Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting the Lid On

The oil continues to gush out of that hole in the bottom of the ocean... Gloom is increasing with each failed attempt to stop the flow from below. The damage from what has already leaked will be extensive, and worse is expected. It could take weeks, or perhaps months to get a lid on this thing. We have been soiling the Gulf for years, ruining what was one of the most biologically productive and diverse regions on the planet. This leak could downgrade, 'simplify' the ecosystem throughout the Gulf and west Atlantic seaboard. Extinction is forever. Evolution is slow.

Yet human population continues to expand on borrowed life support... Squeezing every last bit of whatever we can get our hands on, turning it into more human bodies to feed... Now we're cutting into the root, the foundation of support for humans in the future. We are destroying the capacity of the ecosystems of the Earth to sustain human beings.

We need to get a lid on it.

We need to produce fewer human beings.

'Growth' could continue - per capita - as we have fewer and fewer people... until population levels stabilized with what the planet can actually support over the long haul... until we reached a sustainable balance. 'Growth' could continue - growth of knowledge, growth of compassion and caring, growth in our connection with the Earth, growth in self-respect as a species. We could actually grow up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Waiting for a Wake Up Call

Environmentally aware people are hoping that the toxic spill of oil from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico will have some positive impact... that this time, for sure, people will suddenly wake up and change their oily habits. Hmmm. Consider the recent earthquake in Haiti. For days it was all the mass commercial media could talk about... already a distant fading memory. I predict that this oil calamity will be long forgotten, as soon as the rupture can be staunched. A few soapy birds... Then the show will go on with other stories - for a while longer... The show must go on. The masses believe it will.

Every effort will be made by those who can pay or wrangle their way, to maintain the creature comforts of civilization for as long as possible... irregardless of spills or cost. Systems will be patched and propped and ingenuity will be applied... but despite all the efforts and prayers of the 'civilized', increasingly insurmountable problems with declining resources (such as Peak Oil) and toxic effluents (such as Catastrophic Climate Changes and Mass Extinction) will ensue.

The notion that we are highly organized, and can act with mutual intelligence seems to me to be vastly overblown. Essentially, for all the political hoopla and adoration of VIP's -- we are essentially living in global anarchy. A massive mess of individuals going about their lives, doing the best they can given their circumstances. Circumstances which they did not create and do not control. The combined past and present actions of all of humanity's individuals, disorganized and frequently in ignorance... is the creator, the controller.

Politicians follow the masses -- winning elections by telling people what they want to hear. They say the show will go on. They speak from the distance, way up high. People bow low, cooing in dreamy comfort. Everything is safe, the people are told reassuringly.
They should smile and be happy. Everything is under control. Hmmm. Really?

Occasionally leaders who see the world without delusion arise and pioneer in new directions. But to tell the truth they must swim against the flow of lies... leaders, to break new ground, must take the risk of saying things people are not comfortable with... since people generally prefer the familiar, and fear the unknown. Leaders break taboos, and face ostracism. Politicians are not, and cannot be leaders. Leaders guide us away from the familiar, politicians promise more and more of it.

We can't count on politicians to save humanity. We need many individuals waking up to their roles as leaders, breaking new ground -- making those wake up calls. Maybe our anarchy can be shaped a bit more intelligently and shoved hard enough to survive.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cells of Society

The basic biological building block is the cell. Each of us is made of billions of cells working together. Most of those cells must be healthy for the entire organism to be healthy and function normally.

The basic building block of a species is the individual, be it one cell in single celled species or the billions of cells in beings of the multi-cellular variety, such as ourselves. Individuals are the building blocks of families and larger groupings, such as nations. The complete population of individual human beings makes up our species.

Like all species, our species is a flow of individuals: each one of us a momentary pocket of life which dies. We have varying degrees of communication and understanding and organization among the individuals which make up the population of our species, forming a society. Make no mistake -- even the largest corporations are not monolithic entities, they are composed of and operated by individuals.

Just as most of the cells of our bodies must be healthy for our entire organism to be healthy... most of the individuals in our species/society must be healthy and operate freely for the population to be healthy and function normally. Individuals must have a healthy balanced exchange with their environment -- which enables a species to live.

Since our species is composed of individuals, it is up to individuals to solve and fix the problems our species is facing. When a species, a society, has a high percentage of dysfunctional individuals, living under circumstances which are beyond their control, the health of the entire species suffers. When these problems cannot be solved by individuals, working alone or together, because they are powerless and dysfunctional, they will not be solved, and unhealthy consequence will ensue. The consequence could be the death of our species, our extinction.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In the Oil's Path

A personal perspective: At the moment I'm camping in the oil's path, at the southern tip of Florida. I'm almost used to the approach of hurricanes, going through varying degrees of anxiety according to how close I happen to be to the center of the projected path, watching the raw speed and power of the winds and the torrents... considering my options. When you're camping, you tend to have heightened awareness of such things.

This event has those elements... with a darker feeling.

As I watch the red slick approaching my sense of dread and horror is increasing. Reports are now indicating the oil will arrive at Key West in four days and hit the mainland south of Miami within a week. The potential impact on the Everglades is overwhelming. Mangrove swamps, coral reefs and underwater fields of sea grass with myriad life forms could experience devastating impacts that will linger for decades. Or perhaps forever. Extinction is forever.

This catastrophe will diminish us, and make the path ahead more difficult.

Watching the world die isn't pleasant. I want to do more. Many want to do more. As our anguish deepens so must our resolve -- to stop destructive ways. Stop deep water drilling - obviously the technical ability to handle deep high-pressure spills does not exist.

We must decide whether it is more important to survive or have toxic comforts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Urban Powerlessness

The frustration of knowing that your own way of life is destructively wrong but seeing no way to correct the defects seems to be a spreading condition. Many know they 'should' be reducing their consumption, producing their own food and energy -- but have no significant means of doing these things. We are urban... much of humanity lives in circumstances about which the typical person has little, if any, control. We cannot decide, for example, to retrofit the insulation in our rented walls or collect rain water from rented roofs -- or put windmills on them. Few of us have any say about the methods millions, including themselves, must use if they wish to transport themselves. Or how the residents of their city obtain food and water. It's rude to discuss the energy/pollution rates of your neighbors, worse to suggest limiting it. We are all victimized by actions beyond our control. Our lifestyle options are limited by our circumstances. Going green is difficult, sometimes illegal, often impossible, for many in urban settings.

An oft heard phrase is "you can't change other people"... quite often spoken as sage advice when the discussion turns to big problems such as peak fossil fuels, climate change, extinction. This phrase chides for impertinence, for you have touched a sensitive taboo: our helplessness, our powerlessness, the root of our anxious frustration. You are expected to do penance for being such a downer, and put on a happy face.

We're told that the only one we can ever hope to change is ourselves. But... can we even hope to change our own acknowledged destructive unsustainable lifestyle when we're locked in by circumstances beyond our control?

Many would move to a country farm, if they could. Many would have enough land for a self-sufficient homestead and grow their own food, make electricity with solar panels, collect the rain... if they could. It happens to cost money to do these things... money that many simply do not have. Even if they have cash for a down payment, how many also have a portable income stream or can find a good paying job in a rural area? Leaving their job would leave them broke.

This also begs the obvious question: Are there enough farms just waiting out there for all the new urban transplants who would buy and live on them? The answer is also obvious: a resounding no.

We are stuck in our cities, and will face whatever consequences that entails. Perhaps simply suffering the pain of collapse, powerless and frustrated. Anger can amplify our problems. Perhaps this unbearable dilemma will be broken by more fundamental changes in how we rule ourselves, in how ownership of our circumstances is distributed. We must be empowered to change.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preparing for the Storm

The necessities which enable human life will be in ever shorter supply while human population increases and planetary resources decline. What should humanity do? The moral and existential aspects - particularly if most of the global population simply goes on with business as usual as long as possible - may be riveting, but for the moment we'll focus on the practical. Perhaps instead of 'should' the question might be rephrased: What can humanity do? What can we do for our fellow human beings who are already being severely affected by resource declines and all the masses who will follow them down that path? Politically (and physically) it may prove impossible to offer aid. But we can take general approaches that will reduce the intensity and scope of suffering.
  • Reduce population
  • Reduce consumption
  • Increase sustainable production from renewable systems

In many cultures the notion of forced birth control is anathema. These people may be more willing to accept a voluntary approach... which can realistically only be a success if the media helps convince people to have fewer children. A movement with the goal of making it socially unacceptable to have more than one healthy child would help if enough dedicated people got on board... This will not solve our overshoot problems, but it can soften the blow to some extent, down the road a piece... since it takes a full average human lifetime for changes in birth rates to have a significant impact on the overall number of humans alive on Earth. If the human species can survive through the period of an average human lifetime, the efforts we make now will be purposeful. We can also expect increasing death rates from increasing resource scarcities.

Consumption and Production

Consumption and production are two sides of the same coin. We need high quality products which last. We need tools and appliances which are manufactured, maintained and repaired locally. We need clothing that doesn't wear out quickly for the hard manual field work we'll be doing to grow food.

Consumers can alter the marketplace. We the consumers need another mass movement - with the goal of convincing we the consumers to refuse to buy junk. A Reject the Junk movement.

The Junk includes the whole array of toxic substances: pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers, various industrial processes and their byproducts...

We need to turn to local and regional organically based life support systems and reduce long distance trading. Straw bale, rammed earth, thatch. We need architecture that keeps people comfortable without non-renewable energy inputs through the intelligent use of sunshine, thermal mass and insulation. Local -at least regional- fabrics and fibers. Local shoes. Local art and entertainment. Local organic food. Local water systems that operate on local power, such as a wooden bucket and hand crank. By collecting rain water in a cistern, energy inputs -the work required to get the water to point of use- can be drastically reduced, instead of getting it up from a 600 foot deep well with an electric pump powered by a coal mine.

We need organic mulches to reduce the volume of water required to grow food -- and to feed and rebuild soil. We need composting toilets and/or anaerobic digestion to recycle phosphorus and other nutrients back to the soil... instead of flushing them into the oceans beyond our grasp. We should simply eliminate sewers, aka: 'waste water' systems. Even small scale anaerobic digesters can produce useful quantities of methane for cooking and illumination. Solar hot water, local electrical generation... and reduced use. Electric bicycles can help us through the transition... hopefully future generations will have stronger legs, if they find it impossible to make electric bicycles or any bicycles at all... well, maybe they'll be able to... walk.

Assuming we manage to avoid causing our own extinction.

We might as well try.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Midnight Gusher

Snapshot of the moment: Oil. Bleeding from the deep. From the dark. Rupturing confidence. Manifesting our deepest woes.

The end of our one-way dead end is visible. But humanity isn't mustering the collective will to break that self imposed one-way law of endless growth, and make a u-turn. Many still don't even see a problem. Or refuse to admit it. Or are afraid of the conformity cops. Or afraid of being called a "Debbie Downer", a nay-sayer, a gad-fly, a psychic energy vampire. Blind faith expressed as bold optimism is required (by polite society) to mutually uphold the delusion that the next 50 years will resemble the last 50 years.

The information, the evidence, the facts - are readily available: severe ecological break down is occurring due to human activities. Life on Earth is dying. Extinction of species is happening 1000 times faster than during normal healthy periods. This is a mass extinction. On the same scale as the extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs -- then probably caused by the impact of an object from outer space. But this time, we are causing this death. We are killing the systems of life on this Earth. Everyone of us is made of life. Reminder: human beings are not immune to extinction.

A few other catastrophic conditions: Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Gas, Peak Phosphorus, Peak Soil, Peak Water, Peak Population...

Is there any hope? Can enough species survive to enable the survival of the human species? Perhaps there's still enough time to make a u-turn. Collectively we made the choices that built this road. The end of this road is death. Collectively we signed on to that endless growth law, put up the one-way sign on this lousy dead end... it's high time to change our ways - become desperado outlaws against growth, against obscene consumption... break the law - make a u-turn.

Either we will make chosen sacrifices of our creature comforts of civilization or we will have deep loss seep up from the darkness beyond our control. Maybe we can avoid the cliff; find a softer way off these peaks... a gentler way down the mountain. A stopper for the gusher from hell.

We must get our feet on solid level ground. Not float between the dizzying heights of peak maximum unsustainable consumption and the dreary depths that energize it. We must find rational level ground and live sustainably within the garden of Life. Or we will die.