Rubbing our noses in it

This guest post is authored by Michael Irving


I would like to come back to our email exchanges in which I mentioned you were “rubbing our noses in it” about economic collapse, particularly with your 10-step plan. When I think about the implications of what you are saying from the perspective of the actions of EarthFirst! or GreenPeace your words sometimes make me want to puke. I’m aware that what I am suggesting may be just plain dumb.

First, people who would tend to read your blog and agree with you are generally people who care about the earth, including animals, plants, rainforests, coral reefs, and so on. They probably also care about people and what is happening/going to happen to the species.

Second, “caring about,” means empathy, and empathetic people are usually seeking the “peaceable kingdom” state in which we do the right thing and the world and its creatures settle down to live in harmony and there is a future for the natural world and us.

Third, your recent posts have been asking readers to become militants in the cause, revolutionaries fighting to overcome the vile system that opposes the “peaceable kingdom.”

So, why are people getting upset? They are upset because you are putting them into a morally untenable situation. You are showing people that there is great wrong in the world and then telling them that righting the wrong is their personal responsibility by whatever means necessary. It is so hard for people to go from “can’t we all just love one another” to “avenging environmental soldier.” It requires a complete shift in consciousness, a paradigm shift. You are asking your readers to rearrange their thought system to accept a new reality. They know that if they actually make that shift they can never come back, they will have gone down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass.

So here is where you’ve put them — and me:

I can be one of the 80 guys going into Cuba with Castro to overthrow Batista.

I can join MLK in Selma.

I can go to Palestine and oppose the IDF at the wall.

I can chain myself to an old-growth tree when the loggers are coming.

I can join Ed Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang.

But if I do any of those things my life will never be the same and most of the people I know will reject me. I might end up in jail. I might end up dead.
No wonder there are so few Earth First! activists or Sea Shepherd people. And yet that is the choice you are holding up for your readers to look at, and it is hard, hard, hard.


Michael is a concerned grandfather living on the land in northeastern Washington.

Comments 31

  • Thanks very much for this eloquent essay, Michael. It succinctly captures comments on this blog, as well as in my email in-box. And I am certain you are not the only one with these thoughts, because they haunt me, too.

    I find some comfort in the words of author and activist Derrick Jensen: “Would you rather have the best excuse in the world, or would you rather have a world?”

    Before Jensen wrote and spoke those words, I put my own spin on the issue in one of my recent books, “The problem with being is martyr is you have to die for the cause.”

  • Mr. Irving, where do you find those people you claim “probably also care about people and what is happening/going to happen to the species”? Do you think Lloyd Blankfein “cares about people?” The “environment?” How about Jamie Dimon? Maybe various assorted and sundry members of our local, state and federal governments and the lobbyists who dictate policy for them? Do my neighbors, who allow their dogs to run and crap wherever they want, despite a state-wide leash law, qualify? How about my local constabulary who continually allow them to get away with it because “it’s a minor misdemeanor?” Do these people fit your “definition?” How about those “tea-baggers” who went to “peaceful meetings” wearing loaded side-arms? Maybe you’re referring to those “kind” souls who trampled to death a security-guard in NY last Christmas, when “everyone” is so “giving” and “thoughtful?” Perhaps you refer to the coal industry exec’s and their mindless minions who are willing to kill for their “right” to decimate countless ecosystems as well as the “health” of themselves and everyone they allegedly “care” about?

    My experience and observations firmly indicate that the number of people who “truly” care about ecosystems AND other people number fewer than 1 per million in a global sample. Probably a MUCH lower percentage in the USA and other “developed” countries. Of course, their innumerable bipedal lifeforms who SAY “I care” but their actions ALWAYS belie that “conviction.” Therefore, your “argument,” as well as that of Mr. McPherson, Mr. Jensen and others is laughably irrelevant. Homo sapiens IS nothing more than a cancer on the face of this planet and deserves nothing less than utter and complete extermination. So, go ahead, give me some examples of people who “care” and I’ll have easy evidence of your “lapse of reason.”

  • I believe that the train of industrial civilization is careening towards the cliff. Getting out and pushing it will have absolutely no effect. The forces behind the coming collapse are past their point of no return and are too great for a few brave souls to affect it one way or another. Becoming martyrs, targets or scapegoats for the government is useless. Our decisions, preparations, deliberations, and verbal spouting will be meaningless. All of us must do what is in our hearts and face what is coming with conviction, integrity and with all our strength. Maybe, possibly, some of us will survive and see the earth and its fauna recover as it has always done after a disaster.

  • Yeah, the train’s got some momentum alright. Or maybe the better analogy is the river’s sure full of water alright…we do kind of bob along; it might be wise to haul out before the rapids and waterfall ahead.
    Afa doing something…I’m torn. On the one hand, if everyone wants to be minions of an over-ripe empire, the economy only turning out war hardware and services for those who fight and squirt out fighters, then I’m all in favor of whatever puts sand in the gears. We’ve become a nation of cowards…spending more than the rest of the world, combined, yet afraid of some cave dwellers because they might attack us with their underwear. It’s the business of America.

    When I was ten they explained nuclear winter. Now there’s something to be afraid of.

    But this site is about creating nuclear winter incrementally, which I’d have to consider equally stupid. Animal behavior. Unworthy of designating as ‘human’. Unworthy of passing on to future generations. Too bad about all those other creatures, except maybe the rats and roaches and crows, but if we share DNA we share blame, it could just happen again.
    I guess what I always come back to is spreading seeds around, in case some of them sprout and spread and provide a bit of food and shelter and whatever to whoever manages to survive carbon-based life getting a touch too cancer-y in it’s behavior.

    That, and pulling out surveyor’s stakes.

  • Everyone writing and commenting thus far makes good points. Whatever the peril be to my soul or karma for my uncourageous inaction, I agree with Cesar Lopez that it’s futile to throw myself under the bus (or train, to use his metaphor). The term tipping point comes up a lot these days, and we’re already past it, waiting for the effects to fully manifest.

  • Brutus, I concur with your observation that “we’re already past” the “tipping point(s).” That means any/all that have been defined/described anywhere in any media. For a “reference” and for those who “missed it”…

    Major Antarctic glacier is ‘past its tipping point’

    I will only strongly suggest, as is modestly mentioned in the article, that they are still WAY too “optimistic.” From my understanding of thermodynamics and the “under-sea” topography of both the WAIS and various glaciers in Greenland, I’ll stick with my “prediction” of a “sudden” 2-3 meter increase in sea-levels within the next decade. That will provide new “definitions” for the terms “crisis” and “chaos.” Haiti would probably prefer another magnitude 7 earthquake, as would most any other “society.”

  • And not just the rise…with the thermohaline circulation grinding to a halt Europe will feel more like Newfoundland, no warm water along Cape Cod, and a lot of cold, empty water milling about the Atlantic with nowhere to go. Global heating will ironically mean some mighty cold winters in these parts.

    One question I’ve had: if the continents have drifted far enough apart to change patterns that have held through the last few glaciations, what then? No next glaciation? Or will the next one be of a more permanent nature?
    Any guesses?

  • vertalio, the “theory” of cooling in Europe due to a collapse of the Atlantic convection current (thermohaline circulation) is, to put it mildly, a gross exaggeration. It is true that such a condition and result did happen several millenia ago. However, when those conditions occurred not only was the Arctic ice-cap fully intact there was still a vast ice-sheet covering _most_ of Canada and probably a “fair” amount of Siberia, not to mention a much lower atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other GHGs. The situation today is much different. In fact, it is quite likely that if that current were to shut-down, the change in prevailing winds (i.e. air-mass migration) may allow the hotter, drier air from North Africa and the Middle East to be the predominant “weather factor” over much of Europe. In other words, the region north of the Mediterranean, e.g. Spain, France, Italy, Greece, etc., would become an “extension” of the Sahara desert. Countries further north, e.g. The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, The UK, etc., would experience reduced rainfall and water-shortages… except for a rising level of the North Sea.

  • Colin C: I’m guessing that in your first comment you are giving Guy a much wider readership than even he suspects he has. I would doubt that the CEOs of Goldman Sachs or J.P. Morgan Chase “read (Guy’s) blog and agree with it.” That particular part of the sentence is the relevant part and also the part that ties the entire posting together. If you missed that of course none of the rest of it made any sense to you. Since your reading this maybe you are the exception that proves the rule.

    Cesar Lopez: I tend to agree that the situation can be likened to careening down a slippery slope and that we are unlikely to slow down before we reach the bottom. Guy might argue, using the Jensen quote, that that’s just a good excuse for covering our fear of reaching for the brake level. By the way, thanks for your previous Cuba insights.

    Vertalio: I think you are saying that the empire has the capacity to continue into the future. I disagree and suggest instead that when the economy crashes so will the empire and the military although not before they have caused a lot of mischief. I hope you didn’t mean that all carbon-based life forms are culpable because they share DNA with few oil-addicted humans.

    Michael Irving

  • I would define a classic example of spinning your wheels and accomplishing nothing useful to be the Sea Shepard society. Anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out that if you want the Japanese to stop whaling you simply start a boycott of their products in the U.S. and Europe. Since tens of billions of dollars would be at stake I suspect the whaling would stop in short order. Why does this not happen? Two reasons come to mind the first being that people including those who call themselves liberal environmentalists are more attached to their toyotas and nikons than they are to the whales. So what they do is send donations to Paul Watson at Sea Shepard whose mission in life appears to be to chase the Japanese around the antarctic throwing stink bombs and various insults at the whalers all for the pleasure of cable tv viewers on “Whale Wars”. Watson effectively saves little or nothing in the process and I am sure he and his fellow travelers feel that they can keep this farce going for as long as they like and feel good while doing it. As it is I think it is time for humanity to leave these creatures alone however I am just amazed at the mental process that leads these people to actually think that they will ever achieve any results. Self deception on a grand scale.

  • Colin C,

    Regarding your 8:30 comment on thermohaline circulation shutdown, Vallinga and Wood (2005) posit a cooling in northwestern Europe to pre-industrial levels with increased frost and snow and summer drying in southern and western Europe. They are not suggesting a northward extension of the Sahara into Europe. Do you have a source?

    Changes to the THC in the 21st century are expected as a result of large infusions of fresh water from melting ice on Greeland. Previous THC disruptions are believed to have been triggered by rivers charged with water from the rapidly melting of the ice sheet covering North America. You are predicting massive melting of ice on Greenland and a large sea level rise. Seems like the conditions are set up for just the results Vertalio is talking about.

  • Greg Breneman,

    You could have said the same thing about Rachel Carson in 1960. You’re proving Guy’s point.

    Michael Irving

  • Mr. Irving, apparently you suffer from a “reading problem,” too. At no point in my 1st comment did I even suggest that any of the people mentioned or implied ever have or ever will read anything posted on this blog. The point I was trying to make was that the number of people who “truly care” about _anything_, not just spout the words, is vastly smaller than your “guest post” seems to imply.

    Regarding the potential cooling of Europe due to “thermohaline circulation shutdown” you again seem to have “missed” some of what I wrote. The fact that when that shutdown occurred in the past and caused cooling to the east there was several orders of magnitude more ice covering the northern latitudes than the ice-sheet of Greenland alone. That would imply that temperatures over the entire northern hemisphere were significantly lower at that time than they are now or will be in the very near future. I’ll grant that if that shutdown occurs in the near future it MAY marginally reduce average temperatures across Europe for perhaps a few years. Furthermore, it has been widely documented that the tropics, in their entirety, ARE expanding polewards, both north and south. Lest it be neglected, one of the principle tenets of thermodynamics maintains that thermal energy ALWAYS migrates FROM a hot source TOWARD a cold sink.

  • Colin C, there is little doubt within the scientific community about rapid cooling associated with a reversal of the thermohaline conveyor belt, as reported by NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution … even mainstream media reported this issue, years ago. The thermohaline conveyor belt has slowed considerably during the past decade.

  • Guy, yes, I’ve seen the reports in the MSM (which I take with many grains of salt) and on several science journal sites regarding the fact that the “thermohaline conveyor belt has slowed considerably during the past decade.” However, have the average temperatures across Europe gotten cooler? In other words, shouldn’t this “considerable slowing” of that convection current been reflected in cooler [average] temps? Have the average temperatures across all the northern latitudes decreased? All the reports I’ve seen from NASA, NOAA, The MetCenter, etc. all appear to indicate that all of those regions HAVE gotten warmer, not cooler.

    As I said, if/when that current “shuts down” in the near(?) future, I will grant that there may be some abatement of the present upward temperature trend of that region for a short time. However, I can not understand how/why anyone would think that it would be “significant” or “extreme” since that current no longer seems to be the “dominating factor” of that region’s weather. At this stage of the “game,” there is no way the current’s collapse could possibly instigate another “ice age” for that region or anywhere else. Or do you have another “explanation” for the increasing temps despite the diminishing of the THC?

  • Colin C, eight past reversals of the thermohaline conveyor belt have resulted in rapid trips to extremely cold temperatures in Europe because the warm waters formerly bringing warm air to the region are suddenly cold instead of warm. Apparently a reversal is required, not a slowing … so the slowing is merely evidence that, when Greenland’s ice melts further, a reversal is likely to occur. Recent increases in European temperatures are not a surprise because the thermohaline conveyor belt is still bringing warm water (hence, warm air) from the south Atlantic.

    Ultimately, the likely reversal of the thermohaline conveyor belt likely will be trumped by increased global temperatures. In the meantime, it’s going to get very cold in (especially northern) Europe (and to a lesser extent, northeastern North America).

  • Yes, but…
    what if drift has spread the land masses enough that an ice-free Arctic allows current to run across the pole, and not do the about-face that brings it past Europe?
    That might bring warm water north, but past which continent?

    This is all very exciting, really. Too bad about the population sinks.

  • Guy, I had no idea there were “eight past reversals” but I knew there had been “several.” I also “know” that the “last” shutdown was associated with the Younger Dryas event and “attributed” to the draining of Lake Agassiz. More importantly, I also know that at that time the Arctic ice-cap was “fully” intact AND there was still an ice-sheet over most of Canada. In fact, probably 2-3 times as much ice as was/is on Greenland. Your post doesn’t address or in any way account for any of that ice and the associated “frigid” temps across the northern latitudes. So it seems your (and others) “take” on the situation is that all that ice is irrelevant and the THC is the “sole” (or at least predominant) contributor to climate in the northern latitudes.

    So I decided I’d try to find information regarding all 8 of the shutdowns you mentioned and attempt to correlate that with glacier/ice-extent prior to and during those events. I’m still looking for a “complete” picture, and am planning to post a query to Dr. Richard Alley, but in the interest of expeditiousness I thought I’d submit the following articles, links and excerpts.

    This 1st isn’t my “preferred” reference but I think it’s a “start”…

    Shutdown of thermohaline circulation

    Thermohaline circulation and fresh water [1st section]

    It is by no means clear that sufficient freshwater could be provided to interrupt thermohaline circulation — climate models indicate not, but research continues.

    Also, in coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models the THC tends to weaken somewhat rather than stop, and the warming effects outweigh the cooling, even locally: the IPCC Third Assessment Report notes that “even in models where the THC weakens, there is still a warming over Europe.” Model runs in which the THC is forced to shut down do show cooling — locally up to 8 °C (14 °F)— although the largest anomalies occur over the North Atlantic, not over land.

    Bryden measurements reported late 2005 [3rd section, 1/2 way down page]

    The news service reported on 30 November 2005 that the National Oceanography Centre in the UK found a 30% reduction in the warm currents that carry water north from the Gulf Stream from the last such measurement in 1992. The authors note that currently the observed changes are “uncomfortably close” to the uncertainties in the measurements. However, the North Atlantic is currently warmer than in the earlier measurements.[14] This suggests that either the circulation is not weakening, or that, even if it is weakening, the weakening is not having the hypothesised cooling effect, or that other factors are able to overwhelm any cooling.

    The results are a surprise to scientists in the field.

    If the results are correct, perhaps thermohaline circulation reductions will not have the drastic effects that have been predicted on European cooling.
    While previous shutdowns (e.g. the Younger Dryas) have caused cooling, the current overall climate is different; in particular sea-ice formation is less because of overall global warming.

    [end Wiki-citation]

    Regardless of your (or my) thoughts regarding the above, at the “bottom” of that page I found the following link/article. It’s a “bit” lengthy but I encourage you (and everyone else) to read it all _attentively_ as it is most enlightening! :) In the meantime, I’ll continue to seek those ice-sheet/THC-shutdown correlations.

    The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate
    The notion that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe anomalously warm turns out to be a myth

  • Colin C.

    Again, the “point (you were) trying to make” had nothing to do with the post. I’m sorry you missed that.

    If your point had been that I was wrong in assuming that the people who read and agree with Guy’s blog care about the future earth and human survival we would be talking about the same thing. We would disagree, but at least we would be talking about the same thing. However, that was not the point of my comments.

    Neither was my “laughably irrelevant” “argument,” as you put it, an endorsement of the comments by Jensen or McPherson.

    My point was that only extraordinary people take truly heroic actions in the face of overwhelming odds. Most of us are ordinary people and for us rising to the occasion is hard.

    Concerning your input about a global warming induced THC disruption and a cooler Europe. A better model than Younger Dryas is the 8200ybp event during the so-called Climate Optimum. At that time the climate was warmer than today and there was much less residual ice than during the Younger Dryas event. Same input (lots of fresh water) caused the same result (a cooler Europe). I’m thinking the scientists studying this specific problem may have noted that we are no longer in the ice age. They’re still worried.

  • Micheal-

    To finally respond to your post…heroic action seems a bit Sisyphysian to me. Tilting at windmills. Unless you have access to the media ( a reality show using Earth Firsters!?), or are skilled at coming up with memes and the ability to enter them into the common consciousness, all you can do is live your life as you think best. Done well, others you come in contact with might notice and adopt freely. Or not. And there are so many of us.

    Afa the meme thing…as a post-theist, it’s hard for me to imagine a way forward in modern America, with the public jonesing for Superstition, and to bury Reason. I’m inclined to get out of the way and let the Correction play out, frankly. We’re not far removed from burning heretics at the stake again, from the look of things.
    I do love theatre. Too bad I’m one they’ll want to burn.

    Oh, Colin- so maybe the days will be warmish while all Europe struggles to move their ports to new elevations when the sea rises twelve feet. I doubt it, but maybe so. There are so many variables. That’d be a silver lining, or something.
    But what’s with all the quotes? Are those words you don’t think we mean, or is it sarcasm, or what? Just curious. I hate bothering to type them, myself.

  • Vertalio,

    Thanks for that. Much of it is close to my feelings (I was going to say thinking but it is more on an emotional level). I agree with McPherson and Jensen about the need to get off our duffs and do something. The big problem for me is what? I’ll give you some examples. If I’m angry with a coal company there are certain obvious actions, either violent/destructive, non-violent civil disobedient, or legal, that come to mind. Pulling up survey stakes is a way to slow the wheels of development and so is a sit-in at city hall. Hounding the killer boats is a way of fighting whaling and so is instigating a boycott of Japanese products exported to the states. However, I think you are saying and I would agree that the problem is the entire system, top to bottom and side to side. For that matter most of us, me at least, is inside the machine, a cog along with all the other cogs. We’re just in there helping the machine to function, even if we don’t want to. So where do we start? How do we start? For some of us, me, the problem seems too big and diffuse.

    But there are things to do. For Jensen it is writing about what he sees. It’s something he can do because he is good at it. It is also something that may be part of the answer. If as Guy says we only need to reach a tipping point of public commitment, 15% is enough, and then change can happen. So education of the public is one thing than can be done. But what if you’re not a writer? There must be other things to do. Finding them is hard. Doing them is harder. Even if you think the fall is inevitable perhaps you should be thinking about what you can do to make the landing softer. Do you have kids? Are you planning to have any? What about them? I’ve been asking myself that every day lately.

    Michael Irving

  • Memo to Michael Irving:

    Were my ideas on the suburbs too radical,too subversive.Certainly illegal.But are they not food for thought?

    How far can we go?

    Frank Mezek

  • Frank,
    No disrespect intended, but will you please point me toward those remarks? You comment well and often on Guy’s blog and I didn’t want to be shooting in the dark. Point me in the right direction and I will be happy to respond.


    Michael Irving

  • Guy,

    Another thought for you about Jensen’s comments and your 10 steps. Today my daughter reminded me of the Tao, verse 64. It’s the one that notes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu also points out in that verse the following:

    “Being prepared for hardship,
    One will not be overcome by it.”

    Michael Irving

  • MI-

    I may be atheist, but I loves me some Lao-Tse.
    Mist-hidden, but still radiant:


  • Vertalio,

    I’m in that place too.

  • Reply to Michael Irving:

    Please go back to the previous “Infiltrating the Mainstream Media”.The 1st comment there of Jan.13,2010.I’d really be interested in your perspective on it.I invite others to do the same.


    I realize there is a limit on what we can say here,especially with your
    new venue in “The Examiner”.I tried to be as oblique as possible to get
    by the censors.Your thoughts please.

    Frank Mezek

  • Frank Mezek, just about anything goes on this blog, as always. Ditto for the Examiner — as nearly as I can tell, the editors there stopped reading what I’m writing. You can keep up with those articles here or here.

  • Frank Mezek,

    That’s a mouthful and no doubt. I’m struggling with a deadline right now so I will concentrate on one idea. At the outset I’m sure you realize that the deck is stacked against changing any of the laws in a way that would make it illegal to continue the build-out of suburbia. Politicians from the lowliest village backbench town councilor to POTUS are in the pocket of the business community. It is the money business pours into campaigns that puts these guys in office and it is the money governments gets back in taxes that allows them to do things that entices the voters to reelect them over and over. It is the money from business that hires the lobbyists that craft the laws that are skewed towards business. And then in many cases there is the revolving door that puts the businessmen or lobbyists into office, or into positions of power in government bureaucracies where they can make the rules that make themselves and their buddies rich.

    So here is the idea, and it is definitely not mine. In the book “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach (or it could be “Ecotopia Rising) there is a section that describes a developer who has forsaken the constant build-out of suburbia, in this case east of San Francisco, and instead had begun buying, renovating, and reselling older buildings in town, I think Oakland in the book. It discusses how this man had determined that it was an economic advantage for him to do that rather than trying to go through all of the red tape required by government. He had discovered further that he had a bigger profit margin with this technique. He also did not want to talk too much with other developers because this idea was turning out to be the goose that laid the golden egg for him. Finally he had discovered that he felt much better about himself and what he was doing. Now granted, all of that is fiction, but I don’t know why something like that couldn’t be a model for the real world of 2010. In fact I would be willing to guess that exactly that is going on all over the country but we just don’t hear about it.

    Same book (books) different situation—Callenbach also has a section where he talks about at group of truck farmers, again east of SF, who have been purchasing land, in fact out-bidding developers, because then found it was an economic advantage to pay higher land prices but to be closer to their customers. Again, fiction, but…

    Finally, from the same source, references to neighborhoods taking over their streets, blocking them off to create cul-de-sacs to improve their livability.

    Sorry I don’t have time to find real world examples of these same ideas right now. They may not be workable. However, your question was is there a way? Remember that Kunstler has predicted the early “End of Suburbia” via peak oil so maybe it will happen by itself. If not, I’m thinking there are ways to approach the problem from the bottom rather than trying to force change from the top.

    I’ll try to spend some more time thinking about it later, but like I said, I’m up against a deadline.

    Michael Irving

  • Frank,

    As an aside, in case you were thinking I liked the idea of cities, my daughter was sitting at a stoplight yesterday when she became a minor player in a road rage incident (or a gang war?). Apparently a young man, with his wife and daughter in the car, cut another young man off in traffic. The person who was cut off began shooting. The person being shot at was fleeing to his house to call 911 and when he couldn’t negotiate a corner and crashed into my daughter’s car. The victim’s 2-year-old daughter (I know, she was the actual victim) had been shot in the leg. The man fled 26 blocks, with an apparently bleeding two-year-old before hitting my daughter’s car, speeding through an adjacent parking lot, across a street, and into his driveway. Then he and his wife jumped out of the car, ran inside, and called the cops.

    Aside from my daughter (who is fine), my grandson who was in the car and will have great stories to tell at high school today), and the car (‘Josh’ has two smashed doors), a hundred things have flashed through my head. Mostly I want to tell her to GET OUT OF THE CITY NOW!

    Michael Irving

  • I heard that Cuba sent the most relief to Haiti. Apparently it has the resources to do so.

    I am also hearing cesar’s fit over this. Most ex-Cubans would rather hear nothing good coming from Castro’s regime.