Links of the Month: May 6, 2012

Map showing the variance in temperature rise — from nil to 16C (30F), with an average of 4C/7F,  that could be expected as early as 2060 if we continue to emit more carbon each year as we are doing now. In the Arctic that’s an average of 30F warmer, every second of every day in every season. Here are more details and the interactive map from the UK Meteorological Office. Thanks to Sue Bullock for the link, via this explanation of the map.

You may have noticed that my ‘links of the month’ posts have become less frequent (often every second month) and less focused on the ‘politics and economics as usual’ material. This is partly because I see no point in alerting readers to the endless flood of bad and unactionable news (or indeed reading such news myself). It’s also partly because as I have given up on environmentalism (while still encouraging activists who continue to find their work meaningful and purposeful to keep up the good fight) I have become more interested in news about resilience, play and inspiration — not as a distraction from the reality of our current terrible situation, but as a means of coping with it mindfully.

I’ve been in the US for the last couple of weeks, and everything that is bad at home in Canada seems more transparently worse here. I started writing a post called “A Sickly and Exhausted Nation”, but I gave up on it because I thought it would provoke defensiveness among my US readers (even those who are more critical and pessimistic than I am, and because it seemed so obvious and self-evident it didn’t warrant saying. My friend, the film producer Tim Scott Bennett kind of said it all when he wrote earlier this year:

Did not the culture of civilization, at some point, take off on a weekend fling of unexpected exhilaration that spiraled out of control, bringing the entire planet face to face with our present predicament? And have not many people’s lives, at least those lived here in the heart of Empire, become so loveless, abused and unsatisfying that we’re poised now to do almost anything to get out of them? Have we not truly managed to do something no other living creature has managed to do, which is to make ourselves, individually and collectively, miserable?

Aye, now I’ve done it. I’ve violated a deep taboo, spoken the unspeakable. Because, well, we’re so happy, we Americans. Aren’t we?

I mean, sure, we’ve got corrupt leadership, economic insanity, and the end of cheap energy to contend with. We’ve got climate change and population overshoot and mass extinction to think about. We’ve got dying oceans, dying forests, dying aquifers, dying krill, dying caribou, dying everything. We’ve got nuclear power and nuclear waste and nuclear weapons and depleted uranium. We’ve got fucked up political systems, health care systems, educational systems, economic systems, agricultural systems, and septic systems. We’ve got racism, sexism, narcissism, workaholism and fascism. We’ve got child abuse and elder abuse and spouse abuse and animal abuse. We’ve got rapes and murders and suicides. We’ve got unwed mothers and single parents and children having children. We’ve got addictions, distractions, obsessions and compulsions. We’ve got unemployment and underemployment and homelessness and debt. We’ve got boring, meaningless work, longer hours, longer drive times and falling real wages. We’ve got unsatisfying relationships, loneliness, divorce and broken homes. We’ve got mental illness, stress, busy-ness, depression, despair, medication and “the deliberate dumbing down of America“. We’ve got obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer and heart disease and all those other “diseases of civilization“. And sure, all of these things seem to be spiraling out of control, as if Conquest, War, Famine and Pestilence just stormed onto our polo field and started to beat the ever-loving crap out of our players.

It makes me, and apparently Tim, wonder: What exactly is it we’re trying to sustain?

PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END

Paul Kingsnorth On Wildness and Despair: The co-author of the magnificent Dark Mountain Manifesto, and author of Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and the follow-up Thoreau Farm Letters, has two more gems I’ve just discovered:

On Nature laments the fact that the Human Empire now occupies 93% of the Earth’s surface, with the remaining wild 7% under siege and in retreat. Excerpt:

Will they [the wild places] survive climate change and the growing human appetite for more shiny things? We don’t know. But we have to hold on to them as if they will, because there is, at this stage, nothing else to do.

I suspect that the best hope we have now – hope for a living planet, hope for the continuation of beauty and wildness and ecological diversity and our own sanity as a species – is to protect as much of the world’s wildness  as we can, try and carry it through the coming storm and just hope that on the other side we will have found some accommodation with ourselves and with the wild. Any such accommodation, if it ever comes, won’t happen in our lifetime. But we have a flame to keep, in case it ever does.

On the Correct Management of Despair riffs on Derrick Jensen’s Beyond Hope theme. Its lovely conclusion:

That is my despair. What should I do with it? I can talk, perhaps with you. I can share it. I can write it down. But I can’t and won’t pretend that I don’t feel it. And I won’t replace it with something called ‘hope’ just because I can, or think I should. I can live my life well, be happy, love, work, do the things that matter to me. I can save some of the good things, if I try, I hope. But I can’t hold back the despair all the time. Why should I? It’s a response – a rational response – to what we are doing; to the world we are levelling. It’s the only honest response.

The despair leads me to the mountain, and the mountain shows me the lights of the city as it spreads and the mountain is dark, at least for now, because the lights have not yet come. If they do not come it will not be because we chose not to send them this way; it will be because we fell back into our own fires before we got a chance to send them out here, and profit from them accordingly. Increasingly, now, I hope the lights never come. I hope the world goes dark again and that when the morning comes none of the lights work ever again. Only the sun, and at night the stars, reflected in the undammed rivers.

The Radicalization of David Suzuki: I don’t much like David Suzuki. I’ve met him and found him arrogant, judgemental and insensitive. But he’s been a flak for the hopeful do-what-we-can mainstream environmental movement for so long that it’s remarkable to see him shifting to a more radical stance. In this interview (alas, by Canada’s worst reporter, the execrable Margaret Wente) he allegedly admits the environmental movement has been a total failure and is at a dead end, and confesses to feelings of agony and bitter defeat over his role in it. Now, he says, we must abandon the entire idea of ‘sustainable development’ and immediately terminate the Alberta Tar Sands and similar developments. Wente writes: “The problem isn’t that the environmental movement has failed to explain this message. It’s that people have rejected it. Mr. Suzuki fears the consequences for the planet and the human race will be catastrophic.” Thanks to Sharon Goldberg for the link.

Burning Up and Running Out: Climate scientist Jon Koomey explains why the task of mitigating the effects of climate change in our complex society is so impossible: First, “there’s virtually no chance that resource constraints would provide a brake on carbon emissions in this century”. Second, “we’ll run out of the earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases long before we run out of fossil fuels”. So the 4C/7F scenario depicted in the graphic above is a conservative one — the best we can reasonably hope for.

You Can’t Say That: Part of the problem of getting meaningful dialogue on economic, energy or environmental collapse is that it is considered socially improper to discuss these issues, and the radical solutions that would be needed to effectively address them, at all. And of course, that’s exactly how the political and economic powers want to keep it.

Myths of Environmentalism: Why home solar, eating local, and hybrid cars aren’t as green as they are portrayed. Neither are bike-powered electricity generators (though direct pedal-powered machines are). And your online services are mostly powered by coal and nuclear energy. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the middle link, and Michael Bauwens for the third link.

Harbingers of Collapse: Mike Krieger argues that political upheaval in China, and the arrival of Peak Oil in Saudi Arabia, are close and inevitable, and either will precipitate global economic collapse. Thanks to Bruce Stewart for the link.

LIVING BETTER

The Library as Community Commons: As one library starts offering local seeds as well as books, why can’t we turn our libraries into community commons where people can swap and gift and collaborate in many different ways? Thanks to Tree for the link.

Yurts for Beginners: How to build an earthbag roundhouse.

POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL

cartoon by Adrian Raeside in the Victoria Times-Colonist

The Chasm Between Rich and Poor in the US Widens Further: 93% of the increase in income and wealth in the US in the past year went to the already-richest 1%.

450 Chernobyls: The world’s 450 nuclear reactors depend on a steady and continuous source of electricity to prevent overheating and explosion. What would happen if solar flares disrupted electricity globally for an extended period?

Trading Water for Waste: A politically connected new nuclear power company wants to exploit much of Utah’s scarce water for new nuclear energy generation.

Take It Off, Because I Say So: Naomi Wolf explains how the ever-increasing powers of US security authorities (expanded further by the extremist US supreme court’s recent granting of authority that allows all security forces to do invasive strip searches of anyone, without need for a reason, and without limit) are deliberately designed to suppress dissent by sexually terrorizing citizens. Thanks to Sharon Goldberg for the link.

Corporatist Dictators Keep Control of Bankrupt Michigan Communities: Under a draconian Michigan law, communities that declare bankruptcy are put under the stewardship of appointed czars (often with fascist tendencies) with absolute dictatorial powers — unelected, unfireable, unrestricted by prevailing laws, not responsible to anyone — who can dissolve labour agreements, fire anyone, privatize anything to their cronies, do anything they want to do. The citizens are completely at their mercy. The courts recently upheld the appointment of these dictators, because the group trying to get them ruled unconstitutional used the wrong size font in their petition.

Canada/Tar Sands Corner:

Canadian Economist Blasts Tar Sands Pipeline Studies as “Propaganda”: A respected Canadian economist describes the reports used by the Canadian government and oil industry to justify the Tar Sands and its pipeline proposals as shoddy, one-sided propaganda, “quantitative billy clubs to beat back public inquiry.” Meanwhile, another study concludes the existing pipelines are “a rusty mess”, an accident waiting to happen.

The High Cost of Cheap Gas: Canadian gasoline is selling at about $1.40/litre (just above US$5/gallon). But its real costs are our dependence on it being so cheap.

Harper’s Religious and Economic Extremism: A review of the life of Canada’s extreme right-wing prime minister reveals the frightening depth of his reactionary, fundamentalist ideology. And ForestEthics, the environmental organization that works to achieve sustainable forestry, is so incensed by Harper’s war on environmentalists that it’s given up its charitable status to oppose his odious agenda. Thanks to Eric Lilius for the first link.

BC Forest Regs to Be Gutted by Government: A leaked document indicates that BC’s right-wing government plans to eliminate most forestry regulations after supply to sawmills plunged due to massive beetle infestation devastating boreal forests (another victim of climate change).

Is Canadian Real Estate Market Ready to Crash?: A student of bubbles says the Canadian market is exactly where the US market was before it imploded.

FUN AND INSPIRATION

cartoon from the New Yorker by David Jacobson

Complexity Goes Fractal: A hilarious April Fools’ Day lecture on complex numbers.

Elephant Plays With a Tablet: Commercial for Samsung. Elephant as artist. Real or fraud? You decide.

Dog Plays With an Otter: If only humans could learn to play with other creatures like this.

Photo505: Great fun with online photoshopping of your favourite portrait.

Most of Us Living Alone: In the US today, half of all adults are single, and 1/3 of all households have only one person in them. This is unprecedented, and is happening at a time when more than ever we need skill and experience living in community. It’s an interesting paradox: People are choosing to live alone usually because they can (it’s socially permissable and economically possible), yet so many of us are yearning for more social contact, more true connection and love.

Lethal Wetness: What our furry friends will do to avoid wet paws.

Converting Owned Homes to Rentals En-Masse: Good News or Bad?: Some large investment companies looking for improved ROIs are buying up thousands of foreclosed homes and renting them to tenants.

this joke will only make sense if you’re familiar both with Doctor Who and IKEA

Great Silliness About the War Between Cyclists and Drivers/Pedestrians: Don’t take this bike vid seriously. The music is fun. Not safe for work (or anything much else). Thanks to Shay Totten for the link.

When Political Satire Crosses the Line to Cruelty: When right-wingers are interviewed by the Daily Show and its offshoots, and don’t realize they’re being ridiculed, it can be hilarious. Or it can just be mean, and sad.

Climate Attitude Change: A new survey suggests that, essentially, young people don’t give a damn about the environment.

Writerly Grief: Jonathan Franzen writes angrily about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace.

Baraka: The Sequel: The makers of Baraka have a new global cultural documentary called Samsara. Thanks to David Hodgson for the link.

THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH

From Jerry Mander, in Timothy Scott Bennett’s movie What a Way to Go:

There is no real reason why the entire country couldn’t accept reality. We just have to drop the idea of capitalism, the idea of corporations running things, the idea of economic ‘growth’. It could be done.

From Timothy Scott Bennett:

I tend to post two types of things here: Doom™ and Music. I consider both to be a part of my spiritual practice, which I often summarize as “relating to what’s so as what’s so.” The Doom™ keeps me in touch with what’s so on Planet Earth at this time, the fact that our current human-built world is unraveling. The Music ALSO keeps me in touch with what’s so on Planet Earth at this time, which is that there is goodness and beauty and life here still, a Something Else™ which is growing up (to steal an image from Ran Prieur) through the cracks in the pavement with which we’ve tried to deny the Earth. Both Doom™ and Music yank me back into the present moment, where I can live my wonderful life in ever more clarity and connection. My life is a wild and challenging roller-coaster of Joy™ and Grief™ and Pain™ and Astonishment™, of full engagement and stuttering confusion and deep self-revelation and quiet acceptance and blind denial. My every step is a step forward, I think, even if I do not see my destination, even if it feels like I’m falling backward. And in my best moments, I begin to feel something new… a tingling energy, an opening up in my chest and shoulders, even a slight smile resting unbidden and unexplained on my face. And I think this feeling is what people call Gratitude™…

From John Rember:

Somewhere between Nixon’s Christmas bombing of Hanoi and the Alzheimer’s-tinged valedictory speeches of Ronald Reagan, somewhere between TV screens showing the helicopter evacuation of the Saigon embassy and newer, bigger, squarer, flatter screens showing the video-game destruction of Iraqi bridges in the first Gulf War, somewhere between the Bretton Woods economic summit and George H. W. Bush’s refusal to eat broccoli, America made a fatal-for-sanity choice, and succumbed to the reality it wanted to have rather than the reality it had. Surface came to be valued over depth, the conceptual over the perceptual.

In more familiar terms, Americans chose not to believe their lying eyes, especially when those lying eyes told them they had lost a war, had become a nation of obese slugs, and had hocked their grandchildren for oil. Getting ready for the final break, Americans had rejected Jimmy Carter, who told them their dependence on oil imports would by definition end their independence, and embraced Reagan, who told them that it was morning in America…

Anyone who has watched the debates during the presidential election season without realizing that the reptiles onstage are all sweating inside Goofy suits hasn’t been paying attention.

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3 Responses to Links of the Month: May 6, 2012

  1. Jon Husband says:

    What exactly is it we’re trying to sustain?

    This statement, to the quoted paragraph that preceded it, makes things so very obviously clear. For me it summarizes well the last ten+ years of individual outpourings on the Web (ranging from idiotic comments through business models that rely on advertising through to highly-refined analyses and commentaries from truly fine minds). All the information and knowledge is available to us in order to shine bright lights on ALL the issues identified in the quoted paragraph, as are processes of evoking, refining and making actionable visions happen.

    But of course that information and knowledge is used by all involved .. not only to clarify and inform, but also to distort, misinform and manipulate.

    And so on we go … we remain asleep and more-or-less immobile in the face of a cumulative-and-growing clusterfuck which keeps us anxious and uncertain whilst employing powerful mechanisms to keep us asleep.

    Unfortunately, the disintegration of human society related to the unhappy and unsustainable paradigm in which we are enchanted is most likely to continue apace. We keep hitting the snooze button on the alarm and then roll over and go back to sleep.

  2. Martin says:

    Once again, ‘good stuff’ Dave – actually, better than many previous….

    Enjoy the day.

  3. thomasp says:

    Hi Dave,

    Yet again, interesting reading – thanks!

    I came across this a few days back: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175538/tomgram%3A_ernest_callenbach%2C_last_words_to_an_america_in_decline/#more
    (Scroll down to “Epistle to the Ecotopians “)

    When I read it, I thought of you and couldn’t help but share.

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