Epistemic Arrangements for the Apocalypse
Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act.
- Kenneth Rexroth
When the domestic affairs of the nation are governed by rubes who frame their policies based on the dictates of corporate greed instead of the needs of the people, the result is a civic realm where cynicism and resentment prevail. When the economic policies of the country are framed according to the discredited ideology of neoliberalism and the bogus idea that a free market driven by continuous growth trumps the resource limitations of a finite planet, essential environmental regulation wanes and an ecological crisis ensues. When the processes of governance are framed in the delusory realm of demagoguery and conspiracy theories instead of on fact-based evidence, the rule of law is abandoned, enabling reactionaries with fascist intentions to seize power. When the principles of democracy based on equality under the law are usurped and the focus on the issues framed for elucidation exclude the interests of the parties affected by the outcome, the result is grave injustice and sets the stage for civil war. Such is the picture of American politics today framed by the Trump republicans with an abundance of complicity on the part of the Democratic Party.
As I write the world is being ruined so fast because of climate change that we're going to need a lot of heroic, creative acts in order to save the planet, ourselves, and the other species that inhabit it with us. Forget about saving what's left of human civilization as we know it. Predatory extractive capitalism, the murderous system Lewis Mumford called the "Megamachine," is the problem and it has to be dismantled. There's no other option. As Max Wilbert states the case in Bright Green Lies, the landmark book he co-authored with Derrick Jensen, and Lierre Keith, "Industrial civilization is incompatible with life on the planet. That makes the solution to our systemic planetary murder obvious, but let's say it anyway: Stop industrial civilization. Stop our way of life, which is based on extraction. No, that doesn't mean killing all humans. That means changing our lifestyle dramatically."
António Guterres, Secretary-general of the U.N., released a statement on August 9, 2021 about the International Panel On Climate Change Working Group 1 Report, calling it "a code red for humanity." The alarm bells are deafening and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk," he said in part. "This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy the planet."
Guterres is right. Modern industrial civilization is breaking down faster than climate scientists predicted. The dominant society, its engines revved up by an acquisitive culture of conspicuous consumption, is now sputtering toward Armageddon on toxic fumes. What we have is a crisis unlike any mankind has ever faced and the prognosis is grim. But as Union navy officer David Farragut said during the Civil War in the face of mines known as torpedoes, lying in the waters ahead, "Damn the torpedoes!" Mankind is now at an all-hands-on-deck moment as industrial civilization teeters on the verge of collapse.
"The Ruling Class are murdering you," says Roger Waters on his recent YouTube video Challenging Authority. "They are destroying the Earth and everything that lives on it to make a few quid. THIS NOT A DRILL. IT'S HAPPENING AND IT'S HAPPENING NOW! In my view, we human beings all have a responsibility to stand up in solidarity with one another against authority that is errant, wherever and however and whatever it
is . . . Fuck them, enough! They've had their time. A new day dawns and we will not be swaddled in their grime."
Kenneth Rexroth pointed out in The Alternative Society, one of the most important books of the 60's youth revolt, that the attention of the counter culture had shifted to what Rexroth believed had become the most important issue in human history. Extinction. "Extinct has become an active verb with a reflexive--s'extincter," he wrote. "The dominant society is extincting itself along with everything else it can extinct and especially us." Rexroth wrote those words over fifty years ago, and since then the pace of deterioration has accelerated to the point where we stand at an abyss, still unable to halt the murderous assault of unbridled neoliberal consumerism.
During the so called "Golden Age of Capitalism," the period after World War Two through the 1960's, the liberal consensus prevailed, the idea established by the New Deal that government should actively support and regulate the economic and social affairs of the country, thereby eliminating class divisions and poverty. By the 1970's the dream was shattered by the upheavals of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. With Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, a bizarre brand of Bozo-conservatism triumphed, lasting all the way into the present anti-democracy era of no consensus. Missing from the game plan throughout all the social cataclysms has been the all important missing link, the ecological consensus, that necessary component that keeps the system in balance with Nature's protocols instead of the dictates of Goldman Sachs. The result is the rise of Neoliberalism, the predatory economic racket that's enabled a select few to amass obscene wealth at everybody else's expense, an immoral social arrangement that begs the question, what's the use of all that money if there's lead in the drinking water, lakes and rivers have turned into cesspools, a fog of carcinogenic air hovers over the towns and cities, global temperatures have risen to the highest point in the past hundred and twenty-five thousand years, weather has become more violent than ever before, the state of California is engulfed in fires, two hundred million Americans live under heat advisories in summer, and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is twice what it was thirty years ago?
When the ecological consensus that harmonizes interactions with the natural environment is absent, as the historical record shows, civilized societies collapse in devastating ruin. The vision of civilized society that Rexroth and other poets, including Gary Snyder, Richard Brautigan and Michael McClure, envisioned in the late 60's when they lit the spark of ecological awareness, is even more important now. The poets aren't the only visionaries; Martin Luther King, Jr. also raised the banner in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny," King wrote, embracing a system of values based on an ecological paradigm of interlocking responsibilities that includes the entire community of beings inhabiting the planet, not just people. "The Bodhisattva's vow is 'I will not enter Nirvana until all sentient creatures have been saved,'" Rexroth wrote. "If the alternative society becomes a society of ecological Bodhisattvas we will have reached the final confrontation--mutual aid and respect for life, full awareness of one's place in the community of creatures--these are the foundations for an alternative society. Here are the objectives, the self-discipline, the understanding which can create a purposeful challenge to the murderous dominant society."
There is still a long way to go and there's a lot to be learned about how
to go about turning off the ignition of the engine that runs the capitalist industrial regime before it's too late. It may already be too late, but we have to try. And that will require education, but not the kind our children are going into to debt to acquire. "Mutual affection, respect, interest, loyalty, and simple physical touch--agape," Rexroth wrote, "the love of comrades in a spiritual adventure. This is what the educational relationship should be. If it isn't, it isn't education."
More likely, it's insanity if people are learning to do "the same stupid
things over and over again, expecting different results." As renowned environmentalist and Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard points out in the documentary 180 South, "You can't just keep trying to make a flawed system work . . . the solution for a lot of world's problems is to turn around 180 degrees and take a forward step." Chouinard is also the author of the classic Let My People Go Surfing in which he states, ". . . most of the damage we cause to the planet is the result of our own ignorance."
A case in point is the erroneous idea, refuted by all reputable climate scientists that people can adapt to any conditions. Ignorance takes many forms and this example is right up there with the delusions of the climate deniers now running the Republican Party. Kim Stanley Robinson sets the record straight in the August 21/22 Financial Times Weekend Edition: "Human beings can't live in conditions above the heat-index number called wet-bulb 35C, a measure of air temperature plus humidity. We didn't evolve for such conditions, and when they occur we quickly overheat and die of hyperthermia. And in July this year, wet-bulb 35Cs were briefly reached in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates."
Albert Einstein famously said "A student is not a container you have to fill, but a torch you have to light up . . . Education is not the learning
of facts, but the training of the mind to think." Much of what passes
for education in America today is of the fill-up-the-container variety designed to prepare students for jobs in a predatory capitalist society geared toward endless consumption, which is clearly not the path to salvation from a world on fire. Think about it. The neoliberal system in place based on a fossil-fuel dependent, free-market ideology rather than
a political economy that governs for the common good has brought the world to the brink of catastrophe. Educating people to adapt to this discredited paradigm is no spiritual adventure and it definitely isn't education; in light of the findings of the recent IPCC report, it's a
process tantamount to murder.
Don't take any more wooden nickels.
Your life depends on it !
As I was about to pick up the thread of this narrative, a great caption for a Karl Stevens cartoon in The New Yorker magazine caught my attention. The scene is a birthday party with the Birthday Boy about to make a wish and blow out the candles on his cake and the girl sitting next to him says, "Don't overthink it---any wish that's not about reversing climate change is pretty pointless anyhow." It's one of those great moments in cartooning that says it all about the topic in focus, along the same lines as Thoreau's famous quote "What's the use of a house if you don't have a healthy planet to put it on?"
America's complicity in the problem is huge, amounting to an ecological footprint currently consuming the natural resources of two planet earths. The failure of our leaders to take decisive action on the consumption patterns affecting climate change is perceived by many environmental activists as a betrayal, a sentiment that's shared worldwide. The recent United Nation's Climate Summit, known as COP 26, for example, was condemned by activist Greta Thunberg as "a two-week long celebration
of business as usual and blahblahblah . . . The facts do not lie and we know our emperors are naked." In his speech at the conference, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said, "To the young people marching in
our streets and cities around the world, we hear you," but the majority
of activists contend that policy makers are really not listening and have failed to agree on transformative measures to keep global warming in check.
Democracy Now reports that the COP 26 conference, "called 'the last best hope' for the climate, is falling far short of what's needed to avert irreversible catastrophe. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report, released just before this year's COP warns that, with the current pace of pledged emission cuts by the world's nations, we are on track to see a 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average global temperatures, far above the 1.5 degree C (2.7 deg F) target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement." In the final analysis, the summit was a failure and ended with a document called the "Glasgow Climate Pact" that Asad Rehman of the COP Coalition said on Democracy Now, should be called the 'Glasgow suicide pact' for the poorest in the world. It does not keep us below the 1.5 degree [Celsius, or 2.7 degree Fahrenheit] guard rail. In fact, it heads us closer to 3 degrees [C, or 5.4 degrees F] . . . They're ramming through so many loopholes that it makes a mockery of these climate negotiations."
The implications of the failure to meet the targets are ominous, especially in the case of the big global players who set the example for others, namely China and the United States, nations that "must elevate
the threat of climate change above their geopolitical rivalry," writes Tom Dispatch columnist Michael T. Klare. "In the end, it's not complicated. If the planet's two 'great' powers refuse to cooperate in a meaningful way in tackling the climate threat, we're done for."
The Nov. 15, 2021 New Yorker continued to lead the way on reporting on the climate change front with an update by Elizabeth Kolbert and great cover art by Eric Drooker. "The sad fact is that, when it comes to climate change," writes Elizabeth Kolbert, "there's no making up for lost time. Every month that carbon emissions remain at current levels--they're running at about forty billion tons a year--adds to the eventual misery. Had the U.S. started to lead by example three decades ago, the situation today would be very different. It's still not too late to try--indeed, it's imperative to try--but to quote Boris Johnson, 'humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change.'"
The magazine's cover picture by Eric Drooker is especially apropos in light of the publication of the aforementioned Bright Green Lies, a timely book that debunks the delusional belief held by many environmentalists that alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and other strategies are adequate replacements for fossil fuel generated energy. "This disturbing, but very important book, makes clear that we must dig deeper than normal solutions that are offered," writes Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard on the book jacket. A case in point is the realization that Wind farms are more harmful to the environment than previously acknowledged.
"The numbers on wind energy don't add up," according to the authors of Bright Green Lies. "To put it bluntly, two Harvard University researchers, David Keith and Lee Miller, used data from over 57,000 wind turbines and found that the estimates used as a foundation by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change, and green energy proponents like Mark Jacobson, do not match reality." Eric Drooker's picture on The New Yorker cover, The Impossible Dream, depicts Don Quixote tilting at an installation of giant wind turbines, as
if in fruitless pursuit of "shiny fantasies of a clean, green future built on numbers that aren't real," to borrow a phrase from Bright Green Lies. And in addition to the fact that wind farms and other alternative sources can't match the power capabilities of fossil fuels, and with China and the U.S. now the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases locked in competition for global economic domination, the timeline for decisive action has elapsed.
In a recent email, Professor Highbrow, my friend and correspondent on these matters wrote from his farm near Acadia National Park in Maine:
"I went down to Acadia at the crack of dawn and was amazed once again
at the incredible beauty of the mountains and sea." The professor's expression of his love for the natural world mankind is so heedlessly destroying served as a stark reminder of what really makes life worth while. But if the current trends continue unabated, we will lose more than the beauty. If we persist in our consumptive madness our fate will be the same as the 60 precent of the wild creatures that our profligate ways have annihilated in the past 50 years, passing into what poet/farmer Lierre Keith calls "the long silence of extinction."
There's a phrase frequently uttered in addiction recovery circles, almost like a mantra, "do the next right thing," but in all the confusion as industrial civilization collapses, it can be hard to know what the next right thing actually is. Thanks to Bright Green Lies, when I was out on one of my regular morning walks in the woods and watched a flock of brown ducks swimming up the creek, I knew immediately what the answer is; do whatever is necessary to ensure their survival, no matter how much it cramps your entitled lifestyle as an American consumer.
Bright Green Lies challenges all the "normal" proposals of the so called environmentalists and debunks the arguments of those who insist that
green technologies such as solar, wind and hydropower will not only
save the earth, but will sustain industrial consumer society indefinitely. As the authors make clear in this monumental book, the techno fixes proposed by the mainstream environmentalists "are lies that allow us to maintain a sustainable way of living while pretending that we are not killing the planet. . . These technologies will not save the earth. They
will only hasten its demise." The solution to mankind's dilemma, the
book insists, is to change our values. "When we change our values, previously insoluble problems become soluble," the authors conclude. "Instead of asking how we can meet insatiable industrial energy demands and still live on a planet at least minimally capable of supporting life, the question must be: How can we help the earth to be stronger and healthier while still meeting human needs (needs, not conveniences, not luxuries, not addictions, and further, human needs, not the needs of industry and commerce)."
The recognition that industrial capitalist civilization is unsustainable
and the transformation in values that hopefully ensues sets the stage
for the "real solutions" offered in the book, which admittedly will not
be easily accepted by the rulers of the disastrous neoliberal global economy that's destroying life on earth, as well as the armies of the mindless mesmerized by their "Green New Deal" propaganda. In fact, most people will find this approach to be abhorrent, so clashes are inevitable. But it's imperative that we understand that in order to save
the planet, we must dismantle the extractive industrial civilization that's destroying it. "We don't need technology that breaks the world while it continues to break us from the world," Bright Green Lies emphasizes.
"We need to let our planet repair while we repair our place within it. It really is that simple . . . Again, the most important, and simplest, solution to the destruction of the planet is to stop the destruction of the planet."
It's also important to emphasize that climate change is only part of the problem. "Remember that it's possible to have a carbon-neutral civilization and still destroy the planet," the authors state. "Remember this as if your life depends on it, because it does. Global warming plays a role in only a small percentage of the two hundred species driven extinct every day. Salmon were nearly exterminated before climate change became significant. So were bison. So were old-growth forests and ancient grasslands and so many rivers. Fossil fuel is an accelerant, but it's not the reason. The catastrophe is civilization itself." As the book makes clear, the focus of the solution is now on the wrong variable; we should be concentrating on saving the planet, not the industrial civilization that's destroying it. Rather than entertain the quixotic schemes hyped by the New Green Deal propagandists, the authors list a series of alternatives which they explore in convincing detail. No need to repeat them here. Read the book and watch Julia Barnes' award-winning film based on the book. The key point to remember made repeatedly in both sources is that when evaluating the impact of the various green technologies on the environment, "Follow the supply chains. It's not hard to do."
Given the myriad problems facing us--the massive(unpunished)
financial corruption documented by Matt Taibbi and others; the insanity of political and social media disinformation; the powerlessness of world governments to agree on strategies to stem global warming; the travesty of neoliberalism and corresponding corruption of democratic ideals and principles; the rise of fascist demagogues like Trump; the depressing apathy and malaise of civic affairs with more than 100 million Americans who don't even bother to vote,-- it's hard for people to establish common ground and organize a movement of resistance against the forces of annihilation. Umair Haque, writing on Medium, got it right in his analysis of neoliberalism, pointing out that "The problem is that while many Americans are emerging social democrats, nobody, really, represents them. The GOP obviously doesn't--it represents corrupt elites and the poor deluded fool who thinks he wants to rewind to 1862, more or less. But neither do the Democrats. They are still focused on the same old half-baked, ill-thought-out 'comprimises' of neoliberalism. For Democrats, markets still trump public goods, social investment and national institutions every time." Indeed, the two-party political system has degenerated into a rabble of gangsters and conspiracy theorists at a watershed moment in world history when fact-based communication and the "rule of law" were never more crucial for the survival, not only of democracy, but of the planet and all the species who inhabit it.
Original collage by Eduardo Benzine