A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Another Warning Sails on By

In three years time, avoiding a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius will be impracticable, unless we reach peak carbon emissions by then. That is the finding of the Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut in a joint report.

What it boils down to is that we have a carbon budget. Depending on the varying ways this budget is calculated and subtracting past emissions, our remaining carbon credit falls somewhere in the range of 150-1050 gigatonnes of total emissions. This is the maximum we can emit if we are to have any serious hope of achieving the Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, or even below 2 degrees.

At the current rate of emissions of 41 gigatonnes annually, that would mean that at the lower end of that scale that we would cross the threshold in four years, so let’s hope somewhere in the middle or upper end of the range is closer to reality. Otherwise, we’ll have to deploy large-scale carbon capture technology and drop carbon emissions to zero right now, which would likely crash the economy, god forbid, when we’re on course to crash all of civilization.

So they’re presuming a 600-800 gigatonne carbon credit. Peaking emissions now would give us 25 years to get them down to zero, which, let’s face it, isn’t happening and won’t in the near-term, but we must do it by 2020 to have a reasonable chance to accomplish decarbonisation of the economy in time. If we do it by then, we should achieve zero emissions before 2040 with a 600 gigatonne credit. However, with an 800 gigatonne credit, we can push this out to 2050 but with a greater risk of crossing the two-degree threshold. Waiting till 2025 to peak emissions or even keeping them level until then will put that goal out of reach for all intents and purposes.

So here we are, pretty much being told it’s crunch time for climate action, but there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding increase in urgency. Things are being left to mosey along at a woefully insufficient pace. Let “market forces” drive change they said, the economy will fix the problem they said.

Yes, the capitalistic, growth at all costs, money-hooked machine is going to resolve a crisis that ultimately requires that it rejects itself. Corporations do not want to do anything that’s going to affect profitability. Competitiveness is what is inclining many companies to favour renewables and electric transport, as they know where things are going long-term, but they won’t jump the gun from their perspective if it risks them losing money.

Ideally, governments would regulate corporations and national bodies, forcing them by means of legislation to change how they operate. However, governments are nearly more scared of regulations these days than the corporations themselves. They don’t want to be seen as impeding businesses that bring jobs and wealth into their respective countries by whatever trickle-down argument they want to use.

We can pretty much be assured that in most countries that this will continue. A few like the Scandinavian nations are committed to more appropriate targets for complete decarbonisation, but even their plans would fall short if the actual carbon budget is less than the 600 gigatonnes we’ve allowed ourselves.

I imagine at this point that even 2 degrees is the aspirational goal, and 1.5 is already out of reach without actions so drastic that it would make the US mobilisation for WW2 pale by comparison. On our current course, we could be threatened with up to 3 degrees Celsius of warming at least. There are some estimates that say that we’ve grossly underestimated climate sensitivity and warming of up to 7 degrees Celsius is possible by 2100.

It’s hard to fathom what that much warming could do but assuming even the lower value of 3 degrees, we can be assured of massive upheaval, perhaps civilization-toppling effects. We could see the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, raising sea levels tens of feet. We could see desertification in the equatorial regions, the complete annihilation of the rainforests, and the loss of major breadbaskets. We could assume that all this along with major natural disasters would lead to mass migration and inevitable conflict over reduced space and resources.

Even if we “only” warm the world by that much, we can’t be positive that it would end there because of all the feedbacks in the Earth’s systems.

So, again, here we are, poised to unleash disaster on a scale no human has witnessed since the rise of civilization, if ever. We could potentially set back our development centuries, if not right back to the Stone Age. Hell, if the higher climate sensitivities to GHGs are correct, we could be galloping towards our own extinction like so many lemmings charging towards a cliff edge.

I really hope that we can avoid that world. I hope that what momentum there seems to be from Paris and the drive for renewables and zero emissions transport really will continue on the up and up. I hope that our leaders can start to see beyond short-term economic gain and begin assuring a safe future for our children and all the generations to come. I hope, I hope, I hope!

It really does feel like instead of putting it out, we’re playing with the fire that is catching. I feel as though we’re all living on a prayer with this carbon credit shot in the dark. We’re hoping the credit is higher, and we are depending on probabilities of achieving that below two degrees goal. However, the reality is that we could see a sudden upshot in warming any year now. 2016 proved that, having crushed the two previous warmest years, 2014 and 2015. If that happens, we’ll be forced into drastic action one way or another, and it still might not be enough.

I still believe we can do better, that we still have a chance to do so, to leave the world better than the generations before us have and how we have it now. However, the margins are tightening and time is slipping away from us. Just because we don’t know exactly how tightly we are bound doesn’t mean we should assume the most optimistic scenario, that we still have plenty of time. We should assume the worst and act accordingly. It seems to me to be the only responsible thing to do.

Image Source: List of Polluted Earth Wallpapers (allwidewallpapers.com)

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.


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Evacuate Earth? Hold your Horses Hawking

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk from the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that we must become a “multi-planetary species” in order to protect ourselves from the risk of total annihilation upon our one little home. Being interested in space myself, I can understand their reasoning. So let’s examine the logic behind investing our resources into putting humanity firmly beyond the Earth for good.

The solar system and the wider galaxy are not the most secure places for a living world hurtling through the void. Within our own planetary system, the big risk factors are asteroids and comets, the former being a giant chunk of rock and/or iron, and the latter being mostly water ice. Certainly, many have impacted the Earth, leading most famously to the extinction of the dinosaurs. An asteroid capable of causing an extinction level event would most likely be detected long before impact, and a coordinated international effort could launch a mission to deflect it. Comets, however, are often not visible until they pass the orbit of Jupiter and given the velocity at which they travel, that would give us probably less than six months warning. There’s currently no method conceived of for deflecting a comet.

So that’s suitably terrifying, but the galaxy has far more nasties to offer up. A close pass by another star could disrupt the Oort Cloud, sending countless comets into the inner solar system to relentlessly bombard the Earth. A nearby star could go supernova, bathing our fragile biosphere in ionizing radiation. A rogue neutron star or black hole could cut right through the heart of our system, slowly strangling the life out of our world with their immense gravity before finally tearing it asunder.

Hell, the Earth itself could kill us.

During the Permian Mass Extinction, also known as the Great Dying, over 90% percent of all life was lost. It was initiated by massive volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps that was of such a scale that it released enough greenhouse gases to raise the Earth’s temperature by five degrees Celsius. After a series of volcanic winters and periods of rapid warming, the dust finally settled allowing the released GHGs to properly cook the Earth. This warmth in turn destabilized methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean, which is a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This raised temperatures a further five degrees. The ocean ecology collapsed, and Earth’s waters became one giant acidified dead zone. The land became inhospitable, searingly hot and bone dry. Even oxygen levels dropped, suffocating some of the fauna.

The ironic thing is that there’s an experiment being carried out right now to replicate the conditions of the end Permian extinction. It is entitled “Global Industrial-Scale Fossil Fuel Combustion to Generate Electricity and Fuel Transport for Human Civilization”. You should look it up some time!

One would think after all that that we’re screwed. One or more of these events is bound to transpire at some point, but that’s the thing, some point could mean tomorrow or ten million years from now. Granted, we can already be pretty damn certain that we’re killing ourselves, but that is a choice, one we are moving painfully slowly away from, but I have hope that self-preservation will slam the accelerator one of these days.

However, putting the pedal to the metal on preserving our living planet and all the life it supports will require massive investment and focus globally. Climate change and general degradation of the Earth’s systems have already progressed far further than they ever should have been allowed for the sake of economic growth and greed. We need a massive overhaul of not just how we produce energy but of our economy and societal values. We need to put the living systems that support our civilization before the profit motive.

What we cannot, for the moment, factor into this equation is an elitist escape plan. We cannot invest in building a lunar base, or founding a Martian metropolis of a million souls, or trying to develop viable ways to travel to the outer reaches of our solar system and to the stars beyond. Not right now at any rate. I imagine Stephen Hawking would wholly disagree. He believes we are at our most vulnerable right now as a species because we possess the means to destroy ourselves and the Earth, but we lack the means to escape it.

But what do we think we’re escaping to? The Moon? Mars? The gas giants? We’re certainly not getting any further with current technology, so forget about some “potentially Earth-like planet” that the Kepler telescope has spied in the depths of the universe. There ain’t no warp drive or wormhole to get you there just yet.

The fact is that if Earth faced an imminent and dire external threat and was surely doomed then very few of us would be escaping. It would probably be the privileged who could afford it like the escape tunnels of the kings of old, and they wouldn’t be taking refuge in some celestial idyll. They would be in cold, sterile, self-contained bases, shielding them from the inhospitable environment they are condemned to see out the rest of their miserable lives in, as they attempt to perpetuate some semblance of the human species.

Even if we could get to the nearest potentially habitable planet, Proxima Centauri B, what then? What if it has its own diverse ecology, probably something incompatible with our own? Are we honestly going to carry with us the thinking that drove us from our home and bend another living world to our will for the sake of our own survival? What right have we to do that? Are we to become the antagonists of such alien invasion movies as Independence Day and War of the Worlds, harvesting the resources of another world because we have so thoroughly ransacked our own?

Really, for people who dream of evacuating Earth to save us from ourselves and the grave threats of the universe, it is more to make the vision of spacefaring humanity become a reality rather than any practical reason. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the allure. I grew up watching Star Trek and Stargate and any sci-fi I could get my hands on, and the idea of zooming off into the void, seeing what’s out there, finding new life, all that is exquisitely compelling.

Yet, I think it’s unlikely that we will reach those heights of technological achievement in time to make any difference to our survival, not on the business-as-usual path we are currently sprinting down. It’s likely that in this century and the next that we’re going to experience some society-stopping shocks. Water scarcity, food insecurity, conflict, natural disasters, all beyond our capability to adequately respond, and then complete breakdown as civilization slips away into the fires of a second Great Dying. Even if we survive the Armageddon we instigate, all else will be lost.

No one who survives such a calamity will remember Elon Musk or Stephen Hawking or the dream of humanity amongst the stars. All they’ll know is a grim reality of anything beyond bare survival being a luxury.

But as I said before, we have a choice in that.

We can be the fools who ran their only home into the ground with the slight possibility that some will seek shelter on the nearest dead rock, or we can be the visionaries who see the value of Earth and take whatever steps are necessary to preserve it for future generations, so that they may seek out greater knowledge and higher things.

My wife told me a story once of a couple who’d been together over fifty years. They were asked how they did it for so long, did they not ever fight? They said that of course they do but in their day, when something was broken you fixed it, you didn’t just replace it. We are breaking our world, our only home in all the universe, and that fact isn’t going to change in time to save us, no matter how much we dream.

Yes, sure, a rock could fall out of the sky and smite us, or a black hole could swallow us whole, but those events are beyond our control. What we can control are our own actions on this Earth. So let’s work on the issues here and make our planet the haven of humanity and all Earthlings that it should be rather than chucking it on the trash pile in the vain hope that another Earth will come our way.

 

Image Source: Random Ramblings of Celeena Cree from National Geographic documentary “Evacuate Earth”

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions.

 

 


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Saturn

It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

I entitled my last blog post “Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks”, and boy, has it sucked these past three weeks and really the last few months. Whilst I tried to strike a semi-positive note in that post, it’s been hard to bring myself to write about current events, the US election, or my general feelings and opinions, in fact, much of anything really. I think we’ve all been, subconsciously or not, at the edge of our seats, waiting for the outcome of an election that could determine the degree of hope we could reasonably have for the future. Well, there could only ever have been two outcomes; we could be just disappointed or both disappointed and astonished. Guess which happened!

President Donald Trump. Who ever thought we’d be saying that? I certainly didn’t. When I overheard a manager mention it to some of my work colleagues the morning after, there was first disbelief and then wryness. My thoughts were something along the lines of “Oh America, you’ve fucked us all”.

Those who know me know that climate action and general environmental protection are issues that I think are key to continued human civilization and progress on this planet, at least in the manner that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Without solid steps taken to mitigate the climate crisis, we can soon enough just start adapting to a spiralling planet-wide disaster until the limits of adaptation are reached. Then who knows what will happen? All I know is that even if I don’t live to see some serious climate consequences, our children and grandchildren most likely will, and that through our short-sightedness we hand down a calamity, a far less liveable world, is unacceptable and in the eyes of future generations will be unforgiveable.

Unfortunately, in choosing Donald Trump, America has not only voted for racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, fascism, and Big Business, they have voted against a safe and secure future for all life on this planet. They have essentially voted for climate change.

I’m well aware that not all Americans consciously chose their candidate for the above reasons. Certainly, bigots across the country would have chosen Trump based on his prejudicial rhetoric alone. However, half of eligible voters did not do their civil duty and prevent this psycho from getting into office. Albeit, that might have been a form of protest in itself. Given the choices, I’m not sure I would have wanted to vote either, though I may have gone third party.

Well, what’s done is done. We can hold out hope that the electoral college will upset this upset, but the chances of that are vanishingly small. Anyway, what would we have if they did do something just as astonishing as Trump winning the election by denying him the presidency? What then? Well, we saw the upheaval and outcry after his victory, so his supporters would likely stage a repeat, and then that would wind down, and we would have Clinton. Whoopty doo!

Except that Hillary would, at best, be a continuation of the Obama administration’s ambling progress. Would she move to keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground? No. Would she mobilize the US to act on climate change like it would in the face of war? Probably not. Would she be interested in more binding and/or progressive climate treaties with the rest of the world? Iffy and even if so, she would need a co-operative Senate and Congress. Therefore on climate change and other issues of environmental and social justice, Hillary Clinton is better than Donald Trump only in the sense that she, at least, would not fly in the face of reality and do the opposite of what needs to be done.

That’s unfortunately what will come into the White House in January, a president who will gladly undo climate legislation, protections for public lands, who would throw out the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, all in favour of increasing fossil fuel extraction and other mining activities to the benefit of powerful corporate interests.

So, yes, it all very much sucks, and we can all collectively cry into our pillows, rock back and forth in a corner, or party like it’s 1999 because why not? The world is going to shit, and nothing we say, do, not do, is going to change that. Too many crazies are voting in crazies for the actions of the sane and aware among us to make any difference.

Well, you’d be wrong.

More than ever, I feel that it’s up to us. Politicians and governments aren’t going to resolve the issues because they no longer work for us. They work for themselves, for corporations, the 1%, for the prestige and financial gain that are inextricably linked to politics these days. There are a few good apples among all the rot like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, but even they must see the difficulty of effecting change from within a system that is inherently stacked against them, poisoned by greed and lobbying.

Even someone who has a passing interest in politics can see the strings being tugged and the off the record, behind the scenes dealings that must be happening. Yet most people don’t even care enough to look at the glaring corruption staring them in the face. It makes one wonder is politics made deliberately boring so people won’t pay too close attention to it? Whatever the case, people being uninformed about their choices is how the public were duped into voting for Trump. Even those who used their vote to say screw you to an establishment that changed northing in their lives must now see that Trump will fall into the establishment line, too, and deliver more of the same or worse.

It’s going to come down to the choices we make as individuals that largely determines the course from here on out. Like it or not, many of us a reinforcing the status quo and largely with our wallets. Corporations respond to demand and when demand shifts, they have to adapt or go out of business, which is why industries from tobacco to fossil fuels to the meat and dairy industries work hard to lobby politicians, confuse the public by muddying the science, and advertise us to death to prevent any shift towards alternatives.

We need to go to the science and the scientists ourselves, receive the information in an uncorrupted form, direct from the source. We need to make informed choices about how we spend our money, what businesses and products we support because if you burn coal, you’re cooking the planet. If you eat a steak, you’re cutting down rainforest and cooking the planet with methane. If you buy a product containing palm oil, you’re killing orang-utans by destroying rainforest also, and less trees doesn’t help the climate change situation either.

This has turned into a lecture on politics and personal responsibility which wasn’t the initial intent. You’re probably wondering as well what connection the video above has with the rest of this post. It was just something about hearing it, seeing it, that made me realise no matter how downtrodden I was about Trump being president, about Brexit, about right-wingers coming to power all over, the world is bigger than one man, one referendum, or one ideology. We are bigger.

It really doesn’t matter who sits in the Oval Office. What matters is how complicit with or apathetic we are towards those who would lead humanity down a dangerous path, into dystopia and chaos and calamity. We are the many, the bigger picture. They are the few with a narrow-minded, short-sighted outlook on what is important. It’s up to all of us to press on, to get to work, and do so with more energy and persistence than we have before because those we work against depend on our disillusionment, our moments of weakness, and they hope we’ll just surrender, re-join the flow.

I think of Saturn, a picture of it, floating serenely in the dark depths. That’s what our resistance is. Whether you stand with Standing Rock, whether you promote the vegan message, whether you support those in Bangladesh fighting a coal plant in the Sundarbans, or those in the outback of Australia fighting a nuclear waste dump, you are resistance. We are hope, nonviolence, a bright movement upon which blackness attempts to encroach but cannot snuff out.

I don’t believe for a second that the light of resistance could ever be extinguished, not with what’s at stake. However, it could be dimmed or brightened depending on how we all react to the crises facing us. Jane Goodall said in the documentary Racing Extinction that there’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for. I think that’s true rather than the fatalist notion that our course is locked in, our fate already sealed. For sure, the coming years will be critical, even more so now that a climate denier holds the highest office in the US and republicans control both the houses.

With conservatives leading the UK and potential right-wingers gaining ground in France and Germany, we have a lot of challenges, but there is a lot of hope, too. The train of change has already left the station on climate action and green energy, and it cannot really be halted, only slowed. It’s our job that on this and other environmental and social justice issues that the accelerator is kept firmly pressed, that progress for the majority isn’t waylaid for the benefit of a few.

To anyone reading this, whoever is feeling hopeless, or that the challenge just doesn’t get smaller, doesn’t let up, you’re not alone. The movement can only get bigger, brighter. Social change is contagious, and we have the power to spread it far and wide. The other choice is to fall back and give up, and that is not a choice at all. It doesn’t matter if every Donald Trump and Theresa May and Francois Fillon gets into office. What really matters from here on out is not what state governments represent and try to do, but what we do regionally, locally, and most of all, personally. After all, the consumerist apathy that creates most of our problems could turn to consume-less activism. We are the basic units, the fundamental bedrock of the capitalist system. If we change, everything changes.

So light a candle. Reach out. Take action. We are Saturn.

Above Image Source: Universe Today

 


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Do We Want to Sink?

“…so you dwell on this terrible future, you resign yourselves to it and for one reason, because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today…”

Governor Nix, Tomorrowland

It’s been a long hiatus for me in terms of blogging, but now that my wedding and honeymoon have passed, I have wanted to get back into it, and there are a number of things I want to review, movies and documentaries that I’ve seen in the last few months. I saw Tomorrowland when it was out in cinemas during the summer but on my flight home after my honeymoon, it was available to watch, and I thought I should refresh my memory before offering my thoughts on it.

Tomorrowland is essentially a concept of a place without limits on science and creativity all directed to build a better world. It is a story about what might be possible if the greatest minds could innovate and build without the limitations of bureaucracy, of financial greed, and superstition. It’s ultimately about the potential of humanity and hope for the future, that we can make it all we can imagine and beyond. It’s quite an alluring ideal. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the philosophy behind the Venus Project in that society works for the benefit of all humankind rather than for a select few.

Whilst the movie was largely about wonder and peril and adventure with a not too small element of fun, there was one moment in it that, for me at least, was truly impactful and very relevant to the current state of world affairs and that was, once again, a speech by the principal antagonist of the movie, Governor David Nix. I have embedded a link to it at the top of this post, and I think it’s something everyone should watch. It’s surprising, given the overall tone of the movie, how meaningful it is and how much it touches on the state of mind of the majority of people when confronted with the many crises that beset us and the potential of our eventual demise.

I want to start with the end of his speech, his accusation that as a society, we want to sink, to fail, that we are happy to run headlong into disaster. I disagree. The overall premise of the movie is that the majority of people have given up, but quitting in the face of adversity isn’t the same as relishing it. I think, if asked, anyone would say they want a better world, a better life, to live on a planet not ravaged by crime, war, climate change, and pollution. They would want a peaceful world with a clean, stable environment where they are free to live the life of their choosing without fear of repression or impending disaster, a world where society takes cares of everyone equally and is not set up to favour a select elite. The problem is that most people probably and understandably think that these basic desires are beyond our collective reach, a utopian fantasy that could never actually happen.

The part of his speech that I most agree with is the line that I have quoted above. For, to have that idealistic, though in my view, completely reasonable future, we would have to work for it, fight for it even. That is asking a lot of people in this day and age. Our lives have become so regimented, so consumed with getting from A to B, with work, with chores, and then managing to squeeze in time for our loved ones and ourselves before we have to go to sleep and repeat the whole cycle again the next day. So where in that schedule do we find time to contribute to the betterment of society, to take part in community building and improving amenities, to clean up our local environment, to write to officials, to join a protest? The answer is that most of us don’t.

There’s also risk involved in challenging the status quo. In my opinion, rather than moving towards that utopic future we so desire, we are teetering on the brink of utter dystopia. Between regressive laws and ordinances, the curtailing of democratic freedoms and rights, and the rising brutality of police forces meant to protect and serve us but instead serve government and corporate interests, it’s fair to say you are sometimes seriously sticking your neck out by challenging the system. In the face of the limits on our time and the undue consequences that we tempt by acting, it’s not hard to see why people might be resigned, why they might give up. I. myself, feel this way often enough. It’s the powerlessness of seeing the wrong in the world but simultaneously feeling too small to do anything about it.

Yet is it good enough, given all that we may face in the future, to quit on the basis that to do anything else would be very personally burdensome? Maybe that’s a harsh way of putting it, but that’s essentially what it boils down to, the going will be hard, so we just stop going. As David Nix says, we have resigned ourselves to this terrible future because it asks nothing of us today. It will happen simply, inevitably, if we just continue on in blissful half-ignorance and gradually, as it draws nearer, as it begins to transpire all around us ,we can convince ourselves of the comforting notion that there was nothing we could have done anyway.

But that is a lie, a heinous one, meant to assuage our guilt, as we transfer responsibility for managing calamity and tragedy to our children and grandchildren.

Self-deceit and apathy, along with the fact that we really may be desensitized to disaster as we see it everywhere, in movies, in books, in games, and increasingly, in reality but usually at a distance, it is all these things that at least partly explain our inaction on some of the most pressing crises of our times. Climate change tops the list as it will effect everyone and everything in some shape or form. Besides the changing weather patterns punctuated by extremes and disasters, it will precipitate other crises like mass migrations, wars, famines, increased crime, disease outbreaks, and the breakdown of ecosystems and the Earth’s natural processes. Yet given this Pandora’s Box of nightmarish consequences, most of us are not motivated to challenge Big Energy and elements of government who support them, most of us aren’t picketing our officials and the responsible industries demanding that they enact policies to avert this impending catastrophe. A lot of us don’t even care or really believe it will happen. That is a problem because massive public demand would be required to usher in that change.

Changing everything will require everyone.

So, how do we get from a small group of committed individuals to everyone mobilised and demanding change, demanding justice and progress? I don’t have the whole answer to that. The journey from “that’s not my problem” to caring deeply about an issue is not standard for everyone, nor is it just an acute shift. However, I think what we can all agree on that is common to most people is hopelessness. We don’t believe that better does or can exist. We need to drop that anchor that is holding us in place, preventing us from moving forward. David Nix puts it best when he says, “In every moment, there’s the possibility of a better future…”, and that is the truth. Everyday, every hour, every second, there’s the opportunity for each of us to take small actions that taken together have the power to create real change. This lack of belief is not just in what’s possible in general but also in ourselves. We underestimate our ability to innovate, to reason, to create.

Perhaps a world reaching the dizzying heights of progress depicted in Tomorrowland is not something we could just conjure up tomorrow, but who’s to say what we could achieve if we are not limited by those in power and by ourselves. For the moment, why is better infrastructure, public transport, healthcare, a clean energy economy, a safe and healthy environment, an end to hunger, poverty, and the injustices that lead to crime and conflict too much to ask for? All these things are possible. They just require us to believe, to not give up, or, as the main protagonist in Tomorrowland, Casey Newton, puts it, to feed the right wolf.

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Maybe Ultron Had One Valid Point…

“You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.

How is humanity saved if it is not allowed to evolve?”

You’re all puppets tangled in…strings…”

Marvel’s Ultron

So perhaps how I choose to interpret these lines is a far cry from the intended meaning of the character Ultron. However, they do speak to me about the current state of the world and our efforts to change the course. Let me start off by clarifying a point. I am not some supporter of voluntary human extinction, whether it be by some insidious agent such as an engineered disease, or passively such as not reproducing and allowing ourselves to die out. I wouldn’t normally be so direct in addressing my opinion of a particular philosophy but to me, electing to surrender entirely is the ultimate form of laziness, the abandonment of any hope. I’m not saying that hopelessness isn’t justified sometimes. These are hard times for the global biosphere, for societies right around the world, both struggling against injustice, greed, and conflict, but I am of the opinion that there is always light somewhere. No matter how dark it gets, it’s there somewhere. It just requires courage and determination to keep looking for it.

Therefore, Ultron’s approach to achieving world peace by ending it all is anathema to me. However, anyone who has seen the movie knows that that was not his original purpose, nor did he go off mission in the beginning. So perhaps mine is a loose interpretation of his opening speech, but here’s what I take from it. In a nutshell, we want it all. We want to save the Earth that is, the one we have grown up in, the one we are used to but at the same time, we want massive reform. We want to stop war, crime, climate change, poverty, hunger, pollution, tyranny, extinctions, and every manner of social and environmental injustice. We wave our banners and our flags, we bemoan the state of the world and expect better from our leaders, and many of us maintain a happy-go-lucky attitude that things will change for the better simply because they should.

Just because they should doesn’t mean they will. Just because we complain about something doesn’t mean our leaders will listen.

Our civilization, as is, cannot be maintained if we really want an end to all the things I listed above. Why? Because all of those things are symptoms of the sickness that is our consumptive, capitalist system that reduces everything down to its monetary value, that dehumanises individuals, that allows room for human and environmental tragedy in the name of profit. We all live in this system, we all play into it, whether we like it or not. The demands we place upon the Earth, far beyond its capacity to sustain, is what is driving all our current ecological crises. They in turn feed back into injustices that already existed because of the very nature of our current system, exacerbating them further.

Why, honestly, would we want to save this?

Why would we want to hand down to future generations a system that offers equality, privilege, and abundance to the few at the expense of all others? Why would we want to hand down a system of governance so vulnerable to corruption that it can be moulded like putty in the hands of the already powerful? Why would we want to hand down a wrecked Earth, mired by pollution, racked by an unstable climate, bereft of life and vitality?

The answer is simply, put that way, we wouldn’t, and these questions are moot anyway. We can’t save the current system because it is unstable and at odds with any kind of peace and prosperity in the long-term, and possibly at odds with our continued survival as a species. It operates under the assumption of infinite space and resources on a planet that has neither. Already, the Earth is overburdened by our sheer numbers and the demands that each of us as individuals place upon it on a daily basis. Food, fresh water, living space, raw materials, all of it drawn from the Earth in a largely unsustainable fashion. Eventually, the planet will hit the brakes and cease to give, and where will that leave us?

I think we’ve all been duped into believing that something akin to the American dream is possible for us all, that we all can have huge houses, our own expensive cars, boundless food and material goods, that there can be no end to our satisfaction derived from purchasing disposable objects and gadgets that we can then easily replace. It’s a very dated, very immature mindset, and one that could doom us. One of my favourite quotes is from Gandhi that “the Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed”. Generally speaking, that is fairly accurate. While the resources exist to provide every person with food, water, housing, transport, and energy, it isn’t possible for every single person to own a Bentley and their own mansion. Yet even to provide that much luxury to a small number of people whilst the other echelons of society in the West receive a diluted form is plunging billions into poverty in the Third World and upending the Earth’s natural systems unlike anything since the asteroid the wrought the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The fact of the matter is that this globalized, capitalist system is a thrill-seeking madman that we are passively riding along with, even as it drives over the edge of the ecological cliff. That is the only way business-as-usual can take us. Yes, we do need reform. Yes, we do need change. However, I don’t think many people appreciate how these changes might affect them personally as individuals. One example is our unsustainable food system. Providing meat and dairy to the West is already a massive drain on resources and is fuelling multiple environmental crises, as I discussed in my previous blogpost about the documentary Cowspiracy. If it meant saving the planet, if it meant feeding everyone on Earth, could everyone honestly say they’d sacrafice at least a portion of their meat and dairy intake and replace it with plant-based foods? Could you make-do with a few ounces a week? Could you take on the ultimate environmentally and socially responsible diet and go vegan? I’m not sure how many would voluntarily subscribe to such a policy if it were ever instituted, but when our Earth can no longer sustain the cattle ranches and the factory farms, it might become mandatory.

Here’s another one that mightn’t be so hard to comprehend but still a challenge. Could you give up on the concept of having your own personal vehicle, could you depend entirely on public transport? Let’s for a moment imagine that these services are timely, readily-available, and cheap if not completely free? That might indeed be easier to swallow. After all, buying and maintaining your own car is expensive and if you had a free alternative at hand, why wouldn’t you choose that instead? I think the reason is that our culture emphasizes private ownership, that having your own car is a symbol of achievement and independence. However, for the sake of cultural norms, we are polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and throwing more vehicles into the mix of a transport network that you might not come out alive from.

When it comes down to it, people aren’t going to make these changes unless they have a good incentive to do so, whether that’s achieved through policies that actually better all people’s lives, and not just corporations and the super-rich, or through the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it is down to us. Collectively, we need to grow up and face the music. Between climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise, habitat destruction, and all our other negative environmental influences, we have the potential to make the world a really nasty place where the type of dystopian rule that we imagine in fictional series like The Hunger Games becomes a real possibility, one we are already beginning to slip into, as governments exercise the wrong responses to the growing crises they face.

Our system, based entirely on monetary gain, placing a dollar value on everything, is both impractical and immoral given the realities of our world. It is a system that worked well in more primitive times when there were fewer of us placing a far smaller demand on the planet’s resources but now, it needs a massive overhaul, in fact a straight-up replacement, in order to bring human civilisation in line with the times. Our economy needs to be based on available resources and values, not financial gain and greed. We need to get it out of our heads that perpetual economic growth is a good thing because it only represents success in a narrow spectrum of society. Did you know that investments in health and education count against growth? Yet, the success of a company that manufactures guns or drones contributes to it. What does that say about our current system that educating our children and treating our sick and injured takes away from the value of our society whilst manufacturing weapons to kill does the opposite?

This is what we perpetuate. We are putting all our eggs in the wrong basket and hoping that it can still carry us to that wondrous place where we can have everything and everyone is happy. That isn’t impossible, but we have to accept changes, changes in what we value, in what makes us happy. Instead of our happiness and satisfaction in life being dependent on rampant materialism, perhaps we should emphasize experiencing the world we have and education, so that people can appreciate more what we’ve already been given by default. Maybe we should stop placing so much importance on owning one of everything and instead, rediscover sharing and interdependence, so that we consume less, waste less, and put a lesser strain on the Earth’s resources and its systems. Perhaps, we need just to accept that we are part of this world, not apart from it. The notion that we can somehow hold dominion over it is one that will destroy our environment and our society along with it, if not our entire species.

Our relationship with the planet is at a crossroads. Do we continue down the track we’re on into an unpredictable but most-likely dire future, or do we stop and choose a better path? Do we start to make informed decisions about our future, based on science, and take appropriate action, or do we leave our fate to the whims and opinions of self-motivated politicians and business leaders? As Ultron so aptly asked, how is humanity saved if it not allowed to evolve? How are we to progress under conditions where the ancient dogma and religious beliefs of political leaders can still hold sway and even overrule, or at least undermine, real science? We can’t move forward whilst holding on to the past, dated values, and prejudices. This is why we need a system overhaul. We need to educate ourselves away from these negative compulsions that rule our lives, so we can make better decisions for ourselves and the world at large.

At the end of Avengers, when the last of the Ultron bots faces its end, it states with indignant certainty to Vision, “They are doomed”. Vision agrees solemnly but responds that “something isn’t beautiful because it lasts forever. It is a privilege to be among them”. So, are we doomed? On the scale of geological time, most definitely. The sun, after all, is going to swell into a red giant and swallow the Earth, and the planet will become inhospitable long before that eventuality comes to pass. Unless now, we imagine some wondrous future where humanity is no longer confined to the Earth, even then, the universe itself will one-day, in perhaps trillions of years from now, be unable to support life as we know it. Back to the here and now, because that’s what really matters, our immediate future and that of the coming generations. What kind of world will we leave them to build upon, to work towards all manner of human endeavour, to reach for that amazing future where the fate of our race is not tied to the fate of the Earth?

Well, it won’t happen in a world where the biosphere is burning down around them. They won’t shoot for the stars when their most immediate concern is where the next morsel of food is coming from, as was depicted in the movie Interstellar. Even the achievement of saving ourselves from a dying Earth might be too much to hope for. We may instead devolve into the primitive hunter-gathers or proto-farmers we once were, or just go extinct. To quote Brian Cox, “We are the universe made conscious, we are the means by which the universe understands itself”. What a shame then if we used that remarkable gift to snuff ourselves out.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I think the time to act was thirty years ago. The next best thing we can do is to make the right choices now, for ourselves and together for all humanity, and cut the strings on us that prevent us from doing so. I’d like our privilege as a species of being here, now, to last a little longer than my lifetime.

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part I

(Image Source: Reddit)

We are not free. We are constrained by a system that delivers the illusion of freedom. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a system where our choice is limited to two sides of the same coin, thereby allowing for the appearance of democratic choice. We consider ourselves unique, living unique lives, making choices that are all our own, not determined by any outside influence. That is a lie. Everyday you awake in the same place, eat the same food, work the same job, engage in the same chores and mindless entertainments, and then go back to sleep. If you think that is unique, then the question you need to ask yourself is did you ever wake up in the first place?

I have watched multiple videos and documentaries decrying our broken political and economic systems. The Venus Project, the Zeitgeist Movement, their productions all advocate a move to a better economy, a better society, one that works for the benefit of all people and not just a select few, not for profit. Yet I can say that none of these, no matter how much they influenced my thinking and opinions, impacted me as profoundly as this eight and a half minute clip. This short video by Spencer Cathcart summarises the problems of our world eloquently and powerfully. It is near impossible to deny the truth of his statements on our economy, our democracy, our rights, our food, and our environment. They are all in desperate need of repair. They are all corrupted to serve an elitist few who depend on our complacency, our apathy, and our willingness to serve as obedient cogs in their machine in exchange for a pittance.

I plan to do a series of blog posts covering the issues mentioned in the video. So let’s go into to detail of what is so broken with all the components that make up our society and our lives, starting with our economy:

Our Economy: The 1% Boom, We Bust

Corporations are everywhere. Your food, your hygiene products, your devices, your appliances, all of it is controlled by one corporation or another. The fact that everything you buy and many of our services are corporate-owned is scary enough. However, when you consider the “or another” is getting smaller and smaller with every quarter, the true extent of the control so few have over so much becomes terrifyingly clear. The Earth’s resources are being consolidated, concentrated into the hands of mega-corporations. You may enter a supermarket and think you’re spoiled for choice by the thousands of options but in reality, all of the brands before you are owned by less than a dozen companies.

Think about it. We’ve surrendered the abundance the Earth has to the elite who dole out exactly what their precious cogs need because we cogs are also a resource, the most important one. Unlike other resources, we have desires, hopes, fears, all of which can be exploited. We can be controlled this way, enticed or scared into perpetuating a system that only serves those at the top, our corporate overlords.

Corporations only exist to make a profit and to serve the interests of their shareholders, who also want to make a profit. Therefore, they have no incentive to display any social or environmental responsibility. Their power and influence alone can allow them to fly under the radar of legislation and cut corners to maximise profit at the expense of the environment, those they employ, and the communities directly affected by their activities.

So with power and wealth rising persistently to the top, and everyone else falling to the bottom, what is the inevitable outcome? Fascism? Oligarchy? Corporatism? All of the above? Most definitely. We live in an age where technological advancement is outstripping the expansion of human awareness. This technology continually allows us to do things faster, better, and with less and less human input but instead of being used for the benefit of humanity, it is being employed to maximise profits because corporations develop it, they own it. Therefore people are cast adrift in a system that has not caught up with our technology and pointlessly holds on to the outdated capitalist structures that built it, because corporations want it that way. They need to keep making worthless paper much like a hoarder who feels compelled to fill their home with useless junk.

This model is unsustainable for many reasons. From a social standpoint, most repetitive and boring work can and is being automated by use of machines and computers. So what happens to the human worker who once did that job? They are unemployed, forced to rely on social services that are also outdated because their expectation is that you will find some way to get off of them and find work again. If social changes were enacted to bring our society up to date with the technology then there would be no problem. However, our social systems are entwined with corporations through politics, and much like a business, governments rarely invest in anything that doesn’t turn a profit. People not working for the system are not productive in terms of contributing to corporate profits and/or national GDP.

So, people will eventually reject to a system where their needs are swept aside in the interests of capitalism and profit-making for those who already own a huge share of the world’s wealth and resources. It’s just a question of how big a bust we are willing to endure before that happens. The last financial crisis saw ruin for people right across the world whereas the richest were continuing to soak up the world’s wealth. That was insufficient to topple the system. We need a greater shock to trigger a mass demand for reform, and also one that sticks. For even now, business interests are undoing a lot of the safeguards in place to prevent another crash. Corporations have inexplicably become people in the eyes of US law with inalienable rights, donations to politicians are now no longer bound by any upper limits, making it easier for corporate lobbying to influence elections and government policy, and big banks can count on a taxpayer bailout during an economic downturn of their making, leaving us impoverished and them still wealthy.

We all need to ask ourselves if these injustices are not already enough. Is it okay that the eighty-five richest people in the world own more of the world’s wealth than the poorest three and half billion, that individual businesses have more power and money than many countries? Is it okay that banks can gamble taxpayer money like it’s a game, leaving us to cough up when their luck runs out? Do we want to live in a world where pieces of paper delimit our entire existence, where most of this so-called wealth exists digitally as ones and zeros on a computer somewhere? Do we want to live in a world of inescapable debt, of wage slavery, of booms and busts where the 99% always seem to get the latter end of the stick?

I, for one, believe better is possible. I don’t believe our current economic systems are the best that humanity can come up with. We are capable of so much innovation on so many fronts, yet we cannot overcome barriers to progress that we have put in place ourselves. We have to remember that we the people ultimately wield the power. It’s just about having the courage to use it. Corporations need workers, customers, faithful cogs running their machine, churning out more and more profits. Even making small choices like buying healthy, organic food from a local farmer, or coming together as communities and co-operatives to provide services and to initiate projects could make all the difference. Divesting your money from businesses and banks whose values are not in line with yours can really hit big business where it hurts.

An economy that works for all people and provides everyone with what they need while allowing them the freedom to do whatever they want with their time is not a utopian pipe dream, nor is it some socialist or communist nightmare. It is a potential future that is in no way absolutely perfect, but it is certainly better than what we’ve already created. The alternative to a resource-based economy, an economy for the benefit of all humans, is a capitalistic tidal wave that the elite will ride, crushing us all beneath, until it breaks upon an unyielding shore, and that shore will be the limits of what the Earth can sustain. Our world is finite, its natural systems have limits, and we are already pushing them with the ludicrous idea that infinite growth can occur under such constraints. Our society, our economy, needs a revamp in terms of priorities and values. Otherwise when the next bust happens, nor we or the elite may come back from it.

Links:

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

Citigroup Wrote the Wall Street Giveaway the House Just Approved

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.