Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Exercise in Futility

Now, you no longer need to wade through the analyses of COP21, whether critical or congratulatory, - as we all try to forget the obscene excesses of the misguided activists.

In one brief cathartic series of his signature limericks, Benjamin the Donkey has the most astute commentary imaginable.  Dramatized in poignant settings with inimitable disarming sincerity and humor, enjoy his latest foray into the world of youtube, and hope for many more.


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:

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