Science Won’t Save the Planet

We urgently need to wean ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, writes Jonathan Cook. 

By JonathanCook
Jonathan-Cook.net

I don’t write much directly about climate collapse, even though by any measure it is by far the most important issue any of us will face in our lifetimes. And I can gauge from my social media accounts that, when I do write about environmental issues, my followers – most of whom I assume share my progressive positions – are least likely to read those blog posts or promote them.

I have to consider why that is.

As I explained in my last piece, the environment has been a concern to me since my teenage years, back in the early 1980s. It should now be a concern to everyone. And while polls in the UK show that most people are worried to some degree about climate change and the state of the planet, the majority are either still not concerned at all or concerned only a little.

Part of the problem, I start to think, is that we are approaching climate change all wrong. And that addressing it correctly is just too difficult for most of us to contemplate because it demands something profound from us, something we fear we are incapable of giving.

Extinction Rebellion protest, London, April 22, 2019. (Martin Hearn via Wikimedia Commons)

When I share climate change material on social media, it is invariably graphs produced by climate scientists showing the alarming trends of a warming planet. Others, I see, do the same.

But really is that what all this is about? Most of us – at least the ones sharing this stuff – understand that the science is now conclusive. Even, I suspect, those who deny climate change do so not because they believe the data are wrong but because accepting the reality is too overwhelming, too terrifying.

And this gets to the heart of what we need to talk about. Those persuaded by the graphs and the data no longer need those materials, and those unpersuaded aren’t going to heed the science anyway.

So maybe we need to talk less about the science, the graphs and climate change, and much more about ideology, about the inconvertible fact that the planet is dying before our very eyes and about how we have conspired in that act of ecocide. What got us into this mess wasn’t science, what got us here was ideology.

Consumerism Our God

In my last blog I noted that scientists kept a low profile when they most needed to speak out, back in the 1990s and 2000s – in part because they were denied a platform, but chiefly because they failed to push themselves forward. That was when the evidence of climate collapse was irrefutable and there was time to start changing our societies to avoid it.

The reason the scientists held back is significant, I think. It wasn’t because they had doubts, it was because the dominant paradigm of our societies – the paradigm shared by almost all of us, the scientists included – was so deeply in conflict with what was needed to bring about change.

New Jersey Air National Guard preparing to set up of emergency shelters ahead of landfall of Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 28, 2012. (U.S. Air Force/Mark C. Olsen)

For decades – until the financial collapse of 2008 raised the first doubts – we were driven exclusively by a paradigm of endless economic growth, of ever-increasing resource exploitation, of a spiraling personal accumulation of goods. Consumerism was our individual god, and the Stock Market our collective one.

They still are. It’s just that the real, physical world – not the one we constructed out of narrative and ideology – keeps slapping us in the face to try to wake us up from our slumber.

The oceans didn’t fill with plastics last year. Some 1 million species didn’t start facing extinction this month. And the atmosphere wasn’t suddenly polluted with the greenhouse gas CO2 this week. These are trends that have been observable for decades.

The question we have to ask is why did David Attenborough and the BBC suddenly start noticing that everywhere they filmed – from the high seas to the deepest ocean beds – was polluted with plastic? This wasn’t new. It’s that they only recently decided to start telling us about it, that it was important.

Again, scientists haven’t just worked out that there has been a massive loss of biodiversity even in the remotest jungles, that insect populations needed to maintain the health of our planet have been disappearing. The mass die-off of species has been going for decades, even before temperatures started rising significantly. So why have we only just started seeing articles about it in liberal media like The Guardian?

And, fueled by greenhouse gases, temperatures have been steadily increasing for decades too. But only over the past year have all the record highs, the wildfires and anomalous weather conditions been reported – sometimes – in the context of climate breakdown.

Singapore beach. (Vaidehi Shah via Wikimedia Commons)

Identifying With the Enemy

The cause of these failures is ideology. The reality, the facts simply didn’t stack up with the way we had organized our societies, the way we had come to believe the world, our world, operated. We didn’t see ourselves – still don’t see ourselves – as in nature.

Rather, we have viewed ourselves as outside it, we have seen nature as something to entertain us, as parkland in which we can play or as an exotic place to observe through a screen as a reassuring David Attenborough narrates. Instead of considering ourselves part of nature, we have seen ourselves variously conquering, taming, exploiting, eradicating it.

Derrick Jensen, sometimes described as an eco-philosopher, offers a simple, but telling life lesson. He observes that when you get your food from a convenience store and your water from a tap, your very survival comes to depend on the system that provides you with these essentials of life. You inevitably identify completely with the system that feeds and shelters you, however corrupt, however corrupting that system is. Even if it is destroying the planet.

If you hunt and forage for food, if you collect water from streams, then you identify with the land and its water sources. Their health means everything to you.

We saw those two identification systems playing out as a terrible, tragic theater of confrontation at the Standing Rock protests through 2016-17, between those trying to stop an oil pipeline that would destroy vital natural resources, risking the pollution of major rivers, and heavily armed police enforcing the system – our system – that puts corporate oil profits above the planet and our survival.

Lakota man locked to construction equipment at direct action against Dakota Access Pipeline, Aug. 31, 2016. (Desiree Kane via Wikimedia Commons)

Anyone watching footage of those protests should have understood that the police were not just there to carry out law enforcement. They were not just there on behalf of the state and federal authorities and the corporations. They were there for us. They were there to keep our way of life, our suicidal pattern of living, going to the bitter end. To the point of our extinction.

Like them, we are battle-ready, heavily armed enforcers of an ideology, an insane ideology needed to protect a self-harming, nihilistic system.

A Virus Killing Its Host

This is not a question of science. None of those charts and graphs and data are actually necessary to understand that the planet is dying, that we have become a virus gradually killing its host. That is obvious if we look inside ourselves, if we remember that we are not police officers, or civil servants, or arms makers, or oil executives, or tax collectors, or scientists. That the system is not us. That we do not have to identify with it. That we can cure ourselves by learning humility, by rediscovering our inner life, by being in nature, by reconnecting with others, with strangers, by protesting against the system and its values, by listening to those the system wants to denigrate and exclude.

In fact, most of the scientists are very much part of the problem. They, like the media, now tell us how bad things are only because the patient is on life support, because her condition is critical. But those scientists are not ecological doctors. They are not qualified to offer solutions for how to revive the patient, for how to get her back to health. Those scientists who worked their way up through the institutions that awarded their qualifications of expertise are as identified with this suicidal ideological system as the rest of us.

Nighttime at Oceti Sakowin camp Standing Rock, Dakota Access Pipeline protests, November 2016. (Becker1999 via Wikimedia Commons)

We need more ancient wisdoms, dying wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples who still try to live in nature, to live off the land and in harmony with it, even as we make the conditions to do so impossible for them. We urgently need to find ways to simplify our lives, to wean ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, and to seek leaders who are ahead of us in that struggle for wisdom.

First Buds of Resistance

In my last blog post, I called for more populism – not the reactionary kind created by our current leaders to confuse us, to justify more repression, to strengthen their own hand – but a populism that seeks to take power away from those who rule over us in their own, narrow self-interest, to re-educate ourselves that the system is a menace, that we need new social, political and economic structures.

Some readers objected to my call for more Extinction Rebellions, more Greta Thunbergs, more school strikes, more Green New Deals, more climate emergencies. They believe these groups, these strategies are flawed, or even that they are colluding with our corporate rulers, coopted by the system itself.

Let us set aside for a moment the cynicism that assumes all protests to stop us killing the planet are pointless, not what they seem, or intended to derail real change.

Yes, of course, the corporations will seek to disrupt efforts to change the system they created. They will defend it – and their profits – with all their might and to the death. Yes, of course, they will seek to subvert, including from within, all protests of all kinds against that system. We cannot reach an accommodation with these structures of power. We must overthrow them. That is a given. There are no accolades for pointing out these obvious truths.

But protests are all we have. We learn from protest. From their response, their efforts to subvert, we identify more clearly who the real enemies of change are. We grow in wisdom. We find new allies. When we discover that the institutional and structural obstacles are even greater than we imagined, we learn to struggle harder, more wisely, both to change the reality outside ourselves and the reality inside. We find new values, new models, new paradigms through the struggle itself.

Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes aren’t the end of the process, our last shout. They are the very first buds of a rapid evolution in our thinking, in our understanding of where we stand in relation to the planet and the cosmos. These buds may be clipped off. But stronger, more vigorous shoots will surely replace them.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at Jonathan Cook.net. 

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57 comments for “Science Won’t Save the Planet

  1. Sherab
    June 6, 2019 at 23:26

    I m a poor and unknown person…. who is silently praying that our planet should live long…
    It gives me some smiles to my face to find people like u.

  2. June 1, 2019 at 19:22

    I’m sorry, I can’t even imagine what it means “to save the planet.”

    If we’re talking about plants and animals , delightful as they are, it is just a fact they’ve been changing for hundreds of millions of years, change which seems never to stop.

    If we’re talking about our hunk of rock and metals and gases hurtling through space at tens of thousands of miles per hour, the meaning of “saving the planet” becomes a complete mystery.

    If we’re talking about humans, the wondrous creatures who’ve waged wars and killed and destroyed on a massive scale for a hundred thousand years, and right now are still vigorously at it, I’m not sure the phrase makes any sense at all.

    • Daniel Rich
      June 2, 2019 at 17:28

      @ John Chuckman,

      Indeed.

      Science 101:

      1 ) We need the planet.
      2) The planet doesn’t need us.

  3. Clif Brown
    June 1, 2019 at 19:16

    Arguing goes on and on. What keeps anything from being done by the majority of the population is the lack of any effect that hits them enough to scare them, opening eyes to the problem. You say quite rightly that charts and graphs (and lectures like TED talks) will not make a difference.

    If one’s land is repeatedly flooded, if one finds things missing at the grocery because the supply has run out and not temporarily but indefinitely, if in the desert southwest the water actually runs out, there will be an enlightenment. Until then, in our land of plenty, there will be indifference if not the anger seen in some of the comments above.

    The other day, I was sitting on a sidewalk bench near a sidewalk trash bin, a recycling bin and, coincidentally, a drain to the sewer on the street. Curious, I walked up and inspected the garbage can. It was filled with plastic cups, the majority partially filled with drinks.

    This says much about the problem on which you write. 1) all the plastic cups could have easily been put in the recycling bin where they belong rather than in the garbage can right next to it. 2) all the drinks could have easily been emptied into the street sewer immediately at hand instead of being left as dead weight to be hauled by garbage or recycling trucks. 3) the fact that most of the drinks were still in the cups shows how waste is routine…people buy drinks without wanting them all, let alone being thirsty.

    How does this story end? I took it upon myself to empty all the plastic cups and toss them in the recycling bin. I would estimate 20+ total. I did not need to move from one position to both empty the liquids and correctly deposit the plastic. It took about five minutes. For each individual with a cup, taking care of their own refuse would have taken less than 5 seconds.

    We are spoiled. We are inundated with advertising that tells us “You’re the One!” “We Do It All For You!” “Your Satisfaction is Our Job One!” With all this coming 24/7 who wouldn’t feel they are entitled to do whatever is convenient?

    Nothing will dislodge this psychology until pain is felt and we are a very long way from that. Let the species die, who ever sees any of them anyway in daily urban life? We live in our heads, not on this physical planet we occupy. It will have to come smack us in the face before we wake up to reality.

  4. Timothy H.
    June 1, 2019 at 18:14

    It is obvious that Mr. Cook has done little research into the scientific premise that the human-generated percent of CO2 is now the major driver of the global climate. If he did he would know that there are hundreds and hundreds of published scientific studies that show how that theory has been proven false and is most likely impossible due to the way gases in the Atmosphere function. For those that need a reminder, human-generated CO2 is about 0.04% of the total greenhouse gases.

    Now as for garbage, that is something we surely need to fix. But I see little energy being put into real ecological issues.

    • Clif Brown
      June 1, 2019 at 19:40

      Curious facts: fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, were formed over millions of years, stored underground where very little of their carbon could escape to the atmosphere. Huge areas that once were lush vegetation, such as what are now the deserts of Saudi Arabia had that carbon rich vegetation collected layer upon layer to become virtual oceans of oil and gas. In other areas, deep coal beds were formed. Carbon, carbon and more carbon, laid away for actually, tens of millions of years.

      Then, as opposed to the long period of deposition of all this carbon, around the turn of the 20th century, not much more than 100 years ago, mankind tapped into this supply of carbon and proceeded to release it through burning. Up until recently coal, the most carbon rich of the fossil fuels was king, but is now falling back in favor of natural gas, though both have been intensively extracted and burned.

      note: 100 years is 1/100 of 1 percent of a million years

      Millions of years of accumulated carbon, released in a matter of decades with no end in sight. Funny thing that the carbon in the atmosphere shows a pronounced climb over the same period, continuing right along to today with no end in sight. But of course mankind burning all this carbon rich fuel can’t have anything to do with more carbon in the atmosphere. Almost all atmospheric scientists believe there is an undeniable connection, but as many comments here show, the general public should never take science over one’s own opinion.

      Fun sites to visit: the carbon in the atmosphere as measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii over the years. That link is https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

      or NASA’s climate site, yes, a bunch of scientists that can’t be trusted over angry comments one hears frequently, but give it a look anyway at
      https://climate.nasa.gov/

    • Monica
      June 2, 2019 at 04:10

      Timothy, your “fact” is just plain wrong. CO2 was at about 280 ppm for millennia and is now at about 410 ppm, a rise of 40%. To you and anyone in understanding the incontrovertible science of climate change, I recommend a brilliant, free online course: making sense of climate change denial.

  5. June 1, 2019 at 16:21

    Thanks for putting things so clearly. I’ve been telling people recently that I am an expert on tackling climate change because I am a gardener. There is so much common knowledge and skill out there, we just need opportunities to use and share it. Personally I see lack of common land as a problem, but maybe there is a different way of looking at that?

  6. Matt
    June 1, 2019 at 11:55

    Except, we are NOT facing “climate collapse”.
    Come on, Consortium, your sliding down the path of The Intercept.

  7. Brian James
    May 31, 2019 at 20:42

    “Science is the Belief in the Ignorance of Experts” Richard Feynman

    • OlyaPola
      June 1, 2019 at 02:20

      ““Science is the Belief in the Ignorance of Experts” Richard Feynman

      Quite so, science is predicated on the embracement and valuing of doubt, aversion to certainty, and perception that a glass can be simultaneously half full and half empty in lateral process.

      Since “knowledge” is laterally interactive no one can be an expert, and in recognition of this some refer to themselves as practitioners or derivatives there-of like Mr. Feynman, Mr. Sagan and others.

      Mr. Feynman, Mr. Sagan and others practiced within contexts and environments.

      From the 1980’s onwards in the self-designated “The United States of America” the processes of change in contexts and environments have accelerated and increased in scope, the vectors including but not being limited to the changing purpose and process of “education” – part of Mr. Reagan’s “Morning in America”.

      This trend can be illustrated throughout history – social relations in decline encouraging a reliance on a greater assay of belief in the misguided quest for sustainability .

  8. Jimmy g
    May 31, 2019 at 11:43

    Another “ we only have 12 years!” eh?
    The planet couldn’t care less about the humans or anything else. Earth is a big rock. Earth has been around a long time. If we die, we die. Thank you and yours for making life as we know it as miserable and terrifying as possible, so as to generate financial compensation for yourself.
    You might as well bemoan a shortage in ten caret diamonds, most people will never get one anyway.
    Yes, we must all abandon our air conditioning, so as to protect those beautiful places we shall never see…because we can never afford to travel there ( or a foundation of ultra wealthy will not pay our way for “research”).

  9. May 31, 2019 at 08:09

    Jacque Cousteau gave his warnings on his last special in 1984, thirty-five years ago. When asked what was different between his first voyage and the present one, he replied it was garbage on the surface, plastics.

  10. RW Flowers
    May 31, 2019 at 00:12

    I share your frustration with the supposed “adults in the climate science room” who have given detailed warnings about what global heating is causing but who can only seem to endlessly rehash vague and difuse suggestions on what to do about it. Sure, we need to cget rid of capitalism, transform society, adopt indigenous lifestyles, community organize. All these points were prominent in the first environmental articles I read 40 years ago, and they are still being promoted today with the same non-existent success.

    Ironically, in that same misty past I first became aware of Herman Daly’s works on the Steady State Economy and it struck me as an eminently practical plan which addressed the fundamental flaws in the growthmaniac economy that was even then oviously driving the planetary biosphere toward the abyss. Today, even among ecoeconomists, ecosocalists, and degrowthers, Daly’s name is sometimes mentioned as an “honored intellectual ancestor” but his practical solutions are ignored in favor of high-sounding ideas that have no chance of being implemented, and if they were, no chance of making any real difference. Daly’s SSE was a clear alternative to the absurdity of an ever-growing economy on an obviously not growing Earth.

    Those who ignore Daly are compelled to re-invent him badly.

  11. Wendy Moon
    May 30, 2019 at 22:48

    I am absolutely HONORED to have found a KINDRED SPIRIT on this subject and all the others. Ive spoken up to the Scientist and evwn shared a channeled poem called the BENEVOLENT FACTOR. This is what they all are ignoring for some reason as if its not even a consideration. I’m a very OLD SOUL. I was very shy because humans were so evil,to me. I didnt speak at all but if saw you litter, OMG, I came roaring like a Lion defending her cubs. The EARTH is very personal to me also and its absolutely offensive what I face daily even in my own family. My family recycles but not for the right reasons. You know what I mean, I’m sure. I’m so glad to have found you. I HONOR you for stepping up to our responsibility of bringing awareness of the condition,of Mother Earth. Shes ASCENDING either way. Shes a sentient being. Ive,put my,life down and even all my family and loved ones to STAND in LOVE for her Ascension and in TRUST that everyone has had the opportunity to join, present itself. I know With GOD ALL things are POSSIBLE. Keyword if ALL. Im gonna follow you. I’m attempting my own,blog but,not tech savvy so its a much longer process than I,intended. I relate to you and me,like Trump tweeting so he gets his message out directly in order for people to hear his,direct words because our messages become so twisted and manipulated by the media in order to maintain FEAR and POWER OVER OTHERS. They wanna make the rich,richer and,the,poor to literally die of starvation portraying them to be too lazy,or insignificant to make a difference anyway. Surprise!!! Its me. You can call me The MAGICIAN!!! I’m here and ready to make changes from the very lowest of lows to the most High MISUSE of POWER. I’m ready to exploit it and doing my part as an INDIVIDUAL making my way to you. Thanks for giving me someone to HONOR for your attempts to help our Mother Earth. Shes been abused ENOUGH. We owe it to her to comfort her and Love her in every way every chance we get.
    NAMASTE~

  12. Ken Parks
    May 30, 2019 at 19:13

    Standing Rock is everywhere. Support all Water Protectors , Carriizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. Camps Arising. Permaculture. Breathe mindfully and discover awareness. Tibetans , Cubans, Venezuelans are our teachers. Many More if you look around. Caliban and the Witch

  13. DavidO
    May 30, 2019 at 16:05

    You are dealing in dogma, not science. The method of CO2 causing heating and weather issues is bogus and has been repeatedly debunked. Read and refute the papers by Edwin Berry or by Geisel in 2009. The major deniers are of science are the proponents.

  14. LJ
    May 30, 2019 at 15:27

    Unfortunately for all of us Scientists are basically government whores. They are always in need of funding, University Departments, and they need staffs and places to conduct their experiments and offices and secretaries . Some of them even like Coeds around. They are the ones that design the bombs and all the other secret weapons and deadly chemicals and GMO’s . They do what they are told for cash. Few have honor. It was Einstein that sent the letter to FDR about the need for a Manhattan Project. Was that free? There were 30,000 people working in New Mexico during WW II and not one of the Scientists had to lay out a dime. A few of those guys eventually ended up with Nobel Prizes. Yeah math geniuses are whores too. These guys and gals have been teaching at Universities and going to Conferences and meetings on Global Warming since it was the Greenhouse Effect back in the 1970’s. Afterwards these experts bemoan that lack of action again and again but never turn down a free trip with free hotel and free food regardless of the Carbon Footprint they leave. Save us? Kill us faster more likely. Wait until some ‘scientist’ working for the CIA and or our government releases some bionic flu strain and a billion or 2 die like in Omega Man or 13 Monkeys or was it Solyent Green?. I ‘m pretty sure Charleton Heston had something to do with it. How do you think he got to be head of the NRA anyway? Don’t expect anything to change for the better.

  15. May 30, 2019 at 12:45

    Fantastic writing. You are correct with your interrogation of the inherent apathy amongst many citizens of the earth, and your framing of it is spot on. I noticed this when working in a local gift shop, and became so incensed that I walked into my local grocer to ask why they stopped using paper bags. They said it was because the bags blow away, and yet they seemed oblivious to what all the plastic which, being a small business they do not have to concern themselves with as legislation currently only covers large businesses. Most towns contain several small businesses; some sell hundreds of pieces of plastic a day; particularly card shops. This has to stop.I

    I’m the late 1980s, I became concerned at the rampant consumerism when I was managing shops in and around London; it was the reason I went into charity work after raising a family. I now work in a local shop for many reasons I won’t disclose here.

    I would like to tweet this article to my followers, who write about our plants and creatures and care about the planet, but you have no icon, currently….

  16. May 30, 2019 at 12:14

    On the subject of consumption, if humans stopped consuming animal products, we would go a long way in improving the health of the planet and our own health. Not to mention the health of the animals who won’t be slaughtered.
    And no, we won’t be overrun by cows wandering everywhere because they won’t be forcibly bred for human consumption.

    • Skip Scott
      May 31, 2019 at 05:51

      A good first step in positive geo-engineering would be fewer cows and more trees. Local family farms and a return to keeping a pantry with garden produce put up for the year would also help us cut way back on carbon accumulation due to food being transported an average of 1500 miles.

      • Marty
        May 31, 2019 at 11:36

        This is a good idea regardless of which climate model proves dominant.

  17. Maria Gerber
    May 30, 2019 at 10:34

    The 5G rollout looks to be just as devastating as climate change, with a disinformation campaign rivaling all that have gone before it. Please go to Physicians for Safe Technology 5G, Parents for Safe Technology 5G, and watch the Youtube video “UN Staff Member Calls Out Secretary General 5G”

  18. OlyaPola
    May 30, 2019 at 04:02

    “Science Won’t Save the Planet”

    From at least the 1980’s the opponents have been consistently engaged in de-emphasing/dismissing scientific methods and rigour, including by way of conflating/minimising science as a practice with/to technology/technological fixes applicable within limited areas of enquiry to underpin the bases of their social relations including division of labour, and through emphasising belief and opinion based upon beliefs, thereby limiting perception of causal networks and facility in formulating methods to address such causal networks.

    This is acknowledged by a recent report of the RAND corporation on how to destabilise the Russian Federation.
    One of the options proposed in that report is to increase the immigration of scientists from Russian Federation to the self-designated “The United States of America” – a tactic used from circa 1985 with increasing result until circa 1995 after which the trend started to reverse, partly in recognition that abscence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt.

    Although the relevant reports will likely be redacted and/or disappeared, this is also likely a component in the causal networks of why Boeing 737 – Max fail (not restricted to the software) and Microsoft regularly issue patches, updates and new versions of software.

    Scientific methods have increased the perception of climate oscillation and some of the causal networks.
    Hence it has had and will continue to have a role in addressing such causal networks.

    Although not widely perceived by those immersed in the the opponents’ division of labour and beliefs derived therefrom, many scientific papers using scientific method and rigour do outline some of the affects of present socio-economic relations within the causal networks of climate oscillation and the need to transcend them, to a degree that many beneficiaries of present socio-economic relations engage in many efforts to deny and distract from their contents in emulation of efforts that the tobacco lobby have pursued since at least the 1950’s.

    Consequently as in all endeavours of transcendence this will require the actions of many informed by many informed by scientific method and rigour – reliance on belief rendering those so reliant waiting for Godot intoning mantras of the day.

    However the planet will continue subject to inter-planetary and universal activity, although many present life forms on/under the planet may not.

    Hence the headline of this thread “Science Won’t save the planet” appears to conflate the existence of the planet with some or all “life forms” on/under the planet, and hence is an illustration of lack of scientific method and rigour and likely not a production of whom so ever produced the text.

  19. May 30, 2019 at 03:51

    You’re a useful idiot, serving the bankers. Gaia is Goldman.

  20. Paora
    May 30, 2019 at 03:11

    It is important to name the system we are fighting. Our opponent is not Consumerism, it is Capitalism. While the amount of ‘stuff’ a human can accumulate can reach physical limits, the accumulation of Capital is in principle limitless. Because Capital is not a ‘thing’. It is a process and a social relationship. A relation between rich and poor, exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed. What is truly being ‘accumulated’ is wealth and power amongst a few and poverty and powerlessness amongst the rest of us.

    When the limitless drive for Capital accumulation runs up against human or ecological limits, it must blast through them or risk crisis and its own destruction. It is this insane system that we struggle against. But for all the dreams of a weightless, digital and financialised Capitalism, it cannot reproduce itself without the labour of people and the resouces of the planet. This is our leverage.

    It is important to make clear we are not asking working people to make do with less after so many decades of falling living standards. Removing large swathes of our economies from the purview of Capital accumulation would allow the costs to fall on the shoulders of the Capitalists, while any reductions in worker’s consumption could be more than offset by reductions in working hours due to the elimination of meaningless tasks existing only to serve Capital (advertising, marketing, surveillance etc).

    Who wouldn’t give up their plannned obsolescence-plagued digital toys and 2nd car (return to early 70s levels of consumption) if working families only had to work 40-50hrs p/w rather than the almost 100hrs most 2-parent working families currently work?

    • matt
      May 30, 2019 at 09:07

      Agreed wholeheartedly. The problem is that economics (social behavior quantified by money) is complicated to understand. Time and again, both the working classes and elites act against their own best interests, the survival of the planet being the most obvious example.

      The biggest problem as you identify is the unrestrained and limitless accumulation of “virtual” capital. It used to be that a merchant had to produce and trade real goods… and store and protect physical money or property. This limited wealth accumulation. Now, the real money to be made is in the markets- a gambling casino totally removed from physical and social reality.

    • Jill
      May 30, 2019 at 10:35

      Dear Paora,

      This is such a well reasoned, articulate and beautiful statement of reality. Thank you for writing it.

      Jill

      • Paora
        May 31, 2019 at 02:49

        Thanks Jill, just shamelessly ripping off old man Marx as usual. If you’re interested there’s a great little book called “What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know About Capitalism” by Fred Magdoff & John Bellamy Foster that sums things up much better than I could.

  21. May 30, 2019 at 01:40

    Absolutely correct and memorable article! It is astounding that even on alternative media, rarely do you read articles that confront the underlying ideology driving environmental destruction.

  22. May 29, 2019 at 22:50

    This ideology is hardly new-fangled. We knew in ’68 there is no technological solution to this problem, because it is a belief, and it is a belief we don’t dare let morality scrutinize lest it blind us as it scorches the Earth.

    https://opensociet.org/2019/01/31/the-tragedy-of-the-commons/

  23. Tom Kath
    May 29, 2019 at 21:21

    I agree that the problem is ideology. The idea that we humans are exclusive, created by God (not by nature) and that we can control nature. The idea that we can CAUSE the weather and determine or prevent extinctions.
    I agree also that humans are currently in plague numbers (especially in cities), but then, so at times are mice, grasshoppers, or ants with alarming environmental effect. – Nature can cope!
    The emotional illogical argument is summed up in the cry for action – “there are too many people! Help, Help, many will die!”
    Apart from that, in our current society it is very prudent to “follow the money”. Who supports, and pays for, the supporting scientists, the supporting journalists and media?

  24. May 29, 2019 at 21:10

    The English language is turning tricks like a prostitute seal blowing a horn while balancing on a ball:

    https://opensociet.org/2019/05/29/in-the-midst-of-our-death-spiral-the-us-department-of-energy-re-brands-fossil-fuels-as-freedom-molecules/

  25. IvyMike
    May 29, 2019 at 19:51

    Agriculture began with the Holocene epoch, the current interglacial period of the Quaternary ice age. We had evolved to the point of creating organized agriculture and the warming climate opened up huge landscapes in which we could cultivate grains. An amusing anecdote in the billions of years of the Earth.

  26. Monte George Jr
    May 29, 2019 at 17:50

    Wrong. Science and engineering will solve the problem. The key is to develop a safe, economical, pollution-free, decentralized source of abundant energy. The solution lies in hydrogen-boron fusion, which promises decentralized, small-footprint, low-cost reactors producing no radioactive waste and no polluting gases (just ordinary helium). Several US companies are pursuing different approaches to this technology, but virtually no federal research funds are available for this fossil-fuel-unfriendly endeavor. Except in China. Google ‘focus fusion’, or ‘triple-alpha’ to learn more about this. Then write your congress critters and ask them why they are asleep at the switch on this critical issue.

    • Eddie S
      May 29, 2019 at 22:25

      Fusion has been a dream since the ‘cold-fusion’ fad of the 1970’s which yielded exactly nothing practical as I recall. Every breathless breakthrough was qualified by the fact that it was a minute amount of particles, and often those seemed to be questionable at best. Briefly skimming a Wikipedia article on hydrogen-boron fusion quickly brings up the same old problems which are probably insurmountable in terms of anything of practical use in power generation. For instance, it refers to “Proton–boron fusion requires ion energies or temperatures almost ten times higher than those for D-T fusion. For any given density of the reacting nuclei, the reaction rate for proton-boron achieves its peak rate at around 600 keV (6.6 billion degrees Celsius or 6.6 gigakelvins) while D-T has a peak at around 66 keV (765 million degrees Celsius).” Maybe a lab can produce those temperatures at the molecular level for a nanosecond or less, but that’s nothing more than an idle curiosity. Yes, fusion happens in the center of the Sun, but it’s something like 800,000 miles in diameter, vs the earth’s 8000 miles, so the temps/pressures there are not replicable here on earth on any serious, sustained useful scale.

      I’ve read statements that say that a 250 sq mile solar panel array (ie; 50 miles on each side) in a sunny place like AZ could power the US, and that’s with available technology. But I see exactly zero interest in doing something like that — we’re too busy ‘growing’ and starting wars to explore relatively plausible solutions like that, so I don’t foresee anything happening until the US has no other choice.

      • Marty
        May 30, 2019 at 00:45

        50 miles on each side is 2500 square miles.

      • Eddie S
        May 31, 2019 at 22:10

        Congratulations – I threw that in there to see who was paying attention! ;-). But yes, thanks, I missed the extra zero there (long day at work) and realized it later. However, I do remember the statement was “a square 50 miles on each side”, because that struck me as relatively small in the scheme of things, to be able to theoretically power the entire US. I don’t know how true that is or isn’t, and frankly I have to admit I’m too discouraged by our culture to even read-up on its plausibility. When this country elected Reagan in 1980 and he removed the solar-panels on the White House, and then later the feds and the states removed the 55 mph speed limit (which had been a gas-saving law because cars optimum mpg occurs at ~48 mph on-average, or at least it did back in the 70’s when the law was passed), and we emphasized aggressive militarism to control ‘our’ oil in the ME, I started seriously doubting this country’s purported morality and commitment to environmentalism. That doubt has turned into a dark belief as subsequent events have unfolded.

      • Josep
        June 5, 2019 at 06:18

        Reagan also overturned Jimmy Carter’s metrication efforts on the grounds that it was leading the country away from “American Exceptionalism” and that Carter wasn’t a true American. ’nuff said.

    • May 30, 2019 at 01:42

      Don’t think so! Time to give up on the technological fix—that isn’t coming. Read Gregory Bateson.

    • May 30, 2019 at 08:28

      Wrong. Geoengineering will not ‘save’ humans. Geoengineering is the very thing that is causing our demise…

  27. Frank
    May 29, 2019 at 16:57

    Jonathan,

    I think there needs to be a much greater emphasis on overcoming class injustice if there is to be any hope for the environment. Getting food from convenience stores is the only way to get food in many poor neighborhoods. What can help ameliorate this situation? People who know how to garden getting into the those neighborhoods and growing food on their own dime. Erect greenhouses for places with bad weather and short growing seasons.

    Everyone 1. doesn’t already know how to do garden so use they method of “each one teach one” (which is an old unicef motto) but one that makes sense. 2. don’t assume everyone is able to do their own garden even if they know how to do it. Environmentalism is too often only for the rich and certainly for the able bodied. Well, not everyone is rich and many people are not able bodied-so go do it for them!

    Put together the money for small scale solar/water/wind installations. If people have the know how and other people have the financial resources, go do it. A lot of people are ingenious about cobbling things together on the cheap. Find them and get them going. Pay for the process.

    There are cars that can run on water. Go fund them and give them to people who really can’t get from point A to point B by walking or biking, both of which assume everyone lives in temperate climates with bike lanes and is physically capable of doing all that walking or biking.

    In other words, redirect money from useless consumption to the practice of radical generosity. Don’t make people “qualify” for your aid, just give it, freely and with kindness. That is my answer–radical generosity. If you want to dismantle the system, trust me, that will do it!

    • OlyaPola
      May 31, 2019 at 03:20

      ” That is my answer–radical generosity. If you want to dismantle the system, trust me, that will do it!”

      The notions of giving and generosity are still immersed in ideologies of present social relations including but not restricted to subject/object and giving/receiving, which are relations of power and control presented in manufactured shiny wrappers.

      “In other words, redirect money from useless consumption to the practice of radical generosity.”

      Other relations of power and control are the practice and existence of money.

      Hence to transcend the present social relations greater practice of co-operation/sharing is required and such can be facilitated/accelerated by the practice and experience of present social relations encouraging and requiring those “marginalised” to fashion and implement alternative forms of social relations.

      The perception of this process is obfuscated by beneficiaries of present social relations through framing, including levels of immersion in present ideological notions/expectations such as the concepts of “marginalisation” when “economies fail” and” the nation state becomes a failed state”, akin to the concept of “madness” which is held to be a deviation from a “norm” the attainment of this “norm” being posited as the purpose (of life).

      If a wider perception of purpose is investigated many hypotheses of alternative practices and opportunities can be pursued as has been the case throughout history mostly facilitated by the practices of and interactions with deteriorating social relations – a process of decay as fertiliser.

      On present perception the purpose of some is to encourage and facilitate the transcendence of present social relations based on competition and coercion by social relations based on sharing and co-operation akin to from each according to their ability to each according to their needs.

      Transcendence is a lateral process not an event and ideological notions have half-lives.
      Consequently to some degree there will continue to be variances between expectations and outcomes as in any lateral process.

      Examples of this include but are not restricted to, the efforts of some in Sicily seeking protection from their “overlords” leading to the the creation of the Sicilian mafia and the subsequent reversion of the definition of “protection” to emulate older forms and practices, and the “Bolshevik project”.

  28. May 29, 2019 at 16:55
  29. rgl
    May 29, 2019 at 15:43

    All true. Nothing more I can add. This fella said it all. All I can say is that I doubt anyone will listen. Natural law is, and because of our own hubris, and will stay as nothing more than a pithy catch-phrase.

    We are all of us, animals. Of a higher order but not necessarily more intelligent. We still kill to eat. Or for territory. Or for resources. We kill for sport. The only place we differ is that we are entirely unable to live in harmony with the – our – natural world.

    We’re shitting all over the place. I have no hope.

    • May 30, 2019 at 08:33

      I disagree that humans are of a higher order. Humans need ‘nature’ to survive – but nature does not need humans to persist…

      • DW Bartoo
        May 30, 2019 at 09:43

        Precisely, Susan J Leslie.

        It always amazes me when I hear human beings speak of “saving the planet”.

        What must be preserved is the capacity of Earth to support human existence, which requires an incredible amount of input from other creatures and planetary systems, most of which we have but meager and warped understanding.

        We are not half do clever as we smugly imagine, else we would not be in the clutches of a cancerous economic system and in thrall to a pathologically destructive self-selected elite.

        Whether the many have the courage to recognize their plight and the determination to alter that entrapment to a sane, humane, and sustainable global human society, remains to be seen.

        Especially considering that it is very likely that soon there will be announcements that the 12 year window of opportunity to come to serious grips with ecocide has been substantially reduced because detrimental change is actually happening at approximately twice the rate described less than a year ago.

        This dawning awareness, unfortunately, is nothing new and, indeed, over the last thirty years the refrain, “IT is happening faster than predicted”, has been consistent and drearily predictable.

        Yet most people with whom I seek to discuss what is ongoing, place concerns about environmental catastrophe at about #38 on their list of serious concerns, and the majority of them all believe that technology will save “us” with no serious diminishment of lifestyles and U$ cultural dominance, globally.

        I suspect there shall be some rude awakenings.

        But then the demagogues will move in and the young will be told, in no uncertain terms, to stop “whining” about the future and sign up for Selective Service.

  30. DW Bartoo
    May 29, 2019 at 15:38

    One suspects, Jonathan, the the comments in response to your article will be quite revealing.

    I would add on further note to your description of humans, at least many of us, assuming that we are apart from rather than a part of nature. And that is the notion of “property”, that if one “owns” a parcel or millions of acres of land, then one may do or despoil that land, that piece of nature in any way that one chooses.

    The notion of such “ownership” is not prevalent in all cultures, as some view their living area as but a temporary gift from those yet unborn, that the land, the water, the plants and the animals belong while and appreciated far into the future, well beyond the lifetime of the current inhabitants.

    Inevitably, in this discussion, we must consider and contemplate what is often termed “human nature”, but might be more honestly described as unexamined cultural assumption.

    Seemingly, many U$ians embrace the notion that humans are inherently violent, brutish, rapacious, and vile which, rather conveniently excuses the behavior of certain humans over the last 500 years, the “Doctrine of Discovery” and all that, even the destruction of the notions of the Commons now often referred to as “Private public places”, as in Zucotti Park.

    Frankly, I consider that far too many scientists concerned about what we now term “ecocide” were more concerned with keeping their jobs and meritocratic positions in the society you have so very well described, than expressing the absolute seriousness of what has long been evident regarding humankind’s capacity to harm the Earth’s capacity to support our existence.

    So very many assumptions, especially reflected in the empires of the last 500 years, ours among them, tend to dominate all cultures that fall victim to hegemony, to greed, to Full Spectrum Dominance, as does the ever expanding appetite of neoliberal capitalism in the last throes of its brutal dominance, which is manifest in the mindless militarism so much in evidence since the end of WWII.

    That the U$ military is the largest single user of fossil fuels on the planet again points to the need for U$ians to ponder their war machine which we are just as reluctant to do as examine the role and example of the U$ in ecocide where, cumulatively, we still remain Number One.

    It is well that you mentioned the hostility, expressed by some, toward the young who are, very reasonably, concerned about the world which, if we are honest, is already theirs.

    Just as it belongs to those not yet born.

    I know, this will upset many folks, but all any of us ever really get to “spend” is time and we, of a certain age, have spent precious little time actually caring or learning about this world and nature.

    We have yet to cherish it as our only home in the immensity of universe.

    Yet we have the conceit, even though we are essentially the same beings, brain-wise (pun intended) as our ancestors of forty thousand years ago, that we are “modern” and rendered so, not by dint of any effort on our part, but merely by being born into the present time.

    Should we manage not to destroy the Earth’s capacity to support human existence, should our times provide insight for future generations NOT to emulate our weaponry of total destruction or copy our blith indifference to the complex subtleties of Nature that has been kind to us these last ten thousand years then, andbinly then, may we have anything upon which to congratulate ourselves. I suggest we are a long way from basking in that particular pleasure as time is increasingly of the essence.

    Either we change or everything that we cherish and, except for the pathological few, we human beings have much more in common than we do in difference.

    I know, that last will annoy certain folks.

    To such annoyance, I say “tough”.

    As a daily reminder, we U$ians might ponder a change of motto on our coinage: Consider, “IT’S UP TO US”

    Who else is going to do it?

  31. guest
    May 29, 2019 at 14:58

    So how are you going to tell 98% of the world’s human population that they need to “disappear”, what will be your criteria for choosing who disappears and how are you going to do it?

    • old geezer
      May 29, 2019 at 21:02

      Tom Clancy wrote a book about your question. Rainbow Six

    • DW Bartoo
      May 29, 2019 at 23:01

      It is interesting to note that those who imply or would have others believe that “the problem” is essentially that there are too many people never, ever, offer to leave.

      Others are supposed to vacate the premises.

      It has been suggested that there is “enough” to satisfy genuine human need but never enough to satisfy the greed of the pathological few.

      Are we talking ideology, that is cultural beliefs and unexamined assumptions that refuse to unpack learned prejudice, or some rigid “law” apart and separate from human ignorance?

      Did Malthus offer to leave?

      You know, guest, to set a fine and stellar example.

      Are you convinced we are too many?

      If so, then what example do you intend to provide the multitude?

      Is it Kool-Aid time?

      I consider that doing ourselves in, collectively, with either a rather quick nuclear winter or a somewhat more lingering boiled frog approach would be a real waste of potential.

      Just think how much wiser and more humble might become our now too foolish and haughty species were we to have another ten or twenty thousand years.

      Looking at the present moment, I can make no honest claim of great sanquinity regarding such a rosy future, I merely suggest that our ignorance still far out weighs our understanding.

      I am urging courage and far greater use of imagination rather than what seems to me a deplorable assumption that some few, have a right of being here while the many must simply make way for the special ones.

      The history of the last ten thousand years suggests, to me, that the few, self-selected, and often vicious, have done precious little to distinguish themselves as deserving any special consideration.

      The future seems to select the young as those who get to stay, even as hierarchical societies sacrifice the young as those who get to “go” in games of dominance, conquest, and plunder, while the avaricious older ones reap benefit and social glory.

      The question was once put, “What do you think of civilization?”

      The response was, “It would be a good thing.”

      Are we there yet?

    • May 30, 2019 at 08:37

      100% of the human population will disappear so there is no need for choosing. Humans think we are all powerful but when it comes down to it, we are the weakest link in the chain…

      • DW Bartoo
        May 30, 2019 at 09:49

        True, and succinctly well said.

      • Realist
        May 30, 2019 at 14:05

        Yes, every one of us is but a transient phenomenon and, like any fire–which is what we are thermodynamically speaking, we will all eventually burn out.

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