A radical in the Age of Denial

I received an email message from somebody who seeks my participation in a “save Arizona” panel (his name has been obscured to protect the guilty):

Interesting blog site, Guy.

Sorry to learn about your separation from UofA, I think. I really don’t know the school very well. You are a bit of a radical in the Age of Denial, you know.

We should probably talk. There is a difference between what we are doing and an actual pursuit of sustainability. We’re trying half-assed things, like creating a green economy with green collar jobs. It’s sustainable development. If we’re successful, we may slow our cultural demise somewhat. There are those that think by taking our tact, we may create room for some technological fixes.

While I hope that might happen, I don’t really believe it will. However, I’m not sure what else to do – besides finding some arable land with good water and rounding up a bunch of talented, patient small farmers and moving there – assuming that the increasing storms, droughts, fires, etc. wouldn’t wreck everything. “Best laid plans…”

The objective of our colloquium is to “accentuate the positive” by forming collaborations between us economic meddlers. If we spend any time confronting the realities and the overwhelming data, we’ll not get anywhere. Our work assumes that we have the time needed to change course by increments within the current economic structure.

If you have some thoughts on other avenues of action to take, I’d be very interested. Keep in mind, we’re limited in power to our communities – and even there, our power is hampered by entrenched interests, ignorance and greed.

Let me know what you think – and maybe a good time for a phone call.

My response:

Yes, let’s talk. Here’s something to ponder between now and then:

For starters, we agree about one thing: It’s all about community. The age of cheap fossil fuels allowed us to forget that. But communities are making a comeback, and we’ll need strong ones if we’re to get through the years ahead with minimal human suffering. We’ll also need tremendous doses of compassion, creativity, and courage.

If we maintain the industrial age, as you’d like, we drive most of the species on the planet to extinction, including ours. Latest estimates, which are undoubtedly as conservative as their pre-cursors, indicate we’ll run out of habitat for humans by mid-century.

If we terminate the industrial age, as I’d like, we might return to agricultural anarchy, in the sense of Thomas Jefferson. We might not, of course — we might be too self-indulgent for that, and we’ll bring chaos instead of anarchy — but I’d say it’s worth a shot. Preparing for agricultural anarchy within the next few years will require a tremendous commitment of resources and especially action. Think shoulders to the wheel in a way we haven’t seen, in this country, since at least World War II and probably earlier.

The clear choices are extinction or anarchy (with a chance of chaos tossed in). This seems like a no-brainer to me. What am I missing?

I suppose one route would have me presenting my “radical” (i.e., reality-based) view as a touchstone and wake-up call. Any number of more moderate (i.e., denial-based) views could follow to make people feel good while they are taking action. Or, more likely, nominally supporting people who are taking action. Or — and I suspect this is the best for which we can hope — staying out of the way while people take actions necessary to save our species beyond mid-century while feeding our children in the months and years ahead.

I’m available for a phone call at my rural property just about any time. Please call me, but let me know when you’ll call so I can be waiting by the phone (otherwise I’ll be outside, working). Best times for me are after 9:30 a.m. and before 4:00 p.m. because I have animal-husbandry duties before 9:30 and after 4:00.

All the best,
Guy

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Comments 21

  • Anarchy practically implies chaos.Given the basic barbaric nature of humans(civilization is a false patina that cannot be maintained),we will
    see the reality of human nature,which will not be pretty.

    Most people will be shocked,because they have been sold on the false ideals of civilization.Human nature is the antithesis of civilization,which is a hopeless and impossible dream which can only be maintained under ideal conditions.Today conditions are far less than ideal in every respect.

  • Guy,

    I have distilled your latest post down to the following quotes.
    Save Arizona person: “There is a difference between what we are doing and an actual pursuit of sustainability. We’re trying half-assed things. Our work assumes that we have the time needed to change course by increments within the current economic structure.”

    Guy’s response: “If we maintain the industrial age, as you’d like, we drive most of the species on the planet to extinction, including ours… by mid-century. If we terminate the industrial age…we might return to agricultural anarchy. The clear choices are extinction or anarchy (with a chance of chaos tossed in). This seems like a no-brainer to me.”

    To which Frank Mezek responds: “Anarchy practically implies chaos… Human nature is the antithesis of civilization, which is a hopeless and impossible dream which can only be maintained under ideal conditions.”

    Do I have that right? And if I do, how is it that you seem to be the one balancing between “there’s really nothing we can do” and “we’re screwed no matter what we do?” I blinked and “Guy the doomer” became “Guy the optimist.” Kidding aside, you do give me hope.

    Michael Irving

  • Guy —

    We can only do what is in our control to do. It may work out well for us or it may not. Big fish eat little fish and the patterns of history will likely repeat themselves. Your immediate goal should be survival of yourself and your clan (and then a little later you can amass power and rule the world, if you so desire).

    Stan

  • Michael Irving, yours is a fair question, and a frequent one. Your summary seems fair, too.

    I seem to be living in two worlds. Most moments, I believe our history of self indulgence, coupled with our expectation of “progress” dooms us to chaos when the power goes out (as it certainly will). But I know people are capable of making great sacrifices and surviving considerable privations. And, most importantly, I am driven to live “as if.” If we act as if people are capable of great acts, perhaps they will perform on cue. On the other hand, if we act as if chaos is the only possible future, I suspect the prophecy will become a self-fulfilling one.

    Stone-Age humans persisted a long time (about 2 million years). We’re clearly capable of living without electricity, I-pods, and the wheel. Will we? I hope so.

  • Guy,

    Thank you for your reference to July 29,2008. It must be the “as if” in me that finds hope in comments by you.

    Thanks,

    Michael Irving

  • Happy Thankstaking!

  • review of important new book by William Catton:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5954

    new quote by Stan Moore:

    If you are not a doomer, you are reality-challenged.

  • Great quote, Stan, and thanks for the link to this review of Catton’s new book. Click here to see how the Barack Obama/Goldman Sachs administration is working hard to further enrich CEOs of the big banks at taxpayer expense. Here’s the punch line: The chair of the Congressional oversight panel on the TARP program, Elizabeth Warren, says, “The too-big-to-fail institutions are bigger, the banking industry is more concentrated and the toxic assets remain on the books of the banks. Worse yet, the implicit government guarantee that let big companies take on high risks, then keep all the rewards if they succeed and get taxpayer bailouts when they failed, are even stronger than they were a year ago.”

    The article even points out how Obama’s actions are killing poor people. Yep, it’s all good here in the Checkbook Republic.

    It’s long past time for the empire to die. Can we just get it over with, please?

  • The title of Guy’s latest essay strikes me as indicative of the nature of the times in which we live. A man becomes a self-professed “radical” in a doomed civilization when he accepts and understands reality and eschews fantasy and obfuscation, not to mention prevarication.

    Thank goodness that radicals exist in such times!

    Compare “radical” Guy McPherson with “audacious” Barack Obama, master of the audacity of crass deception, even with existential threats to civilization staring him/us in the face.

    Stan Moore

  • Guy parallels Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451. He was part of the establishment and walked away from it to reach true enlightenment. The rest of Mildreds(Montag’s wife) continue to live in a world that merely masks happiness. Hope to see you all down the track.

  • I’ve been meaning to tell you I like the look of the new site. One question: At what point do you change the “Our days may be numbered” to “Our days are numbered?”

  • Good point. Of course, our personal days are numbered, and too few of us behave as if aware of that little detail. But now this doom thing…

    So, Guy and all, this hobby of mine, sowing tree seeds and nuts and hoping for the best, came after concluding that we were, collectively, toast. Hard to wrap the mind around that one, and keep going ‘as if’…but then it occurred to me that if trees migrate about 11 miles a century, on average, and they only had 50 to migrate 500 miles, then it might make a small difference if I helped. Especially with the new man-made barriers now in place (roads, cities, suburbs, malls, power lines, reservoirs, etc).
    It’s not much, and not very much acreage, but it keeps me sane.
    Of course, if I had a God, like Rushbo, I could keep faith that God would not allow global heating to ruin His Creation.
    ‘Crown of Creation’, indeed.

  • Just because our civilization is doomed does not mean that we need to be paralyzed in fear while waiting for the end. I think the brass band of the Titanic had it right — they kept right on playing till the deck tilted.

    But unlike the Titanic tuba tooters, some of us can make our own lifeboats and take our chances at survival. And staying active and positive should make the time pass much more pleasantly and quickly.

    And someone else might enjoy the fruits of our labor, so we have every reason to continue to work hard and treat the future as uncertain, but hopeful on a personal level.

    stan Moore

  • Earlier today somebody pointed out to me that “radical” means “of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.” The Greek and Latin roots are all about roots.

  • Diversity Aids Unsustainability —

    Dear Guy and all —

    A new concept has occurred to me that I have never seen discussed anywhere previously. It has to do with the propping up of our unsustainable civilization. It has to do with the prolonging of the unsustainability by preventing crashes at crucial bottlenecks of unsustainability, corruption, decay, etc.

    Just as diversity is good and important for biological sustainability, it appears that diversity is good for unsustainability. The “powers-that-be” are obviously concerned about maintaining the status quo for as long as possible. They do not desire equity, accountability, or responsibility.

    The entire financial system of the world came very close to crashing recently, due to bottlenecks in the transfer of money from banks to other banks, and related issues. The system could not be allowed to collapse. So, money was transferred in enormous quantities to maintain an unsustainable financial system. If necessary, money is printed and wealth is invented by the printing process with no connection to the real economy in order to preserve the power structure it currently exists.

    There is no shortage to the ingenuity and connivance of the players in the current power structure with regard to temporarily sustaining the unsustainable by introducing new and diverse forms of complexity.

    As Joseph Tainter has pointed out, increased complexity itself has a terminal point — it dooms civilizations. But on a temporary basis, increasing of complexity through diversity of collapsible structures can keep the old system chugging along for a while.

    It is sort of like those old WWII movies that show the submarine commander trying to keep his vessel operable with patches that are unsound from a long-term engineering standpoint, but able to delay the inevitable sinking of the vessel. In the case of the military in the movies, the hope was that outside rescue could occur before the vessel was lost. In the case of our civilization, it is unsustainable at the scale and detail that we know it today, and no outside force can preserve it.

    But it can be sustained for a period of time through connivance, chicanery and cannibalism.

    I predict that the recent trend of upward wealth transfer from the many to the few will continue and that the suffering of the many compared to the elite few will also continue until it becomes acute. This may lead to the final collapse through anarchy.

    It takes time for these processes to work themselves out. Peak Oil is an underlying factor, but things are never as simple as we think when we first grasp the outlines of such an enormous problem. Collapse is assured, but the timing and circumstances are dependent on myriad factors that must interact over time and space with various unpredictable aspects.

    We could see tipping points reached quickly, or we could see more patching. It will be interesting to watch as things develop further…

    Stan Moore

  • reference link= http://www.counterpunch.org/ginsburg11272009.html

    Here is an example of the sort of “cannibalism” I was referring to in the previous posting.

    Stan Moore

  • Effects of the Scales of Observation

    Decades ago, the Heath Hen (a game bird and type of prairie chicken) was in big trouble in New England. Management efforts were set into place to try to reverse the declines and for a while, appeared to be succeeding. The population increased. But certain variables entered into play and ultimately the species went extinct. It took years for the process to play itself out.

    Global climate change has been predicted for several decades now, originally based on the chemical effects of CO2 in the fixed system of the planet. The predictions began to come true, but anomalies in the overall pattern have also been discovered and well documented. The warming of the planet has not been uniform across the vastness of time and space. Some areas have cooled during some periods of time. Some areas have experienced increased snowfall even as glaciers in Greenland and Alaska have melted precipitously. Depemnding on exactly when and where on stands on the planet, one can see different things. This in no way refutes the reality of global warming, but the complexity of the earth’s responses to interacting factors over time and space has caused some doubters to use real data to prove false theses and they can get away with it for a time, because of the effects of time and space.

    The same is true of the economic and ecological structures of our civilization. From a macro scale we can see they are unsustainable and faltering. We can expect a failure, a crash, a return to equilibrium. But at the micro scale we can see how the civilizaton can be manipulated to preserve itself on a temporary basis. We can see how assets are shifted around or even invented to create temporary sustainability. We cannot predict exactly how others will respond to the structural fractures of society, other than to observe the likelihood that the systems will be kept running as long as possible.

    The wealthy and the powerful control our world. And it is clear that they intend to liquidate the natural and the manmade assets of this world into their personal fortunes for as long as possible. They will not leave any money on the table. There is no literally no limit to their greed and no bounds to their avarice and determinationt o take everything they can before bailing out of the civilization in individual attempts to survive its failure.

    What is going on now, in my opinion, is a general liquidation of assets by the rich and powerful. They see the end and they see a lot of wealth and assets on the table for their taking if they play their last few hands of cards in their own interests. They are not going to allow the remaining assets of society to be distributed equitably among the masses for general welfare of the people. At least not willingly. They are unwilling even to allow for late-phase organization of general medical care for the American people, knowing full well that many Americans have yet to lose their jobs in a continuing faltering economy.

    I heard a radio program recently in which the author of a new book on the machinations of investors of private capital were discussed. Private capital has purchased many large businesses at inflated prices because the government loaned the capitalists very cheap money. These businesses, which employee many millions of Americans, have yet to reach the accounting for their debts and they will fall, placing millions of additional Americans out of work and now without health care through work-provided health insurance.

    The capitalists and financiers who make these transactions possible will have no pity on the masses. They are forestalling public health care for the US while bailing themselves out of their own financial shenanigans while also continuing to pillage the entire economy to the greatest extent possible.

    And they will continue to liquidate the economy and the ecology until the collapse comes. In actuality, the faltering of the economy has probably bought them some additional time from the full effects of Peak Oil by putting people out of work and thus diminishing oil demand.

    It looks almost like Peak Oil is a non-issue right now. But people are still burning massive amounts of oil. Next year’s crop will need to be planted to feed the nation, and credit and fertilizer and fuel will likely be more expensive and more scarce in the next rotation of the annual crop cycle.

    Many things are going on all at once. The diversity of unsustainability is steadily increasing in order to buy more time for liquidation. Many people have taken the opportunity with the lull in intensity of the Peak Oil situation to consume a bit more, adding to the economy that is being liquidated, and all the while putting their hope in Obama to osrt things out in their favor.

    Obama has no such intention.

    And reality must intervene in its proper time.

    Stan Moore

  • Stan,

    What you last said brought up an interesting idea about the rich. Instead of just being a bunch of greedy-guts who could actually care less if the rest of us eat shit and die they are really prepping for the disasters to come, just like the rest of us. You can picture them having to send the butler out to buy rice and beans for long-term storage. “Oh James, be sure to lay in a good store of pinot grigio along with those MREs please. And don’t forget the nitrogen packs for the caviar.” I almost feel sorry for them. NOT!

    Michael Irving

  • Might it be impertinent to suggest we dine on the wealthy first? They exercise and eat well; perhaps they’d make an excellent bacon, given the current rage for omega 3’s and 6’s.

    I have a recurring vision of Cheney’s descendants emerging from their secure caves once the dust settles, joining the few thousand human survivors up near the Arctic Circle. They will be heavily armed, and firmly Dominionist. We will have only sticks and stones, by then. A battle for the future begins again…

  • A Modest Proposal if you will.