Collapse Awareness and the Tragic Consciousness

by Jamey Hecht, Ph.D.

Infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide. Industrialization is destroying the world. Resource depletion, pollution, and climate change will make industrial civilization impossible much sooner than is generally admitted.

It is traumatic to realize this, and the process involves an intense need to discuss the issue. But the predicament of everyone, the squirrels, the trees, the elephants, all of humankind, the acid oceans caked with plastic — how to discuss all that with oneself or anyone else? Daily there are more people consciously concerned with it, yet most of the discussion happens online, not face to face; in person, with a few exceptions, one simply does not discuss it. To do so reminds people of the terrible danger in which they are already living their everyday lives; it also delivers them over to difficult feelings of helplessness (they cannot stop climate change), humiliation (the “legal person” called Exxon-Mobil is more powerful than mortals can imagine), and anomie (what matters on a doomed world?). Activating those difficult feelings is, at the very least, rude — even if the values of both parties to the conversation are largely in accord. So it costs something to go ahead and disrupt the game and hold forth about the state of our world, so people generally don’t do it.

The phenomenon of collapse is so frightening that the trauma of realizing it has to be mastered in a way that derives meaning, or deposits meaning, or configures meaning, or some basket of verbs that will comprise the spectrum of how this stuff called meaning comes to be, in and through the pain of awareness. Meaning is the redeemer which leads people to hope — and when hope is shattered, it is meaning that sweeps up the fragments and sculpts them into monuments and tombstones. Success of body is survival; success of soul is making sense of loss in a mortal world. Sometimes both of these successes are available, sometimes one or the other, or at the worst, neither.

I believe a real physical metamorphosis of civilization into a harm-reducing culture was still possible until just a few years ago. Most people continue to believe it possible still; they haven’t changed their minds about that yet. Possible or not, it is vanishingly improbable — not as a lottery win or a bet at a roulette wheel is unlikely, where the problem-space happens to include a large number of equally unlikely outcomes, but as victory is unlikely in a war between equal armies after one side is decimated while the other is unscathed. Maybe the last ten green-shirted soldiers will somehow slaughter their remaining thousand black-shirted opponents — it is philosophically “possible” — but everything speaks against its occurrence.

The infinite growth paradigm is held in place by huge structural forces and institutions that militate with overwhelming effectiveness against any change to the omnicidal practice of industrial civilization. As Wittgenstein observed, only a philosopher could doubt that the Sun will rise in the morning. When the facts have driven from the field all other kinds of doubt, philosophical doubt remains, an exotic hothouse flower with no application in the real world. So it is with hope, after material conditions have so deteriorated that more data can only darken the prospects. One’s hope for the world contracts, shifting from a region of defensible truth-claims to a region of adaptive illusion, an illusion which keeps on shrinking as the data win through the defenses erected against them.

One strategy for preserving hope in the face of this process is to recalibrate one’s hopes, scaling them down so that the smallest of victories will count as a great “yes” from the universe. Even if only a few thousand people survive on some high ground in the Arctic temperate zone, goes this notion, that will be a seed from which culture can one day rise again. “Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this,” writes James Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia: Earth’s Climate Crisis & The Fate of Humanity (2007). This meme may be true (I tend to believe it, myself); but true or not, it is a useful one if it can supply enough meaning to help people through the task of living out the decades of the crisis (say, until the bottleneck is over, the 6.8 billion are dead, and the survivors are busy nibbling acorns in Siberia). But there are negations of it, including both a contrary and a contradiction. The contrary is that there may be no saving remnant; the contradiction is a rejection of the implicit premise that survival in such a world is a good thing.

This mental struggle demands repeated recourse to the evidence, with its hierarchical structure ascending from vast domains of raw data, up through peer reviewed articles, then to science journalism, then to popular journalism, and finally to the mainstream media of mass culture. People generally begin at this apex, where it’s all belief and no knowledge. Some then work their way down toward the stark facts (the “desert of the real”), losing their illusions as they go, and stopping at the limits of their tolerance. As the available uncertainty shrinks, it affords less and less skepticism about the severity of our predicament. The more time you spend at the lower levels of the pyramid, the less company you have. Your ugly knowledge eclipses their beautiful beliefs.

These beliefs (which form one composite belief, the normal outlook) are mostly fossils from the 18th Century, including an omnipotent Patriarch in the sky who governs by reward and punishment; an invisible hand tuning a free market in which the necessary non-market institutions (e.g., rule of law) arise spontaneously; and most importantly, infinite economic growth on a finite planet.

A few steps down from that popular Cloud-Cuckooland are the more recent notions of “sustainable growth”; substitution of unspecified new resources for old depleted ones; and the mitigation of endemic pollution by the natural “services” of heroic trees, microbes, and Time that heals all wounds.

Deeper down than this, in turn, is the realization that growth itself is the problem. But every day, the excellent proposals for managed economic contraction, or “powerdown” (Heinberg, 2004), and steady state economics (e.g., Daly, 1991, and Czech, 2013) go unused, while civilization grinds the biosphere to nothing. The necessary actions which these proposals require (things like depaving, or a moratorium on the petrochemical industry, or the Rimini Protocol, which calls for fair distribution of the world’s remaining oil) are unthinkable by public officials and corporate executives. Petrodollar hegemony as U.S. fiat money “buying” free oil is actively defended by the mightiest military, financial, and political forces in the world, backed by the inertia of a billion “first-world” people like us, who apparently cannot stop destroying the Earth unless we somehow acquire a great raft of missing skills and opportunities. That level of awareness is already somewhat traumatic. It can foreclose one’s idea of a human future, if it comes to include enough of the many stressors available to the curious. Climate change, peak oil, potable water scarcity, and the eventual failure of several hundred nuclear reactors (in a world without reliable electricity to cool spent fuel rods) comprise a quartet that will likely devastate all the systems on which our lives depend, most especially agriculture.

Faced with such a mental foreclosure, one has perhaps only three choices: one can go back down into the ever-expanding galaxy of data and search some more — either for hope, or for that dark certainty which makes despair into a solid resting place amid the nauseous vertigo of conflicting arguments and hypotheses, models and calculations. Or one can use one’s remaining uncertainty to trigger a switch in one’s head that will act like the “restore” function in an electronic device, deleting all the painful knowledge and restoring the comfortable illusions to which our minds have been accustomed for so long — this time, haunted by a repressed penumbra of awareness. The remaining alternative is to rest one’s case within the limits of human knowledge. Nobody knows the exact date when the last fish in the ocean will die, the hour when Shakespeare will be forgotten, the moment when the thermohaline current fails, or the instant when methane (CH4) overtakes carbon dioxide (CO2) as the chief driver of global warming. Nobody knows the date of his own death, either, yet we all know we must die someday.

It is well to point out (Greer, 2009) that apocalyptic claims have always proven erroneous in the past, and they may do so again. But the human past never included environmental stressors that were planet-wide, beyond which there can be no appeal. Fossil aquifers and fossil fuels cannot renew, except on a geological timescale irrelevant to human affairs. Radioactive elements (like nuclear waste, nuclear plant leakages, or the depleted uranium the U.S. shot all over Iraq,) have half-lives in the thousands and even millions of years. Four hundred ppm of CO2 makes for a hell of a greenhouse effect, complete with positive feedback loops; the most dangerous of these is the methane cascade problem. There is no remaining “New World” by which to repeat the surprise of 1492 — the frontier is closed, and the world is round.

Drop a baseball from the top of the Empire State Building, and there will be many opportunities to point out that it is going down and must hit the ground. Each presents a corresponding opportunity to reply that yes, it may be going down, but it hasn’t hit — and that you pessimists have repeatedly claimed that it’s going to hit the ground, yet it still hasn’t, so maybe it never will. So it is with claims of apocalypse.

Impressed by the magnitude of the converging crises, we become convinced that there is no future for the cultural lifeworld that produced and shaped our minds. Whatever will be in place after our natural lives are over, it will not be an industrialized civilization using fossil fuels to produce goods, send information and tricycles around the world, and sustain seven billion people.

But we, who are writing or reading this now, will our natural lives be cut short by the crises? The biblical lifespan of “threescore and ten” still holds in some places, whereas the average life expectancy of Switzerland and Japan is 83 years, and in Sierra Leone, it’s 47 (World Health Organization, 2011). We wonder how many of us will live to be killed “directly” by climate change, or energy scarcity — but the questions don’t make sense, since millions have already been killed in climate-related natural disasters, including agricultural failures. Deforestation is as old as civilization (Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the forest spirit Humbaba, long before writing is invented). But the real danger is the mechanized version, hooked into an economy of endless debt chasing endless growth through endless extraction and endless consumption. Carbon pollution is as old as Homo erectus burning wood, but it is coal, oil, mine tailings and nuclear radiation that make for a world of toxic filth.

While we urge each other to wear colored ribbons and “search for the cure” for the cancers that killed 7.6 million people worldwide in 2008, we all should know that a high cancer rate is simply the price we pay for living in industrial society — not a personal lifestyle mistake, nor a discrete pathogen that some people happen to catch. As Helen Caldecott famously said, “When you get your cancer, it doesn’t come with a label on it that says, I was made by some Strontium-90 from Three Mile Island in a piece of cheese that you ate ten years ago.” The presence of all this pollution feels like a horrible violation from without, until we remember our own role in the pollution, the depletion, the collapse.

Reading of toxic waste dumping and spills and the evasive, illegal, violent conduct of the corporations responsible, we feel bitter resentment. We also yearn for the impossible return to the pre-pollution Earth; to undo what was done and so restore the world: impossible engineering problem, to “clean up” fourteen decades of industrial poisoning of the entire planet. It’s still happening, every day, with the folks at Monsanto using petroleum byproducts to make toxins for killing plants and animals considered undesirable. The toxins pervade the whole biosphere including the bodies of people, where they do all manner of cytological mischief that tends to cut life short in one way or another. What to do with the rage, the helplessness, the bitterness that this arouses? Try to deflate it with the thought that these are simply the conditions in which we find ourselves, the matter will have to be accepted?

Our cardiovascular system requires both exercise and clean air, and driving to work diminishes both. Why don’t we walk to work? Because the office is 25 miles from any half-pleasant residential area; the company won’t relocate, and jobs are scarce — so while there are jobs to drive to, we drive to them, again and again and again, until the cost of gasoline is more than the job can pay. That’s when we stay home for a desperate and protracted garage sale.

The oxygen added to the atmosphere each year comes from two main sources, half from the Amazon Rainforest, and half from plankton and algae in the oceans. Those living systems are rapidly failing. One need not know the precise rate of oxygen depletion to see that there is a serious problem here. But what exactly am I to do that might slow the destruction of these two biomes? I can stop buying Amazonian hardwood, but I have never bought Amazonian hardwood. Product boycotts against the logging industry can have little influence on the cattlemen and the enslaved (or semi-enslaved) campesinos whose slash-and-burn clear-cutting of the forest continues apace.

A vegetarian diet might help limit the U.S. market for the cattle that graze on lands stolen from the rainforest, and it appears meat consumption in this country is at last beginning to decreasei — though world meat consumption is still rising.ii A recent Brazilian government crackdown on illegal logging and ranching has been remarkably effective; though deforestation keeps on going, it has slowed considerably, dropping roughly 80% since its most recent peak in 2004.iii Even under the crackdown, abuse continues; now in 2013, Brazil is considering fines for 26 meat companies that illegally bought Amazon-reared cattle.iv The corporations responsible include giants like Cargill, who grow soy for McDonald’s to feed to chickens and cattle. Many of the stages in the deforestation process are illegal; even Cargill’s physical plant in Santarem was built illegally.v So the problem would seem to be a failure of the rule of law, under neoliberal finance and trade arrangements that identify the well-being of nations with the profit levels of their corporate overlords. Says the Woods Hole Research Center, “Simply implementing existing laws and proposed protected areas would spare the Amazon one million square kilometers of deforestation (one fifth of the entire forest area), avoiding 17 billion tonnes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, the elimination of several forest formations, and the degradation of several major watersheds.”vi A massive boycott of McDonald’s might help, but the main reason people eat highly processed industrialized food is because subsidies and economies of scale make it far cheaper than eating real food. Legislation is unlikely to change that, because the power of the agribusiness lobby is so formidable. So the oxygen from the Amazon is getting scarce.

What about the oxygen from the oceans? As of 2010, plankton had declined by 40% since 1899, with most of the loss occurring over the past sixty years.vii Let me quote from a flyer from National Geographic called “10 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean.” Here is item three:

Use Fewer Plastic Products

Plastics that end up as ocean debris contribute to habitat destruction and entangle and kill tens of thousands of marine animals each year. To limit your impact, carry a reusable water bottle, store food in nondisposable containers, bring your own cloth tote or other reusable bag when shopping, and recycle whenever possible.

Use fewer plastic products, in the hope that this will lower demand and cause industry to produce less plastic. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says: “In the United States, plastics are made from liquid petroleum gases (LPG), natural gas liquids (NGL), and natural gas. LPG are by-products of petroleum refining, and NGL are removed from natural gas before it enters transmission pipelines.”viii The petroleum gets refined to make liquid fuels, mainly gasoline. The plastics are made from by-products of that refining process, so as long as there is gasoline production there will be the production of liquid petroleum gases (LPG) and the temptation to cook them into plastics for cheap products and applications, destined for the oceans.

The process of realizing the awful state of our world has been likened to the famous “five stages of grief” of Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who was describing the changing mentality of a dying person — rather than the transformation of a witness to a dying world (or a species entering a bottleneck, decimation, or even extinction). That model has its merits, and people who find out that their world is ending certainly do deny, get angry, bargain, get depressed, and sometimes (though I have seen very little of this) they accept it. But the model only goes so far, and it says little about how these movements from stage to stage are to be achieved. If not by these fives stages, how else are we to think about the state of things in the world at large?

“The tragic consciousness” is a slippery thing, and I’m not fully sure what it means, nor even where I first heard it. I associate it with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, but he doesn’t seem to use it in that text. It’s a phrase literary scholars and critics have invented to describe the paradoxical effect of the tragic drama, where the observer experiences a strangely elevated mood after watching a sympathetic figure get destroyed by the gods, by society, by the entailments of his or her own mistakes. The material is miserable, and yet it elates us. The effect has something to do with what Aristotle called catharsis, where the story purges us of pity (which we feel for the figure on the stage, since he is doomed where we are safe) and terror (which we feel for ourselves, since we identify with him on the basis of a shared humanity and a shared (i.e., mortal) predicament. But catharsis is only a part of it.

The tragic consciousness seems to require that we become witness to the whole story. It is this narrative completeness that grounds a story’s moral complexity, making it a good story for grownups. Children can only tolerate so much moral complexity, so the characters in children’s literature tend to be split-off aspects of the author, all good or all bad. In Shakespeare, by contrast, even the most despicable villains have a back-story that secures some of our sympathy. The horror film and the melodrama do not provide such a back-story; the drama must do so, because it requires conflict, and all parties to the conflict must have at least a modicum of our sympathy or the story will fail us. The worse the character’s behavior (e.g., Macbeth, Richard III, Claudius), the more we require a frame-story that will answer the question of how a reasonable person could possibly come to this.

Interestingly, that is the same question psychotherapists are asked to consider when they get a client who challenges their sense of decency, perhaps a client whose humanity is hard to find (Orange, 2006). Learn the back-story behind the personality (or behind the pathology, or the crime) — usually a traumatic ordeal, acute or chronic or both — and the person appears in a very different light because now the ugliness has a meaning. The branch of psychoanalysis called attachment theory is an ethics in its own right, but not in the sense of providing a prescriptive morality with which to respond to the world. Confronted with destructive traits in a person or persons, attachment theory derives the presenting antisocial behaviors from early experiences of neglect or rejection or abuse. Again and again this recourse to etiology is the prelude to therapeutic connection, and to meaning. How did you become this? Why are you as you are? What happened to you?

In the practice of nonviolence, similarly, we are asked to consider how our opponents got to where they are — how they acquired their racism, or greed, or cruelty, etc. — in order to love the human beings beneath the history. Without knowing what that history is, we have to invent it, because there simply must be some mitigating, explanatory factors which do not excuse, but do make sense of, what we confront across the table or the barricades.

The discipline of history, if it is to be more than a catalogue of facts, requires a streak of ethical reflection (I don’t mean moral judgment, but a search for empathic understanding). When that streak becomes the heart of the project, the result can be called psychohistory; when it fails to appear, the result is propaganda. An account of the past is satisfying only when it includes the past of the past. Within limits, the task is to provide enough moral complexity for the various actors to appear fully human. Nothing can ever begin to excuse the horrific, soul-destroying cruelty of the Nazis. But coping with an awareness of it does seem to require some reflection on its roots in the national German humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath, and more importantly, the disastrous childrearing culture of much of the German speaking world in the relevant period. For them, no excuse; for us, an explanation.

Regard what happened on this planet as a tragic drama played out before the eyes of eternity. A dangerous species got hold of vast amounts of energy, and all hell broke loose — four degrees centigrade average global surface temperature rise. The large scale use of fossil fuels can be seen, with the foreshortening of time, to have been a kind of explosion. It is a slower explosion than the meteor impact that ended the Cretaceous, but it’s still a liberation of fiery energy.

We can only stare at the tragic stupidity of it, the iron necessity that the yeast will eat all the sugar in the vat, then die off; so the reindeer and the lichen; so the humans and the world.

human population and energy use

Population tracks energy use. That’s another aspect of the explosive nature of the discovery of fossil fuels. Explosive like the fuels themselves, their advent causes population to skyrocket, till it overshoots the available resource base, and begins a crash. Everyone knows this. What may be slightly less familiar is the way meaning can be recovered in the contemplation of that process, perhaps even while it is going on.

Danger activates our anxiety, because the threat has not yet attacked and there is still time to escape or overcome it with vigilance and action. But the Holocene is over, and now we are staring at a near future of catastrophic warming, no matter what we do. Anxiety still has its place in such a predicament, unless we are indifferent to the welfare of ourselves and those we love — a position only the stoics and sociopaths can fully share. But like depression or self-hate, anxiety is an affliction that can (with sufficient effort and neurological luck) be bounded; it can be managed, delimited, corralled, if we come to realize that, in some domains, anxiety has no benefits, only costs. The fate of the world is such a domain. It might make sense to worry how we and our people will get through it, how we will survive to the age of seventy or eighty years which many of us grew up anticipating, or how we will avoid death as long as we can in a hot, stormy world of droughts, flood, fires, pollution, and failing agriculture. But it will not make much sense — not mean much — to think of the whole story with anxiety. No, the whole story is something weirdly graced with an aesthetic and narrative completeness that we borrow from the future to make sense of the past and present.

In our individual lives we sometimes extrapolate into the imaginary future in order to see the journey from birth to death as a sculpted thing, carved out by the many hands of chance and choice, but ultimately complete and unified. On my deathbed, one says to oneself, I shall say something like this: I was born, I did the following things, I was this sort of person, I strove to behave in these ways when I could, these events then befell me, and ultimately, in circumstances of this kind, I perished. We seek for ourselves (if only for a moment on occasion) the encapsulated meaningfulness of an obituary or a clinical vignette. That is, I suggest, what we find ourselves doing when we contemplate our species’ emergence, rise, and crashing decline.

Unlike those amazingly stable organisms, the shark and the turtle and the clam, that stayed the same for hundreds of millions of years, ours is a young species that changed very quickly. There are several inflection points in the story, like the rise of the late Paleolithic toolkit, or the origin of agriculture in the Neolithic period, that introduce nonlinear explosive change, and the advent of fossil fuels is the biggest of these. One can perhaps imagine a timeline in which fossil fuels are never discovered, or never developed in commercial quantities, but that is not what happened. With the counterfactual in mind, we say it could have been different and so we experience the disaster as a waste, a stupid mistake, a crime. It is all of those things, but when we push the counterfactual away and focus on what did happen, the picture changes. It becomes tragic.

Choose a tragic hero, and you will find that his or her hubris was avoidable — but only in a different world, or with a different inner character. For the protagonist, his past actions were inevitable, and we can tell because the story includes them and not the alternatives. Only from a pragmatist-utilitarian standpoint is the lesson of, say, Moby-Dick that one ought not to pursue revenge at all costs, or that of Oedipus that one ought to avoid fighting older men and coupling with older women. Those are prudent lessons, but they are not the point of the tragedy. When it is too late for prudence or virtue, wisdom loses its ethical character and becomes a mostly aesthetic phenomenon. Young people watch the tragic drama and seize on the pragmatist lessons to be found in it, which they generally find disappointing: don’t act like Creon in Antigone, who insisted he was right. Don’t be like Shylock, whose lack of mercy ultimately destroyed him. Don’t do as Agamemnon did, sacrificing family for ambition. Youth has to be concerned with prudence because it has its whole life ahead of it. The older the audience at the tragic drama, the more they appreciate the heartbreaking symphony of free will, divine command, arbitrary fate, and personal character that comprises the whole story. Tragic heroes do what they do for manifold reasons, the heart of which is human nature: we are the animal that does this. So it is with our destruction of the planet we loved.

All animals in an isolated environment (like a vat, an island, or the Earth) do as we did, when they consume the available resources in a finite system until they overshoot the system’s carrying capacity and begin to die off. If we are unusual in that we became aware of what we were doing (because of our distinctly human intelligence, much of which we turn out to share with several other species, after all), we are also unusual (though again, not alone) in our tendency to ignore warnings when our identity is involved. We did not lower our energy consumption because it would have been a return to weakness, femininity, childhood, helplessness, all the things industrial civilization fears and hates the most. Just as in Greek drama or Shakespearean tragedy, this fear-of-the-wrong-thing determines our fate and defines us in the universe.

For me, these days, and perhaps for you, coping is a two-handed job: one hand holds the despair which must somehow be held (contained, regulated, bounded); the other holds the tools with which we must make our attempts to adapt.
_____________________

ihttp://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters

iihttp://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/04/daily-chart-17

iiiAmazon deforestation rate lowest ever recorded. December 5, 2011. http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/amazon-deforestation-rate-lowest-point-1988.html

ivBrazil may fine beef producers buying Amazon cattle. April 15, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/15/brazil-beef-fines-idUSL2N0D22F920130415

vGreenpeace factsheet, 2006, citing interview with Felecio Pontes Jr., Federal Prosecutor, Belem, Pará State, ‘In the name of Progress’. Greenpeace 2005

viThe Amazon in 2050: Implementing the law could save a million square kilometres of rainforest. Woods Hole Research Center, 22 March 2006

viiThe dead sea: global warming blamed for 40% decline in the oceans’ phytoplankton. Steve Connor, The Independent, July 20, 2010.

viiihttp://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=34&t=6

Comments 216

  • With infinite thanks the Benjamin the Donkey for his entire corpus, following is one of his best:

    Search for Meaning

    People keep searching around,
    But the choices which experts propound
    Can’t all be correct,
    Which makes me suspect
    There’s actually none to be found.

  • Fantastic essay, Jamey. One really couldn’t ask for a better summation.

    We are the animal that does this.
    Haunting…

  • Beautiful writing. Thank you.

    “Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this,” writes James Lovelock…..This meme may be true (I tend to believe it, myself); but true or not, it is a useful one if it can supply enough meaning to help people through the task of living out the decades of the crisis (say, until the bottleneck is over, the 6.8 billion are dead, and the survivors are busy nibbling acorns in Siberia).

    Hmmm. It may be cooler. But it is still dark for half the year. A very short growing season. Very poor soils. And the sky will be hidden by the clouds of acrid smoke from the burning peat bogs. And who knows what the climate will be like ? Long periods of constant rain and flooding, long periods of drought, long periods of traditional Siberian sub-zero freezing ? But in no regular predictable pattern ? 200 million ? Maybe a few thousand, like the Laps and the Nenet, super-tough, and living very simple basic lives, collecting some berries, catching some sea birds and fish….

    We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to: climate change; soil degradation and desertification – both of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world; and water stress. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.

    At the same time, the global shipping and airline sectors are projected to continue to expand rapidly every year, transporting more of us, and more of the stuff we want to consume, around the planet year on year. That is going to cause enormous problems for us in terms of more CO2 emissions, more black carbon, and more pollution from mining and processing to make all this stuff.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jun/30/population-growth-wipe-out-life-earth

  • I’m still juggling with both hands 🙂

  • I don’t know the stats, but probably since before Roman times, human waste has been routinely piped away somewhere, mostly ending up in the sea. While this has been sanitary and pleasant for the depositors of that waste, it has not been good for the oceans, which I believe could do without the extra nitrogen. Other than selling flush toilets, how has this helped capitalism? Human waste in the sea seems like a long-term deficit for capitalism. And while it depletes ocean life it also depletes the land, which should be the repository of human waste.

    Benefitting capitalism is not my point. Getting rid of capitalism at this point seems about on par with maintaining it. I wouldn’t know. All I’m saying is that a monumental quantity of material that helps build soil has been diverted to the ocean, which it helps to destroy. Well intentioned people could surely do something to reduce the scale of this impracticality. It has to do with compost. I once did vermicomposting in a box–very well made, with specifications anyone can research–on the balcony of my then apartment. Nothing about this was impossible then, now, or likely, as long as humans are alive and not confined. Of course, it’s even easier to make compost if you have a yard.

    “Scientifically” done, compost should be the repository of all human waste. But that is more than I ‘d want to take on myself or advise any non-expert to do. Much less controversial is limiting the on-site recycling of human waste to that of urine. There is no practical reason not to compost, and no practical reason not to include urine in the process. With a little help, and even without government or support from capitalism, everyone on Earth could conserve urine and use it to help build soil.

  • A very thoughtful and poignant essay. Perhaps the part that resonates the most is the great difficulty and sadness in not being able to talk about our predicament openly and face to face with real people in real life. Unlike the older audience to a tragic drama, discussion of what we witness is still almost impossible, generating as it usually does a panicked hostility or glassy denial, and there is a profound loneliness that accompanies the fact.

  • Thanks for the great essay; enlightening.

  • Given this news, my guess is climate change and ecosystem collapse from polution are going to be the end of us, because the industrial machine is going to keep on chugging

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/9822955/Trillions-of-dollars-worth-of-oil-found-in-Australian-outback.html

    Because Garrett was right:

    Nov. 22, 2009 – In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions – the major cause of global warming – cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.

    “It looks unlikely that there will be any substantial near-term departure from recently observed acceleration in carbon dioxide emission rates,” says the new paper by Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

    The study – which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization – indicates:

    Energy conservation or efficiency doesn’t really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.

  • Might want to check out the Doomstead Diner to hear RE discuss Guy. I think NTE is bothering RE quite a bit. Most of the talk is rather “old”. I do like the Diner, lots of info there.

  • “Your ugly knowledge eclipses their beautiful beliefs.”

    Thanks for defining clearly the predicament but more importantly the absurdity in believing that we can collectively change a course that has been set up by circumstances. The foundation of myth presents the trap as in the case of Agamemnon where the battlefield is an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life.

    But we’re human, an optimistic species, so we will try any number of correctives. Like the alcoholic after recovering from the DT’s we’re full of contrition for our past transgressions while we remain trapped in the conditions that led to our troubles. But as any drunk knows his sobriety is a thin reed held aloft with sponsors, slogans, coffee and cigarettes.

    In the business of sobriety it’s called being a dry alcoholic. We’d like to reform but life is a horror show, if not now then in the past or in the near future. Who will remember us individually one hundred years from now? Perhaps no-one. Se le vie!

  • Thanks doc, good read – convincing. I once thought this message should be shouted from the rooftops, but even bringing it up among friends results in a passive shunning (geez, man, who wants to be around Captain Bringdown all the time . . .) so I only speak about it to my wife, who has been listening to me rant about this for about 30 years (in fact she keeps reminding me that it hasn’t happened yet . .).

    It’s gotten so bad on so many fronts that it’s hard to believe that we haven’t crashed yet. I guess it has to get so bad that there IS no way out for us.

    Meanwhile, “they’re” listening:

    http://crooksandliars.com/susie-madrak/secret-fisa-court-widens-power-nsa-sp

    Secret FISA Court Widens Power Of NSA To Spy On Us All

    “In other words, since theoretically almost anyone might possibly be guilty of anything, it’s not really an unconstitutional policy that makes a joke of the 4th Amendment to gather data on everyone — with the blessing of a secret court, accountable to no one:”

    WASHINGTON — In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say.

    The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions.

    The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said.

    And since the members of the court are appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts, and they don’t even have the bother of listening to opposing arguments, it’s even better!

    Last month, a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, leaked a classified order from the FISA court, which authorized the collection of all phone-tracing data from Verizon business customers. But the court’s still-secret decisions go far beyond any single surveillance order, the officials said.

    “We’ve seen a growing body of law from the court,” a former intelligence official said. “What you have is a common law that develops where the court is issuing orders involving particular types of surveillance, particular types of targets.”

    In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

    The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

    Even though this is not the Supreme Court and they don’t really have the authority to create their own precedents. Shadow government, anyone?

  • Jamey Hecht says: How did you become this? Why are you as you are? What happened to you?

    Paul Gauguin says: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

    Jamey Hecht says: Confronted with destructive traits in a person or persons, attachment theory derives the presenting antisocial behaviors from early experiences of neglect or rejection or abuse.

    There Must Be A Reason

    It’s easy to deconstruct
    An early lifetime that sucked:
    Rejection, neglect,
    Or abuse that’s unchecked
    Probably means that you’re fucked.
    ==

    Jamey Hecht says: What to do with the rage, the helplessness, the bitterness that this arouses? Try to deflate it with the thought that these are simply the conditions in which we find ourselves, the matter will have to be accepted?

    Sigmund Freud says: make the unconscious conscious

    Pleasure principle mentality
    Won’t deal with our species’ mortality;
    So for best results,
    Put to use, like adults,
    The principle of reality.
    ==

    Jamey Hecht says: The process of realizing the awful state of our world has been likened to the famous “five stages of grief” of Elizabeth Kubler Ross….But the model only goes so far, and it says little about how these movements from stage to stage are to be achieved.

    Kubler-Ross is not a prescription,
    But a useful clinic description
    Of how folks stand by
    While waiting to die
    And not have a mental conniption.
    ==

    Jamey Hecht says: When it is too late for prudence or virtue, wisdom loses its ethical character and becomes a mostly aesthetic phenomenon.

    Near term extinction belief
    Can’t fix what’s causing our grief;
    But commiseration
    Provides a foundation
    For finding a bit of relief.

  • Whatever the reality of the world
    It matters not.
    It only matters what one believes
    And how that makes one feel.

    This feeling that I have
    Because of what I believe
    Is only pain after all.
    And I relish that it is not what it will soon become.

    So, sit in the cool of the shade of an afternoon
    With nothing much that can’t be ignored to do.
    Sip something refreshing.
    And let the blessings of your privileged existence wash over you.

    The worst that can happen is that you will survive
    To endure even greater anguish and pain.

    ~mike~

  • Very well done Jamey, the depth of your essay essay is refreshing, the last post was more like a one-liner.

    I like to cope with music a lot.

    The Pines

    …leave a lantern, on the trail

    If By Morning

    My bell tower’s ringing but it isn’t you singing
    we don’t know that song anymore
    and winter bones breaking if it ain’t shook it’s shaking
    this tangle of fate outside my door

    Oh threadbare in peril this cold christmas carol
    we jump from the bridge in our mind
    it’s one for the money, at two you go hungry
    my blue shoes are draggin the line

    Leave a lantern, on the trail
    I’m not asking for much just your meadowsweet touch
    If by morning you’re ready to sail
    don’t wait for so long cause you know that I’m gone

    You can lock up your treasure and take drastic measures
    we march toward the grave all the same
    it’s a short life of trouble your church turns to rubble
    and beauty has never had a name

    well my head’s in your branches, I squandered my chances
    I’ve given the last I can give
    this empire’s falling the pace is appalling
    how can a poor man stand such time and live

    So leave a lantern on the trail
    I’m not asking for much just your meadowsweet touch
    If by morning you’re ready to sail
    don’t wait for so long cause you know that I’m gone….

  • A proletariat stands upon a soapbox as if a scarecrow, holding a bullhorn in one hand, and a dripping poisoned dagger in the other. Come gather around people and know the obvious when stated. Hear ye, hear ye, my fellow insatiable, there is nothing left on the table. In our haste we laid our nature waste. And the Sisyphean drop to their knees, one by one falling through the cracks of a dried fountain, as they learn, to discern, there never was any difference between the boulder and the mountain.

  • Jamey; all good stuff except the references to oxygen.

    ‘The oxygen added to the atmosphere each year comes from two main sources, half from the Amazon Rainforest, and half from plankton and algae in the oceans. Those living systems are rapidly failing. One need not know the precise rate of oxygen depletion to see that there is a serious problem here.’

    If you follow the seasonal change in CO2 you will note that there is a decline in CO2 during the northern summer which is attributed to the photosynthesis that occurs in the great forests of North America and Russia. No oxygen is actually added to the atmosphere; it is simply recycled from CO2. And each year slightly less oxygen is returned than is removed.

    We do have a serious problem, not because the oxygen content of the atmosphere can fall drastically (people and plants can live at quite low partial pressures) but because the organisms that remove CO2 (both marine and terrestrial) appear to be in serious decline.

    At nearly 21& of the atmosphere, there is more than enough oxygen to oxidise carbon-containing compounds to carbon dioxide to a level WAY BEYOND utterly catastrophic, i.e. one molecule of O2 generates one molecule of CO2 when coal is burned. If we burn natural gas it takes two molecules of O2 to generate one molecule of CO2. There is the matter of CO2 absorption by oceans which complicates everything. However, in general terms, a 1% drop in O2 content correlates with an increase in CO2 to about 0.5% of the atmosphere, i.e. 5000ppm.

    If I have made any errors or if anyone disagrees, please let me know.

    As far as I have been concerned [for the past couple of decades], the catastrophic rise in the CO2 level of the atmosphere has been the ONE overarching issue of our times.

    Nevertheless, there are still those who proclaim that ‘CO2 is an essential nutrient’ or that ‘plants will grow faster at elevated CO2 concentrations’. As with all reductionists, they seem to forget all the other factors required for plants to grow, i.e. suitable temperature range, water, lack of pollutants, suitable level of NPK etc. And it does seem that most of such people are either grossly ignorant of the facts or are sponsored by the fossil fuel sector.

  • To all (heard on Susie’s blog, liked it, sharing)

    Windfall (May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away)
    Son Volt

    Now and then it keeps you running
    It never seems to die
    The trail’s spent with fear
    Not enough living on the outside

    Never seem to get far enough
    Staying in between the lines
    Hold on what you can
    Waiting for the end not knowing when

    May the wind take your troubles away
    May the wind take your troubles away
    Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel
    May the wind take your troubles away

    Trying to make it far enough
    To the next time zone
    Few and far between past the midnight hour
    Never feel alone, you’re really not alone

    Switching it over to A.M.
    Searching for a truer sound
    Can’t recall the call letters
    Steel guitar and settle down

    Catching an all night station
    Somewhere in Louisiana
    It sounds like 1963
    But for now it sounds like heaven

    May the wind take your troubles away
    May the wind take your troubles away
    Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel
    May the wind take your troubles away
    May the wind take your troubles away
    May the wind take your troubles away

  • song performed:

  • @ mike

    “Whatever the reality of the world
    It matters not.
    It only matters what one believes
    And how that makes one feel.

    This feeling that I have
    Because of what I believe
    Is only pain after all.
    And I relish that it is not what it will soon become.”

    Thanks. That works for me quite well.

    Obey you conscience
    Follow you bliss
    Chop wood and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Whether we accept NTE or we don’t, is obviously the most critical factor as to how we internalize it, and comprehend the depth of it’s despair or resignation. But even after we have accepted it, we still find ourselves at great odds in our culture, depending on our current physical circumstances (age, health, dependents, affluence, locality, etc).

    And as far as I can deduce, there are at least two general groupings among those who have accepted it.

    The first group: Those who are accountable to others to live through NTE for as long as physically possible. Those who have “long term” dependents in their care that exceeds the accepted “near term” timing of extinction. In this case a certain degree of emotional/intellectual paralysis/dissonance is naturally to be expected, and acceptance of NTE will most likely leave one feeling trapped. Thus, “acceptance” becomes a vacillating mental state between “unbearable lightness” and “unbearable heaviness”.

    The second group: Those who are not obligated to live through NTE. Those who are not encumbered by outside cultural demands, whereby, they have the freedom to fully live with the acceptance of NTE in a way the first group simply can’t allow themselves. This group has a wide range of options before them, and where they will naturally find themselves in the greatest philosophical conundrum in the history of humanity.

    And of course neither group is mutually exclusive and there are always exceptions.

    Personally, I see the overall take on NTE here at NBL to still be within the wide spectrum of “coming to terms” with the staggering unprecedence, and this will most likely remain the locus of NBL into the foreseeable future.

    However, some here are slightly ahead of this strange curve, so to speak, where we are already testing the limits of “commiseration” within the existing context of this open forum. And as this new unprecedented acceptance slowly assimilates into our new identity, the impetus of sharing our mutual grief will eventually run its course as well.

    So, might it be said that “we” are but kin in our dire fellowship of the most transgressive moment in the history of our specie? We can all attest to have seen this coming over the horizon for decades, but none of us have ever had to live with it in a way we are now.

    But here we are nonetheless. So why not push our commiserative envelope and explore the range of shared perspectives, in how “we” might collectively expound upon our acceptance of NTE?

    Here are a few suggestions:

    Explore the existing disparity between the two groups.

    Explore how NTE has and will continue to affect our immediate relationships.

    Explore the ethical dilemma of suicide.

    Explore what metrics “we’re” waiting to see, before we at least stop paying taxes.

    Given we are a predictive lot, might we explore what metrics “we’re” waiting for, before we decide to give up the ghost. Or is the immediate threat of predation and/or starvation the only two?

    Explore the dilemma within the disparity of regional habitability and the value of relocating. (For example, should Guy move? If he chooses to remain in the desert, what does that mean? If he chooses to move…..why, where, when?).

    Explore and share our personal plans for dealing with NTE in far greater detail then “we” have already.

    Explore the possible transfer of resources from the second group to the first group for when the time comes.

    Explore the ethical dilemma of infanticide. (This is probably the final emotional frontier of NTE. So as a quorum of rational minds at NBL, might we come up with a possible “blueprint” for how young parents, say in Badlands position for example, could/should move forward with NTE, given she embodies the most demanding scenario of anyone here, and she probably has almost no one else in her life in which to commiserate).

  • I loved this line As Wittgenstein observed, only a philosopher could doubt that the Sun will rise in the morning. because I love Wittgenstein, and I love Kafka, I have read everything available by Kafka. I wonder what happened to the trove of his work that was found in Israel a couple of years back, and that was fought over, in appropriately kafkaseque fashion ?

    I can imagine a short story by Kafka concerning a philosopher who worries constantly whether the Sun will continue to rise… indeed, I worry, there is no certainty that it will, there is no certainty that I will be here to witness it rising, and when I have vanished, does that mean the Sun has also vanished ? Wittgenstein and I both pondered this matter at length, so I feel an affinity… Kafka ? I’m certain it must have crossed his mind…

    Tom mentions the new secret court, which is straight out of the pages of Kafka.

    B9K9 and others here have contemplated a future where the ultra powerful mega rich maintain control whilst the whole planet progresses through economic and ecological meltdown… and of course I’ve been following the conversation here over the months.

    I think that however rich and powerful and psychopathically-wired their brains may be, ultimately, they are still only human and they will crack and implode into insanity.

    I read this, ( apparently quoted in a book by A de Botton ) concerning Gnaeus Piso, the Roman governor of Syria.

    It reminded me so much of Obama and Snowden. Since 9/11 and the ‘errors’ made by Bush and Cheney, all the disgrace, the cover ups, the assassinations, the lies, the paranoia… it’s a sort of infinite regression, once you do some dirty illegal crime that needs lies, then you have to have secret illegal courts to make the crimes lawful, and you have to kill anybody who tells anybody about your nasty dirty secrets, and it keeps on escalating like dry rot through a timber building, until the whole fabric is infected…

    Of course, it goes back much further than 9/11, to dead Kennedys and Operation Paperclip and arguably way back to the beginning of the last century at least….

    My point would be that the whole world can see that when an American President behaves like Piso, USA has lost all moral stature, and is, essentially, psychotic and paranoid, and I very much doubt that the ruling elite can ever gain any control over this. The stress and pressure will tear them apart. Read how some of the French aristocracy took desperate measures in the final years before the Revolution and did really quite bizarre actions in the hope that they could in some way quell the anger of the people.

    When a soldier returned from a period of leave without the friend he had set out with and claimed to have no idea where he had gone, Piso judged that the soldier was lying; he had killed his friend, and would have to pay with his life.

    The condemned man swore he hadn’t murdered anyone and begged for time for an inquiry to be made, but Piso knew better and had the soldier escorted to his death without delay.

    However, as the centurion in charge was preparing to cut off the soldier’s head, the missing companion arrived at the gates of the camp. The army broke into spontaneous applause and the relieved centurion called off the execution.

    Piso took the news less well. Hearing the cheers, he felt them to be mocking his judgement. He grew red and angry, so angry that he summoned his guards and ordered both men to be executed, the soldier who hadn’t committed murder and the one who hadn’t been murdered. And because he was by this point feeling very persecuted, Piso also sent the centurion off to his death for good measure.

    The governor of Syria had at once interpreted the applause of his soldiers as a wish to undermine his authority and to question his judgement.

    This paranoia, where authorities like Piso circle the wagons and destroy everything and everyone who challenges their judgement is evidently the common thread behind every miscarriage of justice.

    Is justice a psychotic construction? When we act like authorities like Piso, it certainly is.
    Errors of judgement are very common. The refusal to acknowledge them, should not be.

  • “Some think it’s sad but it’s part of their nature.” 😉

  • Since extinction is entrance into infinite nothing… Adapting to extinction only requires doing exactly… nothing. Which might seem easy until one attempts to sit perfectly still while being completely consumed by ants, one bite at a time. Our extinction will be subjectively painful, not only an objective, intellectual, tragedy. Our extinction won’t be a commercially sponsored cinematic spectator sport, viewed from a safe, elite, perch, happening to everyone else. However, after so many hours of watching human tragedy coldly from afar… the process of extinction will feel like a movie to many, even after the screens blink out. We’ve all been taught how to watch a movie: willing suspension of disbelief. So, while dying, many will continue to cling to an ineffectual delusional anesthesia: soothing lullabies of egotistical escape and grandeur. Oh well, we might as well be gentle… after all, it’s somewhere between exhausting and impossible to adapt to nothing. The reality of extinction is hard to accept. Sooo much easier to suspend disbelief in fantasy.

  • If you think about it with clarity you realize that great wealth for the few at any cost was and is our primary, and really, our only societal goal. There are over 400 billionaires in the US and another 1000 or so in the rest of the world. So it cannot be denied that we succeeded in achieving our goal. It is regrettable that the cost of achieving our goal had to be loss of most of the life on the living planet and likely human extinction. But let’s not be negative, let’s focus on our successes.

  • Thank you, Dr. Hecht, that was excellent.

    (Quibble) All animals in an isolated environment (like a vat, an island, or the Earth) do as we did, when they consume the available resources in a finite system until they overshoot the system’s carrying capacity and begin to die off.

    Organism populations are limited by several mechanisms including predation by other organisms large (predators) and small (pathogenic microbes), competition for resources by other species, and environmental constraints (including such factors such as the availability of water, sunshine, temperature, etc.) So many ecosystems remain in long-term dynamic balance due to the interplay of cooperation and competition between their members.

    Our environment was not isolated; we devised mechanisms to defeat the natural limits, even at gargantuan scales. But global limits cannot be evaded, except in science fiction. And many are those whose thinking about the facts is coloured by the fiction. (/Quibble)

    On a personal level, one approach to imminent calamity is to tailor one’s actions to rational anticipation, but divorced from all expectation. In the absence of expectations there is the invincibility of true hopelessness, which has none of the dejection or despondency of thwarted expectations.

    The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

  • @ frogcounter

    But the lemmings are not that stupid, only humans are that stupid, and so cruel and greedy that they’d fake a film showing lemmings doing that, because, if you dig, the disgusting and evil Disney made that movie and invented that behaviour, the fucking film crew threw the lemmings off the cliff… another lie to add to the fabricated culture of lies… I learn the amazing snippet that for a while, the Roman Empire actually banned the uttering of the word “peace.” This according to a book by Theodore Dodge called “Hannibal” originally published in 1891.
    I learn this from Brasscheck.tv where I also discover that the astonishing Irena Sendler smuggled 2500 babies and children out of the Warsaw Ghetto before she was caught and had her arms and legs broken. She survived and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but Fat Al Gore got it instead….

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=683468811668911&set=a.641721335843659.1073741825.213536231995507&type=1&theater

  • ulvfugl,

    Thanks for the Guardian link. I’d read it before but re-read it after your link. I think the most honest assessment of our situation is given near the end of the piece, “We can rightly call the situation we’re in an unprecedented emergency. We urgently need to do – and I mean actually do – something radical to avert a global catastrophe. But I don’t think we will. I think we’re fucked.

    Gail,

    Thanks for the Australian oil discovery story. It’s kind of a double story. Firstly, it’s frightening that these idiots continue to completely ignore the effects of what they are doing. Secondly, the story is filled with garbage about the economic potential; delusion figures highly in our lives. Sadly, most people reading that story will be taken in by the promise of being able to continue their unsustainable lifestyles that are killing our futures.

    Tom,

    My take is that the collapse has already started. For increasing numbers of people, the collapse may be already complete. Like you, I mainly only talk about this stuff to my wife, but only for the last 7 years or so. Of the few others, most nod their heads and then ignore it. I have no idea how to get through to them.

  • I flew under your radar
    you didn’t see it coming
    you didn’t see it go
    The world you thought you knew
    you didn’t even know.

    I flew under your radar
    it wasn’t hard to do
    you helped me all the way
    fast asleep while wide awake
    you couldn’t even say.

    your coral, your ice
    you never said a word
    your crops, your seas
    silence like a disease.

    I flew under your radar
    not once did you turn
    not once change course.
    and your radar was
    no use, Time please.

  • However, in general terms, a 1% drop in O2 content correlates with an increase in CO2 to about 0.5% of the atmosphere, i.e. 5000ppm.

    However, per Wikipedia (Oxygen cycle), the residence time of oxygen in the atmosphere is 4,500 years.

    Reservoir Capacity Flux In/Out Residence Time
    (kg O2) (kg O2 /yr) (years)

    Atmosphere 1.4 * 10^18 30K * 10^10 4,500
    Biosphere. 1.6 * 10^16 30K * 10^10 50
    Lithosphere. 2.9 * 10^20 60 * 10^10 5*10^8

    Also per Wikipedia (Residence time):

    “Residence time (also known as removal time) is the average amount of time that a particle spends in a particular system. This measurement varies directly with the amount of substance that is present in the system.

    Inflow and outflow will also have an effect on the residence time of a system. If the inflow and outflow are increased, the residence time of the system will be shorter. However, if the inflow and the outflow of a system are decreased, the residence time will be longer. This is assuming that the concentration of the substance in the system and the size of the system remain constant, and assuming steady-state conditions.”

    If the outflow of molecular oxygen from the atmosphere remained constant and inflow was completely stopped, the oxygen would be completely depleted in 4,500 years. In a hundred years the oxygen concentration would be .21 – (.21 / 45) = 0.205333333333333 which is about a 1% decline in oxygen concentration. The decline will be a lot slower than other catastrophic events, as in the rise of CO2.

  • Robin.

    I think we can agree that the residence time of oxygen in the atmosphere would (will) change slightly over the coming decade, but we would be well and truly cooked by CO2 long before we would notice the drop in oxygen level.

    As we have noted before, people trapped in submarines do not normally die from lack of oxygen; it is often the build-up of CO2 that kills them.

    CO2 is actually a quite a deadly gas -the body’s respiratory system is geared to removing it, and is triggered by it. There is considerable justification for saying that CO2 is the most deadly gas on Earth at the moment, simply because of its concentration x effect factor. Yet, as far as the bulk of the general public and journalists are concerned CO2 is ‘harmless’ or ‘necessary for life’.

    One of my favourite expression comes from Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’. If I remember it correctly, Lord Copper, newspaper magnate, must always be agreed with, whether he is right or wrong. This leads to his personal assistant responding thus:

    “Definitely, Lord Copper.”

    or

    “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”

    Incidentally, the underlying theme of ‘Scoop’ is the desire by several developed nations to install a suitable government and loot an undeveloped African nation.

    80 years on, little has changed.

    Is there hope a few humans can get through the coming series of bottlenecks?

    Up to a point.

  • Greetings. This is my first post here. Just by way of introduction I’ll say that my path here started when I began rooting into 9/11 questions, then became a founding member of the Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance. So I’m no stranger to entertaining/accepting propositions which the common person would not want to investigate or accept. Since Michael Ruppert was the first investigator whose work influenced me substantially I have followed his career arc into the questions of collapse. Soon I discovered Dmitry Orlov and Carolyn Baker on that path. One of the seminal points along that arc for me was seeing the movie “What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire”. That led me to Derrick Jensen among others. And now this website and the thesis that near term extinction is inevitable.

    So I have read around quite a lot for the last week or so. I like this point made in the current post: “The remaining alternative is to rest one’s case within the limits of human knowledge. Nobody knows the exact date when the last fish in the ocean will die, the hour when Shakespeare will be forgotten”. We must perform our due diligence then run with the best answer we can come up with. In my case I have been trying to build a farm in Nicaragua for a number of years now and am jumping into doing it full time, so my case is rather similar to Guy McPherson’s. The acreage used to be a cornfield and I’ve planted fruit trees on it; they are now semi-adult trees. So again, I find this website particularly encouraging (actually). I’m 47 years old and I have a grown step-daughter but no kids of my own, so it seems what I’m attempting is reasonable given the circumstances.

    I do have one question: does anyone know about any good resources in español that cover NTE?

  • Josh Fox has quickly become the public face of the anti-fracking community and today, July 8, HBO will broadcast the controversial filmmaker’s follow-up film “Gasland Part II” at 9pm ET. Fox returns to the same communities in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming that were profiled in “Gasland” to see if local residents’ attempts to secure clean water from local governments and the Environmental Protection Agency have been successful. A handful of energy experts are also interviewed including a former researcher for the gas industry who says “fracking can never be done safely.”

    Never.

  • This piece is a thing of rare and profound beauty, Jamey. Strong, heartfelt, spare and full of sinew. Thank you.

  • @ Robin D

    “Belief clings, but faith lets go.”

    “On a personal level, one approach to imminent calamity is to tailor one’s actions to rational anticipation, but divorced from all expectation. In the absence of expectations there is the invincibility of true hopelessness, which has none of the dejection or despondency of thwarted expectations.”

    I liked the Watts link. It’s easy to read and comprehensible much of the time, and then murky and opaque the rest. But that’s just my response. If it doesn’t come in short snippets, I get lost.

    I get the sense that if one is not mired on dejection, despondency or rage, one is labeled a denier of NTE. But I lean toward this approach: “…to tailor one’s actions to rational anticipation, but divorced from all expectation.” I don’t consider that to be living in a fantasy world, but the very opposite of it.

    I believe in acting rationally while not *expecting* it to change the overarching objective reality of macro society. It’s like certain healing practices. You make such and such interventions that are in line with universal principles of healing, and that are almost sure to benefit your health. But you can’t be checking every minute to see if that’s working–like planting a seedling one day and pulling it out to examine the roots the next. One has to let it go, having faith in the benignity of the loving universe. You do the right thing, and it’s out of your hands, out of your control.

  • .
    “Nobody knows the exact date when the last fish in the ocean will die, the hour when Shakespeare will be forgotten.”
    .
    @ Jamey: Thank you.

  • I’m not sure why some of us are waiting around, especially younger folks. Elite humans have trashed the world with domination since the beginning of culture. There have been thousand’s upon thousand’s of holocausts.

    Saw “Hiroshima” last night on PBS. Despicable! But no one seems to connect or care one way or the other. It is because, in the end, proles have NO say… ever!

  • Jamey Hecht says: one hand holds the despair which must somehow be held (contained, regulated, bounded); the other holds the tools with which we must make our attempts to adapt.

    Daniel says: there never was any difference between the boulder and the mountain. (Or, I believe, the man.)

    The imagery evoked by these passages is stunning, exquisite, somehow comforting in a way that the words alone are not, planting seeds of healing and understanding through the visual. Thank you.

    Don’t Give Up On Me Now

    time it opens all wounds
    trust gonna put me in the tomb
    the world isn’t mine
    the world isn’t mine to save
    i can’t afford to lose
    what you easily throw away

    it’s not what we do
    it’s what we do with what we feel
    takes all you have to stare him down
    and whisper devil no deal
    i don’t want to fight
    don’t want to fight my father’s war
    you can wait your whole life
    not knowing what you’re waiting for

    i don’t even know myself
    what it would take to know myself
    i need to change i don’t know how
    don’t give up on me now

    -Ben Harper

  • Trying to trace who is responsible for the train without driver that exploded in the town of Lac Mégantic came down to The Montreal Maine & Atlantic Company, formed in 2003, transport huge quantity of fuel (oil,coal,etc) in Québec, Vermont, Maine and New-Bruswick, and is owned by RailWorld,Illinois (a company “restructuring” public services into private services).

    Edward A. Burkhardt is the owner of Rail World, president of the monitoring council of Rail Baltic (Finland,Balt countries, Poland), privatized the Estonian Railway in 2001, president of Rail Polska (ferrying coal and more with free access to all of Poland railway network), privatized railways big time in England, New Zealand, Australia and more.

    He sent 73 wagons full of oil without a driver barreling through a town at high speed in the middle of the night. And he does that all over the world. To satisfy the way of life of the precise people living in those town. The snake, it is eating its tail.

    Daniel: I would like to be able to accept your propositions to explore (being in such a need of contact), but I cannot really explore in depth on Internet. I cannot go further that a certain point without a more material contact. For me, only material encounter can give me the indications I need to create a bond. I also need time; but there is none left.

  • “We wonder how many of us will live to be killed “directly” by climate change, or energy scarcity…”

    The only real “cause of death” is birth. However, given our penchant for statistics, I can see the desire for more detailed descriptions.

    According to the World Health Organization, 29% of deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease – which, for the most part, is FAT AND LAZY people made possible by civilization (division of labor). In my mind, not really a disease but rather a self-inflicted condition… whatever.

    Random Thought:

    When veterans return home and then commit suicide, are they listed as a casualty of the conflict? No.

  • About the driver-less oil train crash in Canada and techno hubris

    Years ago a friend was invited to see the first BART subway car from San Francisco come across under the bay to Oakland, before the line was open to the public. The BART subway system was State of the Art for it’s day, sometime in the 1970’s. There was a grandstand full of V.I.P’s: governors, Senators, bigwigs from DC, blah blah. They were suppose to see a shiny new subway car fly up out of the new SF bay tunnel and come to a stop in front of the grand stand and impress the Pooh-bahs to no end about Modern Technology.

    To ‘save money’ however and highlight the new technology of computers (hi-tech Silicon Valley just starting up), the authorities were going to have the subway car, ‘controlled’ by the Master Computer at BART Central, decide the speed and when to stop the subway car Beast.

    Well, my friend said the subway car came flying up out of the bay tunnel but as it came even to the grandstand it was not slowing down at all and proceeded to shoot by and run full speed (60-70mph) into the backstop just beyond the grandstand and explode into twisted smoking wreckage, all to the speechless presence of the VIPs.

    [paraphrasing] He said the guy next to him leaned over and told him, “That just means we will have to put real people (operators) in the subway cars to drive them and not just use the computer to control the lines (rats!), there are just too many witnesses here that now know the computer thing won’t work properly.”

    He went on to say that, “At least if we stick some minimum wage clown at the front of the subway car, he might pay attention because he will be the first to die if he doesn’t, probably cheaper than these new computers.”

    But nowadays, thanks to ‘advanced digital technology’ we have solved such problems as the BART Debacle and have perfected the Crude Oil Drones Train. (CODT)

    Progress is Our Most Important Product.

  • @ Speak Softly: No way! I lived here, I don’t remember much, but I’d remember that. Isn’t in Wikipedia either. Something wrong there, I think.
    ==

    ~mike~ says:
    And let the blessings of your privileged existence wash over you.

    The worst that can happen is that you will survive
    To endure even greater anguish and pain.

    Haha that’s the stuff! 😀
    ==

    Daniel says: And as this new unprecedented acceptance slowly assimilates into our new identity….

    Identity

    Nourishing hope to pull through
    A world that you’re not used to
    Means emotional swings
    And doing some things
    You never thought you would do.
    ==

    The Descent of Man

    Mitigation won’t stop doom’s woe,
    So everyone, “Look out below!”
    It’s too little too late,
    Like an airliner’s fate,
    Coming in too slow and too low.

  • What an insightful essay. I’m spending some of my few minutes online today reading these comments. Nowhere else is as clear to me as this place is. You put it all together and share these gems:

    the invincibility of true hopelessness

    We are the animal that does this.

    We have been taught how to watch movies.

    There is really nothing to be done. I don’t talk about it with anyone anymore – there’s no point. Nothing will be done. Nothing CAN be done. Planetary collapse is happening right now and cannot be reversed. All manner of human responses will be initiated, to no avail. We can only react as the human repertoire allows, and it does not contain anything that could undo this, the inevitable. Yeasty beasties R us. Who’s to say that colonies of yeast in a nice vat of beer don’t hold meetings to decide what to do about the dwindling resource base?

    “Carl, you saw the graph, the sugar ain’t comin’ back, man.”

    “You, too? Falling for all that tripe about population overshoot? It’s a liberal conspiracy to take away our mitochondria, and you damn well know it, Phil.”

    “I don’t know. Have you seen the corpses down below? And it’s gettin’ kinda hard to find a decent meal around here.”

    “Drill, baby, drill! Those fuckin’ domestic terrorists are sabotaging the glucose mines left, right and center! Why, if I could get a line of credit right now, I’d mine the stuff in my own backyard. Get a grip, Phil, these are problems that can be managed, I tell you, just you wait and see.”

    I read somewhere about the chaos and complete lack of humanity that accompanied the plague in Europe. I expect the same all over the world when things get a bit worse in the developed countries.

    I’m re-reading Wade Davis’ “Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest” (2012). It’s about some guys who tried to climb the mountain. But it’s not, really. It’s about what war does to men. This kind of war:

    “The mine blast lifted dirt four thousand feet into the air. The German guns responded. Sixty-six artillery batteries, undetected and undamaged, laid down a withering fire on the British infantry massed in the trenches, ready to attack. The lanes cut through the British wire for the assaulting troups were too few and too narrow. German machine guns ranged across each gap, butchering the men as they emerged from the trench, until the passage through the wire became so choked with their own dead that the following troups had to clamber over mounds of corpses simply to reach no-man’s-land. Physical movement along the trench became impossible. Men writhing with wounds, whimpering and crying like children. Headless torsos, faces on fire, blood shooting out of helmets in three-foot streams, bodies cleft like the quartered carcasses in a butcher’s shop, splinters of steel in brains, shattered backbones and spinal cords worming and flapping about in the mud.”

    The guns of the war in France could be heard as far away as Kent. Officers stayed safely kilometers behind the lines, riding thoroughbred horses on parade every day at 4 pm. Surgeons had to leave four and five men to die for each one that they could save. Men became catatonic for the rest of their lives, tied down to beds for years. There were hundreds of survivors who had to wear masks over their faces at all times except at summertime rural outings of groups of them that gathered together to take off their masks and feel the sunshine without withering scorn and horror of onlookers.

    The glory of war?

    Many men could not reconcile themselves to civilization when they returned, and leapt at the chance to attempt Everest. The British believed:

    “that we are without doubt the best people in the world, and the more of it we inhabit, the better is is for humanity.”

    They didn’t reach the South Pole or the North Pole first, and their pride was hurt. So they threw themselves at Everest. It’s a horrible story and demonstrates to me why this species is near its end. Too bad we will take everything else with us.

    I have never grieved the death of a person, even those close to me, but I have grieved the deaths of animals, even some I never knew. This used to embarrass me, but no longer, I think.

    Fava beans are ready. I better get back to picking. In another thread, Barry, I think, posted about his journeys in agriculture, admitting that without slaves or fossil fuel, it’s damn nigh impossible. That hit me like a brick, and I’ve repeated it to myself a dozen times since. People used to live in this valley, and they lived well, had a beautiful culture, and we Europeans wrecked it. Can we go back? Nope. The climate is ruined and hunting and gathering won’t support humans anymore anywhere on this planet very soon. Say good-night, Gracie.

  • BenjaminTheDonkey

    No one was hurt, the event was invitation only and the BART authority and state officials leaned on the press that was there to not report or low ball the screwup. It did happen. It’s in the records at BART headquarters, as a big embarrassment, which I’m sure they are still not eager to share.

  • Thanks for this. As I painfully relinquish my vision of a world in which a chastened remnant of humanity survives — which I desperately hoped might include my own dear children — I struggle every moment with the burden of this terrible knowledge of hopelessness. There has never been anything like it. Every human narrative of death and destruction contains the seeds of rebirth. Not this one. The scope of the disaster is just unfathomable. Unthinkable, really. I hardly know how to endure my grief.

    Yet I do find comfort in reading your words, Mr. Hecht. I agree that seeing the whole tragic trajectory is weirdly comforting. We are what we are. Could we ever have refused the enticements of “progress”? Could we have decided to be colder, hungrier, shorter-lived? No. And our burgeoning population guaranteed that the complexity of human society would be too great for individuals to encompass. So the future — the real future, the crash of the industrialized overpopulated world — couldn’t really be foreseen, except in small fragments, by isolated visionary people. We’re so smart, but not smart enough.

    One of us could compose the B minor Mass. One of us could sculpt David. One of us could write Anna Karenina. And so many of us could be kind and loving and funny and gracious. Yet this could not save us. Yet we must love ourselves. Must forgive ourselves.

    And there will be no audience to witness our tragedy except ourselves, who experience it, and then will be gone.

  • @portia, re. the audience. That is the exquisite agony of the affair. In preceding conceived tragedy, the audience is allowed to see what the protagonists are blind to, in themselves and in their circumstances. The protagonists suffer without seeing; the audience sees without suffering. In global self-annihilation, though, we are the playwrights, the protagonists, and the audience, all three. We (now few, but eventually most) will see, *and* suffer, *and* know the we are the authors of our own, unavoidable, suffering.

  • @Erin “I have never grieved the death of a person, even those close to me, but I have grieved the deaths of animals, even some I never knew. This used to embarrass me, but no longer, I think.”

    I understand where you’re coming from. Our collective actions have created this mess. WE DESERVE WHAT’S COMING. All Earth’s other life forms, however, are innocent. They merely had the misfortune of exiting on a planet that contained homo sapiens.

  • @Erin “I have never grieved the death of a person, even those close to me, but I have grieved the deaths of animals, even some I never knew. This used to embarrass me, but no longer, I think.”

    I understand where you’re coming from. Our collective actions have created this mess. WE DESERVE WHAT’S COMING. All Earth’s other life forms, however, are innocent. They merely had the misfortune of existing on a planet that contained homo sapiens.

  • Jamey, thanks for the lovely article.

    How strange, that humankind’s attempt to be strong and control reality in order avoid death will result in the death of humankind. But that is Psychology & Spiritual Truths 101 I guess – that what you focus on you manifest.

    As I was exploring in the other article regarding Robin’s description of a more ideal consciousness (thanks for the further explanations, Robin & U), I realized that I understand part of what you were saying Robin, but not in those words. I always loved the book Zen Mind Beginners Mind and have attempted to know that state of consciousness as much as possible, though if on a scale of 1 to 1 trillion I haven’t even approached 1 yet.
    In the “beginners mind” state of consciousness one is so much more in the present and not grasping for things in the future, nor burdened by what happened in the past. When one is ‘in the now’ then death is less feared and there is less of a need to grasp at something ‘out there’ in order to survive, less need to hoard and make war.

    I just wish this consciousness would have developed in time to save us. The fact that the potential was there makes it all the more sad. Every life form is worth saving, even humans – I can’t quite accept emotionally, yet, that the level of consciousness needed to save so much of the earth just didn’t happen in time.

    Yes, there is no death in nature – only a reshuffling of atoms. However this is probably not a good thing to express at a eulogy 🙂

    @Cuntagious. I don’t think we deserve what’s coming to us. It’s not an easy task we were faced with – to be aware of death – to cope with the feelings this evokes. So we tried to avoid it, got into the damn PROGRESS trap, hoarding, warring, doing everything we could to ward off the inevitable. We don’t deserve it, we don’t un-deserve it…it just IS.

  • @ulvfugl

    Thank you for your comments regarding my lemming link and your link about Irena Sendlerowa. Much appreciated.

  • @ Speak Softly: But…but… fire, police, passersby, reporters of various stripes covering the big event…? Maybe it was the “Fremont Flyer”?
    Derailed BART train (1972)
    Oh well. Funny story! 😀
    ==

    @ Jamey Hecht: Agree with others—great stuff!
    ==

    Jamey Hecht says: we are the animal that does this
    Portia says: Must forgive ourselves

    Self-Forgiveness

    If our guilt is because you believe
    What we did was to underachieve:
    It’s how animals live,
    So there’s grounds to forgive,
    Or, at least, to grant a reprieve.

  • Jamey Said:
    “We did not lower our energy consumption because it would have been a return to weakness, femininity, childhood, helplessness, all the things industrial civilization fears and hates the most. ”

    Sometimes people decide to blame,
    As a way to control the pain.
    But if we just get mad,
    To avoid all the sad,
    It’s a way to control once again.

  • BenjaminTheDonkey

    That looks like the one! Nice photo! The ‘component’ failure was the BART automation system.

    The guy I knew worked on the Transbay Tube in the 60’s and was invited to the ‘test’ because of that, so I always assumed the crash was in Oakland but it apparently was in Fremont. No one was in the car at the test.

    Under the Automation section of History of the Bay Area Rapid Transit

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Bay_Area_Rapid_Transit
    From Wiki:

    “As a first-generation system, BART’s automation system was plagued with numerous operational problems during its first years of service. Shortly after revenue service began, an on-board electronics failure caused one two-car test train (with car 143 as the lead car) to run off the end of the elevated track at the Fremont station and into a parking lot. This incident was dubbed the Fremont Flyer, and there were no serious injuries.”

  • Good essay overall, Jamey. I remember you from the days you worked with Michael Ruppert. But here are some points of disagreement.
    “Regard what happened on this planet as a tragic drama played out before the eyes of eternity. A dangerous species got hold of vast amounts of energy, and all hell broke loose — four degrees centigrade average global surface temperature rise. The large scale use of fossil fuels can be seen, with the foreshortening of time, to have been a kind of explosion. It is a slower explosion than the meteor impact that ended the Cretaceous, but it’s still a liberation of fiery energy.”
    [Here i have to take issue. You totally leave out the advent of and subsequent complete dominance by the social system know as capitalism, which is the only social system that has ever existed which has a growth imperative, i.e. requires growth for its very survival. It only emerged in one small area of the world. Due to its rapacious expansionary nature, it grew to encompass the entire world. And it is its growth imperative which has required the massive expenditure of energy. See http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/993%5D……….
    “Unlike those amazingly stable organisms, the shark and the turtle and the clam, that stayed the same for hundreds of millions of years, ours is a young species that changed very quickly. There are several inflection points in the story, like the rise of the late Paleolithic toolkit, or the origin of agriculture in the Neolithic period, that introduce nonlinear explosive change, and the advent of fossil fuels is the biggest of these. One can perhaps imagine a timeline in which fossil fuels are never discovered, or never developed in commercial quantities, but that is not what happened. With the counterfactual in mind, we say it could have been different and so we experience the disaster as a waste, a stupid mistake, a crime. It is all of those things, but when we push the counterfactual away and focus on what did happen, the picture changes. It becomes tragic.”
    [Again, you leaves out the most important “inflection point,” the emergence of capitalism]…………..
    All animals in an isolated environment (like a vat, an island, or the Earth) do as we did, when they consume the available resources in a finite system until they overshoot the system’s carrying capacity and begin to die off. If we are unusual in that we became aware of what we were doing (because of our distinctly human intelligence, much of which we turn out to share with several other species, after all), we are also unusual (though again, not alone) in our tendency to ignore warnings when our identity is involved. We did not lower our energy consumption because it would have been a return to weakness, femininity, childhood, helplessness, all the things industrial civilization fears and hates the most. Just as in Greek drama or Shakespearean tragedy, this fear-of-the-wrong-thing determines our fate and defines us in the universe.
    [As if the vast majority of “we” had anything to say about this. A tiny minority has been making the decisions. And “they” haven’t made the decisions necessary for survival because doing so would doom the social system “they” totally dominate]

  • @ Artleads

    One has to let it go, having faith in the benignity of the loving universe.

    Hmmm. You really believe that ?

    Tell that to the species that are going extinct each day, tell that to the animals that are factory farmed, the albatross on Midway, the men in WW1 that Erin just described, even more so the tens of thousands of horses that they dragged into that hell hole…

    Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching begins with the lines “Heaven and Earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs”.

    Straw dogs were used as ceremonial objects in ancient China.

    Su Ch’e commentary on this verse explains: “Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them.”

    @ Luna

    There is a fundamental, radical division in views between myself, and Robin Datta and others.

    I view all teachings, psychological schools, religions, etc, that posit that there is some ‘work that must be done’ as being mistaken. I follow the teaching of zen, which has evolved out of a peculiar blending of buddhism and taoism. I see it as radically different to all other teachings. I honour Shunryu Suzuki as a Great Master.

    I always loved the book Zen Mind Beginners Mind and have attempted to know that state of consciousness as much as possible, though if on a scale of 1 to 1 trillion I haven’t even approached 1 yet.

    I don’t know what Shunryu Suzuki would say to you, but I’d say to you, how do you know ?

    Do you think there is something to be achieved, by someone who achieves ?

    Then you’d be back in the camp as Robin Datta and Paul Chefurka and all the rest, the great majority of mankind, who follow religions, where they struggle to find some sort of ‘perfection’ or some concept of ‘transcendence’ or ‘integration of the personality’ or ‘holiness’ or ‘enlightenment’ or whatever their particular school or sect happens to call their goal.

    And there’s never an end to it. Because it’s always one part of a person passing judgement upon another part of that same person, in an endless struggle. Much of it, of course, an attempt to repress the wild uncivilised primaeval primate nature and force it to comply with an artificial unnatural civilised environment. Like chimps in a zoo. Or that’s how Freud and others have seen it.

    It’s a recipe for misery and unhappiness and it’s a scam, because it means the poor people have to keep on going back to the priest or the guru or the holyman with more questions seeking more guidance, because they remain forever confused… until they die and go to whatever state their beliefs have promised them.

    But I take a totally different view. I reject that analysis entirely. People are perfect just as they are. Not in any moral sense. But in the sense, say, that a battered cardboard box being blown across the road by the wind, is perfect, or finding an old letter you wrote decades ago folded inside a book, is perfect, or watching the forms of the clouds meeting the hill tops, the flight of the birds…

    One year, I was expecting a lady friend to visit whom I wished to impress, and who liked flower gardening. So, I had planted a bed with poppies, ( of the kind used to commemorate WW1 ). So I had a splendid patch of these brilliant red flowers of which I was very proud. So this lady arrived, and we chatted and after I while I said would she like to see my garden ? and as we walked around the corner of the house, a very strong gust of wind came, tore all the red petals off the plants and covered us all over with them, sticking to our clothes and faces and surrounding us in a swirling vortex…

    Such moments arrive and vanish. That is called being in harmony with the tao. You cannot control it or demand it or even understand it. But, in theory, we could all live like that. Masanobu Fukuoka tried to explain that.

    You don’t learn zen from books. You learn it doing zazen. Zazen is just sitting still for no reason. Not for long. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes every day. It’s the simplest possible thing to do. Yet it is also the most difficult thing, almost impossible for many people. Which indicates how crazy we are. Just do nothing. Notice every thought. Just be intensely aware. Notice each breath. Not hard at all. All animals and birds know how to do it 😉

    Nobody trying to achieve anything. Nobody trying to get anywhere. Nobody trying to be better. Nobody trying to accomplish anything. Nobody trying to understand anything. Just fucking sit still. For no reason at all. And don’t tell me you can’t because I’ll bite your head off. I’m probably the greatest living master alive on the planet.

    Not because I’m all that good, although I only know of a few whom I admire, but because all the really great ones are DEAD. Most people can’t sit still for ten minutes. How many can sit for ten hours ? How many for ten days ?

    Consider that.

    @ frogcounter

    thanks for the thanks 🙂

  • [VIDEO] Past the Age of Miracles: Facing a Post-Antibiotic Age

    The Director-General of the World Health Organization warns that we may be facing an end to modern medicine as we know it thanks in part to the mass feeding of antibiotics to farm animals to accelerate growth.

    Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. notes:

    “This issue, perhaps more than any other, lays to bare the power of moneyed interests to undermine public health. Look at the list of endorsers of legislation to reform this practice, yet the sway of nearly every single medical organization in the United States is no match for the combined might of Big Ag and Big Pharma.”

    The video (3 minutes 23 seconds) and related links and info:

    http://nutritionfacts.org/video/past-the-age-of-miracles-facing-a-post-antibiotic-age/

    My point?… besides the obvious specific details? Some of us have done and are doing one hell of a lot of harm to the rest of us. Sure, to some extent, we are ALL responsible for this one way dead end street… but some have EARNED far more blame than the rest. We are not equally responsible. Oh and those pesky details… even more heartbreak on the way down.

    Apologies for not responding to each person here who has acknowledged me… I have suffered a tragic personal loss recently – I’ve been emotionally devastated. I thank you all now. Thanks to all of you also for allowing me to be part of this family. The great fall will be a little easier if we hold each others hands.

  • When one is ‘in the now’ then death is less feared

    What is feared is the end of the “I”: hence the attempts to vicariously project it into the future through progeny or personal accomplishment.

    When the “water” in a mirage is recognised for what it is, there is no need to try to perpetuate it. The “water” has neither past, present nor future, but presents the appearance of having all three.

    We don’t deserve it, we don’t un-deserve it…it just IS.

    AMEN!

    Forgiveness is a scar. Carrying a grudge is an open wound. Full healing is recognising that there is nothing to forgive … while at the same time learning the lessons from the experience.

    One would not “forgive” a small infant that spits up on one’s tuxedo after a feeding. Infants spit up after feedings. Hornets sting when their nest is disturbed. Mosquitos bite if you are tasty. People do what they do. So sorting out the hazards remains necessary.

  • “The tragic consciousness seems to require that we become witness to the whole story. It is this narrative completeness that grounds a story’s moral complexity, making it a good story for grownups.
    Regard what happened on this planet as a tragic drama played out before the eyes of eternity. A dangerous species got hold of vast amounts of energy, and all hell broke loose — four degrees centigrade average global surface temperature rise. The large scale use of fossil fuels can be seen, with the foreshortening of time, to have been a kind of explosion. It is a slower explosion than the meteor impact that ended the Cretaceous, but it’s still a liberation of fiery energy.
    We can only stare at the tragic stupidity of it, the iron necessity that the yeast will eat all the sugar in the vat, then die off; so the reindeer and the lichen; so the humans and the world. –Jamey Hecht

    I salute Jamey Hecht for carrying his thinking (and feeling) regarding our converging crises further than most, including me. Although way past the point of believing that we humans are going to come to our senses in time to avoid ruination, I haven’t quite given up on miracles. Not of the supernatural sort, but the kind that Nature herself can produce: fire, famine, and plague—not only saving us from ourselves, but saving the project of Life in general.
    This is a very well-written and well-thought-out piece, and it adds real depth to the conversation. Most of us aren’t accustomed to looking at the world as if through the eyes of “god.” This is appropriate to our station in life, because, delusions of grandeur to the contrary, we aren’t equipped to see with such eyes. Jamey Hecht challenges us to make the attempt, anyway, and take whatever consolation we can from this very long view of things. For me, it’s a thought experiment worth attempting, but even as I do, I notice that my fingers are crossed behind my back.

  • I’m not sure we don’t deserve what’s coming to us. At least those who have become aware of the destruction their lifestyles are doing deserve it in some way, unless they are doing everything they possibly can (not everything that they feel they can under the circumstances) to disengage from the destructive industrial civilisation. One can sympathise with the failure but continuing to contribute to habitat destruction, ocean death and climate change, knowingly, can’t not deserve the future it inevitably brings, can it?

    By the way, I’m one of those who deserves it.

  • U,

    It’s weird. I tend not to see the grimmer side of life. It’s as if the faculty to do that is missing from my brain. That could change, I suppose, but it would make me a different person from who I am now, and not a person that I aspire to be. (This is somewhat of a generalization.)

    Twenty-odd years ago, I was in a tough low-income city that had some beautiful, neglected open space remaining from a utopian community launched 100 years ago. I have a kind of elitist art background, from which I have been partially but not entirely rescued by circumstances of birth. Long story short, I launched a campaign to save the open space. I was driven by a passion whose origin I could not define. As the saying goes, I could only have done what I did because I didn’t know it was impossible. I got a lot of support from the educated elites outside the city, while the working class stiffs within had no idea what the fuck I was talking about. Eventually, forces from within the city forced me out of my non-profit, whence it promptly collapsed. I shook the dust from off my feet, and with my ability to forget bad stuff, I moved on.

    Fast forward around 15 years. A new generation of kids are coming of age in the city, and have learned about my work. For some unfathomable reason, they are insanely interested in the community plan and other work I left behind. They create a huge event, make rap videos about the past, and invite me as the guest of honor. At the event, the city planner and a council member approach me respectfully, offering their cards. I later learn that my plan for the utopian remnant community has influenced the plan for the business district (which has won prizes for it community involvement, etc.) and I learn that this is not all of it. I had left the city shrugging my shoulders at my failure, and then time has conspired to do something other than I had planned with my efforts, nevertheless, quite positive.

    So the grim facts you describe about the universe strike me like the blind, obtuse, hostile community people that were real too. If I could relive the past, I’d work with them better, and might have achieved something more concrete on the ground. But just the same, following my passion left something behind that was uplifting beyond what I could have anticipated.

    My point: Following that beautiful muse makes its own reality. I’m in the world to promote beautiful things, and don’t dwell on the horrible things. (Actually, I have my own demons that are quite enough to deal with, and awareness of ensuing cataclysm doesn’t escape me either.)

    I’m just a cockeyed optimist. It must get on many nerves, but being anything else just isn’t me.

  • Jamey Hecht, Ph.D. said: Regard what happened on this planet as a tragic drama played out before the eyes of eternity.

    No wonder this play failed after such a short run, eternity never pays admission but stays forever. Too bad we couldn’t have done a rehearsal for eternity, and cut out the parts where she wasn’t smiling.

    “A dangerous species…the yeast will eat all the sugar in the vat, then die off; so the reindeer and the lichen…tragic stupidity…”

    Yes, those species, when will they ever learn?

    Gary G Says-
    “This is a very well-written and well-thought-out piece, and it adds real depth to the conversation.”

    As someone who adds real shallowness to the conversation, I concur.

    “Most of us aren’t accustomed to looking at the world as if through the eyes of “god.””

    Here I must disagree, because we do little else but play God here at NBL. We’ve got it all figured out, we’ve even written out her schedule for her, right down to the date she’s supposed to show up.

    Artleads Says: I’m just a cockeyed optimist. It must get on many nerves, but being anything else just isn’t me.

    That’s right Artleads, you’re just not grim enough for this town. As they say in the westerns: You ain’t from round here, are you?

  • More climate chaos. More damage to expend energy and resources fixing. Red queens everywhere.

    https://www.theguardian.com/weather/2013/jul/09/toronto-storms-300000-without-power

    A severe thunderstorm caused flash flooding in Toronto, cutting power to at least 300,000 homes and businesses in Canada’s largest city, shutting down subways and leaving over 1,000 passengers stranded for hours on a commuter train filled with gushing water.

    Environment Canada said parts of the city had been drenched with more than 10cm (3.9in) of rain on Monday evening, easily beating the previous one-day rainfall record of 3.6cm (1.4in) in 2008.

  • @ Jeff S.

    I think communism has almost as much potential as capitalism to become the “growth ideology” of the planet. Capitalism proved to be marginally more efficient than communism as enabling the use of larger quantities of energy, so it triumphed (as H. T. Odum’s “Maximum Power Principle” might predict). “Capitalism” has less extraneous ideological baggage than any other political/economic system yet developed. The only belief one needs to hold is in the supreme value of unfettered growth. which, if we are creatures shaped by the Second Law of Thermodynamics to dissipate as much energy as possible, makes perfect sense.

    Even the existence of the 1% makes perfect sense in this context, because open systems can dissipate far more energy if they are hierarchically structured, with each higher level acting as control and coordination nodes for the level below. Such structures appear all over the place in nature, so it’s hardly surprising that it would appear in human society. On the bald structural level it’s simply a question of what system organization achieves maximum efficiency in the dissipation of energy flows.

    Of course we at the lower levels might not enjoy this outcome, but that’s a different discussion.

    @Artleads

    I think I have not made my position clear. I completely agree with you that things are just perfect as they are, that there is no perfection that needs to be achieved. That’s what allows me to discard blame and shame, and accept the thermodynamic interpretation of the experience of life. Of course in order to get here I had to find my way past the blame and shame I felt in my former, more activist, life. Discovering my innate perfection was not a question of achieving it, but of piercing the illusions that prevented me from seeing it. Sometimes the piercing takes some effort, and we misinterpret that work as “achievement” because we are acculturated to thinking in those terms. It feels more like a process of stopping, though. It’s largely stopping trying to make the world into something it’s not, in order to soothe my own fears. Now that takes real work… Sitting down, pulling my head out of my own ass, looking around and realizing that everything is perfect as it is – that doesn’t take work, it only needs one to stop working, and relax. How one goes about itt varies by the individual. For some, zazen seems to work. Others take different routes.

  • @ Paul Chefurka

    You think you are perfect, Paul ?!

    You think the world, everything, is perfect just as it is ?!

    ..looking around and realizing that everything is perfect as it is..

    I’d say that’s a definition of delusion, a definition of insanity. Have you actually looked around at what’s going on ? You really think it’s perfect ?

  • Yes, ulv, I do. The world is perfect, I am perfect – even you are perfect, just as you are. there might be other arrangements of the world I would enjoy more, but that speaks to my preferences, not intrinsic perfection.

  • @ Paul C.:

    If one accepts that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is “god,” then, yes, all is perfect and all is as it should be. The only decision any self-aware being has to make is “how much?” How much shall I participate in the march to equilibrium? We humans that recognize that the faster we march, the less “life” there will be on Earth, also recognize that we have a choice today to either slow down or speed up – AND, death is the only way to completely stop your participation to the maximum extent possible (actually, now that I think about it, killing as many living things as you can will actually maximizes your “anti-equilibrium” efforts, but, let’s not go there!)

    @ Gary G.:

    But, who will know if “Nature’s Miracle” is really “natural?” I personally believe that TPTB will unleash a pandemic to severely reduce the populations.

    @ Tony:

    Yes, I raise my hand, guilty as charged. And maybe becoming “Collapse Aware” is my punishment! I can no longer enjoy the privileged consumer-driven life, so now I’m just an impotent citizen (prole) of the USofA waiting for TPTB to dispose of me as they see fit.
    <
    <
    I wish there was a way for us all to get together – I think it would be very interesting. Let's have a "Doomer Convention."

  • @ Paul Chefurka

    Thanks. If we are perfect, I see no more appropriate route than to follow our bliss.

    @ Ripley

    Thanks for the smile.

  • follow your bliss while the children suffer

    there is no redemption

    the end is nigh

    repent and atone

  • @ Kai Middleton

    You should try to talk with F. Kling, you may have common interests. Maybe Guy can put you two in touch. F. Kling probably knows some resources in Spanish…

  • yes, follow your bliss while the children suffer

    there is no redemption

    the end is nigh

    repent and atone

  • Part of me is really jealous of the people who see only rainbows and butterflies. The beauty of life and not the hideousness of some deaths. I wish I could be that way!

    I’m mentally girding my loins for some family time, during which, two of three of the members will jump all over me for being such a downer, for being “so negative”.

    Toronto is flooded, the West is on fire, whole communities are ruined by oil companies and no one cares, another big oil reserve is “discovered” that will keep this insidious killing machine called industrial civilization going for what, seven more years?

    To those of you who genuinely see rainbows and butterflies, I desperately want to know….what are you smoking? taking? How can you see an utterly different reality than I do?

  • Paul Chefurka Says:
    July 9th, 2013 at 4:28 am
    “@ Jeff S.
    I think communism has almost as much potential as capitalism to become the “growth ideology” of the planet. Capitalism proved to be marginally more efficient than communism as enabling the use of larger quantities of energy, so it triumphed (as H. T. Odum’s “Maximum Power Principle” might predict). “Capitalism” has less extraneous ideological baggage than any other political/economic system yet developed. The only belief one needs to hold is in the supreme value of unfettered growth. which, if we are creatures shaped by the Second Law of Thermodynamics to dissipate as much energy as possible, makes perfect sense.
    Even the existence of the 1% makes perfect sense in this context, because open systems can dissipate far more energy if they are hierarchically structured, with each higher level acting as control and coordination nodes for the level below. Such structures appear all over the place in nature, so it’s hardly surprising that it would appear in human society. On the bald structural level it’s simply a question of what system organization achieves maximum efficiency in the dissipation of energy flows.
    Of course we at the lower levels might not enjoy this outcome, but that’s a different discussion.”

    You are using a definition of “communism” based upon nothing more than the state capitalist regime which ran the former Soviet Union. In fact, the founder Vladimir Lenin explicitly called it “state capitalist.” Stalin simply re-named it “socialist” and claimed it was mostly because he said so. Anyone who dissented and pointed out the obvious, that all the basic structures and features of capitalism, e.g. wage labor, commodity production, were still around, got a free long-term trip to Arctic summer resorts. http://www.struggle.ws/anarchism/writers/anarcho/anticapPAM/antiorstate.html
    If capitalism makes so much sense re the Second Law, why did it rise only in one place? And why has it required maximum violence in order to even emerge, let alone be sustained and expand? It’s a total aberration, no matter how much new age nonsense is spouted. But what to expect from someone who thinks everything is perfect?:-)

  • As many here already know, the only difference between the choices our species may have made (from the very beginning until one minute ago) is the pace of our march to equilibrium. Our only job is to consume and expend energy.

    The arguments over capitalism/communism/socialism are completely moot.

    Lamenting the loss of any species is moot.

    The big picture is nothing really ever mattered – our intelligence is wasted for it only burdens us with these questions. Better had we never evolved from the primordial soup.

    The sun will burn out – explode. We never had any chance – there was never anything to live for. Thinking about it only made it worse.

    Wallow in the Doom and Gloom.

    Darkness will one day be all there is and you will be long forgotten.

  • Guess humanity had a hell of a masting episode when oil fell from the trees!

    Picked up on Desdemona http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-change-could-spark-small-mammal-invasion

    Is that not how it all started, with a mammalian invasion? Kind of.

  • Wildwoman “Part of me is really jealous of the people who see only rainbows and butterflies. The beauty of life and not the hideousness of some deaths. I wish I could be that way!”

    Yes, I used to feel that way. But since the beauty of life is dependent on those deaths, as selective death is what powered evolution, I have to see death as the author of the beauty.

    Death also puts bookends on our lives which seems to help us find meaning – in other words we have this amount of time – how do we want to best use it. If we had eternity, whatever would we be prompted to do?

    But that points to what Jamey Hecht is also pointing to – the end of meaning… That is a much much harder thing to look square in the face than death is. Yet that is what extinction surely means.

    Still there is meaning and mattering while we are here – the alarm rings and it means it is morning. A hen who hid a nest comes out today with 9 chicks and it means our plan to breed less this year has been sabotaged again. It also means there will be more roosters to eat.

    That is what I make of it anyway. Meaning and mattering in the little things until we cease.

  • @Jamey ~ Lovely summation.

    @Penney ~ And yet we have been here, we did what we did and it will be a part of all that there was. No matter how small / big, we were, or were our contributions.

    ‘we’ meaning the stars, the planets, all organisms, etc everything which is a flow of energy. Of course the ‘all that there was’ is also a flow of energy itself, ‘we’ just being smaller eddies in a larger flow.

    @Paul C ~ I find myself concurring more often with that thought these days, all is perfect, indeed.

  • pat wrote, “I personally believe that TPTB will unleash a pandemic to severly reduce the population.”

    In the whacked-out world of today, the above is, in my opinion, a very positive thought. I would much rather sit by the bedside of my loved ones, comforting them and easing their passing than to see them hog-tied and carried off by a band of cannibals. I’m a big believer in the whole “death with dignity” movement and if tomorrow I learned about a flu-like disease, 100% fatal and highly contageous cropping up around the world I would be glad. I’d rather it held off for a couple of more years so my grandson could get some more skateboarding in. But if it had to be now, so be it.

    Rob wrote, follow your bliss while the children suffer

    there is no redemption

    the end is nigh

    repent and atone

    It’s always seemed to me that if there is any one thing that mankind has perfected, it is making children suffer! THAT could be the Great Heritage we leave the Universe to always remember us by. Redemption? Yes, there is NO redemption for such a sin (and all the rest)and thank god that the end is nigh! It is time to repent and atone, a powerful act of atonement would be for us adults to find as many ways as we can to make these final times more tolerable for all the kids.

    I’ve never known this “bliss” thing. Maybe I’ll find it when I give my last crust of bread to a hungry child.

  • It’s a puzzle. Even while accepting the end of the world, people don’t kick the dog, steal, or throw trash out the window. But if it were suggested that, in like spirit, they shouldn’t throw their pee into the ocean, it suddenly becomes a mortal transgression.

  • Push Uphill

    Push yourself, use all your will—
    Keep pushing until you’re too ill;
    Don’t fall in the pit:
    There’ll always be shit,
    And shit always flows downhill.

  • Wow, what a literary inspiration was the original post. Just a couple of observations or point of information. E. Kubler-Ross’ original paper was called: “The Five Stages of Reaction Upon Hearing Catastrophic News”.

    I believe that few if any of us can guess what is really in store for the planet and human society. Learning to dance with uncertainty is a gift we can all give ourselves.

    If you argue with reality you will lose, but only 100% of the time. Have any of you discovered “The Work” of Byron Katie?

  • The world is perfect, I am perfect – even you are perfect, just as you are. there might be other arrangements of the world I would enjoy more, but that speaks to my preferences, not intrinsic perfection.

    Indeed, Bodhi, even your preferences are perfect. Fulminations erupting from a position of an averred absence if ideology is a manifestation of tamas (a word that you, with your wide acquaintance with manifold traditions, would recognise).

    Shalom in gassho.

    If one accepts that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is “god,”

    God is somewhere in the domain of “not-I”. It can “exist” as long as a piece of the turf is roped off as the “I”, with perhaps some portion of the “not-I” further roped off as the “mine”. One’s concept of god can extend from nothing at all in the “not-I” to some significant portion thereof, to even the entire “not-I”, in which case the “mine” is a domain of stewardship rather than ownership. The 2LoT in these cases is somewhere in the domain of the “not-I”. Such are the realms of atheism and theism.

    Non-theism is the recognition that there is no “I”, which can fall anywhere in a spectrum from mere avowal through intellection to grokked: without an “I” there is no “not-I”, and therefore there is no longer a god that is “not-I”.

    death is the only way to completely stop your participation to the maximum extent possible

    Grokking that there is no “you”/(“I”) stops that “participation” instantly. That grokking is is also known as The Great Death.

    I wish there was a way for us all to get together – I think it would be very interesting. Let’s have a “Doomer Convention.”

    The technology to do so virtually is here already. One name for it is Google Hangout.

    If we are perfect, I see no more appropriate route than to follow our bliss.

    That seeing, for that particular case, is also perfect.
    Not easily sorted through with a dualist winnow.

    since the beauty of life is dependent on those deaths, as selective death is what powered evolution, I have to see death as the author of the beauty.

    Indeed. All parts of the Trinity of Manifesting, Sustaining and De-manifesting (personified in one tradition as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) are necessary. Death is the method to make way for birth.

  • .
    At first, our extinction motif
    Is us fighting disbelief;
    But the more we watch strife
    And the downside of life,
    The more we view death as relief.

  • @ Paul Chefurka

    The world is perfect, I am perfect…

    I find that utterly obscene and certainly nothing to do with zen.

    So, before, your ego had decided that you ( and everyone ) were faulty, and there was ‘work to be done’ and now that very same ego believes that you ( and everyone ) are perfect, so now, there’s no work to be done. How very convenient.

    I wonder how you’d feel if you were in Guantanamo, locked in a cage without charge for ten years, being forcibly fed through a pipe, instead of in a secure comfortable job working for the Canadian Government ? Maybe things wouldn’t look quite so perfect ? But of course, whatever happens, you can, and you will, justify and rationalize it to yourself.

    I don’t buy your ‘perfect’, Paul. I think it stinks. Yuck.

    I heard a Dutch police officer interviewed on the radio some years ago, who had studied zen briefly and who took a similar view that all the murders, people trafficking,
    child sexual abuse, thefts, and so forth were all just part of the perfect unfolding of reality. I think that is an appalling view, a crass misunderstanding, a corruption of true insight and understanding.

    At the heart of zen is the notion of living in complete harmony with the tao. This is, of course, an ancient analysis, dating back thousands of years when taoists tried to find a way of life that was perfectly attuned to the entire Universe in every respect.

    They would say that our present predicament is the predictable result of having strayed from that path. So, what we have now, this mess that humans have made, is the opposite of perfection.

    I think the ancient taoist would say, ‘Look there was a very good reason why all that coal and oil was sequestered away deep underground, if you had all been taoists, you would have respected nature and this world and the way it was made’.

    It’s not easy to sort this out without writing a few books. In the 1960s and earlier, when Westerners went to India and China and encountered the culture based on Hindu and Buddhist philosophy ( as Robin has pointed to ) ‘all is perfect as it is’ they couldn’t accept it.

    Why don’t you build sewers and hospitals ? Why do you accept all this disease and squalor ? The fatalism and quietism that accepted suffering as part of perfection was abhorrent to the Anglo Saxon Protestant mind, the German and British and French mentality that colonised America, with ideas of progress and improvement and changing the world to make it better with science and engineering and organisation and social reforms.

    There are fundamental cultural and ideological and philosophical contradictions here that cannot be elucidated in one comment in a text box.

    I hold to the position that derives from the ancient taoists, but even in the earliest times, the majority did not accept it, and rather than striving to live in harmony with nature, they chose the teachings of Confucius, which are more to do with urban social life.

    And, fwiw, just as on this blog, the taoists themselves did not agree amongst themselves, and divided into schools and sects. But I think it is quite heartening that people thousands of years ago did try to find ways of living that were in harmony with all that exists, and although other cultural views dominate, taoism and zen have survived.

    Now NTE breaks all the stories, whether you want to see it as ‘perfect’ or not.

  • An article lacking two things; compassion and humility and so wisdom. But these are not part of our current normal development but must be hammered out via the force of necessity. So explaining the conundrum we find ourselves enmeshed within. But we are blinded to the forest by the trees and the more trees we identify and catagorize in the forest of destruction the less we comprehend of the forest. Thanks logic ego riven mind, thanks a lot. The mind that continues on the journey of creative evolution sees something vastly different, the forest. When we are in the forest again, all will change and hope explodes into fact and fury. But that change of mind becomes the toss up, who can escape such fine and alluring drama? Who wants any story but the tragedy? No normal mind of the masses. But the new mind, unborn and perhaps aborted by fine essays such as this.

  • Penney Says:
    July 9th, 2013 at 10:21 am
    “As many here already know, the only difference between the choices our species may have made (from the very beginning until one minute ago) is the pace of our march to equilibrium. Our only job is to consume and expend energy.
    The arguments over capitalism/communism/socialism are completely moot.
    Lamenting the loss of any species is moot.
    The big picture is nothing really ever mattered – our intelligence is wasted for it only burdens us with these questions. Better had we never evolved from the primordial soup.
    The sun will burn out – explode. We never had any chance – there was never anything to live for. Thinking about it only made it worse.
    Wallow in the Doom and Gloom.
    Darkness will one day be all there is and you will be long forgotten.”

    If it was all pre-destined, why did only one social system EVER emerge which requires perpetual growth for its survival, which is the reason for the “march to equilibrium”? Lots of ways of generating energy were known up to 2000 years ago (e.g steam engine) but were not developed because *there was no reason to develop them previous to a social system requiring growth*! The one honest thing you say is your urging us to not think about it. Perhaps because thinking would disclose the complete lack of any logic and rational thought in your “analysis”?:-) Couldn’t better serve the cause of the powers-that-be if you tried. Look how much effort they put into getting us to not think.

  • Lots of ways of generating energy were known up to 2000 years ago (e.g steam engine)

    Engines do not generate energy. They convert a portion of one form energy to another, in the process wasting much if not most of the energy, usually as heat. Only when means to use the superfluous energy from buried sunshine became available, societal systems emerged that can and do use progressively increasing amounts of that energy in accordance with the Law of Maximum Entropy Production.

  • A cold front is coming towards the northeast US today. This means we can start farming again. We are a month behind in work done and this means less food for the market. We don’t get many fronts any more and without them we don’t farm much. I miss the jet stream. This is my last year farming and is turning out to be the hardest. I didn’t know how much I needed the jet stream. If this is what +0.8C can do to change things, what will +4C do? Farmers are an arrogant group but I think the level of humility is increasing. That’s refreshing.

  • re entropy, equlibrium, perfection – this is a value judgement that discriminates; there is a better and worse scale; we each occupy some discrete point on that scale;make your choice.

  • Jeff S.

    From wikipedia:
    “The earliest recorded activity of long-distance profit-seeking merchants can be traced back to the Old Assyrian merchants active in the 2nd millennium BCE.[11] The Roman Empire developed more advanced forms of Merchant capitalism, and similarly widespread networks existed in Islamic capitalism, but the modern form took shape in Europe in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_capitalism

    Your argument about capitalism is imperfect but all of us are guilty of that from time to time. But my question to you is, “so what?”

    Even if everything you are pointing out is accurate and true, unless you have a way to go back to medieval England and change history then it doesn’t really matter other than as an interesting educational point.

    Are you going to bring down capitalism by making this argument? I suspect it will come down all by itself in short order, but I doubt knowing that it’s the root of all of our problems will have anything to do with its demise.

    You have an opinion about something and all of us can appreciate that, I suspect. But, your statements are opinions, not fact. It is true that capitalism requires growth. But as the above quote shows, tendencies toward capitalism have been part of human nature for a long time – probably much earlier than that.

    Most species, humans included, have an inborn desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure – this is not something developed in medieval Europe. The intellectual ability to modify our world to help us achieve those desires have done more to destroy our planet than anything else. That desire has been the sole reason that capitalism has succeeded, in my opinion, because it gives capitalism a reason for existing. In other words, our selfish desires are the fuel for capitalism. Without that, then capitalism fades away. So, capitalism ISN’T really the problem. It’s human desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure. When you throw in overpopulation, the planet doesn’t stand a chance.

  • @Robin

    re: tamas – All gunas are ultimately delusions. Even my personal attraction to sattva is a delusion, which is revealed by that fact that it is a personal attraction.

    @ulvfugl

    I’ve had a comment from another person that my undefined, shorthand use of the word “perfection” opens the discussion up to a variety of misinterpretations. Do you know the Sanskrit word “Tathatā”? It translates loosely as “suchness” or “thusness”, and is quite close to the meaning I intended. This perfection is not of the body, mind or intentions, but is a restatement of an idea that appears quite trivial to the Western mind: “I Am” or alternatively, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Thou Art That.

    While it’s not a concept that many of us have learned, I’ve found it exceptionally useful for getting past my reaction of utter despair that was precipitated by my first full view of what we’ve done to the world.

    Because the awareness of tathatā is in a sense orthogonal to the “real world” as most Westerners see it, holding this awareness does not preclude any action one may undertake in the world. The two seem not to intersect very much except in the area of emotional reactivity, especially reactions driven by attachment. Basically saying I feel at peace with the world as it is, even as I recognize exactly how fucked up it is and work to change it.

    @ Jeff S

    You make a fair point about state capitalism. But it’s worth remebering that the growth of hierarchy, coercion, social complexity and injustice has been going on for a long time, under a wide variety of socioecononomic/political systems.

    In my view, all forms of socioeconomic organization are emergent behaviours of the systems that emerge as large groups of humans get together. I’m exploring a possible reason why such organization appears spontaneously in all human groups, one related to the need or desire to use large flows of energy. As a result, different forms of organization appear in different places, much like the random mutations that drive Darwinian evolution. The “fitness competitions” between them tend to be won by whatever organization enables the best use of its available energy flows. Over time, this results in single dominant form emerging, that lasts until the energy or other resource situation changes or an new form of organization emerges that is more effective.

    IMO this is how capitalism arose and prospered. It emerged from the mercantilism that displaced feudalism in England, was tried as an ultimately unsuccessful side experiment in Russia, and reached its full flower in the American version. Minor variations on the capitalist theme have spread to dominate the world, IMO because it’s the most effective system currently available for harnessing the enormous amounts of energy that civilization has available.

    This isn’t at all the same as saying capitalism is a “good” thing. On this level I don’t look at value judgments, but rather at the function of the system from a thermodynamic point of view. From that perspective, capitalism is enormously functional, even though it’s quite “bad” from a human-values point of view. After all, as some wag commented, “Thermodynamics doesn’t care what you think.”

    This also explains why there is such a tenacious global defense of this system, and why it feels so impregnable. On the other hand, no system of organization survives a change in its physical circumstances unscathed. So even if NTE were not to roll around in 30 years, capitalism as we know it is unlikely to survive the combined pressures of climate change, peak oil, species extinctions, overpopulation etc. etc.

    The Global Clusterfuck is inevitably going to be game-changer for the capitalist experiment, whether we choose to fight it or not. China (or some other system) is waiting in the wings…

  • @ Kathy C.:

    “– the end of meaning… That is a much much harder thing to look square in the face than death is. Yet that is what extinction surely means. ”

    but extinction of everything is inevitable given a long enough time-line, therefore, our existance has always been meaningless.

    @ Jeff S.:

    The many posts here over the years have explained the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics such that your argument is moot – doesn’t matter that Capitalism requires perpetual growth – even sans Capitalism, the 2nd Law would still eventually bring us to the end – all Capitalism has done is speed up the process and made us all miserable – and, that’s bad for sure, but, in the end, changes nothing. However, if, as others here have said or suggested, the 2nd Law is “god,” then Capitalism is a higher order of human existance that serves the 2nd Law – much more efficiently than any other social construct (so far) – and, therefore, is good. Embrace it.

    I agree with the really dark doomers on this site that say nothing matters, nothing EVER mattered, and just because we are aware changes nothing – love, hate, greed, envy – just sideshows uniquely intense for the human species. Everything exists to consume and expend energy, so, let’s get on with it!

    Those of us in privileged circumstances are simply better equipped to consume. “Save the Planet” movements are anti-2nd Law. Do not recycle, do not conserve, do not resist.

    The 2nd Law demands that we lay waste to everything and everyone in our path to achieve the ultimate Nirvana – equilibrium.

    When the sun burns out, our little blip in time will be so tiny that there will be no reason to account for it.

  • @ Paul Chefurka

    Yes, I am familiar with those terms. I think I am just as knowledgeable concerning mainstream Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and terminology as you and Robin are.

    The difference between us lies in the fact that those beliefs met with different taoist philosophical ideas and practices in China, and the result developed into zen, which is again, a quite different perspective.

    This is, in one sense, a highly sophisticated and highly advanced area of thought which has been very little explored and the few authors and thinkers who have entered the arena have not necessarily produced anything very helpful. Certainly none of them have confronted the issue of NTE.

    As Robin has pointed out re samadhi, etc, certain techniques are extraordinarily powerful and they have the potential to produce both saints and demons. If you strip away all cultural conditioning and become immune to pleasure and pain, then what ?

    Nihilism ?

    If you see through the illusion of self, as Michel Foucault understood, then what ?

    He said “the self is not given to us….there is only one practical consequence: we have to create ourselves as a work of art”

    This is the great divide between Hinyana and Mahayana. One can be Hitler or St Francis.

    In the Gurkha tradition, with the Samurai, and some other traditions, the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism do not culminate in becoming a gentle Bodhisattva who is merciful and compassionate, they culminate in a warrior who can kill anyone without hesitation and without any regret or emotion.

    I am ulvfugl, in this context. I have taken this as a koan, and studied these matters very seriously and in great depth, because it was important for me to try and understand them. How do we construct ourselves, and how do we find guidance ?

    There a very deep issues regarding personal and cultural and gender identity involved. The recent contretemps concerning Gail and Orlov was illustrative. Orlov made a sneering derogatory remark that she drove around the countryside ‘looking at leaves’.

    I happen to think that looking at leaves is one of the best things that a person can do, i do a lot of it, I do it every day. If a man sneered at me for looking at leaves, I feel inclined to punch his nose. I might not do it, but the feeling would arise.

    But then Gail disapproves of polygamy, failing to understand that in earlier times, a lot of men got killed or died, leaving women without any home or protection, so polygamy served a useful social safety net.

    All around the world we are left with the legacy of cultural constructs from earlier times, which are now more or less useless, even totally counter productive.

    ——————

    On another subject, regarding the simplistic ‘selfish gene’ Dawkins school of thought that I have argued against on several occasions, here is a link that xraymike found, showing how amazingly complicated things are and how cooperation has to be seen as important to survival.

    http://amanwithaphd.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/what-genomic-data-tells-us-about-life-the-complexity-of-the-mealybug/

  • Regarding the term ‘perfect’. For most of my adult life, I have always marveled at how each instant of Reality ‘fit together exactly’.

    Every sub-atomic particle/wave, every atom, every molecule, every gene, yadayadayada… fits exactly into place with each other at each instant. It doesn’t mean it’s good or bad, it’s not a value judgement, it’s an observation, it just means it Is, deal with it!

    “Play the hand that’s dealt you” is another old fashion term for it.

    The next instant can be affected by your actions.

    Instead of braking the car, you could decide to just keep on going and run the squirrel over that jumped in front of your car, or bike. It’s your decision in that instant.

    A lot of people just run the animal over, they’re distracted by their ‘important’ cell phone conversation, or preoccupied in thought, or worried they would wreak the car if stopped so fast they could get rear ended by the car behind them, or they don’t care, it’s just a squirrel, not worth the effort, or they are Lizard-brained® Sadists and enjoy a nice thrill kill.

    Point is, the ‘Butterfly>>>Hurricane’ effect is in each instant of Now. Trouble is the butterfly has no way to foresee what some of their actions become, good or bad.

    Too many variables in each instant of Reality for a conscious human mind to calculate.

    Like a chess game where you try and visualize 25 steps ahead. Not Gonna Happen Ever.

    Perfect is a lousy word for describing how Everything fits together seamlessly.

    Each person can decide to take actions at each instant of their existence. But as ulvfugl pointed out once, if the situation is hyper complex, like global climate change or ‘wildlife preservation’, sometimes it’s best to do nothing if you don’t understand the consequences, you’ll make it worse.

    The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

    But by all means if the occasion arises, have a heart and try not to run over the poor squirrel!

    The link to the Mealy Bug article is great. Shows the Lack of Boundaries inherent in defining a Thing in life.

    When looking at any ‘thing’ in life, you should always ask yourself, is it a noun or a verb? A particle or a wave?

    Mealy Bugs look like they are a process designed by a committee.

    I vote for verb.

  • Great essay Jamey.

    A mixture of R.D.Lang , Wolfgang Giegerich and a touch of William S. Burrows.

    I like the idea you pose that the Heinberg idea of ‘Powerdown’, or diminish and reduce demand on fossil fuels and economic growth have largely been ‘unused’.

    I left a request on your site at the contact section.

  • kevin moore (and anyone else interested):

    This is a bit off topic, but all the work I’ve been doing for the past bunch of months for Food & Water Watch to get our state senator to co-sponsor legislation putting a moratorium on the practice (until they can do it more safely and with little to no environmental degradation) paid off. He signed on this past weekend!

    Geez, Louise: A WIN! Now of course there’s still a long way to go before fracking is actually shut-down in PA, but it felt good to have actually accomplished something (that should have been a no-brainer)!

    meanwhile, back at the ranch Tonto, disguised as a door-knob, was getting more turns than anybody:

    from the Obedience at home desk

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/09/196211/linchpin-for-obamas-plan-to-predict.html#.Ud2aktDD_cs

    Experts: Obama’s plan to predict future leakers unproven, unlikely to work

    (from article)

    WASHINGTON — In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents.

    The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.

    . . .

    But even the government’s top scientific advisers have questioned these techniques. Those experts say that trying to predict future acts through behavioral monitoring is unproven and could result in illegal ethnic and racial profiling and privacy violations.

    “There is no consensus in the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all,” concluded a 2008 National Research Council report on detecting terrorists.

  • Excellent article. Still, there still appears to be much dancing around the underlying core issue, when in reality, as Dr House nails it, “It’s human desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure.”

    Dial down & consider your discrete daily steps, starting with going to bed at night. Do you not prefer a clean, warm & comfortable bed? What about getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom? (It’s true, indoor plumbing stands as one of mankind’s greatest achievements.) Now, wake up and make breakfast & brew some coffee. Where did the energy come from to refrigerate & heat? What about taking a hot shower, putting on some clean clothes and sitting in a nice comfortable car on the way to work? Preferably a nice office job with AC, steady hours & benefits.

    Now, who in their right mind would willingly walk away from this? Sure, in a moment of passion, people can find themselves acting quite impulsively, which is why it’s best to way at least 24 hours to make any major decisions. My guess is that Guy, if his present outlook reflects much of this board’s current opinion on the matter, is probably wondering why he just didn’t stay for the ride.

    The second law is simply the mechanism by which humans lever their ability to achieve pleasure & avoid pain. Fossil fuels are the main input. If you really step back and consider all the pieces that compose the modern world, it really is something to marvel at.

    Where the bummer lies is besides the obvious environmental impacts, there is a relatively small minority who also understand very well the coming train wreck, and are preparing a means for them to survive. The intellectual fun & games is being proved “right” as a perverse observation of all this going down.

  • I feel drawn to the thread we’re on right now and want to add my 2 cents.

    There are so many things to say that beginning is merely a random place to start.

    regarding the squirrel and the driver

    How is it that they even intersect at this moment in the universe – out of all that’s going on, why this, why now? Well, we can actually say that about every moment, call it random, call it probability or whatever, it just happens and that can be said about our existence too.

    regarding “meaning” and whether anything at all “matters”

    It’s like that story about the old man walking the dawn beach tossing starfish back into the ocean. A passer-by commented that out of all the starfish on all the beaches being washed up in low tide, surely the old fellow was wasting his time and that it hardly mattered, to which the old man replied, tossing the one in his hand far out over the breakers, “it matters to this one.” Which may or may not be true, but it “feels right” to some extent and in some nebulous undefined way. This leads to a weird feeling about time

    Whether all of creation is measured in untold eons of time or realizing the fact that whenever it is (or even WAS), it’s always right now. Until now leads to “not now” or “nevermore,” ie. death.
    Everything that happens, especially our “consciousness” of its experience, is just this, right now.

    The fact that as U, Paul and Robin (among others) have stated, coming to terms with this consciousness (and the “mistake” of considering it of a personal, separate life) can be “difficult” in some sense, when the practices (mentioned by them) claim we can be (or innately are) this completely infused (into the whole of existence) being of it all, or in a state of awareness beyond words (the “sudden” awakening).

    From Caddyshack:

    (lines by Carl Spackler, greenskeeper, played by Bill Murray)

    So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I’m a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald… striking. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

  • The Soul of Tragedy

    The essence of tragedy is a bitter irony. The tragedy of humankind is that the very intelligence that held such promise for our future turned out to conceal a hidden danger that has turned it into the source of our destruction. Our superior intelligence vastly increased our access to power, and our less developed inner self-control guaranteed we would misuse that power. We lacked the wisdom to restrain ourselves and became addicted to our new powers, thus losing all control of them. All of this was inevitable due to wisdom being a more difficult acquirement than crude instrumental intelligence. To develop the individual and social skills necessary to plan and maintain a sustainable, restrained, egalitarian global culture was not possible in time to limit the powers our burgeoning left brains were bestowing on us.
    Our tragedy is too much power too soon in the hands of infants without the mature wisdom to deal with it.

    Now it may be objected that here and there tribes did develop small localized cultures capable of relatively long term sustainability. This may have transpired, although the truth of those ancient days is largely obscured by the passage of time. But be that as it may, the larger issue of the global human presence evolved as it has due to causes we can dissect and speculate on — and here we are. The negative forces of hubris, greed, violence, and inadequate development of higher mental/spiritual functions all played their part in creating the tragic mess we are now drowning in.

    A quote from Chris Hedges’ recent essay on Truthdig:

    “We, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess. We believe in the eternal wellspring of material progress. We are our own idols. Nothing will halt our voyage; it seems to us to have been decreed by natural law. “The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run,” Ahab declares. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. Microbes will inherit the earth.

    The behavior that Chris describes animating Ahab is typical of those in the grip of addictive obsession. It characterizes modern society as a whole. The deep healing required to recover from this madness is contained in various spiritual paths, of which AA is a recent effective version. Awakening to our dangerous obsessive addiction to power and comfort at the expense of all higher meanings and purposes of life is the first step to developing within ourselves the latent capacities capable of saving ourselves from the seemingly fatal and inevitable course we are presently embarked upon.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/we_are_all_aboard_the_pequod_20130707//