How civilisation terrorises the Earth

How civilisation terrorises the Earth

Mark Boyle is a permaculturalist, an activist and a writer (amongst many other things). One of his most notable achievements was living for 3 years without money (ie he personally had no cash, savings or bank cards), the result of which was a book ‘The Moneyless Man’.

 

So what led Mark to do this radical act? After his business degree, he moved from Ireland to the UK and worked with an organic food company. During this time he came to realise that “money creates a kind of disconnection between us and our actions”, which in turn led him into his experiment in living without money.

Once the press got hold of his story, there were many who criticised him for the fact that although he personally had no money, people were giving him stuff that initially had to be bought and earned. Those people significantly miss the point about what Boyle was trying to achieve, which is less about not having money and more about understanding and being responsble for it’s connections.

Anyway, I digress slightly. I just wanted to give you a bit of background on him in case you didn’t know who he was…

Today, Mark posted the following on his Facebook page (he’s now returned to Ireland, and although not moneyless any more, he used royalties from book sales etc to set up a ‘freeconomy’ which includes a free pub!

Amidst our anger about the brutality and violence of ISIS, we seem to forget that to the millions of other species on Earth, Industrial Civilisation must feel like ISIS on steroids.

I don’t say this to be dramatic or controversial, or to in any way make light of the horrors inflicted by ISIS (and the US, UK, French governments etc.), but simply to help us retain some perspective about the way of life we seem so eager to want to protect.

Some animals we cage so tightly they can barely move — billions never breathe fresh air or see natural daylight before they’re slaughtered. Our precious way of life drives tens of thousands of wild, free creatures into extinction every year. Through our ecologically-idiotic agricultural practices we make deserts and monocultures out of once fertile soils and diverse landscapes, killing the uncountable life-forms that once lived within them. We’ve bottom-trawled the oceans to the point where marine populations are outright collapsing, and ecological systems with it. To forests and rainforests, we are butchers who know no limit to our violence. From the perspective of the rest of the community of Life, ISIS are pussycats in comparison.

Somehow we cannot seem to see this. We never see our own violence and brutality, only that of other people, and only when it is done to things that lie within our parameters for moral consideration. Because our civilised world is so manicured, hiding the systemic hyper-violence it depends on behind closed doors, we think we live peaceful, nonviolent lives. But we don’t. We need to start being honest about this.

And he’s right. ‘We’ can’t seem to see what we are doing to the Earth and all her inhabitants, whether they be animals, trees or simply the land itself. This is the land that provides us with everything we should need, but not everything we greed.

Every day, we bring ourselves closer and closer to that tipping point (some say we are already there) from which it becomes impossible to rescue the situation for humans. The Earth will survive beyond humanity, but along the way, we create so much suffering.

[Image credit: Wikipedia]

Mark’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mark.boyle3?fref=ts

The Impossibility of Growth

The Impossibility of Growth

I don’t agree with everything that George Monbiot writes. Specifically, his views in nuclear power are at odds to mine, but this is possibly one of his finest pieces of writing – succinct and like a dart, it hits the target and points the blame.

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell – Edward Abbey.

In this article, Monbiot starts off with an example of exponential growth. Popularised by Prof. Albert Bartlett amongst many others, exponential growth is where small increases, year on year or period on period can suddenly add up – what appears to be small, insignificant growth, rapidly becomes all consuming. Often the ‘signs’ do not present themselves until far too late. In the article, Monbiot talks initially about growth in possessions, but I believe he is indirectly referring to population growth, as possession growth is directly linked.

George MHe also refers to a position I hold, which is that our current growth, lifestyle and population is only possible because of fossil fuels. Without the oil and the gas, we could not heat all our homes, get goods and food from across the world, sustain the agricultural revolution in terms of pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser (although there is much evidence that industrial agriculture is destroying soils).

Monbiot highlights how we, in the developed, powerful (ie guns and armies) countries continue to exploit others for their natural wealth. As traditional sources of fossil fuels etc become increasingly harder (either physically or politically) to get, we cast our net wider and encroach into the unspoilt, untouched and pristine places (of which there are precious few remaining).

As the earlier mentioned Prof. Albert Bartlett said, ‘Sustainable Growth’ is an oxymoron. We are consuming the life blood of our world. We are killing the very thing that keeps us alive. We have the ideology of the cancer cell and no amount of ‘techno fix’ will ultimately save us. Once again, history repeats itself and we fall into the progress trap – as we ‘solve’ one problem, we create another and so it goes on, until we have no resources left.

The inevitable outcome is surely not hard to comprehend. Even the most ardent capitalist must ultimately concede that without resources, our economies cannot grow. It’s clear, to me, where we are heading, but as Monbiot says, it’s a topic few want to discuss so we get distracted with spin, celebrity, fame, fortune and more. But face it we must…

You can also read it, fully referenced on his website, along with many other great articles: http://www.monbiot.com/


 

Why collapse and salvation are hard to distinguish from each other.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th May 2014

Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC? This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham.

Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more? It’s 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse.

To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.

Economic growth is an artefact of the use of fossil fuels. Before large amounts of coal were extracted, every upswing in industrial production would be met with a downswing in agricultural production, as the charcoal or horse power required by industry reduced the land available for growing food. Every prior industrial revolution collapsed, as growth could not be sustained. But coal broke this cycle and enabled – for a few hundred years – the phenomenom we now call sustained growth.

It was neither capitalism nor communism that made possible the progress and the pathologies (total war, the unprecedented concentration of global wealth, planetary destruction) of the modern age. It was coal, followed by oil and gas. The meta-trend, the mother narrative, is carbon-fuelled expansion. Our ideologies are mere subplots. Now, as the most accessible reserves have been exhausted, we must ransack the hidden corners of the planet to sustain our impossible proposition.

On Friday, a few days after scientists announced that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now inevitable, the Ecuadorean government decided that oil drilling would go ahead in the heart of the Yasuni national park. It had made an offer to other governments: if they gave it half the value of the oil in that part of the park, it would leave the stuff in the ground. You could see this as blackmail or you could see it as fair trade. Ecuador is poor, its oil deposits are rich: why, the government argued, should it leave them untouched without compensation when everyone else is drilling down to the inner circle of hell? It asked for $3.6bn and received $13m. The result is that Petroamazonas, a company with a colourful record of destruction and spills, will now enter one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, in which a hectare of rainforest is said to contain more species than exist in the entire continent of North America.

The UK oil company Soco is now hoping to penetrate Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo; one of the last strongholds of the mountain gorilla and the okapi, of chimpanzees and forest elephants. In Britain, where a possible 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil has just been identified in the south-east, the government fantasises about turning the leafy suburbs into a new Niger delta. To this end it’s changing the trespass laws to enable drilling without consent and offering lavish bribes to local people. These new reserves solve nothing. They do not end our hunger for resources; they exacerbate it.

The trajectory of compound growth shows that the scouring of the planet has only just begun. As the volume of the global economy expands, everywhere that contains something concentrated, unusual, precious will be sought out and exploited, its resources extracted and dispersed, the world’s diverse and differentiated marvels reduced to the same grey stubble.

Some people try to solve the impossible equation with the myth of dematerialisation: the claim that as processes become more efficient and gadgets are miniaturised, we use, in aggregate, fewer materials. There is no sign that this is happening. Iron ore production has risen 180% in ten years. The trade body Forest Industries tell us that “global paper consumption is at a record high level and it will continue to grow.” If, in the digital age, we won’t reduce even our consumption of paper, what hope is there for other commodities?

Look at the lives of the super-rich, who set the pace for global consumption. Are their yachts getting smaller? Their houses? Their artworks? Their purchase of rare woods, rare fish, rare stone? Those with the means buy ever bigger houses to store the growing stash of stuff they will not live long enough to use. By unremarked accretions, ever more of the surface of the planet is used to extract, manufacture and store things we don’t need. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that fantasies about the colonisation of space – which tell us we can export our problems instead of solving them – have resurfaced.

As the philosopher Michael Rowan points out, the inevitabilities of compound growth mean that if last year’s predicted global growth rate for 2014 (3.1%) is sustained, even if we were miraculously to reduce the consumption of raw materials by 90% we delay the inevitable by just 75 years. Efficiency solves nothing while growth continues.

The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.

Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it.

www.monbiot.com

Change?

wants-to-change

Our time here looks like it may be coming to an end. The greatest irony in the history of our planet may be the anthropogenic extinction of our species.

We have raped and pillaged Earth – the oceans have been fished to the point of emptying them, we have polluted the water, land and air; driven countless species to extinction and yet more to the precipice of extinction; we have changed the chemical balance of the atmosphere causing climate upheaval; our relentless pursuit of cheap energy has polluted and destroyed vast areas of the planet; our relentless pursuit for cheap protein has caused habitat destruction, species displacement and loss whilst raising billions of animals in vile conditions to meet a gruesome end to gratify our appetites; billions of us live in poverty whilst the mega rich get ever richer; the grain and soy we could feed to the hungry instead goes to animals raised for food; our population is increasing exponentially and pushing out others.

Our greed and stupidity seems to know no end, our arrogance and self importance propelling us to the point of no return.

Is there hope? I would like to say yes….I am a dreamer, a visionary, and I know there are others like me. We need change on a massive scale and now. I want a world where we live in peace and harmony with the natural world and the other species that share this beautyfull planet with us, where we are not mortgage slaves, where justice and equality abound, where there is no poverty or famine, where we do not drive other species from their homes or to extinction but live in balance with them, where we do not enslave any sentient being for our own ends, where war is a thing of the past and humanity lives in peaceful co operation with one another, where we do not take the food that could sustain us and feed it to animals as we want to eat their flesh, where we do nor squander Earth’s precious abundance but use them wisely, where all life on Earth is seen as sacred and given the respect it deserves.

Can we do this…only time will tell. We may only have decades left (if that) Earth cannot carry us as we are much longer… We cannot carry on this way. Let’s do something for the sake of our children and our children’s children, for the sake of all life on this planet. Let’s do it soon, let’s do it now!

Words by Andrew Jones

Beyond Industrial Civilisation

Industrial sunset at -12°C

I recently sent off for a copy of Earthlines magazine, mainly because there was an article by the artist Rima Staines, whose beautiful blog ‘The Hermitage‘ I follow. Earthlines is a beautiful magazine – “For the finest writing which explores our complex relationship with the natural world. Quarterly, full-colour, challenging, eclectic, multidisciplinary, feisty, gritty, and above all, thoroughly grounded.”

‘Manages to do beauty and practicality on one place. A rare combination and much needed.’ George Monbiot.

Anyway, that’s enough advertising for them! Going through the magazine, I came across an article ‘Beyond Industrial Civilisation’ by Guy McPherson.

Guy is a professor emeritus of natural resources and the environment at the University of Arizona, so clearly has a good handle on his specialist subject area.

In a conversation with a colleague about how he was feeling, he said:

Tucson imports its water more than three hundred miles across the desert, uphill. That water, like the food and fossil fuels requisite to keep Tucson habitable for the million or so humans who live there, is stolen from nonhuman species, the few remaining indigenous humans, and future humans. If any city in the world can and should be viewed as the apex of American Empire, it’s Tucson.

How bad is it? As emblems of civilization, cities extract clean air, clean water, and all other elements necessary for human life from the surrounding countryside. In the case of the American Empire, the countryside is the planet. In exchange for the raw necessities of human life, cities export garbage and pollution while destroying every aspect of the living planet on which we depend for our existence. Most civilized people think this is a wonderful exchange, although it is unsustainable by definition because there are limits on nature’s ability to clean up our messes.

In other words, cities drain life from Earth. And yet we herald cities as centers of culture, and applaud them as a result. As pointed out by John Ralston Saul in Volwire’s Bastards, ‘Never has failure been so ardently defended as though it were success.’

The article goes on to talk about the what the effects will be of the choices we make. We can carry on with the Current System which Guy says “must be replaced if we are to persist as a species beyond a few decades.”. Perhaps a desired solution is Agrarian Anarchy – Guy mentions a few of America’s influential people who over the years have indicated an anarchistic approach is best. The worst outcome as we come out of our current system is Post-Industrial Stone Age.

I’d love to copy the whole article because it does make for interesting and challenging reading, but it’s not mine to do that with.

If you get the chance, catch Earthlines magazine or check out Guy McPherson’s website at http://guymcpherson.com

Becoming invisible

Becoming invisible

In an interview with Dr. Brian Goodwin, he talked about the human race becoming largely invisible. Brian passed away in 2009, but I’m sure his vision, or large elements of it, live on with many of us:

I had this vision of the human race becoming largely invisible on the planet. This would be my vision 30 years from now. We are extremely visible, and we have a very high influence on the state of the planet as we all know, in terms of pollution, global warming, light pollution, noise pollution. I mean the poor cetaceans in the ocean, the whales and dolphins, are just bombarded with noise all the time. We are extremely visible and audible on the planet.

Dr Brian Goodwin in 1991
Dr John Goodwin in 1992. Photo by John Farnham [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So my vision for 30 years from now is that human beings will be largely invisible. Now that seems like an extraordinary vision, and I don’t know how we are going to get there in detail, but it’s a bit like the deer and the badgers, the squirrels and most of nature, there are plenty of them around but they are largely invisible because they have a different lifestyle. I’m not talking about a Rousseau ‘back to nature’, I’m talking about using appropriate technology, natural materials and energy to achieve a lifestyle in which we blend with the natural world, we have learnt how to live in a way that other species have, and therefore have reduced our footprint, decreasing it dramatically to the point where we are one amongst many instead of an absolutely dominant species..

How would we get from here to there?

I think we can see many of the elements that we need to put into plan to achieve that. The current mantra of ‘sustainability’, ecological sustainability, getting away from growth, is very important, in that all we have to use all of the resources available to us now. We have fantastic resources at the moment, and we could invest those in the technologies that we require in order to become invisible, to become integrated with the natural world in a much more reasonable way than we do now. I emphasise again that this does not mean going backwards. It means going forward to a very, very desirable, beautiful culture.

The technology we need to put in place, well we all know about it, it’s solar, wind, ecological buildings, using sustainable materials, redesigning everything that we make so that we don’t spread toxins around, we don’t have landfills, we are doing what the natural world does in terms on recycling, using energy efficiently, everything gets recycled, every product is functional and it is beautiful.

Above, Simon Dale’s natural house, built from stone, wood and strawbales, all from the local area. This shows how our footprint on the landscape can be lessened in more ways than one.