Friday, December 4, 2015

Extinction Goes Glam

Following is the transcript for the 18th Dispatch from the Endocene, which will air on Extinction Radio.  

Thanks so much for producing Extinction Radio, Gene  - and welcome listeners, to the 18th Dispatch from the Endocene.

In conjunction with the Paris Climate talks, the Discovery Channel has broadcast a film called Racing Extinction.  It is no doubt a well-intentioned effort, and a cinematic dazzle - but for all  that, it unwittingly embodies the very human blindness that imminently condemns our species - and most others - to the dustbin of evolution.

According to a review in The Verge, the director conceived of the movie as an “eco-thriller”, believing that “…imagery is the ultimate motivator to incite change”.  That sort of hubris and infatuation with technology is also expressed by one of the participants in the documentary, a NASCAR driver, who is described evidently without irony as an environmental activist in Rolling Stone.

According to the magazine, she “…races a tricked out Tesla through city streets, projecting huge images of endangered species onto buildings…” and is quoted as saying:  “The most important part of my journey is that I can drive a racecar. The car is the only thing that gives me the ability to talk to 75 million race fans. If I was just a biology grad…trying to get people to give up meat, put solar on their roof and buy an electric car, they'd never hear me.”

There doesn’t seem to be any excuse too ludicrous when it comes to justifying the use of modern wizardry.

Of course, this attempt to educate people about the crisis in biodiversity and the Sixth Mass Extinction is laudable, since most people remain oblivious - in fact most people, even the director of this film, are unaware that humans first embarked upon the Sixth Mass Extinction at least 15,000 years ago.  And bravo for the emphasis on hunting and habitat in a world obsessed with the political debate over climate change from CO2.  But there is a fatal flaw that renders just about all of their efforts ineffectual.  What underlies the apparently altruistic desire to stop the destruction of nature is a simultaneous belief that this can be accomplished while maintaining the most privileged of lifestyles.  And I really mean the absolutely MOST privileged of all time.

You can’t find a more stark example of this than last year’s campaign by Conservation International, in which Hollywood celebrities narrated a series of videos collectively titled, “Nature is Speaking.”  I’m going to read excerpts from the post about it on my blog, Wit’s End.

The claim of human exceptionalism is familiar - the notion that our species is special, the crown of creation, subject to different rules and even unique evolutionary influences, than other more lowly animals - or plants for that matter.  This idiotic conceit underlies everything from fanatic veganism (if only we didn't eat meat we could save the world and feed 10 billion people!) to techno-worship (we can have infinite growth on a finite planet!).
But there is deeper variant of human exceptionalism that presents a final irrevocable obstacle to any prospect (long since obsolete anyway) that we might mend our ways.

We EACH think our own individual selves are exceptional, even within the already exceptional human race.  Which of course is why it is so perennially droll when Garrison Keillor introduces his Lake Wobegon radio show with "...all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average".
Or think about the environmental icon who inspired Earth First!, Edward Abbey, who loved the wilderness so much he was against immigration, calling for "...a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people", but had five children himself - and loved the desert so much he liked nothing better than to tear around off road in his pickup truck.
This brings us to the absurdly ignorant, painfully ironic campaign to save nature AND humanity, concocted by the group known as Conservation International which debuted at the beginning of the week.  An executive vice president and senior scientist at CI describes the project as an attempt to "rebrand" environmentalism to be less about preserving wildlife and more about preserving humans, by emphasizing that people are dependent upon nature.  Like the World Wildlife Fund, also founded by royalty and other elites, the leadership is so steeped in privilege that they have no clue at all what a bitter taste emanates from their efforts.

Julia Roberts as Mother Nature sternly warns us naughty children that she doesn’t need us - oh no, we need her - and she is going to take away our toys if we don’t take better care of the gifts she has given us.  That's alright as far as it goes but then she declares:  “One way or the other, your actions will determine your fate, not mine. I am Nature. I will go on. I am prepared to evolve. Are you?”

This is ignorant on at least two levels.  First, humans cannot willfully evolve.  Evolution has no purpose, and it doesn't happen because we decide we want it to, and certainly not in any timescale that could matter.  Conflating natural selection with a wish that humans had a different brain wired for more altruistic behavior should not have made it through an organization that employs scientists.  Second, it isn't at all clear that Nature will go on, once we are no longer capable of trashing her, if we have unleashed amplifying feedbacks that will lead to a runaway greenhouse Venus effect.

But to the more interesting question (at least, as long as humans are alive and capable of curiosity) which goes to the heart of the problem of consciousness, it seems fair, even requisite, to inquire - how are Julia and the other movie stars in these videos doing at reducing their impact on Planet Earth?  Well, let's see…Julia has three children and at least four houses - Hawaii, New Mexico, Malibu and New York, which she shuttles between via private jet.

Hey though, she makes up for it, as described in TreeHugger:

"The pretty woman will be helping biodiesel producer Earth Biofuels promote a program to encourage the use of biodiesel in more than 500,000 diesel school buses nationwide. A recent addition to the Earth Biofuels board of directors, Ms. Roberts will serve as a spokesperson for the eco-fuel. ''It's very important that we expand our use of clean energy and make a long-term commitment to it. Biodiesel and ethanol are better for the environment and for the air we breathe,'' Roberts said in an announcement about her new role. She will be joining current Earth Biofuels celeb board members Willie Nelson and Morgan Freeman.

The idea that biofuels are better for the environment is so discredited it is astonishing to see it being promoted, but keep in mind that this series was screened on Virgin Air, and Richard Branson’s $25m reward for carbon capture is still unclaimed.  Airplanes won’t run on solar or wind.  To see how deep the corruption is, take a look at the webpage for Virginearth/The Prize where you will find him jointly holding a globe with Al Gore, their faces beaming with tender reverence.

Speaking as the Ocean in another of the series, Harrison Ford recites:  "It’s not their planet, anyway.  Never was. Never will be. But humans, they take more than their share. They poison me and then expect me to feed them. Well, it doesn’t work that way."

"I’m only going to say this once, 'If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive. Simple as that. I mean, I could give a damn. With or without humans, I’m The Ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again.'"

Let’s just check how Harrison is doing in terms of responsible stewardship, by reading his own words in an interview

1.  There's nothing better than seeing a herd of elk right outside the window of my house in Wyoming.   My land gives me an opportunity to be close to nature, and I find spiritual solace in nature, contemplating our species in the context of the natural world.

2.  All of my planes are great to fly, and that's why I've got so many of them.  I have a Citation Sovereign, a long-range jet; a Grand Caravan, a turboprop aircraft capable of operating on unimproved strips; and a De Havilland, a bush plane. I have a 1929 Waco Taperwing open-top biplane; a 1942 PT-22 open-top monoplane trainer; an Aviat Husky, a two-seat fabric-covered bush plane; and a Bell 407 helicopter. I also have more than my fair share of motorbikes - eight or nine. I have four or five BMWs, a couple of Harleys, a couple of Hondas and a Triumph; plus I have sports touring bikes.

3.  I'm a big fan of Prince Charles.  I met him because I worked on a little film project for The Prince's Trust last year, and he's a charming man, very nice and a very smart guy. We may be working together on an environmental project this year for Conservation International. I'm on the board, and we're very happy because Prince Charles asked to join us. A few weeks ago we voted to place him on our board of directors. We'll probably do something together soon connected with the protection of the environment.

Kevin Spacey is the voice of the rainforest.  I can't find much about him although I will say, staying on the 37-meter superyacht The Tango while in Sydney for performances of Richard III might have been less than ecologically prudent.

Edward Norton, who is honest as dirt and humble too in the “Soil” segment, inherited millions from his grandfather, inventor of the modern American mall (thanks, Grandpop!).  In addition to the houses around the world he was left, he has since acquired more of his own - a pad in NY, a few houses in Malibu and a mansion in the Hollywood Hills.  He has a Mercedes and a couple of Range Rovers - but they don’t count because he also, being a passionate environmentalist, has a hydrogen-fueled BMW.

Penélope Cruz, who represents “Water” travels by private jet between her houses in LA, Madrid and NY - and various vacations spots like the Bahamas.  She takes helicopters for shorter jaunts.

Perhaps avid skier Robert Redford's claim to environmentalism is the most egregiously, outrageously hypocritical of all when he speaks to us as “The Redwood”.   Men's Journal recounts the adorable story about how he fell in love with Utah and single-handedly turned it into the luxury resort, Sundance, which is somehow presented as modest because it doesn't serve the numbers of Vail.

“…His master plan for the resort – which he insists is named for the way sunlight dances off the peaks and not his mustachioed character in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' – tops out at 106 artist studios and homes, none marring the open areas above the tree line. The ski resort is small – four lifts, 450 skiable acres, and a top elevation of 8,200 feet – and that suits him just fine.”

Redford considers Sundance home.  “…a great, great part of it is still untouched, still pure. I came because I like being around hardworking agricultural people. I like the contrast of moving from an urban, edgy place like New York to this place with people working the land for generations."

"Utah is not the only landscape that has a hold on Redford - he's building a house in Napa and owns another in Santa Fe".  

Take a look at a picture of nighttime Sundance on my blog - it’s as bright as a Christmas tree, and the forest on the mountain is slashed with trails.

The Sundance Airport website - which claims “The skies are meant for flying” - says they have 190 T-hangars for everything from single-engine aircraft through small corporate jets, in addition to a main terminal.  Redford also chose the name out of respect for the Native American Sun Dance, while the Institute is ostensibly “committed to the balance of art, nature and community.”  Does he really think that nature is served by 50,000 people descending into the town for an annual film festival?

This is the hubris and blindness inherent in our unwise species of which I speak.  I would not characterize it as evil, or shameful - because it is immutable and endemic.

Elizabeth Kolbert - author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History - sums it up.  In one clip from Racing Extinction linked at the Rolling Stone article, she says in a voice of weary resignation, “We have these prehistoric brains, and we have this god-like technology…and when you bring them together, the result is not necessarily a happy one”.

Prehistoric brains…god-like technology…not necessarily happy results.

Perhaps that is the understatement of all time.

Thanks for listening.

Elizabeth Kolbert at 2:14 in:


  1. This may well be your best effort to date, Gail! Concise and on-point, highlighting the confluence of hubris and hypocrisy, a most lethal cocktail. Alas, as you note, it is what it is, we are what we are, TINA and there is no way out! However, for the pathologically sharp-eyed, there's still plenty of money to be milked from this cow. Oh what tangled web we've wove. Regardless, The Piper is warming up, The Fat Lady is loosening her vocal chords and the orchestra will continue until it can't. The pace of thrills, chills and uneven vibrations will continually, inexorably accelerate through the remaining years of The Endocene, which will diminish apace. Appropriately timed, too, being that this is the time of year for peak hypocrisy!!

    1. Thanks Colin! I'm only sorry I wasn't able to add the latest examples...

      "The project was initiated to raise awareness about climate change" - Check out these photos, they're so cool...and it will surely make all the difference that they photographed models in front of storms they chased from state to state!

      This one is priceless:

      "Simply getting the icebergs to Paris was an immense task. For days, workers around the Greenland ice sheet had to approach the icebergs via boat, choosing pieces of ice that had already broken off of the ice sheet naturally. Once the pieces were selected, they were lifted out of the water using a special frame that was submerged under each iceberg. Then, the pieces of ice were placed in a cold storage container — similar to what fish products are shipped in, Mink said — and sent first to Denmark via ship, then finally to Paris via train. Altogether, the process took a couple of months." ...and how much CO2??

    2. "Priceless," indeed and in spades! Thanks, Gail. I am amused by the TP(?) staff's mangling of Minik Rosing's first name in your quoted bit. However, most amusing was the closing sentence, "[The purpose] is not to instigate fear and gloom and doom, but rather to make people optimistic and happy,” he said. “I think that is very important in Paris these days." Yes, people MUST become "optimistic and happy," else the fuck-wits may not be able to continue fleecing them. Priceless and oh so precious. I had also meant to mention earlier that I had watched "Racing Extinction" and was utterly appalled by the ignorance and complete lack of humility displayed by the "journalists" (can't bring myself to type "scientists") responsible for making that mockery. The repugnance generated by the mutilation of manta rays by the Bali people paled in comparison. McPherson's paraphrasing of Al Bartlett's famous phrase is most apt, "The greatest failing of humans is their inability to understand, period!" There will be no forgiving of those who know not what they do.

  2. Well done and thanks for shining a light on our dark denial.

    1. Polish up that denial essay RobM, so I can post it! :)

  3. Great job, once again Gail! Good to see you still around and kickin' (ass) colinc! i'm running out of words - becoming speechless, as it's all been said so many times before, and yet we continue . . . until we can't, indeed.


    1. I was thinking in the middle of the night...what if we're all wrong, and civilization limps along for another hundred or two hundred years in horrible decline, and there's no collapse? We (or at least, I) would have wasted all this time worrying and warning. Who knows when the WAIS is going to crack off, or when the methane clathrates will explode, or when the last trees and phytoplankton expire? Meh. Then I think about the absolutely insane record breaking temperatures we are having right now and all the birds and insects that are just...gone... and I don't see how this centre can hold - It has been swell knowing all you doomsters, one way or another!

    2. Thanks, Tom, and back at ya'. I always check your posts here, and elsewhere, even when they are from seemingly suspect sources. My apology for not acknowledging your similar comment on that other blog a few days (weeks?) ago.

      Gail, yes, the "middle of the night" seems the most prone to circumspection. Alas, from the evidence I've seen, from the mathematics and physics I know, and my well-honed capacity of reason, your doubts are unfounded. Much that I, and many others, wish they truly had some merit, they do not. The WAIS will fracture in an unprecedented way within the next decade, raising sea-levels (in a general sense and at profound locations) by 1-2 meters, at least. Think Miami, DC, NYC, Beijing, Mumbai, Venice, London etc. Of course, some other locations MAY see a slight decrease in MSL. Will that be the wake-up call for the masses? Will it be something else occurring sooner? Will the masses EVER wake-up and recognize the foolishness to which we've all been party, to one degree or another? Only observation and one's reaction to it remains. Nature does NOT "bat last," Nature never leaves home plate and ALWAYS swings for the fences, regardless of what mere mortals believe. (FUCK ME, I HATE baseball and ALL analogies to it. Evidence of the cultural programming to which we have been subjected for far too long.)

  4. Hollywood, the entertainment industry and celebrities reside in the territory of hyper make believe, hyper fiction, hyper mythology, hyper narcissism and hyper pretense. It is not surprising that they have little capacity for seeing their own hypocrisy. Wealth and privilege create myopia, a sense of entitlement and a sense that one no longer needs to answer to others or to oneself. All of this opens the door to hypocrisy.
    Hollywood along with the consumer advertising that supports much of its output has shaped our society into a mostly somnolent, passive, unaware and conforming blob. All of us have been steeped in this culture for some period of time. Most succumb to it for a lifetime, however a few of us manage to claw our way out and begin to see truth. The unmasking process requires an open mind, critical thinking, research and time. The goal is not only to see the truth, but to move away from one's own hypocrisy toward a life where belief and action are aligned. Thank you for your superb analysis and for reminding me of the importance of applying this in my own life. Well done!

    1. I appreciate the compliment but it is sort of depressing that I have apparently failed in imparting the entire point of this post!

      Hollywood celebrities are merely players writ large, they are just gargantuan reflections of the lowliest among us. NOBODY escapes the hypocricy because it's impossible to escape the deep conviction that humans are unique and priviliged.

      Anybody using a laptop is desecrating nature, and they make their excuses for it just like the individuals mentioned, no more or less ludicrous. I'm not judging the most carbon gluttinous because they are simply extreme examples of identical behavior - like someone who lives in a place so cold they have to burn stuff to keep warm. It's the same egoistic excuses made by permaculturists who use plastic and imported tools, and the activists at Occupy who chain-smoked, supporting the world's most evil corporations and violating everyone else's air while protesting corporate hegemony - because they were special, and stressed, and on the vanguard.

      Here's the latest example, Roy Scranton, who authored the thoughtful essay "Learning to Die in the Anthropocene" and now seems to feel that his writing is so special that it requires him to take a cruise ship into the Arctic. "Generally speaking, the hope was that the experience would make passengers more conscious of the very history of the despoliation it reprised, and that the positive increase in social awareness thus achieved would outweigh any negative impacts—not the least of which came from burning 10 to 20 tons of fuel each day." No, the increase in awareness DOESN'T outweigh the negative impacts, but we all, all of us, pretend they do, because our egos are us.

      Here's a brilliant essay that was published too late for me to include:

      “When people want to believe what they want to believe,” David Sullivan, a professional cult infiltrator, told the Commonwealth Club of California, a public affairs forum, in July 2010, “they are very hard to dissuade.” And the reason it happens (and often happens to the most intelligent people) is that human nature is wired toward creating meaning out of meaninglessness.

      “There’s a deep desire for faith, there’s a deep desire to feel there’s someone up there who really cares about what’s going on,” Mr. Sullivan said. “There’s a desire to have a coherent worldview: There’s a rhyme and reason for everything we do, and all the terrible things that happen to people — people die, children get leukemia — there’s some reason for it. And here’s this guru who says, ‘I know exactly the reason.’ ”

      Meaninglessness is, well, meaningless. It’s dispiriting, depressing and discouraging. Nobody wants reality to resemble a Kafka novel.

      Before humans learned how to make tools, how to farm or how to write, they were telling stories with a deeper purpose. The man who caught the beast wasn’t just strong. The spirit of the hunt was smiling. The rivers were plentiful because the river king was benevolent. In society after society, religious belief, in one form or another, has arisen spontaneously. Anything that cannot immediately be explained must be explained all the same, and the explanation often lies in something bigger than oneself....

      That is the true power of belief. It gives us hope. If we are skeptical, miserly with our trust, unwilling to accept the possibilities of the world, we despair. To live a good life we must, almost by definition, be open to belief. And that is why the confidence game is both the oldest there is and the last one that will still be standing when all other professions have faded away."

    2. I also meant to mention that I had read the "Born to Be Conned" article when you'd posted it earlier on DoTE. First, I found it "amusing" that the article was written by someone named KONnikova! I know, it's somewhat juvenile, but I still had to chuckle. However, I was puzzled by how much Maria got right versus how much she got wrong. It's true that "...honesty has precious little to do with it." The ONLY potential defense against a conman is to be MORE knowledgeable about the subject of the con and MORE aware of ALL the circumstances in which you're involved. Of course, that is nearly impossible for ALL possible cons, just look at the shenanigans of "investment banks" and "hedge funds," not to mention politicians and "spin-doctors." Nonetheless, knowledge and awareness are the best bet in perceiving liars and cheats. In fact, Maria also indicates this when she wrote "What matters instead is greed of a different sort: a deep need to believe in a version of the world where everything really is for the best — at least when it comes to us." Put more simply, this is known as naivete and, perhaps, gullibility. This is a lesson that I "learned" too late. My parents had always "taught" me, late 50s thru late 60s, to "trust" people, be kind and generous and they will return that. There have been shit-few of my acquaintances, I can no longer say any were truly "friends," from which I've ever seen anything remotely close to reciprocation of my efforts and intents. Moreover, what few reciprocations I did experience actually turned out to be yet another con. Again, Maria is spot on when she wrote "It’s not about honesty or greed; we are all suckers for belief." You'll note my emphasis (bold text) as a "frequent" theme of mine, i.e. belief is the domain of fools and suckers (i.e. dimwits) and it is the purpose of belief to maintain a patsy population on which manipulators can exploit for personal profit. ANY and ALL dogmatic systems of belief, whether it's a "recognized" religion or Buddhism or Scientology or even vast swaths of "science" is only a tool to keep the intellectually-challenged in a condition ripe for exploitation and allow psychopaths and sociopaths to remain at the apex of power and wealth. Well, I'm sure I've rambled too long, once again, and will leave it to other readers to "decode" the rest of "Born to Be Conned." Final remark, both Machiavelli and Shakespeare should be vilified rather than idolized, much of their writing has been nothing but a scourge to the development of the human species and anyone who believes differently hasn't really "thought" about it and is most likely a moron.


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