconvenient and threaten the commercial status quo. The result has been a polarising division in society and a sustained attack on their research.In The Knowledge Wars, Nobel prizewinner Peter Doherty makes a passionate case for citizens to become informed so they are able to evaluate the facts of any scientific debate. It provides practical advice on how to analyse research and take meaningful action. The Knowledge Wars challenges our assumptions and encourages us to take an evidence-based view of the world. There’s something here to offend everybody!
About the author: Peter Doherty shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the nature of the cellular immune defense and continues to be involved in research directed at understanding and preventing the severe consequences of influenza virus infection. He is a huge advocate for evidence-based reality in areas as diverse as childhood vaccination, global hunger and anthropogenic climate change. In an effort to communicate more broadly, he has published four books for general readers. The Knowledge Wars is the latest.
This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein, 2015: This Changes Everything is as much about the psychology of denial as it is about climate change. “It is always easier to deny reality,” writes Naomi Klein, “than to allow our worldview to be shattered, a fact that was as true of diehard Stalinists at the height of the purges as of libertarian climate deniers today.” Much of this book is concerned with showing that powerful and well-financed right wing think tanks and lobby groups lie behind the denial of climate change in recent years. Read More here
Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2015: About confronting Hidden Threats to Sustainability Founded in 1974 by farmer and economist Lester Brown, Worldwatch was the first independent research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns. Worldwatch quickly became recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. They have been publishing the “State of the World” series for many years. My first one is dated 1990. “We think we understand environmental damage: pollution, water scarcity, a warming world. But these problems are just the tip of the iceberg. Deeper issues include food insecurity, financial assets drained of value by environmental damage, and a rapid rise in diseases of animal origin. These and other problems are among the under reported consequences of an unsustainable global system. In State of the World 2015, the flagship publication of the Worldwatch Institute, experts explore hidden threats to sustainability and how to address them. Eight key issues are addressed in depth, along with the central question of how we can develop resilience to these and other shocks. With the latest edition of State of the World, the authorities at Worldwatch bring to light challenges we can no longer afford to ignore….” Launched 13 April 2015. To order
Afterburn, Richard Heinberg, 2015: Climate change, along with the depletion of oil, coal, and gas, dictate that we will inevitably move away from our profound societal reliance on fossil fuels; but just how big a transformation will this be? While many policy-makers assume that renewable energy sources will provide an easy “plug-and-play” solution, author Richard Heinberg suggests instead that we are in for a wild ride; a “civilization reboot” on a scale similar to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Read More here
The End of Growth, Richard Heinberg, 2011: Economists insist that recovery is at hand. Yet, unemployment remains high, real estate values continue to sink, and governments stagger under record deficits. The End of Growth proposes a startling diagnosis: humanity has reached a fundamental turning point in our economic history. The expansionary trajectory of industrial civilization is colliding with non-negotiable natural limits. Richard Heinberg’s latest landmark work goes to the heart of the ongoing financial crisis, explaining how and why it occurred, and what we must do to avert the worst potential outcomes. Read More here
Overloading Australia, Mark O’Connor & William Lines, 2010: On the recommendation from Dick Smith (and I concur): This is a must read for every Australian. “Overloading Australia” is undoubtedly the best book if you want to get “up to speed” quickly on the population issue and Australia. I thoroughly recommend it. It’s available directly from Mark O’Connor – Read More here to order directly
The Global Brain, Peter Russell, 1982, latest edition 2007: In The Global Brain Peter Russell shows that humanity has reached a crossroads in its evolutionary path. The Internet is linking humanity into one, worldwide community – a “global brain”. This, combined with a rapidly growing spiritual awakening, is creating a collective consciousness that is humanity’s only hope of saving itself from itself. However, Russell warns if we continue on our current path of greed and destruction, humanity will become a planetary cancer. Selling more than 100,000 copies and translated into ten languages, his seminal work, The Global Brain, won acclaim from forward thinkers worldwide. It was regarded by many as years ahead of its time, and its original predictions about the impact of computer networks and changing social values are now being realized. Read More here
The groundbreaking two-hour special that reveals a spectacular new space-based vision of our planet. Produced in extensive consultation with NASA scientists, NOVA takes data from earth-observing satellites and transforms it into dazzling visual sequences, each one exposing the intricate and surprising web of forces that sustains life on earth.
April 2016, Peter Russell. Short animated video summarizing why the fundamental nature of the cosmos is consciousness. The fact we are aware is one thing we know for sure. We couldn’t have an experience without being aware. Yet, despite appearances, our experience of the world is only the brain’s reconstruction of what is “out there.”
Best to watch this one on MUTE! Nineteen months old