Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Solitary Picnic, Thinking of Richard Nixon

I read with astonishment that Nixon had been explicitly warned about the dangers of global warming from papers being released by the Library. And then this morning to my further chagrin I learned of a report from scientists to President Johnson in 1964, discussing the need to confront pollution and the existential threat of rising CO2, as recounted at Lou Grinzo's blog, The Cost of Energy. One section even recommended investigating geoengineering, sprinkling reflective particles in the oceans and seeding clouds, that is how seriously it was already viewed back then. So what has happened since?? As I commented at CP, it is just a testimonial to the ruthless efficacy of the massive, orchestrated, well-funded campaign to make everybody forget about the future, and buy more stuff.

So even though this blog is mostly about the "other" greenhouse gases, and the harm they inflict on trees and other vegetation, I have been thinking about that campaign, how extensive its tentacles are into our culture, and what it means for our response to Icarus, who left a question in his comment yesterday.
Yesterday was a bit hot but I had the day to myself so I decided to go up to the village to get a sandwich at the General Store, and have a picnic at a town park. It seemed like a good place to ponder the fate of our race.
As I was walking by the church I could smell the lilies before I saw them.
Just marvelous!

The park is a mix of cornfields, meadows, wetlands and woods over 170 acres with miles of trail.

There is a little creek running through it.
When my children were young I brought them here frequently to hike and picnic and even camp out in the summer. In the winter this hill was fantastic for sledding.
That was when the land had been first purchased from an old farmer by the town, and there weren't many paths cleared. Now there are stepping stones and a bridge, and lots of horse jumps, picnic tables and benches.
I had my sandwich under this big oak.
The crown is thin and the leaves are stippled.

That is one sign of ozone exposure. A general tree decline is also characterized by bare branches, lesions in bark, and discolored foliage that is unable to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll.
It was amazing to me that in the two hours I walked around I only saw three other people.
Now I want to intersperse with the pictures some excerpts from a searing article, "Zero Point of Systemic Collapse", which was linked to at the Survival Acres blog. Written by Christopher Hedges, who is a remarkable former war correspondent well versed in both violence and spirituality, the article is a polemic against corporate corruption (surely a redundancy) and a manifesto for action. A must read, in other words.
He left the NYTimes after being reprimanded for being one of the very few brave enough to criticize press coverage of the war in Iraq, and is the author of "War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning." On his wiki page he is quoted as saying:
"I have seen too much of violent death. I have tasted too much of my own fear. I have painful memories that lie buried and untouched most of the time. It is never easy when they surface."

Although I found sheer brilliance in the article for me it was a bit marred by self-contradiction, in the way that all climate realists do...wishing and hoping for sustainable solutions - to peak oil, the population explosion, pollution, global warming, and resource extraction - while simultaneously recognizing that, even if they existed, the likelihood that humans will embrace any is quite slim.
It's a very painful and unavoidable dichotomy to balance, and it is interesting for me as a rather average person to see how even profoundly deep and talented intellects like Christopher Hedges, Bill McKibbon, James Hansen, Joe Romm, Clive Hamilton, Paul Gilding, and others who are prominent authors wrestle with this inherent contradiction.
But leaving that aside I will reproduce the passages that resonated most with me.
"We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity."

"Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’├ętat in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost."
"The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter."

"The purpose, structure and goals of the corporate state are never seriously questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. And it has perverted the way we view ourselves, our nation and the natural world. The new paradigm of power, coupled with its bizarre ideology of limitless progress and impossible happiness, has turned whole nations, including the United States, into monsters."

"Power is in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls who are ruthlessly creating a system of neo-feudalism and killing the ecosystem that sustains the human species. And appealing to their better nature, or seeking to influence the internal levers of power, will no longer work."

"Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, a free press, parliamentary systems and constitutions while manipulating and corrupting internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens but are ruled by armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa or other state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion."

"Inverted totalitarianism wields total power without resorting to cruder forms of control such as gulags, concentration camps or mass terror. It harnesses science and technology for its dark ends. It enforces ideological uniformity by using mass communication systems to instill profligate consumption as an inner compulsion and to substitute our illusions of ourselves for reality. It does not forcibly suppress dissidents, as long as those dissidents remain ineffectual. And as it diverts us it dismantles manufacturing bases, devastates communities, unleashes waves of human misery and ships jobs to countries where fascists and communists know how to keep workers in line. It does all this while waving the flag and mouthing patriotic slogans."

"The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross."

"Once credit dries up for the average citizen, once massive joblessness creates a permanent and enraged underclass and the cheap manufactured goods that are the opiates of our commodity culture vanish, we will probably evolve into a system that more closely resembles classical totalitarianism. Cruder, more violent forms of repression will have to be employed as the softer mechanisms of control favored by inverted totalitarianism break down."

"The free market’s assumption that nature and human beings are objects whose worth is determined by the market allows each to be exploited for profit until exhaustion or collapse. A society that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves until they die. This is what we are undergoing."

"The increasingly overt uses of force by the elites to maintain control should not end acts of resistance. Acts of resistance are moral acts. They begin because people of conscience understand the moral imperative to challenge systems of abuse and despotism. They should be carried out not because they are effective but because they are right."
"We must continue to resist, but do so now with the discomforting realization that significant change will probably never occur in our lifetime. This makes resistance harder. It shifts resistance from the tangible and the immediate to the amorphous and the indeterminate. But to give up acts of resistance is spiritual and intellectual death. It is to surrender to the dehumanizing ideology of totalitarian capitalism. Acts of resistance keep alive another narrative, sustain our integrity and empower others, who we may never meet, to stand up and carry the flame we pass to them."
"The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion. We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the cruelty outside our door. Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance."
"This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible."

Whew! Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite!

The oak tree at the center of this trio is really massive.
But like all the others its crown is thin and branches are bare.
The town has been planting young trees.
They shouldn't bother - it's a waste of taxpayer money. These leaves will be on the ground by the end of the summer.
These oak leaves are from another young tree.
Even the poison ivy is a wild combination of yellow and red.
The beautiful ferns that thrive in cool shady places will not be able to survive the kind of heat and drought coming our way.
Today it was announced there is an ozone alert because of the high temperatures, which are to persist all week.
I believe these are cherry leaves, very badly damaged.
They have some funny growths as well.

The cornfield is really immense. Yet the number of birds I saw I could count on my fingers.
I didn't see a single rabbit, and very few insects - one dragonfly that was zig-zagging too fast to photograph, and one mosquito. On such a hot afternoon I would expect gnats and flies - not one!

This view of trees in front of the corn has three specimens that are noteworthy. The smallest, on the left, is a recently planted maple, and far to the right can be seen a standing dead. There are many of them in the park now.
The maples leaves indicate this young tree will not make it.
And the center tree, an apple, is decayed.

This wild berry bush in a hedgerow is completely shriveled.
the berries have some unpalatable fungus growing on them, making them look thorny or fuzzy.
It concerns me because these plant products, and insects, are the sort of thing birds need to eat.
The wild blackberries are a fraction of the size they should be.
Normally they have many more nodules to each berry, and they are plump and big.
I saw many branches and they all had the same stunted fruit.
And there were many examples of distorted, misshapen growth.
Here is another sort of berry with severely mottled leaves.
Aside from being indicative of a dying plant, its obvious whatever nutritional value they have as food for animals is compromised.

I was so happy to find a patch of meadow with plentiful milkweed.
Several kinds of butterflies were feasting.
At the website you get two blogs for clicking one, a husband and wife team - "A Finite Resource" and the "Reluctant Activist" - respectively, both of whom have up very interesting posts at the moment.
Tom's fears about a future marred by hunger and violence mirror my own, while Kerry's latest talks about overcoming the paralysis of fear through the "Awakening the Dreamer" program, and how to become empowered and energized.
I like the blogs because they are written, as Kerry phrased it, by "ordinary people in extraordinary times." Among the many excellent blogs written by prominent academics and scientific experts that can be found, it is refreshing to read about how regular folk are managing to deal with the terrible knowledge of climate change and resource depletion.
After all, our fate is going to ultimately lie with us ordinary people and whether we pull together in the face of the worst adversity imaginable, or tear each other apart.
The old farmhouse on the park has been renovated and now serves as town offices.
It will lose the shade from these big old trees. Here one has stains from bleeding bark, a mystery affliction that could be from not going properly dormant and/or bacterial infection.
Many of the branches overhanging the structure are already bare.
Someone planted a new tree but already leaves are turning red.
I spent many happy hours at the park and it grieves me to see such devastation and to know it is a trend that shows no sign of abating.

By the time I had finished the walk I was quite thirsty and stopped at this seasonal roadside stand for some water.
It was a pleasure to see such well-maintained ornamentals (even though the trees to the rear are in poor condition.)
It's is vital to concentrate on the things we still have that are precious and lovely.
Icarus asked me about the Olduvai Theory and I wound up being distracted by the archaeological treasures in the valley for which it is named, I'm afraid! I looked it up on wiki, and I think it's plausible to an extent - but by leaving out the upheaval of climate change it is incomplete and therefore non-predictive. Also I do not see why we will have massive brownouts of electricity in the US by 2012, there is plenty of coal (unfortunately!). And I am betting the healthcare system will crash before 2015, because the economy is going to really tank. We ain't seen nothing yet.
Of all the many impacts of global warming, from sea level rise and acidification, to seismic activity, I think one of the soonest and most devastating is going to be related to violent weather, and heat rising faster than anyone expects. That will be followed by crop failure and famine. I say that because already many regions are experiencing floods of biblical proportions, with insanely huge amounts of rain...absolutely unprecedented. In terms of how climate change will affect the quality of life, this devastation will continue, spread, and increase - and help will be less and less available as relief agencies are overwhelmed and insurance companies cannot keep up with claims. It becomes a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and will be random, although of course with fewer resources the poor will suffer first and most.

Somebody once compared our plight to that of bacteria in a closed jar with some food. Inevitably they grow and grow until they've eaten all the food and then they die. I would like to think that people are smarter than bacteria, but it remains to be seen. In the meantime the Jon Stewart show has an amusing impression of how people avoid worrying about the things that genuinely and seriously threaten our safety and security - they invent phony enemies! Like those who encounter the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall, most Americans obligingly evade other potentially disturbing conclusions by wrapping their heads in towels. Then again, it might help to remember,
"...if you face certain, unavoidable death at the claws of a Bugblatter Beast [use] the same method for 'What to do if you find yourself trapped beneath a large boulder with no means of escape' ...Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn't been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won't be troubling you much longer."


  1. What a beautiful presentation you did! Excellent job.

    Hedges essay hit me quite profoundly. I think he's wrestling with the profundity of our inaction.

    I think we all are. We are both witnesses to our self-destruction and its willing participants.

    What needs to be done to stop this lethargy is nearly incomprehensible, actions so violent and so extreme that undermine and threaten every single aspect of our way of life, that we avoid this by every means humanely possible.

    Obviously, it is not in our nature to become what we abhor, and thus we will all die, having comitted ourselves to the perceived path of a "lesser evil".

    ~Survival Acres~

  2. AhHa! Coming from the Maestro of Doom, a high compliment indeed! Thank you!


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