Monday, September 29, 2014

It's Cool to be a Nihilist ~ Glenn Beck

I saw this fabulous clip at an intriguing collaborative blog --Synthetic_Zero, which bears Nietzsche's remonstrance at the top "Light for some time to come will have to be called darkness".  I'm not quite sure what meaning is intended with the dead lion on the floor of Glenn Beck's studio - there must be some, right? - but anyway, I have to be grateful to him for putting everything else together.  Click here to listen to the NPR story he laments.

Five Stages of Awareness? (or is it Six?) ~ a Guest Post by Tim Murray

Tim Murray has graciously allowed me to post his recent correspondence.  If you think this is as brilliant as I do, you might want to later check out the marvelously irascible Dave Cohen's tour de force series, Adventures in Flatland Part I and Part II  ...(III is yet to be published).  They make for excellent companion reading to Tim's article here - and between them, I can hang up my hat when it comes to the immutability of human nature, the futility of activism, and the absurdity of life in general.

Untitled, Oil on Canvas ~ Judith Fouser
Wit's End Collection

Five Stages of Awareness?
(or is it Six?)
   ~ Tim Murray

I don't know if I have met anyone who is not, at some level, in a state of denial, including the guy I see in the mirror. Call it an essential human 'coping mechanism'

Reflecting on my own "evolution" (without any implication that I am 'improving' or 'progressing' forward), I am now of the impression that many of us follow these stages, or get stuck in one of them.

Stage one
: Ignorance. We don't know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse, taking a lot of non-human species down with it.

Stage two: Knowledge: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc.

Stage three: Activism: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse...etc. But we don't know enough to realize that we can't stop it, so we invest our time in blogging, preaching, demonstrating, rallying, and marching.

Stage four. Resignation and Commiseration: We know enough to realize that this civilization is headed toward an imminent collapse etc., and finally realize that activism (blogging, preachin', demonstrating, rallying, and marching will not make a significant difference. We either call it a day and drop out, or we write endlessly about how we're "f***ked, and spend years "trading turds" (as Kurt Dahl termed it) on list serves--- until we get mad or frustrated and demand to be taken off the list.

Stage five. Displacement Behaviour or a Sense of Moral Obligation: Despite knowing that we are "f**ked, we persist with our activism, blogging, preachin' , rallying, and marching because:

 (a) we need to "do something" (displacement behaviour) to distract ourselves from any focus on our hopeless predicament. Like Richard Attenborough's example of a bird who suddenly realizes that he is in striking distance of deadly snake and that neither fight or flight will save him, so instead he preens his feathers.


(b) we would feel morally remiss if we didn't try to do "something". At least re-arrange the deck chairs or leave our cabin room tidy. Case in point.  I saw a young woman in the middle of a frigid alpine lake (Moraine Lake in the Rockies) cry for help after her canoe capsized. The lake was like an echo chamber. We could hear her screams and words as if she was ten feet away. But she was in fact 500 feet away. We knew that even if we could immediately grab a boat, we couldn't get there in time. But a couple of us tried to do it anyway because we felt we had to do "something". It wasn't even a case of wilful optimism. It was an attempt to deal with our anxiety and horror. Of course, as we expected, this poor, unfortunate woman disappeared long before anyone got to her.

 Imagine, though, if someone on the shoreline, someone like Chris Clugston, using math and physics, quickly proved  what we at least subconsciously knew to be the case--- that it would be impossible to save her? Suppose he handed us a sheet of paper that presented his iron-clad data.  That truth-teller would be greeted with anger or outright denial. "If you really belief it's hopeless, why are you bothering to write about it?" or "If people believe your message, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy..... We don't need Cassandras, we need motivators, morale-boosters not truth-tellers...."

Jack Alpert has experienced this reaction. People see his video on "How much De-growth do we need", but they simply dismiss his assessment of our scale of overshoot, even though they can't challenge his math. Why? They want to believe, they need to believe, that the planet can carry many more people than he estimates because they think that they can't "sell" their population reduction diet program if it calls for that amount of sacrifice. Better to cling to Eco-Footprinting Analysis. Better to focus on bio-capacity and ignore diminishing non-renewable resource stocks. Better to shop the WWF's Living Planet report because it says we only need another 4 planets to carry on BAU, not get down to Alpert's population level of 50 million.  The message, after all, must be "marketable". And like so many salesmen, they---to use Stephen Law's words---come to "believe their own bullshit." Bottom line, Cassandras are either dismissed or reviled, even if their conclusions are evidence-based.

 That, my friends, is the position that people like Chris Clugston are in. People don't want to hear the raw, brutal and complete truth.  They want hope. They can only take a limited, even if heavy dose of reality. That's why readers and publishers want manuscripts and books to end on a note of hope, however absurd. They want a happy Hollywood ending, even if it runs counter to all the evidence and arguments that lead up it.  A non sequitur. A conclusion that doesn't follow from the premises. Just like the way McKibben, Suzuki, et al argue. Like bible-punching preachers, they tell us that we're going to hell, that things are very, very bad, but wait....there's hope yet! The window is quickly closing but it's not too late! There is still time to repent! So keep your love money rollin' in , because my NGO (church) needs to pay the bills and pay its staff--I need you fund my crusade."

 Curiously, one notices that 20 years ago, many of these preachers said that the window would soon close way back then, the same way Oral Roberts used to do---in Suzuki's case, before the decade was out (the 90's are the "Turn-around Decade"). But apparently the apocalypse got another stay of execution because they are still talking about a closing window. The goal posts keep getting pushed further back. Ah yes, hope. "We must give them hope...."

BTW I went through all of these stages, and it took me damn near three decades to do so. I am currently stuck at Stage 5, but "hopefully", I will eventually  revert to Stage 4, chill out, and try to enjoy the downslope, maybe play another hand of poker before the ship goes down, or join the orchestra at the stern....Nah, I think I will just keep on fightin' and writin' (uselessly). It's in my nature. As William of Orange put it: "It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
But hey wait...maybe there is yet another Stage. As Chris Clugston asks, 

“Can there be Stage 6 - something like "Acceptance" (like reaching Nirvana?!) - which would be different than Stage 4? Where you realize, "hey, no hard feelings; nothing personal; nothing to get hung about..." Just go and enjoy Strawberry Fields Forever - for however long that turns out to be... But I mean really LET GO, and not keep reverting to either stage 5 or 4? “

OK Chris, so here it is:

Stage 6:  Acceptance and just LETTING GO.

Tim Murray
September 26, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let Them Eat Pizza

I would have gone to the People's Climate March in Manhattan, even though, as a permitted Sunday parade, I didn't expect it to amount to anything more than tilting at windmills (ha!) - but I had already missed all of first daughter's competitions this season, and her last show for the year, in Saugerties, NY was scheduled for the same day.  I had a lovely weekend with her and was very glad I went, especially as she took two firsts. 
Thus, I was happy having learned there was to be another protest on Monday that I could join, #FloodWallStreet, especially because the plan was for mass civil disobedience and arrests.  I met up with a Wit's End reader, Lucas, who had come all the way from Hawaii and was willing to serve as jail support for me.
However, the march from Battery Park to the Stock Exchange was deflected, and the big banner buckled backwards around the barricaded Bull while we watched, incredulous, as the organizers negotiated with police.  Apparently the Mayor informed them that there would be no arrests, and we could have the street space AROUND the Bull, but were blocked from approaching Wall Street.  Astonishingly, the organizers informed the crowd that they had made a decision to stay obediently in place, and...declare victory!  Whatever happened to consensus?  There was no discussion, no mic check, we were just informed that rather than exercising our rights, we were to behave just like the Sunday Paraders and, as one commenter phrased it, whimper in a fucking free speech zone.
At one point they encouraged us to sit and thump our chests like our beating hearts, I'm not sure why.

Reactions to the capitulation ranged from indifference to mild surprise to utter fury.  Luckily I had come across a friend from the Age of Limits Conference, Cameron Kelly, who also had traveled a great distance at non-trivial expense to take part in the mass civil disobedience.  She was decidedly in the latter category.  We pointed out to the organizers that the action was presented as mass CD - and the response was that if we still wanted to get arrested, we were free to dive over the barricades flanking the Bull.  However, if my goal was to be arrested for a single personal criminal act, I would rather choose my own symbolic icon...and it wouldn't be about capitalism.  When I pointed out that the action was titled #Flood WALL STREET, and we were stymied at Broadway and Morris, I was informed by several indignant organizers that we actually were *on Wall Street*  - since the financial district and Wall Street are synonymous.  So they conveniently redefined the very meaning of the words "Wall Street"...uhhhh, but what about this MAP they handed out to the marchers (that Camus so rightly wishes to chew up into mush)?   Do you see the arrow for the 12 PM ACTION pointing directly to the NYSE on the actual WALL STREET??

Apparently to mollify the disgruntled, we were informed that 100 free pizzas were being delivered, and that we would sing and dance.  Finally one courageous fellow named Sparks who, having come all the way from Fridley, Minnesota was not about to slink meekly away, bellowed "MIC CHECK" and urged the boisterous but confused assembly to move along to Wall Street.  Here he is with the famous firecracker Cameron, having finally made it to the intersection.
Even after we arrived though, other than a short tussle over the barricades leading to one incident of pepper spray, the pizza party continued in place for hours unmolested, presided over by glowering phalanxes of billyclub-wielding and mounted police.   Not wanting to wait hours more for the order to disperse and having long trips home, Cameron and Lucas and I left around sunset.  It wasn't until after darkness had fallen that finally about 100 people were "allowed" to relinquish their freedom, and were cuffed and bussed to jail.   The Sans Culottes must be rolling in their graves at this pathetic excuse for a revolution.  I don't suppose we'll ever know why the protest turned into a cheesy picnic - whether the organizers were outsmarted by the Mayor, lost their nerve, or are completely intoxicated with ego gratification from media attention - "...oh, we're on the front page of HuffPo right now!" one told me, by way of explaining that no further action on our part was necessary.  Actually, some of the slick promotional material makes the project smell suspiciously of funding, which makes me wonder if the Sunday and Monday events, despite their ostensible differences, aren't both just mirrors of each other's deliberate ineffectiveness, like the two political parties in the USA.

The climate activist insiders were in short-lived heaven following the huge turnout for the PCM in New York and other cities around the world.  (Short-lived because nobody has the vaguest idea what to do next and the UN meeting is being widely denounced as a useless corporate festival.) Privately they are rejoicing what they see as the triumph of the climate movement over the environmental movement, something they been trying to eclipse for years. To put the rosiest perspective on this, you might say that they have shunned any association with holistic ecology simply because they believe that being tainted by tree-huggers is detrimental to progress - since hippies have a bad reputation for extremism and dirty toes.
To look at it in a slightly more cynical way, you might conclude that the motivation stems from two pernicious influences...first, that climate change in theory lends itself to continued growth via a technological fix (if you ignore the fact that it's too late to avoid catastrophe, which virtually all activists and scientists do), which leads to the second motivation, a corollary to the first...there is oodles of money from corporate foundations, governments, book sales and speaking engagements for research and political activism in climate "solutions", as long as none of them include reducing population and consumption.
This strategy has always struck me as an epic failure, since climate change is only one symptom of a more general, lethal overshoot.  The single-minded focus on carbon emissions over other issues, such as pollution, habitat destruction, and overextraction of everything from lumber to fish to minerals simply enables more of the same destruction to proceed even as it pretends to challenge the status quo, Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges notwithstanding.  In fact their supposedly more radical critique of capitalism is a red herring, and an insidious deflection of the true dimensions of the tragedy of the commons that has ensnared humans into ecocide.  Underlying their exhortations to change or even dismantle the economic system is the false belief that "green energy" will ensure free pizza forever.  While chants like "We are Unstoppable, Another World is Possible" and "Put up Your Fist, Resist, Resist" are rousing good fun, really, as Candide would say, we ALREADY are in the best of all possible in, it ain't gonna get any better than this...and there is no obvious way to resist OURSELVES.  Here's all you need to see of Naomi Klein and her own special brand of bullshit.  (Well, hey, it sells books, apparently.)  [update:   OMG this is too funny.  This video has been taken down - in it, Klein is interviewed on HuffPo saying that so many people have reacted to her book by saying IT'S TOO LATE.  I guess that message was too scary so the record has been deleted.  TOO hilarious!]

Here's a screenshot from the video that has been removed, and here is a link to the clip still up.  This quote from John Gray's Straw Dogs sums up why the narrative she peddles is so wrong:  "The destruction of the natural world is not the result of global capitalism, industrialisation, “Western civilisation” or any flaw in human institutions. It is a consequence of the evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate. Throughout all of history and prehistory, human advance has coincided with ecological devastation."

It seems like this cohort of so-called activists, whether prancing in costumes for Sunday's celebrity climatepalooza photo-ops or moaning ineffectually about capitalism on Monday, is persuaded that all we have to do is WANT things to be different (you know, close your eyes and say I DO believe in fairies!  I DO!  I DO!) which is really just an extension of everything that is wrong with the very consumerist society we are urged to reject.  Mention the word "sacrifice" and the entire spectrum frowns.  When I was on my way to the city I was thinking about how many in the doomer community (invariably white middle-class) appropriate the culture of indigenous peoples and claim affinity with their supposed peaceful, sustainable, harmonious and spiritual relationship with nature when actually, most if not all hunter-gatherers (other than those who were defeated by overshoot, natural disaster or neighboring tribes) were proud warriors who trained boys from an early age to be fierce, and to defeat enemies.  The accumulation of ancient weapons, armor, fortifications, skeletal remains and artifacts testify to this universal human attribute.  Contemplating arrest with its very real potential for bodily injury is nerve-wracking, to say the least, and I took comfort from thinking about how tribal people prepared for conflict with an infinite variety of rituals to embolden them.  Too bad this willingness to confront harm isn't the inspiration taken by so many who claim to be "fighting" climate change by tapping on their computer keyboards or designing posters and t-shirts.  Hell, most of them can't even be inconvenienced, let alone put their safety in jeopardy (Tim DeChristopher being a shining exception).  I don't know if it is iphones or football or Cheetoes, but something has turned us into spineless wimps.
Following are some pictures of trees and leaves around Wit's End.
Remember the trees?
They are supposed to hit peak autumn color around the third week of October hereabouts.
Instead the leaves are falling off even earlier than they did last year, and those that remain look terrible.
The Virginia creeper lit by the setting sun into a bright scarlet from a distance actually looks dreadful close up.
The world is dying all around us, and most people still think there is time, if they think at all.

Let Them Eat Pizza!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hell in a Handbasket

Lately I wonder more and more whether it matters that evidence continues to mount demonstrating that trees are rapidly dying from absorbing air pollution - when the world is being consumed by floods and hurricanes and droughts.  But when I saw this video of fire in California, I decided it was time to revisit the subject.  All the high-tech special effects in Hollywood could not create a bleaker dystopic scene than the terrifying reality today in Weed, California.

To the extent that the background concentration of ozone in the atmosphere means we are losing crops to feed people, a critical CO2 sink, and face an increase in the frequency and ferocity of wildfires (which, aside from being horrific for trees, wildlife and people, represents another amplifying feedback to climate change - from soot darkening albedo on ice and snow far away, adding aerosol pollution to the atmosphere and making even MORE ozone)...yeah, it matters.  People should know.
Following are some recent stories that are relevant.  There are lots more, but these should suffice.  The macabre but beautiful "embalmed" flower pictures are courtesy David Lange in Oregon, where the air pollution is worse than government monitors reveal.
The leaves are from a nursery in western New Jersey, taken on September 2.  I stopped there because these trees are being watered and STILL, even after a very mild summer, every species has leaves that are damaged - and many of them were already on the ground.

 It would be absurd for fall color to have already begun emerging on the 2nd of September.
 Except it isn't really fall color anyway - it is burning, scorching, singeing and shriveling.

headline reads:  Ozone Pollution in India Kills Enough Crops to Feed 94 Million in Poverty

I left the following comment:

This is a very important study. Not enough people are aware of how damaging ozone is to annual crops, and in fact the problem is far worse even than depicted in this research for numerous reasons.
1. Damage is cumulative, so that ozone is causing longer-lived species such as trees and shrubs to die prematurely all over the world.
2. Ozone decreases the ability of vegetation to ward off biotic attacks, leading to epidemics of insects, disease and fungus on every species you can imagine, globally. This is a far more pernicious effect of ozone than the direct reduction in yield production referred to in the study.
3. Even before a reduction in growth or injury to foliage is observed, root systems suffer a depletion. This increases vulnerability to drought and windthrow.
4. The loss of wild plants is having ripple effects throughout the natural ecosystem, affecting insects, birds, and mammals.
5.  The loss of a major sink for CO2 is going to vastly accelerate global warming.
Yet another person is killed by a falling tree, this time a Chicago actress riding a bike.  Add her to the growing list of direct victims that no one is officially keeping track of.
Ozone levels are also higher than expected in the Colorado mountains...oh wait isn't that where climate change is making the trees die?

Researchers say they're surprised by how much harmful ozone and ozone-causing chemicals are drifting into the Colorado mountains from urban and rural areas below. 
Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and NASA say an intensive examination of pollution along the populated northern Front Range found ozone all the way up to the mountainous Continental Divide.
They say mountain ozone levels were similar to or greater than levels at lower elevations in some cases. 
Researchers gathered data from aircraft, balloons and ground stations from the Denver area to Fort Collins, about 60 miles away, from mid-July through last week. 
The scientists stressed they are in the early stages of reviewing the data and were hesitant to offer many specifics. They expect to start making data public by the end of the year.
The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization issued a joint report, "Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk".  Myriad articles about the release of the study had titles like this one:  "Trees Are Dying From No Obvious Cause".
Within the entire report, this was the sole mention of any influence of pollution:  Air and water pollution can stress trees, making them more vulnerable to other stresses such as droughts and wildfires.  The footnote for that leads to a study reported at the US government's Climate website, with the preposterous assertion that eastern forests are increasing their carbon uptake, based on this nonsense:  The shift toward earlier spring leaf out is due to warming in the U.S. East, and has been mirrored by a delay in when trees drop their leaves in autumn.

Here's a very typical tree on September 2:

I wrote the authors of the Forest at Risk report the following letter (no reply as yet):

Dear Mr. Funk, Mr. Markham, Mr. Saunders and Mr. Easley, 

There is no doubt that climate change will kill trees, as they cannot migrate fast enough.  However, that is not what is killing the trees around the world right now.  And there actually IS an obvious reason they are dying prematurely - it is from ordinary but invisible air pollution derived primarily from nitrous oxides and also methane, the precursors to ozone.  The background level of ozone is inexorably rising, and it is even more highly toxic to vegetation than humans.
In addition to shrinking roots, making plants more vulnerable to drought and wind, ozone causes a loss of natural immunity to biotic pathogens such as insects, disease and fungus, which have become epidemics globally, not only in the American west.  In fact bark beetles are killing trees in the southeast US, which has become cooler and wetter from climate change.  Every species of tree is now in decline from an onslaught of attacks because they are weakened from pollution.
Although this has been well-researched, it is rarely discussed because the only way to stop it is to stop burning fuel. The scientists who study bark beetle in the west and attribute tree decline to drought are confusing correlation with causation.  They should look around in other places not in drought, where the foliage is showing visible symptoms of exposure to pollution.  On the east coast, leaves are shriveling and turning brown instead of the glorious colors of fall.  Autumn has been increasingly disappointing for several years - 2014 will be an epic wipeout.
The loss of forests globally due to pollution should be of urgent concern to climate change scientists and activists, because without them absorbing CO2, global warming is going to accelerate far faster than current models predict.

Update:  I forgot to mention that scientists are puzzled as to why there was such a jump in the level of CO2 this past year.

"...preliminary data in the report indicates that the jump could also be attributed to “reduced CO2 uptake by the Earth’s biosphere” – the first time the effectiveness of the world’s great carbon sinks has been scientifically called into question.Scientists said they were puzzled and extremely concerned by prospect of reduced absorption of the world’s oceans and plants, which they cannot explain and which threatens to accelerate the build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere if the trend continues.
“That carbon dioxide concentrations continued to surge upwards last year is worrying news,” said Professor Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh.
“Of particular concern is the indication that carbon storage in the world’s forests and oceans may be faltering. So far these ‘carbon sinks’ have been locking away almost half of all the carbon dioxide we emit,” Professor Reay added.
“If they begin to fail in the face of further warming then our chances of avoiding dangerous climate change become very slim indeed.”
The plants and the oceans each typically absorb about a quarter of humanity’s CO2 emissions every year, with the other half going into the atmosphere, where it can remain for hundreds of years.
The last time there was a reduction in the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon was in 1998, a year in which extensive forest fires and dry weather killed off lots of plants, dealing a blow to the world’s carbon sink.
But Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of the atmospheric research division at the WMO, said this time it is much more worrying because there have been no obvious impacts on the biosphere this year.“This problem is very serious. It could be that the biosphere is already at its limit, or it may be close to reaching it. Or it may be that it just becomes less effective at absorbing carbon. But it’s still very concerning,” said Dr Tarasova.

Meanwhile, the article is illustrated with this photo, captioned Thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, 100km east of Beijing, China  - but...NO OBVIOUS IMPACTS

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