I ALMOST NEVER write about writing — in my aesthetic, the writing should disappear, the thought linger. But the longer I’ve spent working on global warming — the greatest challenge humans have ever faced — the more I’ve come to see it as essentially a literary problem. A technological and scientific challenge, yes; an economic quandary, yes; a political dilemma, surely. But centrally? A crisis in metaphor, in analogy, in understanding. We haven’t come up with words big enough to communicate the magnitude of what we’re doing. How do you say: the world you know today, the world you were born into, the world that has remained essentially the same for all of human civilization, that has birthed every play and poem and novel and essay, every painting and photograph, every invention and economy, every spiritual system (and every turn of phrase) is about to be . . . something so different? Somehow “global warming” barely hints at it. The same goes for any of the other locutions, including “climate chaos.” And if we do come up with adequate words in one culture, they won’t necessarily translate into all the other languages whose speakers must collaborate to somehow solve this problem.
I’ve done my best, and probably better than some. My first book, The End of Nature, has been published in twenty-four languages, and the essential idea embodied in the title probably came through in most of them. It wasn’t enough, though, nor were any of the other such phrases (like “boiling point” or “climate chaos”) that more skillful authors have used since. So in recent years I’ve found myself grasping, trying to strip the language down further, make it communicate more. This year I find myself playing with numbers.
When the Northwest Passage opened amid the great Arctic melt last summer, many scientists were stunned. James Hansen, our greatest climatologist, was already at work on a paper that would try, for the first time, to assign a real number to global warming, a target that the world could aim at. No more vague plans to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or keep it from doubling, or slow the rate of growth — he understood that there was already enough evidence from the planet’s feedback systems, and from the quickly accumulating data about the paleoclimate, to draw a bright line.
In a PowerPoint presentation he gave at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last December, he named a number: 350 parts per million carbon dioxide. That, he said, was the absolute upper bound of anything like safety — above it and the planet would be unraveling. Is unraveling, because we’re already at 385 parts per million. And so it’s a daring number, a politically unwelcome one. It means, in shorthand, that this generation of people — politicians especially — can’t pass the problem down to their successors. We’re like patients who’ve been to the doctor and found out that our cholesterol is too high. We’re in the danger zone. Time to cut back now, and hope that we do it fast enough so we don’t have a stroke in the meantime. So that Greenland doesn’t melt in the meantime and raise the ocean twenty-five feet.
For me, the number was a revelation. With a few friends I’d been trying to figure out how to launch a global grassroots climate campaign — a follow-up to the successful Step It Up effort that organized fourteen hundred demonstrations across the U.S. one day last spring and put the demand for an 80 percent cut in America’s carbon emissions at the center of the political debate. We need to apply even more pressure, and to do it on a global scale — it is, after all, global warming. But my friends and I were having a terrible time seeing how to frame this next effort. For one thing, the 180 or so countries that will negotiate a new international treaty over the next eighteen months are pretty much beyond the reach of effective lobbying — we can maybe influence the upcoming American election, but the one in Kenya? In Guatemala? In China? And for another, everyone insists on speaking those different languages. A Babel, this world.
But a number works. And this is a good one. Arcane, yes — parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. But at least it means the same thing in every tongue, and it even bridges the gap between English and metric. And so we secured the all-important URL: 350.org. (Easier said than done.) And we settled on our mission: To tattoo that number into every human brain. To make every person on Planet Earth aware of it, in the same way that most of them know the length of a soccer field (even though they call it a football pitch or a voetbal gebied). If we are able to make that happen, then the negotiations now under way, and due to conclude in Copenhagen in December of 2009, will be pulled as if by a kind of rough and opaque magic toward that goal. It will become the definition of success or of failure. It will set the climate for talking about climate.
So the literary challenge — and the challenge for artists and musicians and everyone else — is how to take a mere number and invest it with meaning. How to make people understand that it means some kind of stability. Not immunity — we’re well past that juncture, and even Hansen says the number is at best the upper bound of safety, but still. Some kind of future. Some kind of hope. That it means kids able to eat enough food, that it means snowcaps on mountains, that it means coral reefs, that it means, you know, penguins. For now 350 is absolutely inert. It means nothing, comes with no associations. But our goal is to fill it up with overtones and shades and flavors. The weekend before we officially launched the campaign, for instance, 350 people on bicycles rode around the center of Salt Lake City. That earned a story in the paper and educated some people about carbon dioxide — but it also started to tint 350 with images of bicycles and the outdoors and good health and pleasure. We need 350 churches ringing their bells 350 times; we need 350 spray-painted across the face of shrinking glaciers (in organic paint!); we need a stack of 350 watermelons on opening day at your farmers’ market; we need songs and videos; we need temporary tattoos for foreheads. We may need 350 people lining up to get arrested in front of a coal train.
It makes sense that we need a number, not a word. All our words come from the old world. They descend from the time before. Their associations have congealed. But the need to communicate has never been greater. We need to draw a line in the sand. Say it out loud: 350. Do everything you can.
My comment comes in the form of a song–anybody want a lead sheet?
CO2 is getting higher
Together we’ll turn down the fire
Gotta get down
Gotta get down
Three-fifty parts per million
Whether you’re Texan or Brazilian
Gotta get down
Gotta get down
Three-fifty, that’s the number
Three-fifty, no time to slumber
Gotta get down
Gotta get down
Too much fuel to fly the plane
See the country, take the train,
If you go I’m gonna grieve,
Turn the light out when you leave
It’s the new low-carbon diet,
Gonna save us if we try it
Gotta get down
Gotta get down
Gonna get down
Gonna get down
You mean “CO2eq” I think as methane and other gasses also act as heat blankets.
What length is a soccer pitch? 100m?
I live in a town of 450 people, and can hardly wait for the price of gas to get these people out of their cars. They are still driving like gas was 39cents. There is however no public transportation. There was a little train, the Doodlebug (yes) that ran from Coffeyville to Wichita once a day roundtrip. It stopped in the 50s. Doodlebugs were all over the country, serving rural and small town folk. Trains need to make a comeback, with new technology. You can’t be for small farms and against corporate farms without supporting rural people, even if those rural people need to have the concept of CO2 critical mass, shoved down their meat eating throats. That being said, I need easily digested clearly explained materials to distribute in the least condescending way. You can’t get anywhere with an attitude here. These folks know all about hard work, and the perception is that city folks are great at pushing papers. We have a funny situation here, too. The low production oil wells which were not being pumped at 20 a barrel, are now pumping and more are being drilled. Some families are doing right well for themselves….
I actually don’t quite get this idea. Given the number of variables in play, given the sheer complexity of the climate systems in question, etc. etc. etc., how can anyone believe that picking a number like 350 ppm makes any real scientific or policy sense? Scientists can’t even agree on something far simpler — say the level of cholesterol that is safe or dangerous in one’s blood — much less on what level of C02 is sane or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m convinced that global warming is a reality, that high CO2 levels are significantly to blame and that continuing to consume fossil fuels as we do is just nuts, but by slapping a number on the issue we do nothing to promote understanding. We encourage people to repeat slogans.
It reminds me of all the canvassers who come to my door asking for money for various causes. Few know anything about the issues beyond the facts in the brochures they try to give me.
I think we can do better.
As much as I respect Bill McKibben, and his ‘transparent’ writing, I have to wonder about some things he has to say.
But first one thing with which I agree with: this is a dilemma of metaphor, of image, of ‘story’ even more than it is of fact or process. We convince ourselves, and we trick ourselves, on the strength of the story we listen to.
So how about another number, and not the 350 McKibben proposes? This other number is right there in his article, too: 25 feet.
Yes, 25 feet, the rise in sea level that he presents. (Not only he, of course.)
And – so what?
How many OTHER ‘numbers’ would descend from that 25 feet figure? How many thousand – million square miles flooded? Billions displaced? Trillions indebted?
Maybe we should start saving…
I applaud Bill McKibben’s attempts at “getting the words right.” Maybe, a number will help. At this point, I know that when his article came up on my slow telephone modem, I didn’t read a word while I tried to understand the photo. What I saw was a backward “E” and then “SO.” For a minute or so, I wondered about it. It was only when I read the article that I understood the photo. In this case, the picture was a total bust without the accompanying words.
For me, it is best to approach this from the perspective of addiction. George Bush said more that he knew (or meant) when he said that we are addicted to oil because as Anne Wilson Schaef wrote over 20 years ago, society has become an addict. Thus, for me, it is clear, the most important response for me in engaging this issue is honesty. Dishonesty is at the root of all addiction. Knowledge cannot save us; only perservering wisdom can.
I think the freight train is roaring downhill out of control.
Words or numbers won’t make it.
It’s still too easy to intellectualize and wander around in our heads. Actual experience is what will make the difference, but by then it’s too late.
The people having the actual experiences are those in the third world who aren’t even responsible for the disaster. This is what we in the industrialized west have done to Earth with our life styles, as if Earth belongs only to us. And all we can do is wring our hands and try to buy the latest green technology.
I’m sorry, but technology is not going to save the Earth. We have become a cancerous tumor and Earth’s immune system will have to eradicate the tumor in order to survive.
Think about it: We haven’t accorded Nature any rights to existence. Many people try to advocate for Nature but Nature has no legal rights in our frameworks of jurisprudence or even in our collective consciousness. Humans are the only creatures accorded rights–and even that is not universal.
In the meantime, officials are still flying around to world meetings on global warming or academics to international conferences on the latest scientific evidence, or just merely vacations. Even Sierra Club still promotes outdoor tours, world treks, etc. What should they be saying?
What 350 (or above) means is that W E H A V E T O S T O P N O W! Flying does even more damage than putting all those people on the ground in cars, buses, or trains, and we know how bad those are. We need to let the air out of our cars’ tires and start walking, biking, or riding in whatever mass transit still exists, and don’t forget horses and mules.
We need to change in ways we can’t even imagine, but within Nature’s convulsive attempts to heal herself, we will be forced to adapt or die–and there will be lots of dying. We, the privileged, will feel the effects last.
We’re living in a consensus trance.
“.. and even Hansen says the number is at best the upper bound of safety, but still. Some kind of future. Some kind of hope.” I’m not sure what McKibben means here. Is it that beyond 350 there still is hope, snow-capped peaks, etc., or that beyond 350 we are going down inexorably?
In any case, I believe that human life will survive, but that our great-grandchildren will live in a horribly degraded, ugly environment. We will not be able to take corrective action on global warming in time or at a proper scale. I think there is evidence that the primitive parts of the human brain, which stongly influence emotion and behavior, are evolved to operate with a short-term perspective. The dominant psychic objectives are for power, security, and comfort. Long-term, “modern brain,” cerebral considerations of over-the-horizon threats to these basic goals do not rise to the level of taking action. Action to avoid danger is only taken if it threatens our power and security in the present. And even then, incredibly, people are still building houses on the beach!
It is hard to imagine what kind of force will be able to accelerate the pace of human evolution in time to avoid our savaging the biosphere. Our technical abilities have simply overwhelmed our evolved mental capabilities to control them.
Lots of good responses thus far. I have to agree with those who do not think using the number “350” is going to do much good. Quite frankly I do believe that nothing is going to stop anyone from their private path until there is nothing left – no oil, no water, no food, NOTHING! I teach school and the majority on the staff in my school refuse to believe there is a “real” problem. They are convinced it is all a big scare tactic to make the oil companies even wealthier than they already are. They are convinced this will all “turn around” like it always has in the past. They do not see that things this time are not like they have been in th past. In the past the earth caught a cold and got over it. This time the earth has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but most people are still in denial – this cannot be happening – we will get over this too.
Susan Willis stated it quite eloquently and succinctly: The freight train is roaring downhill out of control and we are all living in a trance.
Some of us do see what is happening even if we do not fully understand the scope. We want to do something and we are doing what we can but we don’t know what else we can do. We feel helpless, one hand is tied behind each of our backs. We look for leadership and find it sorely lacking in all departments. Our leaders are at loss as to what to do.
Bill Tyson made an excellent point when he asked a question regarding what will happen if the sea level rises 25 feet. “How many thousand -million square miles flooded? Billions displaced? Trillions indebted?” We need to put these numbers – with graphic pictures (pictures speak much louder than words)out for all the world to see and to feel. This is what we all need to know. It will not be enough to ride our bikes to work or change a few lightbulbs or even to learn how to grow some of our own food. If billions of acres of land become flooded and billions of people are left homeless and must flee to safety elsewhere those little things that we are trying to do today are not even a drop in the proverbial bucket. We are all in this together, global warming and population explosion, water and air pollution, destruction of forests – I could go on and on – these things are happening to each and every living organism on this planet and they are happening at a rate no one ever expected. This is the freight train and it is already out of control. What are we going to do to stop it before it wreaks total destruction of all life on planet Earth?
While the 350 number may seem an inadequate symbol at the moment, we have to start someplace, and it is just such simple devices, repeated endlessly, that eventually resonate with people. Any Madison Ave. advertising executive knows that.
For some entertaining “messaging” on the subject, listen to Eliza Gilkyson’s latest album, “Beautiful World”, in particular the songs “Runaway Train” “Unsustainable” and “The Party’s Over.” Go to http://www.elizagilkyson.com.
Like Bob Tyson, I agree with Bill McKibben about the problem of finding the right metaphor, story or image to wake the public up about this crucial moment in time. And while I empathize with Susan Willis that we must ACT NOW and stop intellectualizing the issue, I also find that there are otherwise wise, caring, thoughtful folks everywhere who simply don’t see what the issue is, how this mysterious “Global warming” in any way will impact them. In other words, they have no “reason” or motivation to act. And unless a person feels a personal stake in an issue, they will NOT Act.
I’ve heard statements like, “Oh, it’s hot today. Must be global warming. Thank God; I hate the cold,” or “these (fill in the blanks: tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc.) are simply Mother Nature’s normal cycles.” I shudder when I hear these statements. I think it is vitally important that we make this real in a way it is obviously not “real” to the majority of people.
Part of it is the yawning disconnect that our society has with Nature. When you are a true observer and engager with nature, you organically learn how interconnected everything is. Yes, it matters that bee hives are collapsing; yes, it matters that polar bears are endangered; yes, it matters that glaciers which have been around for thousands and thousands of years are now melting at alarming rates. And YES, it’s all connected and we are a vital thread in that weave. I don’t know how to best teach this, though I try with my poetry students, I’ve tried while raising my own son.
But the time is NOW for us to act. What is the compelling story, the story that will touch someone’s heart and make the stop thinking about the damn price of gas (the obvious answer to that one being: stop driving your car!), to stop imagining that this world is simply about the one, the individual and to start thinking that every part of this remarkable natural world, including humans, plays a role in keeping every other part of the web intact, healthy, alive, growing. The Native Americans knew this. Where do we find the new story?
Sadly, I believe it’s too late to save the world we live in. However, in the long run, the world will be just fine, but I don’t think that our species will. After all during the Carbonaceous period, CO2 levels were at 6% of the atmosphere and life thrived.
Old timers here in Oklahoma say the Panhandle is hotter and drier then it was during the Dust Bowel..We thought of using little Christmas lights to spell 350 so airplanes could see it..I have to step up wearing my Polar Bear suit around town.If Senator Inhofe could be defeated Oklahoman’s would be a lot better off..I will do more chalk art.Buckminister Fuller’s grandson said on “Democracy Now” we should remember Bucky for stressing the importance of what one person can do..Jean
Small point of correction (Post 12, John Weiss):
During the Carboniferous Period, CO2 levels were similar to what they are today, or if anything a bit lower, while atmospheric oxygen levels were quite a bit higher.
Life indeed thrived between glacial lowerings and raisings of sea level, especially in broad continental-margin swamps, leaving the deposits of coal now mined, for example, across Appalachia.
On the other hand, this thriving life might or might not interest, or be compatible with, a world ‘as we know it’ since it was dominated by ferns and bugs. Large ones.
“Susan Willis stated it quite eloquently and succinctly: The freight train is roaring downhill out of control and we are all living in a trance.”
I haven’t always lived in Kansas, and in fact, volunteered at the Ecology Center in Berkeley in 1970. We had a chance then, I think. We were dismissed as doom and gloomer. Maybe we had the science wrong, but there was a gut/heart feeling that we were on to something. That the consumer culture was going to ruin things for generations of living beings.
All the naysayers now need to participate in an experiment. What if we are right and by drastically changing our ways of living we can turn it around. What if we are wrong and changing our ways of living make the world a healthier, greener, sweeter place. Either way is a winner. When LA had terrible smog, I couldn’t leave my parents house and bicycle when I visited from Montana. And they didn’t SEE it. Now, it is less smoggy and they realize it was worse then. Something changed (though you still shouldn’t breathe out there). When the Chinese regulate vehicles for the Olympics, they will see a change, will they demand keeping it up? Do you remember the beautiful skies after air traffic was grounded after the trade towers, etc. I was in Denver, and it was beautiful, no streaks no haze. The two days previous were bad.
I don’t think that having a new cute website will help. I think visibly living lightly might. I think images of not the scariest future might help, if we can get them ‘out there’. Subtle things that people don’t want to see changing. I don’t know. Maybe I am crazy. We are the problem. So only we can be the solution.
I do appreciate that we have to “start somewhere” and I applaud most of what Bill McKibben writes. I am afraid I am completely ignorant of what any Madison Ave. advertising executive knows as I am a school teacher and not a corporate executive.
Hanna said, among other thoughtful things,
“I don’t think that having a new cute website will help. I think visibly living lightly might. I think images of not the scariest future might help, if we can get them ‘out there’. Subtle things that people don’t want to see changing. I don’t know. Maybe I am crazy. We are the problem. So only we can be the solution.”
The best solution would be fewer of us, I think. Second best? Quit burning fossil fuels, of course.
*Sigh* The problem will take care of it’s self and my sons will have to live with it. Makes me very unhappy.
Frankly, not to be rude, but I just think the 350 slogan is a little embarrassing. I can’t imagine getting behind it or promoting it. I’d feel silly. It’s even worse than Obama/Bob the Builder’s “Yes we can” as the Will.I.Am video using that slogan showed. It’s just painful.
And it’s totally lacking in content other than a simple measure of carbon levels in the atmosphere. It does not convey a vision of a better way of living — we could get to 350 through collective action that transforms the planet or we could get to 350 through more corporate oligarchism like we have now. 350 could be one more slogan to further entrench capitalism. The slogan is empty.
Me, too, John. I have already apologized to mine. They know I tried, and I raised them to live lightly.
This is turning out to be a better conversation than I thought.
link to mark morford’s latest column.
We are doomed! Sort of!
McKibben’s has an excellent idea. Go with it.
Doubters must realize that no one idea is likely to be a homerun. To scratch our heads and wonder if 350 will work is absurd thinking. I see Mckibben’s 350 idea as of one of many waves that will combine at some point to bring understanding. To dwaddle around waiting for the perfect pitch will leave us standing at homeplate as nature calls strike three! You’re out!
Numbers, slogans, demonstrations … what ever we can use to proclaim the message must work for people take notice of the global climate crisis. I resonate most with Susan’s and Lindy’s comments and add: Yes, new technology, clean energy, and the notion of sustainable living will help but the “train is roaring down hill” and will take some time (distance) to stop. The earth’s climate is changing. The earth’s ecosystems and her agricultural and economic demographics will change. The earth’s systems will self-regulate and humanity will be affected. Yes, we can slow and mitigate the impacts of global climate change, by changing our self-centered culture of greed. We can change habits to live into a sustaiable life-style and ethic that includes the welfare of our neighbors – all of humanity, all of nature, all of creation. Left unchecked, humanity, as we know the species today, will go the way of the dinosaur. The earth will survive.
What about 350 in 350 days? A campaign. I’m in public radio and for our membership drives it’s all about ownership and attainable goals. 350 days to 350, with something real and tangible to do each day, would help make it real for people. A way to get from here (385) to there (350)in a real way.
hmmm… how about 350 in one day-see my millerfamily.stumbleupon.com for a friend’s take
Is this article being read in China and India? Isn’t that were brand new old-fashioned coal fired energy plants are fuelling the burgeioning economies while they’ve become the new leaders in producing reall pollution (not just CO2), like soot (which by the way is doing quite a bit to melt the ice) and heavy metals which, if we’re worried about the white maritime bears (a much better name since there is nothing biologically that makes living on ice essential for the modern polar bear that used to range well into the temperate oceans just a few hundred years ago)…anyhow, those Kyoto sanctioned power plants and their soot and mercury smoke is suspected of causing one in five female polars bears to develope as hermaphrodites and thus non-reproductive.
I would love to see a line drawn in the sand and it would be well before the concentration of CO2 becomes anything to worry about, but the destroyed ecosystems, the decimated coastal areas, modern habitation being built on exposed and sinking land, and always the expanding hungry mouth…yeah, I’m all for a line in the sand but the worries about CO2 seem like it should be far down on the list or we’ll find ourselves with a nice climate controlled planet but our old practices show that we’ll just squander what we’ve saved at such great expense.
A number, whether it represents money, mileage, weight or inflation, just to name a few numerical measures, appears to greatly, if not predominantly, influence us humans these days. That is, judging, for instance, by the way we measure economic safety or wealth.
So, parts per million it will be! Thanks Bill! Our numerical representation of parts per million of CO2 as a guide to remember the urgency of our task! Our task being in essence to trade-off, sacrifice, our current unsustainable ways of life, for a future for our children, grandchildren, etc and all the living communities on Earth.
Our challenge, and thus our opportunity, will remain to wrong-foot ourselves, i.e.primarily our egos. Our challenge will be to drop all sleepiness around this approaching thundering global warming train. Slow it down, stop it or in any other way get at least our children and grandchildren and hopefully ourselves off the track.
You would think that, especially given that what our egos ultimately value, i.e. life and survival, this would be a piece of cake. But, judging by our history, we might or might not be that smart! We face the ultimate test. Can we all get together on this issue and trade business as usual for an expressed love for all our communities. What a great opportunity! The ultimate opportunity.
Karel J Samsom
okay i am doing a test on stumbleupon, have changed my avatar to 350 and will see if I get any questions. or whatever.
350ppm – there’s an echo in there from dance music: bpm = beats per minute. Get “350bpm” out to them, maybe we get an anthem that sinks in? (Not even speedcore exceeds 200bpm, so the message is, with climate heating we’re going way over anything feasible)…
Problem is, global emergency or not, activism of any kind has a poor image in badass culture, which as a hangover from ex-slave self-assertions, still has a lot of life in it, & will prob control lots of young minds for a while yet.
I do not think activism has a bad image..I dress as Polar Bear and stand on a busy corner w sign”Stop Global Warming” I encourage other to do the same.The situation is DESPERATE<DESPERATE if we do nothing..I am very positively received..teenagers wave and yell wildly ,people at work stop to have me meet their families as the person who does this .It does not cost anything ,except just to get your nerve up..Can be done without the Bear suit also.Activists are beloved people!!.Father John Dear ,the great Peace Activist says we must make public actions and statements..Read his books
Thank you Veronica for the link to Eliza Gylkison’s powerful songs. Music reaches us on the cellular level unlike either words or numbers, which are far too cerebral.
Sharon, your thoughtful comments about the disconnect between culture and nature hit the target dead center, but your closing query epitomized our cultural blindness.
You stated that Native Americans understood their place in the web of life and then asked “Where do we find the new story?”
There’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Round has always worked just fine, thank you. And the indigenous story has worked for tens of thousands of years.
The Hopi and the Kogi have been trying to warn us and offering to help point the way back (not forward) to a truly sustainable way of living lightly on the planet in respect for “all our relations” and with concern for the next “seven generations”.
We are living a story that was doomed to failure from the start. There are no “fixes” and no “reforms” and no technological solutions, nor piecemeal incremental changes that will stop this out-of-control train.
The train cannot be stopped or even appreciably slowed. The only way out of this suicidal predicament, As Karel pointed out, is to get entirely off the track and back onto the land. And this means, necessarily, a drastic reduction in the human biomass on the planet.
Honor life, celebrate the impending demise of the arrogant human race, be willing to sacrifice your own life for the good of the planet. We have overstayed our welcome. If we do not act responsibly and make room for the entire web of life to flourish in Earth, Gaia will do what needs to be done.
reduction in the
on the planet.
of the arrogant
human race, be
willing to sacrifice
your own life
for the good
of the planet.
……and?????? H=O=W?? May one ask? Specifics? Contradictions?
Noooooo!!! Or just – huh?
Apparently, my comments left “raw-cuss” sputtering and incoherent.
At present, the global human population is using the resource equivalent of 1.25 Earths – and that’s if we assume that the entire planet belongs to us and we need not leave anything for the millions of other species.
A reasonable assessment would conclude that the planet can support a human population of perhaps 1 billion (about the world population at the time of the Civil War), if were were consuming resources and emitting wastes at the rate we did in the mid nineteenth century.
It is only by rapidly depleting the “capital” of the planet in the form of fossil fuels, with the use of clever technological crutches, and with an emphasis on quantity rather than quality that we have been able to temporarily expand our global population to its current extent.
We are now experiencing the costs of our folly, extravagance, and exuberance – a cost that the less affluent world has born for centuries.
The biosphere (Gaia) will correct this imbalance regardless of our protestations. Those of us who have benefited most from our short-sighted and excruciatingly selfish ways should, in good conscience, be the first to volunteer to go.
The only lesson that remains to be (re)learned is that we serve the web of life – it does not exist to serve us. Green plants and microbes are the indispensable foundation of life on Earth. We are the least important species and the only one to deliberately despoil the nest.
I think you have to ‘listen to’ what ruhk-us wrote recited in a very very high-pitched squeaky voice…
I was left more or less sputtering myself at that post, and the offer it proposes that folk of good will ought commit a sort of seppuku. But not incoherent. Vehemently, I respond that Mr. Riversong is off the mark, factually and morally. Unless – but no, not even then – I was tempted to write that he, having shown himself to be one who has ‘benefitted most’ (by his presence in this forum, above all!) must lead the way, literally. And SOON.
The notion that a value of resource use of ‘1.25’ or any other ‘x’ value of the earth’s capacity is notional suicide, if nothing else. Per capita food production has squeezed itself into progressively smaller and smaller land areas. Enormous arable regions remain under used or not exploited at all. Realizing how loaded the term ‘exploited’ is, of course. One may go far back in literature to passages that give humanity ‘dominion’ over nature, and not that I would insist that such references be rigidly held, nor literally. Nor would I exclude the ethics of wise stewardship from the broader sense of ‘dominion’.
Assuming that writer was serious in his proposal, I for one would like to hear much, much more about how he recommends we reduce our gross population from almost 7 billion to around a billion. Or even to half what it is now. And when.
How? When? Only by exploring those questions can Mr. Riversong’s proposal to be the first to go be treated as anything but cruel farce. Or something absolutely obscene.
You must have heard this proposed before. VHEM “May we live long and die out”
I think we need to look at the more reasonable idea of exterminating the part of us which is living in a past we never had the right to. The citizen as consumer. The instant gratification craving. The external over the internal. I have a bumper sticker which says ‘creation before consumption’= regrettably it probably goes over the heads of most of my neighbors.
I don’t think it appropriate to call for Mr. Riversong to lead the way and soon. Very not in the spirit of civility we should have here. Really makes me read the rest of that post skeptically.
Hannah, Mr. Riversong -may- be writing in a ‘metaphorical’ mode, but the imagery he uses has a hard, practical, material edge to it that I forgive myself for mistaking, if this IS a mistake, for literally proposing violent or self-immolating action. You have read his posts. A ‘drastic’ reduction, in context with the rest, leaves a moral question of insurmountable proportions in my mind.
I take it that you think me to have been uncivil to have pointed this out. If so, I offer an apology. But none for vigorously, or as I did write, vehemently protesting the substance, if not the tenor, of those posts.
If no one else who has followed this discussion sees that, then I withdraw. Not as a matter of civility, but as a gesture of acknowledgment of futility.
I know when I’m licked.
My renewed salute to rack-rust, too!
No doubt about it.
There should be fewer humans on the planet. There are a few options.
Exodus, but we’re not there yet.
Birth control, but many folks think that it’s a right to push out as many babies as they can.
Most likely, mass die offs from (fill in your favorites) starvation, lack of potable water plague or a man-made disaster such as another world war. Or any combination.
We’ve left my children (and yours!), a real mess. I’ve already apologized.
You see, Hannah, Mr. Weiss adds to the sense of futility I take from this discussion, and that is a shame. Note that as you follow his thread you end up with an apology – but otherwise a ‘mess’ and hopelessness.
Re-reading your response to me, you are right to view my offering skeptically. And that was exactly how I took Mr. Riversong, whose contributions, if I may say it, are in substance truly uncivil.
I guess I feel your barb with some intensity and wish to suggest your judgment of me, or of what I previously posted, is misplaced, or at least undeserved. As well as unkind, in creating the straw man of reading my post as requiring a solution ‘soon’ of Mr. Riversong, or of anyone else.
That’s unfortunate, because I do think he ‘owes’ (and DO see the quotes 🙂 his reader a follow-on to the dire scene he at first offers.
Perhaps you do, as well. I hope that in all that I have written here, and on other Orion forums, has served to express the undertone of continued wonder and optimism, even humor, with which I see the real crisis we all face.
Bob, it was your suggestion to him personally which I took to be uncivil. You said ‘you were tempted to write…’ and then did write that he must show the way. and SOON.
I am a lifelong pessimistic optimist, or an optimistic pessimist, whatever. I don’t take loss of life lightly, and I know from my personal experience you can regain your hope, even after tragic loss, but I will admit to thinking the same thoughts as Riversong. I also plant a garden, nurture my adult children and friends, and make soup. I am hopeful, but realistic. We may have gone too far with this false civilization, and not far enough with creativity and conservancy.
Hannah, although you are correct that I wrote ‘soon’ about Riversong, you do me the further injustice of quoting out of context. For if you follow the rest of the post, to say nothing of the expression ‘guides’ for the passage you have lifted from its place, you will see that what you infer is incorrect.
You disappoint, for it is clear you yourself see through the distortion of my meaning.
That is uncivil, on your part.
As to Riversong, I stand by how I put it. By voicing what had been implicit in his post I have merely pointed to the Emperor.
So I repeat my offer from an earlier post: if that is sufficient to you to be ‘inappropriate’, then I retire.
“Vehemently, I respond that Mr. Riversong is off the mark, factually and morally. Unless – but no, not even then – I was tempted to write that he, having shown himself to be one who has ‘benefitted most’ (by his presence in this forum, above all!) must lead the way, literally. And SOON.”
Still too much out of context? it is at the top of the page, your complete post, too.
I am willing to agree to disagree with you.
Hannah (40) do you REALLY believe what you have quoted is as you wrote, my ‘complete post’? It is all there at the top of page 5, indeed. And continues well beyond the fragment you’ve quoted.
So what is it with which you disagree? Certainly, surely, disagree. And if you wish I’ll be willing to re-state my post which so provokes you, just to be certain what I wish to express is not misunderstood.
I do think something important is at stake here. Mr. Riversong was out of bounds, that is, if I understood him. I think I did; you at least have not suggested otherwise, so it appears you agree with my ‘take’ in some fundamental way.
Wow, the posts went from the 360 idea to finding a way to exterminate ourselves!
Increased population is certainly the base of our problem, but what that increased population has done is the problem.
I don’t see how we can reduce our population, we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work. We’ve had endless war, killing off people including two world wars that attempted it on a global scale. When we have possible world wide diseases come around, we work hard to solve them. We keep inventing ways to extend lifetimes and save people that in past times would have died quickly (heart stents for instance).
It just seems it’s not in our genes to reduce our population. Although I’ve done my part by not siring progeny, I don’t feel like I somehow made a difference to global heating as I myself live in a society (the U.S.) that essentially forces me into being a contributor to the problem.
Happiness is a basic emotion that makes life living. We all do things great and small out of happiness (or perceived happiness). Just discussing global heating and what to do about it, could be described as happiness for some people.
So, though I’m typing away using electricity on a piece of equipment that took resources and energy to produce that operates in a system that needed those same things to assemble the infrastructure so that I could eventually convey my feelings and ideas to others, I must know I’d probably be better off not using the damn thing, as to global heating. Catch-22. My happiness is negated by the reality. We can’t win.
I suppose that ultimately sacrificing my own life is the really the only answer, but I would lose my happiness. Catch-22. I can’t win.
As to the 360 idea. I guess I’m a bit saddened that it takes a publicity gimmick or some sort of Madison Avenue imitation to get out the truth. It speaks to the society we’ve created and the tools that are perceived to work to get out a message to the masses. But things like this sometimes work, so give it a try I suppose.
The success of it really depends on it being an addition to other previous gimmicks and publicity attempts (concerts, protests, etc.). Isn’t it too bad we can’t just give everyone two or three books on the subject and make them read those book?
But as I’ve stated in other threads, there are people in the U.S. (as well as the rest of the world) that are simply not interested in a solution or are not interested in giving up their perceived happiness or don’t even believe there is a problem. The percent of those people are far too many to probably solve global heating as they are a big block blocking solutions.
The way I feel is that I’m captive on some gigantic Titanic knowing that a huge iceberg is waiting for the ship to hit, insanely captained by someone who desires the crash. So instead of jumping into the icy water to my death prior to the crash, I await to watch the drama unfold as I occasional throw a deck chair overboard thinking I might help alleviate the future disaster. I even tell the other passengers of my goal, an activist trying to get others to “DO SOMETHING!”
Not everyone will die when the gigantic Titanic hits the iceberg (which probably broke off of Greenland). Some will be “saved” though at a reduced passenger list, but many will suffer including possibly myself.
I wish my bad dream were to be interrupted by a changed reality. The answer within my bad dream would be to stop the insane captain, easier than the reality of stopping the World’s power elite.
That my quite reasonable suggestion should have provoked such an outpouring of defensiveness and offensiveness, only proves my thesis.
That Tyson’s primary challenge to my statements is that it is “uncivil” makes evident the moral and cultural blinders he wears.
Absolutely true that my comments were “uncivil”, for it is civility and the civilization that spawned it that is the root of the biocidal crises that face the planet today.
It is western civilization which is the train following a philosophical track to oblivion, and not incidentally taking half the extant species of Earth along to Armageddon. And that track is exactly, as Tyson suggests, one which spells “Dominion” for the human race.
Fine tuning this train-bound-for-collision will only adjust the nature of the the impact, not the outcome.
When humanity lived in harmony with the web of life, and during seasons in which there was insufficient food for the entire tribe, elders (such as in Inuit culture) would walk into the snow to release their life force back into the web for the sake of the other generations.
This has been viewed with the same kind of horror that Tyson suffers for my remarks by good Christians who believe themselves to be God’s chosen creatures. Yet it evidences a much greater morality than any to be found in “civilized” culture.
Each of you lives daily by the death of others, whether that be animals or vegetables or insects or fish. Yet who among you mourns for their sacrifice?
And who among you grieves the loss of 300 species every day directly attributable to our excesses? Who among you cries for the world’s suffering poor who put food on our overflowing tables, whose poverty is a direct result of our lifestyles?
Tyson’s discomfort aside, the only just and moral decision that we wealthy humans can make is to return our life force back to the web from which it was cruelly taken to satisfy our lusts and inhuman desires.
After all, that life does not belong to us – it is borrowed from the ebb and flow of the greater body of Gaia, and it is only to her that we owe our loyalty and our responsibility.
To bask in the false optimism that has fueled this misbegotten experiment in “civilization” is to continue the greatest crime against life that the Earth has ever known.
“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion,” said that great iconoclast Edward Abbey. I concur.
To all, and to Mr. Riversong in particular,
Let me revisit what you wrote earlier, to be sure, from the bare bones of what you posted, that I have understood you. Here:
We are living a story that was doomed to failure …
no “fixes” … no “reforms” … no technological solutions…
…only way out … is to get … back onto the land. And this
means … a DRASTIC REDUCTION IN … HUMAN BIOMASS…
…celebrate the impending demise of the arrogant
human race, be willing to sacrifice your own life…
We have overstayed our welcome.
… the planet can support a … population
of perhaps 1 billion … consuming resources … at the
rate we did in the mid nineteenth century.
Those of us who have benefited … should … be the
first to volunteer to go.
In those passages, from two of Mr. Riversong’s posts, I read a crushing despair, for which I can only try to reach across and urge some sort of ritual or celebration or engagement with a ‘what-if’ stance: ‘What-if’ holding the controls even when the plane seems it must crash might raise the odds of turning failure into a successful landing? (Which among pilots, needs only be one you can walk away from, to qualify.)
I also see in these passages a frankly mindless rejection of ‘technology’ and a hollow call to go ‘back onto the land’. Question: are not hoe, shovel, and gardening gloves, ‘technology’? There IS no escape. We are a ‘technological’ species, and that just may be cause for real celebration. Fire, anyone?
Reading through Mr. Riversong’s passages I call on the reader to return to the original posts, to test whether my excerpting is in the main fair to the original context. We move from an abandonment of technology to a ‘celebration’ of the end of the human race. That is, if I correctly read the word ‘demise’, here, and ‘human race’ as the population of ‘people’ who inhabit the earth at present. I admit that I beg the modifier ‘arrogant’ so perhaps I’ve misunderstood that ‘demise’ will be the fate of those who fall under the sub-rubric of the arrogant race (human). But I’ll retort that ‘human race’ usually means the species Homo sapiens sapiens, and that the definition of ‘species’ is the inclusion of all individuals which can mate and produce viable offspring. Since arrogance, last time I checked, didn’t work at all as fertility control I retreat to my interpretation of this passage as pre-defining the extinction of humanity. Arrogant humans are, depending on your personal viewpoint, either a subset of all humanity, or just people, all of us. Take your pick!
I addressed the logical weakness in the assertion that the planet is limited to successfully carrying a human population of 1 billion in an earlier post, to which I refer the reader, or, better yet, to many outside and more authoritative sources…
And then I came to those last lines. What do YOU make of that, dear reader? What am I to take from it? In, or out, of context, here? It worries and upsets me. If Mr. Riversong’s purpose was to get ‘up my nose’ as an Irish friend puts it, he has succeeded. Moreso if he is sincere. Yes, I can, with a squint, take it as a metaphoric hint that we must be selfless, might needs bear sacrifice. Unfortunately those actual words, ‘first to go’ have a ring to them that I found, and still do, after re-reading and re-considering Mr. Riversong’s words, very sinister. Quote from an old VW manual of procedures for the compleat idiot: ‘The driver of the VW bus is strapped on right out front where he’ll be the FIRST TO GO. Get it??
On reflection, the posts are ‘civil’ but they manage, cleverly, to tread a certain margin. The bottom line, and the last ones in Mr. Riversong’s post, suggest something akin to the hiddean meaning of the gift of a sharp kitchen knife to the newlyweds, from the bride’s former and still-jealous boyfriend.
I would not take the time to respond at such length except that another new post, from Jon B, says much that needs to be said, and in a voice of good cheer in spite of the shadow we face. I can only add that he has articulated something I too feel, and probably more poetically and warmly than I could. Bravo! Read THAT post again!
I think perhaps you are giving me too much credit, but I’ll take it anyway.
I just am a human trying to understand so many things and I try to see things from all angles. The glass IS half full, the glass IS half empty, both are true and I can observe it in either view. And then I also realize that a glass with fluid isn’t a stable amount. We can physically add to the volume or let it sit and evaporate. Or we can drink it quickly because of thirst or slowly to savor the taste like a good wine. There’s no one way to see the world or a glass of fluid.
I understand Riversong’s point. It doesn’t upset me in the least. To reduce the world’s population is desirable, and to sacrifice one’s own life in the cause seems brave in a way. Countless wars have witnessed soldiers and warriors sacrifice themselves in battle for the goal of victory or to save a comrade. Is Riversong’s idea any different? Only in the scale of the battle, to save a friend, the Earth as a vessel for so many other species besides humans.
Did not Vietnamese monks immolate themselves in protest for a cause? Have people not sacrificed themselves in the past in order to not reveal secrets or in refusal to believe in someone else’s God? People have chosen to die rather than be subjugated.
We tend to think of these choices as bravery, could we not think of Riversong’s idea the same? Of course he would need to do that…WAIT, I’m not encouraging this at all! One death is not even noticeable. A mass public suicide might get noticed…but then again it would be too much like Jim Jones or Heaven’s Gate. Repeated mass public sacrifices might get others to understand the depth of conviction and it would have to be thousands of people. Yet, the world is so cynical that even that wouldn’t get the right kind of attention.
Nope, I think it will be the more frequent weather disasters that kills people unexpectedly that gets the world’s attention. And I do believe we are seeing that sort of awakening to global heating reality. It’s common enough now when the weather zaps us for people to wonder aloud about global heating.
By the way, there’s more to my bad dream. You understand that it was another passenger that had spotted the iceberg using high powered binoculars. He showed others including myself. I could see it, the moonlight glinting off of it as a sort of warning light. Some of us accepted the evidence, others denied it.
Some of the people who spied the iceberg through those binoculars decided to take action. They ran down to the glitzy dining room pleading for the revelers to come see the danger, but only a few would be bothered, they were having too much fun. Off in the cigar room where the powerful smoked and planned the future, there was no interest in deviating from their future plans. The attendees of the evening prayer service didn’t believe God would place an iceberg in the way, but some also thought that if true, God works in mysterious ways.
Meanwhile up in the bridge, Captain Insane had taken all the guns on board and armed his crew to protect his mission. He paid good money for his newly formed army, the dollars would buy loyalty. He had promised them survival as well, money can blind people to reality.
Myself? Just feeling helpless as the gigantic Titanic cruised to some sort of destiny, yet it an odd way the events were too interesting not to see how it all turned out.
As any human, I’m attracted to a good story and then being in the story as it happens is an emotional ride. Nothing is more intense as when events unfold in that slow motion feel. That’s how I feel these days.
Plenty of good stories have surprise endings. The gigantic Titanic might not hit that iceberg, but the problem is that it’s hard to predict a surprise.
Dear Jon B (I hope it’s ok to capitalize here — 🙂
I’ve quickly read only your first 8 or 10 lines and I confess I can’t follow you. I’m kind of a Bear of Little Brain. I’ve ‘had it’ with ‘sacrifice’ of the kind you indicate and think it has all but never brought about ‘the good’. YMMV as they say and it all depends on specifics.
I really responded to your previous post, however, and I hope that offering that ‘credit’ (who ever said such power was within MY grasp?) isn’t the last straw.
This time I stopped reading, on the other hand, because I think YOU are placing undue credit on a text or texts that are way too raw to stand the load. In other words, what the writer in that case ‘may have’ meant is a bit myterious.
I have to stand by my take, and by what I’ve already said. I think the overall center of gravity there was ugly. I’m disappointed, and discouraged, when I read the discussion sliding onto that slippery slope of despair, which is what I can’t escape reading in what we’ve seen here over the past day or so.
What I believe is called for might not be the cup of tea of the Orion ‘faithful’ but it consists of diligent, hard work. First off, to learn, understand, and push science and it’s bawky offspring in technology. We are, in so many cases, so ruefully underinformed and misinformed.
While I can ‘agree’ on specifics, such as a generality like ‘we need to reduce human population’ I can’t see where that facile point of rapport gets us, by itself.
That’s why my challenge stands, even to someone who presents the rough-hewn and perhaps manipulative screeds to which I’ve objected, to offer some sort of map for the kind of work, and change, that helps.
I know that is a tall order. I’m not making that challenge in the vacuum of self-satisfaction, I can tell you. I write, on a forum such as this, to help clear MY mind, to further develop my own understandings and thoughts, even when I might indulge a bit of talking to myself along the way.
That’s ok. I know you’ll survive MY patter, no matter what. Even when I feel a kind of community-focused responsibility to run up the caution flag.
Jon B, You have much clearer perception than those, like Bob Tyson, who are so deeply challenged by my words that they read their own abiding fears into them.
Despair? I have none. I celebrate the coming Earth Changes that so many indigenous prophesies have foretold for this time. These changes, which necessarily involve a major die-off of the teeming masses of humanity, are a corrective to the imbalance that our overly-developed egos and (not so) clever minds have created. That Gaia is returning herself to balance is a cause for joy not despair.
Despair is the response only of those who so desperately cling to their personal lives that they would sacrifice all of Creation for a bit more longevity or the satisfaction of leaving progeny swarming the planet.
The “arrogant” off-shoot of the human evolutionary tree are those who invented a god in their own image and used that illusion as a rationalization for desecrating the very creation that they ascribe to their god.
For tens of thousands of years, humanity rested harmoniously within the bosom of creation. It was when we stopped accepting the gifts that nature offered for our subsistence and instead began to extract our “pound of flesh” from her loins that we went awfully astray of our destiny. And it is for this hubris and greed and gluttony that we are now paying the price.
We will go to the edge, either willingly or by the inexorable force of nature. The Tysons of this world will cling to their illusions until the bitter end.
Interesting that Tyson interprets my critique as “mindless”, though it is based on a lifetime of learning, research, experience and rational investigation. Yet it is very true that if were to stop living so exclusively in the mind and return to a heart-centered existence, we would not only understand clearly our role in the web of life but also accept our destiny without anxiety or fear.
Fear and despair are the results of an addiction to life. Once we abandon our attachment to outcome, we can live joyously in each moment and we can tap the power to create wondrous possibilities.
Whoa! – Let’s jump off this bi-polar express. I believe the original train has jumped the tracks. I thought these comments were in response to McKibben’s 350 icon. The world is suffering from the impact of the industrial and technological revolutions; so, can we stop the button pushing that has occurred from post 41 on? Ego-mania abounds. Personally, I think that jon b, Robert and Bob have kicked up enough verbal dust to block any further global warming. Great writing though gentlemen.
I went back to the original McKibben article and also read over the first several posts in response. It’s a real challenge to pull out of the ozone or CO2 haze some hook or catch-phrase that will stick in the mind. Looking for something that could serve the purpose is at the heart of the article, yes? And the first post, a song, goes right at the challenge. And bravo!
Even so, there is something under the surface I wonder about. (This could be a long-ish post.)
First of all that number, 350 ppm of CO2, might not be so magical. Returning to that level only gets us part way back to geologically historical levels. Why not 320? 292? Anyone interested can search a bit and find the basis for the lower figures in various articles, published over many years.
Second, there is ample controversy over what the consequences of the present levels, above 350, will bring. And about what the mitigations of cap-and-trade or other emissions restructuring will actually accomplish. One estimate, by the same UN crew that got the Nobel along with Gore last year for its findings, is that the reductions under cap-and-trade as proposed by McCain and Obama would only delay arrival at a certain INCREASE in global temperature by a couple of years, and would cause a global rise of 0.4 degrees celsius by the end of this century. (I’ll give a link to an article in the next paragraph.)
I’m not certain that a 0.4 degree rise is NOT still quite serious but, without wanting to spark a shouting match, I do wish to encourage informed consideration of these aspects. Today there is an article in the Guardian by Bjorn Lomborg – if it’s permissable here is the url: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/03/climatechange.usa?gusrc=rss&feed=worldnews – titled McCain, Obama, and Hot Air – that I recommend.
Lomborg is new to me and I’m not quite sure how to take what he has to say, but in detail he makes thoughtful points. One is that cap-and-trade only addresses the emissions side of the problem, and he thinks the benefits won’t repay the costs. If he’s right, we should be looking elsewhere. He would instead invest heavily in technologies for zero carbon energy PRODUCTION – wind, solar, wave, and so on.
But more interesting still is his placement of the CO2 problem in context with other priorities which include reduction of poverty, AIDS, and more. The article says it very well and if you look around a bit there are other places where Lomborg states his case.
Maybe the ‘WHAT’ that we face (high CO2 levels) is only AS IMPORTANT as the ‘WHY’ (historical factors that got us here) and – even more to the point – the ‘HOW’ to go on from here. If, as one poster wrote, agreement on what is a dangerous cholesterol count is hard to come by, and the specifics of what CO2 at 350 will mean are also debatable (but only in detail, please note I consider the situation IS grave), then it should be worthwhile to work out a strategy based on something else. Too. In addition.
That could be to find an image or catch-phrase that ignites the imagination by showing ‘sexy’ the kinds of win-win solutions that put us in a better place, and above all at the point of origin: by HOW we produce the energy we use, rather than by what we do about it AFTER the waste we produce becomes WHAT we have to worry about. Doing so, for the US especially, would go a long ways to restore faith in American leadership and moral strength, too.
More and better systems for zero-carbon energy production are in development. Many are, to me, surprising to see, especially in their esthetics. There are wind turbines, and not all the huge, horizontal propellers, that are – wow – quite beautiful to look at! There are strong improvements in protecting birds and animals at the same time, and in efficiency at many levels. Same for solar, where some of the new hardware, besides promising to become competitive with coal and other old-wave sources, look and feel sexy. Approaches to wave energy and – who knows? – are very intriguing, deserve to be pushed hard.
So this post is running long, and there is something else of importance I wish to add, even though I’ve pushed it clear down here in hopes that will signal my sense of its importance, but of its rank as secondary to the argument of this forum. ‘Argument’ that is, in the sense of the Italian word ‘argomento’ or main subject. I encourage anyone to keep looking around, be informed, armed, and bring that added context into this discussion, which is an important one, and difficult enough.
. A word on civility and acceptable content .
A series of posts, here, which began with one of my own, have turned into a shouting match and become uncomfortably personal. I accept my role in that downturn of spirit. I’m not certain where the the confines of manners might be in a forum such as this; is it not acceptable to voice disagreement? To indicate what appear, from the writer’s perspective, to be errors or inconsistencies, in the reasoning or argument of another poster? And what to do, when the content or the tenor of postings crosses some line of acceptability of a moral or spiritual character?
If someone posted a call, literally stated, to pick up guns and kill people who had names beginning with letters in the second half of the alphabet, it would be obligatory, I hope, to object, if not to call the police. What prompted me to intervene has not, I want to stress, of that explicit nature, but it was and is a matter of seriously loaded and objectionable content. I used the word ‘obscene’ early on. I don’t call the police over obscenity (unless it accompanies physical threat) but I do note it, at least, and object, when appropriate.
My post, I think it was 33, was in response to what were ambiguous but loaded declarations in a preceding post. I thought at the time that the poster may have been joking, or even ‘trolling’ but no matter, the way it came across, on reflection, was that the matter was serious enough to deserve my response. If the poster had been joking, then I, too, was joking in the manner of my framing of my reply.
But I don’t think this is a matter of a joke, and that, as I have written before now, disturbs me. It would disturb me to hear anyone speaking, in a public place, in such phrases; surely in a written discourse in a public forum such as this one, the effect, and the gravity, are of like kind. I can’t just walk away from it, although I have no stomach to ‘confront’ (do note the quotes) the individual who wrote the lines that bother me. And, if the silence from others here on the same matter is an expression of better judgment, that is, if you all see what I see and choose the path of letting it go in the nonce, then I salute you and say, you are right, and why am I caught up in this way?
But just in case there is more to the story, I will point back to the same poster’s most recent message. It contained lines to the effect that the writer would celebrate the deaths of – not quoting but recalling from memory here – masses of humanity in natural catastrophes following human-caused climate change.
What that says to me is that we have a person who would throw a party on the graves of those who died during Katrina, or the Indonesian Tsunami, the Chinese earthquake (not sure either of those can directly be tied to global warming, but where there’s a will there’s a way…). It’s easy to induce and infer that the writer of that post would cheer the deaths, on all sides, in Iraq, since they devolve from our thirst for oil. And, retrospectively, the Holocaust, which resulted in part from geopolitical and economic disruptions as the Post-WWI order shifted. In fact, that writer, it seems safe to say, would go back and smile at the Armenian Genocide during WWI, too. Those were events that arguably took place in the context of post Industrial Revolution changes, political and environmental.
I may be accused of putting hard words in someone else’s mouth, so let me be clear. I follow a trail here, based on what the poster has written in this forum. Not once but several times, tightening the focus of what he has had to say each time. I’m not amused. If the point was to draw in someone like me and have the occasion to gloat at this successful button-pushing, I yield! You know who you are, you have succeeded!
I sleep well. I’m not losing lunch over this, but, to repeat, it is important. I would not accept having these statements read out within my community, my church, my university, my atelier d’arte.
Of course there is one more facet of this, at least. I can’t guage very well the poster’s motive. In that, I must cut some slack, as they say, and leave allowances for what I don’t know to be the case. But do take notice, one and all: while I stand up and reject the notions proposed, as I denounce their substance with all of my strength, I allow them to be expressed. Forever.
As I am doing now.
BT (I assume Bob Tyson),
Kudos on at least recognizing the possibility that you are misconstruing my motives and my meaning, as you most assuredly are.
That you can so completely turn my words on their heads is, most assuredly, a reflection of your own inner demons and not my outer demeanor.
As a lifelong practitioner of Ghandian non-violence (which, by the way, includes articulating uncomfortable truths), and a four-decade peace and justice activist, one can hardly equate my celebration of Gaia’s return to balance as “dancing on the graves of victims”.
But I will point out that most of those victims that you cited died for the sake of the “progress” of western civilization. As Edward Abbey so perceptively said, “The industrial way of life leads to the industrial way of death. From Shiloh to Dachau, from Antietam to Stalingrad, from Hiroshima to Vietnam and Afghanistan, the great specialty of industry and technology has been the mass production of human corpses.”
And you force me to point out, once again, that you cannot fail to rejoice at the Web of Life reclaiming its integrity and harmony – even if that means the demise of the human race or much of it – unless you place your own life (and that of humanity) above that of the rest of the life of Earth.
And that is the essential hubris and arrogance of modern humanity: that we are the pinnacle of creation and are entitled to persevere even at the expense of all other life forms and even the planetary biosphere itself. And that is why we have initiated the sixth great extinction for the sake of our own temporal comfort and why we continue to look for “solutions” precisely in the manner which created the crises.
My life (and yours) is worth nothing other than what it can offer in service to the Whole of Creation. That is our only rightful role in the Web of Life. Death is nothing more than Nature’s method of recycling. Wise people would celebrate it. Not the deliberate infliction of death by others, but the mere fact of it.
It is our desperate clinging to life that has strewn death in our wake for thousands of years. We are but buds on the greater Tree of Life. Do we mourn the loss of a few buds if the tree continues to live?
I guess I missed the “shouting matches,” as I considered it more or less discussion, but with some misunderstanding of points made. You haven’t seen on-line shouting matches if you thought that’s what was going on.
Riversong has a sense of how I feel or maybe vice versa. In the last decade or so, I’ve thought that humans may be the most destructive species ever to appear on Earth. Our dominance seems to confirm that. Even dinosaurs didn’t rape the Earth of resources to the extent that they caused the world to transform the temperature of the Earth. Heck, they even allowed our predecessors (small mammals) to live during their reign. As opposed to humans who have purposely made plenty of species go extinct, and in some cases for sport and even hatred!
I have perceived of causes that would completely wipe humans off the face of the Earth, such as all-out nuclear war, an asteroid hitting or a severe disease that we can’t cure or avoid (even then, some remote island of people could continue to live on). But if something did kill off all the humans, so what. It would be some other species turn to evolve to dominate the planet.
All species have the motivation of survival within. It’s what makes humans (as thinking animals) have the ego that we are better than other species and that we are good for the world and thus must survive. We think we can control the world or will be able to control it someday…this depends on who you talk to.
We tend to expound on all the inventions we create and our advancements, but our legacy is really about our destructive nature. We have murdered or own kind in so many ways for so many reasons from the dawn of man it amazes me that we have arrived at this point to even increase population at such a high rate. And what we’ve done to other species and to the Earth is nothing but destructive selfishness.
And the solutions we look for are not for the Earth but for own survival first. If we woke up one day and realized the Sun was preparing a blitz on Earth, we would not be about looking to protect the Earth. No, humans would be building spaceships to leave the Earth as fast as possible, our survival first.
Solutions that I see are much about keeping our level of advancement, our standard of living, our status quo. We still must have cars! We still must have suburbs! We still must have any of the other species on our Earth as dining choices…as long as we can make them taste good. We must have malls, chain-store restaurants, advertising, internet porn, professional sports stadiums, summer blockbuster movies, cross country airline flights, cities for gambling, and Viagra.
What if the solutions for global warming were to have to give up many of those things and countless other pieces of our culture? I’m inclined to think the solutions ARE going to cause us to change our ways. Is humanity ready to sacrifice its’ “advances,” our modern society?
I believe that most people that have come to enjoy these things aren’t willing to give them up voluntarily. I thus don’t expect we will “solve” global warming.
I understand the better technology of wind and solar, but to have these replace what we’ve got will be a tremendous use of energy to produce the infrastructure. A tremendous use of natural resources in creating these things. And of course a tremendous contribution to greenhouse gases as we make alternative energy become dominant.
Just trying to come up with a clean vehicle that everyone will drive has been a failure so far, and in that meager effort, waste was made, resources used, greenhouse gas produced. And the concept of every human needing the option of a personal moving machine that can move one person thousands of miles is a bad concept in the first place, at least in a world of 7 billion humans.
The solutions are drastic. Our culture must change and change like yesterday. Why yesterday? Well, the main article said that 350ppm (sorry I posted before the number 360) was actually below the current 385ppm and 400 is right around the corner. And from I understand 2 more degrees is already built into the system. The world is not going to stop warming anytime soon, we figured it out too late and we aren’t drastically reacting to stop it, so more warming will come.
Ultimately, humans will group together in the most tolerable regions at a reduced population and with a different way of life because survival is the number one priority, not the status quo of wasteful luxury that injures the Earth and so much of it’s other inhabitants.
I, too, have studied Gandhi. Your spin on his teachings rings false in my ears, or at best, sounds like what Stephen Colbert memorably classes as ‘truthiness’. I’m sorry but from what you have posted I take the same message as before, that, from your perspective, we are fated to live, suffer, and die without redemption. The closest thing to admiration or gratitude for life and creation and for joy you have articulated is in what you wrote as celebrating the mass deaths of your fellow creatures. No, thank you.
If this forum, or Orion itself, is in the end a poorly-camoflaged hideout for contemporary Old Testament (and other culturally sourced) ‘End Times’ prophecy, then it is I who have missed the boat. So be it, I’m pretty good at hopping back on to the dock!
You do me honor to quote my words and parse them so well, but you, as did Hannah, have created a straw man by taking what I wrote out of context. If you would care to respond to the idea I expressed, in context, I will be glad to respond.
I think I have ‘had my say’ on unacceptable declarations. I began my last post with the pragmatic issue that ‘When Words Fail’ was about. The two responses so far ignore that small matter, and instead home in on ‘personality’. They engage the issue I raised in the second part of that post but they don’t touch my core concern from either part of my post, and that I find a bit discouraging. So, now that I’ve yelled ‘fire’ and pointed towards the emergency exits I would like to leave it at that.
Now I hope someone, anyone will offer a good sharp ‘hook’ for real discussion about finding an image, a metaphor, a catch-phrase that can move all of us OFF of the hook of our energy gluttony, inefficiency, inhumanity, and self-absorption. Unless we stop where we are and surrender to hopelessness and the belief we are doomed regardless, it’s a job worth doing.
Some thoughts on themes from recent posts:
Humans as ‘arrogant’ or considering themselves better than other species; probably if you ask any scientist you will discover a humility in the face of creation that will astound you. A memory from my college years, a philosophy major housemate, deeply involved in anti-Vietnam activism, and in framing the intellectual motives for that resistance, spent a weekend at an observatory in the company of the astronomers there. He came back bug-eyed, literally muttering, ‘They’re talking about millions of light-years and billiions and trillions and – and and-‘ In other words, a perspectiv shift, not absent a large dose of old-fashioned WONDER.
Various expressions of fear we will go extinct by our own hand, or apparently so, or from some insurmountable natural event such as a meteor strike; it could be. Again, reaching back to a childhood memory, during the post-WWII years, the 50s. A bit of history, penicillin and widespread use of antibiotics was only a couple of decades old. I heard from family and read, over and over again, of the deep shadow of childhood mortality that had existed just a generation previous. Was I going to be next? Or my best friend? Sure, we learned to look both ways crossing the street, but of the possibility of being offed by some sickness there was no shelter in ‘looking both ways’. What strikes me, and this is not something I’ve thought through deeply, is that from that time to this the shadow of disease has been lifted, for us in the developed world. Yes, there are cancers, heart disease, AIDS. No argument there, but along with those are abundant strategies and counsel to help avoid them or to treat them when they strike. Somehow it is the lessening of overt threat, in spite of the actual danger those illness pose, that has changed the psychic landscape from my parents’ or grandparents’ generation to this one, of my children’s, and their children’s. I wonder – perhaps that helps explain a shift of anxiety-focus towards the fear of some geological or cosmological ‘end’ – or one possibly within our grasp to influence, that is climate change.
That is NOT to dismiss the threat nor to devalue discussion or action, nota bene. It happens that I teach a course in photographing ‘cultural assets’ for the Catholic University in Brescia, Italy. Now, if you look at the academic org chart, you see that my boss is a fellow called Benedict XVI, who lives in a palace in Vatican City. And me, a Presbyterian by birth and upbringing. Two springs ago Italy had a referendum on stem-cell research, worded and implemented in such a way that unless a minimun number of ‘yes’ votes were recorded it would fail, and the much-needed liberalization of access to this work would not go into effect. One day as I hurried to my class I noticed a poster flogging the ‘official’ position on this matter: ‘Just Don’t Vote’. Of course that would prevent the matter from being qualified. But in the academy this was distasteful. Where was the poster that fronted the many good reasons TO vote, to vote YES, and to engage this important work?
Part of the problem is finding the right questions to ask.
BT’s utter inability to hear my commentary without the misinterpretation engendered by fear is emblematic of our cuture’s abject fear of death. And this is due to our culture’s utter focus on the individual (human) as the pinnacle of value. Which is why we no longer have viable community, let alone a wholesome community of life.
If it were possible for us to rediscover our place in the Web of Life (as opposed to the pyramid of evolution that our minds and egos have constructed), then we would lose not just the fear of death, but all related fears as well – such as the fear of loss.
There is no Nature without a constant cycling of death-to-birth, and dying is as vital a part of the cycle as birthing. We are only beginning to appreciate the vital importance of recycling, and yet this is the fundamental operative principle of Life.
Life doesn’t end with personal death. It begins. All wisdom traditions understood this.
We humans are no more important in the grand scheme of things than the leaves that rot to humus each year to give up their life force for new growth. When we feel this in our guts, we will know humility.
BT’s cultural blinders also lead him to confuse Old Testament End-Time stories (which close the book of life) with the indigenous prophesies (much more reliable) which point only to Earth Changes and the beginning of another cycle in the endless flow of Story that we are part of.
The Story will go on, with us or without us – and that is the grandeur and wondrousness of the Universe. That story is uninterested in Madison Avenue slogans or “hooks” or magic numbers. It is not “sexy” as some have suggested. But it is beautiful and awesome.
The one thing of value that BT has contributed to this discussion is his (hopefully) final statement: “Part of the problem is finding the right questions to ask.” Though I would suggest this is the entire problem. And to find the right questions, one must have clear perception. To have clear perception, one must stand outside of the narrow cultural mythology that so encompasses us that most are as oblvious to it as a fish is to water. Yet it is the air we breath.
Try holding your breath long enough to break out of the fear of death. Then you will truly know LIFE and will rejoice.
I was a bit confused if you were BT, sorry about that.
Yeah, many scientists do have that humility that gives them a different perspective on so many things. Climatologists are certainly in that category and their words of warning are only beginning to seep into the mass public.
But when I refer to the arrogance of humans it is really much of the masses I speak, particularly when you examine the philosophy of Christian fundamentalists. Their arrogance comes straight from the Bible as instruction to have dominion over all the species of the world.
Beyond that, far too many Americans are just plain ignorant of so much in the world. Polling shows this. Seniors in college can’t even remember important civil knowledge such as the three branches of government, what is covered by the First Amendment, or who their representatives in Congress are. Polling of all sorts of grouping in the US find low knowledge of all sorts of simple things. This dumbing down is a sense of arrogance, that previous learned knowledge is to be forgotten because it is perceived unimportant to career knowledge or the latest cultural fad…tunnel vision of self absorption. History in particular is a subject of disregard.
If you want the Americans of this memory hole type to rally to the global warming cause, you’ll need to turn it into a cultural fashion in every form, TV, YouTube and I-phones. The fundamentalists? They will never come around.
If I’ve led you to believe that I fear some end of the world, not true. First, I don’t think the end of the world will occur until the sun goes nova. It’s already survived plenty that the universe has thrown at it. But, the end of humanity, it could happen…but I think somehow humans will adapt to the worst that can occur, but adaption will probably be at a hugely reduced population depending on the cause of course.
But to fear it? No, it will be something that just happens. And if we cause our own demise, then I guess we deserve it.
Yes, people in the US are certainly fearful of all sorts of end of the world scenarios. The majority of the population in the US has grown up in the nuclear age, that probably has a psychological aspect to it. But even prior to nukes, the end times of Christianity existed and now thrives. Throw entertainment such as sci-fi movies into the mix of real possibilities that could mirror them. Imagination of humans is quite remarkable.
And so is our growing knowledge that has led us to understand things like global warming and epidemic disease. Interesting that you mentioned antibiotics. Did you know that medical research is barely staying ahead of mutating viruses? There is an anxiety among drug researchers that we won’t be able to produce new antibiotics anymore. The viruses that we’ve kept at bay in the later half of the twentieth century have a good chance of beating our dwindling weapons.
The jury is still out but it’s possible we are causing the rising tide of autism through child immunization shots. What kind of trade off is that, if true?
It appears to me that science finds solutions and also creates new problems. Splitting the atom is a good example.
This is a prime reason I don’t have faith that humans will cure global warming. Our science and inventions helped create it. If we solve it, we will probably create other problems. Further, global warming is easily the biggest problem we’ve ever spawned. But, again I think there is no wrong in trying to reduce CO2. I just feel that it’s going to take a more drastic change of our way of life than most people will want to do, and it’s certainly not even close to happening yet.
Have you read…Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lyman? Of all the recent global warming books out there I’ve read, this one impressed me the most in its articulation of what happens to the world, degree by degree, region by region.
Dear jon b, yes, BT is Bob Tyson. I didn’t mean to be coy.
First, I can second what you write in detail that certain possibile events (meteor strike? sun going nova?) either will (or won’t) just happen, and that’s that. If that can dispose for the moment of that side of the dilemma, fine.
Much of your theme relating to the lost societies of fundamentalism, if I may greatly abbreviate what you have described that way, is pretty much what I see, also. And it is the case that in these layers of society there IS an arrogance present. Or a tenacious and defensive reliance on ‘belief’ as a prop against anxiety, oversimplifying once again. (Error: mine, not yours, here.) Coupled with the dreadful failure of education that you note, we’ve got a truly ignorant population. Is it by some sort of grace, or a further element of this chaos, that so few of us actually vote? Insert smiley or whatever here.
Just a couple of minor points, it is bacteria that have almost turned the tide against antibiotics. Since it is they rather than viruses that can be treated antibiotically. Yes, I’m aware of that, and of multiplying channels of response in terms of research and developing technologies. Is the glass half-empty? Or?? If you ask me it’s not time to say, either way. Yet.
Disclosure: I am a geologist by training and career experience. I’d be curious to read ‘Six Degrees’ but I must warn that I have read and listened to the various projections and scenarios based on the increasing temperatures, and I’m not sure if ANY are convincing, in detail. I hope I can make that statement without leading any reader to conclude I do not BELIEVE that changes are taking place, however. To put that in scientific-speak, the evidence FOR climate change is preponderantly conclusive and persuasive. I will be quite pleased to review the data that testify to the opposite, the moment it is published.
The catch-phrase in use, ‘global warming’, suggests, simple enough, right? — that things will get hotter. Place a pan of water on the stove and heat it up: the water, all of it, and the pot all get warmer. But the land-sea-air system we inhabit is not a pot of water, and it won’t behave like one. ‘Warming’ means ‘increasing the total energy’ of the system. The effects will be varied. In some places at some times things will get ‘better’ with respect to what had been. In others, worse. (I don’t make predictions, but where I live a dry, cold winter has gone into a rainy late spring and maybe we’ll have an unseasonably COOL summer, with occasional spikes of unbearably hot days, instead of the more ‘traditional’ long run of pretty damned hot, humid, oppressive weather. That would be ‘different’ and possibly a result of global warming, but you see, NOT what you would expect from a uniform, democratically-distributed increase in global temperature.)
Maybe the pot on the stove example works, in a way. Heat it to boiling and the water bubbles and surges. In some small regions the pot is hotter than boiling, in others the water, cooler than boiling. The increased energy drives the convective motion and the result is this ‘tempest in a teapot.’
I am a global warming believer, but not based on ‘faith’ which, for me, WOULD be arrogance in this case. Reading geologic literature back to my undergrad days in the 60s it has long been apparent that something is up. In 1997 articles on the Greenland ice coring nailed the story for most in the field, and for me when I read them were a slap across the bow, impossible not to understand, accept, and think about. That was data that not only plotted temperature changes but also CO2 concentrations, ocean salinities, and other chemical variables. The literature is available to all, check into http://www.geosociety.org, the website of the Geological Society of America. Among others.
The corollary to my acceptance of the evidence for global warming is that it is producing consequences. No argument. It is rather in the dogmatic predictions of specific scenarios that people get their asses in a sling and foster difficulty in putting forward the reasonable and convincing evidence that exist for particular aspects of the situation, and to formulate workable responses that are politically and economically persuasive. Including to the unwashed, ahistoric masses.
I may address that more in another post. Fundamentalism of many stripes, a cultural blindness entrenched by reading and re-reading old texts selectively and inaccurately stripped from their contexts only reinforces that problem. My counsel, realizing this and a couple bucks will get you coffee these days, is to leave that one aside for a moment and dig a little more into the rest that we’ve had in front of us.
To wind this up, we, in our energetic ways, HAVE contributed to global warming. Yes. (Remember that since about the 15th century we have been emerging from an anomalously cool spell known as the Little Ice Age, so on the one hand the effects from human activity are superimposed on a pre-existing warming trend.) So now I pose this question: ‘How is it helpful to repeat that WE are the cause?’ If you were camping in the rain and you accidentally poked a hole in the tent roof, letting the water in, would you waste time muttering a self-blaming mantra (other than swearing a couple of times in your native language to let off steam), or would you set about patching the hole?
I don’t know how much change can take place at this point in history through popular action. The last time in my generation that it did so, or seemed to have done so, was with the Vietnam War. Hindsight offers ample reason to doubt just how much the popular uprising against that war actually accomplished. I know that, also, is a large and controversial theme, but I raise it to suggest that at present ANY channel that seems open is worth pursuing.
Individual action, voting, stockholder action, full-court press in the media, educational reform….you see my imagination is very weak on this. I’m sure you, and you and you, can do me better. And back to ‘When Words Fail’ and the search for that image, that ‘hook’ for the imagination. Also of the leaders, chiefs, oligarchs, rulers.
“Did you know that medical research is barely staying ahead
of mutating viruses? There is an anxiety among drug researchers that we won’t be able to produce new antibiotics anymore. The viruses that we’ve kept at bay in the later half of the twentieth century have a good chance of beating our dwindling weapons.”
Antibiotics don’t treat virus, fungi and bacteria, yes. Do you know what you’re talking about?
To jon b,
Alas, spotting a point I wish I had included, but here: in one of your paragraphs you mention in one sentence both nuclear weapons and Biblical end-times. Could we posit (?) that the two are distinct? The Bible, in company with other cultural works (‘beni culturali’ in Italian, or cultural assets) is a work of metaphor, of literature. And I would bet that not one of us here (but show me to be wrong!) has read the Bible in its original languages, Greek or Aramaic, or ‘Other’. Nor are we much conversant with traditions of interpretation, argument, and discussion around what specific passages, even individual words, may signify. Such is the literalism with which many of ‘us’ (but not all) approach this text. Religions fundamentalists, take heed.
So the end-times speak of a certain fate, yes. But nuclear weapons are NOT metaphoric, they are real. It has been pointed out that ‘primitives’ such as the Indian tribes in North America, often (but, nota bene, not always) practiced a form of warfare that was more pageantry and symbolic contest than engagement of violent main strength. Even by the time of Little Big Horn (1876) there remained among the Native peoples a certain amazement that the White Man actually set about killing, using such efficient and ugly instruments for the purpose.
Consciousness is a geologic process in which time is a significant element. By Wounded Knee (1890) the story was different, but someone managed to erect an interpretive sign at the site years later with the title ‘Battle of Wounded Knee’. By the time of my visit there a hundred years after the fact an iron plate had been riveted over the word ‘Battle’, revising it to read ‘Massacre’. Sic transit…
I’m afraid of nuclear weapons. I take heart, when I read the Bible or another saga of ‘end times’ becasue, in parallel with hearing Leon Fleischer play Bach’s ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ it reminds me to be awake, to love, to feel. And to protest, where it might make a difference.
I’m afraid of nuclear weapons, and more than when I was 5 and we did ‘duck and cover’ in kindergarten. I’m not afraid of the Bible, nor the Q’uran, nor the Sutras…
Even though, to wrap on lighter note, it might be a case, to invoke yet another metaphor, of ‘Never mind the dog – beware of OWNER.’
Robert, hope you’re still tuned in! -giggle. Couldn’t help myself!
Well, Robert. You remind me of one of my favorite stories. A rabbi, a minister, and a priest are discussing the problem of when life begins. First the priest opines, ‘Why of course, life begins at conception!’ But the minister disagrees, saying ‘No, no, it’s when the fetus is viable—‘ to which the rabbi, after a moment of thought, comes back with, ‘I think life really begins when the children leave home and the dog dies.’
So much for your ‘death-to-birth’ cycle, my friend. Or maybe that reminds me of another story — this one from ‘Peanuts’ in which Lucy is ‘teaching’ Linus the facts of life. Pointing to a telephone pole she informs Linus, ‘You see? That is a special kind of tree the telephone company plants so it can have the telphone wires up above.’ Charlie Brown of course lurks in the last frame and mutters to himself, ‘It’s gonna take that poor guy the rest of his life to UN-learn all that Lucy is teaching him.’
Your cultural blinders are pretty impressive, too. If I speak as artist, in which I think I may say that I’ve hit this barrier of cultural limits pretty hard, I have to say that you maintain a terribly distorted and cleverly focused misreading of some ancient texts. The death to birth model comes from an inversion of what had been taken from artifacts and texts at sites in places with names such as Alma Ata….and lots of interpretive wisdom has contextualized them and compared them with other literatures. Scholars on those ancient writings have summarized the life cycle image they invoke as ‘birth-copulation’death’ instead of how you’ve stated it. It’s a measure of the shortcomings of that imagery as ‘life model’ that they are so lacking in ‘oomph’ for modern ears and minds, even ones as jaded as some of ours.
But ripping fragments from the textual autochthon and re-presenting them to us as if ‘wisdom’ isn’t bad enough! You also fragment and leave allochthonous within your OWN text the howler that ‘Life doesn’t end with personal death. It begins.’ This is your literal belief AND follow-on to the despair (disguised as ‘celebration’ of mass death) you posted earlier, and the only way I can read it is that (you posit) ‘life’ starts when one literally ‘dies’ – physically – full stop.
Far be it from me to even try, from the little that you have provided, the tortured and tortuous process of extracting some other, and hopefully brighter, metaphoric – poetic – expressive nuance from those barest of bare bones of your words.
Either you haven’t phrased this clearly or you believe somthing that I do not. EIther way, you exhibit a cultural blindness equal to any you suppose for anyone else! There’s an old bit of Eastern wisdom: For him who knows not, but knows that he knows not, teach him, for he may learn and grow and thrive; but of him who knows not, yet knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him.
I hope that last shoe is not in your size. And that you’ve read Paul Valery also: ‘The world is always more interesting than any of our ideas about it.’ Between that and the message-in-metaphor of the NEW Testament, although I am not a practicing Christian, I find more reason to celebrate life, actual here-and-now-physical-loving-fucking (birth, copulation, and….) life (abundant), than I ever can its negation in the fragmentary and inaccurate re-framings of cultural teachings as you have introduced them. It is not enough to quote a sage, to assume that mantle of wisdom, I’m certain you must agree, given your assertions regarding perception and consciousness!
You are a teacher in a Vermont alternative life methods school and you enjoy standing as an activist, instructor, and social-political critic. I have read some of your contributions on other forums, and I can respect some of what I have read in your voice there. I regret that the tenor, quality, and some of the substance of what you have shared here are far below standard I found in your voice elsewhere, although I have no idea why. THAT was what I meant in my earlier post about leaving slack for factors I don’t or cannot access, nor understand. To be blunt, I have to consider that you may be in a bad way, in heart, in spirit. Someone suffering difficulty, despair. Or, and I hate to say it, but I’m being blunt, remember. A kook. I grant that whatever the truth the reasons must be important, and neither they nor the effect something for me to judge.
But if my son or daughter were your student and brought home a paraphrase of what you’ve offered here in mis-quoting Gandhi, or in your present post, and if that child of mine didn’t walk straight past me to the reference materials to check things out for herself (which, being my child, she would have done, 98/100), I would have challenged her myself. I might have thought about dropping by to discuss it with you face to face too, and had the notion to ask your faculty ombudsperson to reassure me. Even. I hope you see that as fair. And humane. And human.
So long as the meteor holds off.
BT said: “I think I have ‘had my say’ on unacceptable declarations…So, now that I’ve yelled ‘fire’ and pointed towards the emergency exits I would like to leave it at that.”
If only he was a man of his word.
BT attempts to dismiss, with a clever joke, the biological reality that life feeds on death and death is the womb of life. No one who has farmed or hunted or lived closely with the land would deny that.
And, further, he attempts (once again) to ascribe to my assertions a source so thoroughly unrelated that it begs the question of how a photographic artist can so misperceive what is in front of his eyes. Perhaps he has been looking so long through an artificial lense that he can no longer see clearly with his eyes.
The obvious and simple truth that Death is the necessary condition for life does not source itself in texts or gospel or doctrine or dogma, but in the world we inhabit.
Neither does such fundamental truth rest on belief, as BT also speculates. We believe only what we do not know, and we fail to know only in so far as fail to perceive. Clearly, those such as BT who base their lives on fear and loathing, are self-made victims of their own blindness.
And it is those who are most blind who stumble around telling others to stop describing what they see, for it scares them to know lest it shatter their self-protective beliefs.
Yet we cannot act responsibly if we do not know what is in front of us. And we cannot know what is here unless we are willing to shed old skin and see the world freshly.
We cannot live in celebration of the Great Wheel of Life as long as we remain desperately attached to it, for that will leave us only dizzy and confused and fearful of letting go.
Those clinging madly to this self-destructive engine we call civilization, confuse detachment with despair – for they must project the subconscious realization of their suicidality onto those who stand along the track witnessing the train rushing headlong and headstrong to destruction.
A celebration of life is necessarily a celebration of death – for they are but two sides of the same coin.
“Lose your mind – find your way”. This is the timeless wisdom we need at this moment. Few, however, will be willing to know the unutterable joy of letting go.
BT said: “I think I have had
my say on unacceptable
declarations…So, now that I’ve
yelled fire and pointed towards
the emergency exits I would
like to leave it at that.”
If only he was a man of his word.
BT replies: ‘He is. The post to which Robert refers is not about ‘unacceptable declarations’ but about Robert’s inaccuracies in interpreting ancient texts. Distorting an ancient text may be dishonest, intellectually, but it’s not ‘unacceptable’, at least in BT’s view. He also thinks Robert knows better than what he’s written above, because he’s clearly twisted, and then misapplied, what BT wrote. (And does it matter? Perhaps. Or then again….) Robert, correct English grammar would be: ‘If only he WERE a man of his word.’ ‘
Robert continues that …life feeds on death
and death is the womb of life. No one who
has farmed or hunted or lived closely
with the land would deny that.
BT responds: ‘Tautology. And who doesn’t know this tru-ism? Or, as a Polish colleague liked to put it, hearing such things: ‘And???’ ‘
Robert: ….ascribe to my assertions
a source so thoroughly unrelated…
BT: ‘I don’t really understand, less know what Robert’s ‘sources’ are, but it had occurred to me to ask. Robert, what WOULD you list, as your influences? We have Gandhi….and?’
Robert: Perhaps he has been
looking so long through
an artificial lense that
he can no longer see
clearly with his eyes.
BT: ‘Well, in fact I wish I WERE able to ‘photograph’ what is in play here. But that isn’t possible, obviously. So much for that dis-cursion! However what I CAN see, with my own eyes, in the poetic sense, is what I have READ in these forum pages, from Robert and others. Most of what pertains to the former seems to me irrelevant to the theme of the article, ‘When Words Fail’ and Robert specifically and insultingly rejected my usage of the term ‘hook’ to refer to something, under the rubric of words or of image, that could move us along in this discussion. So I don’t know where that leaves us.’
BT struggles through some of the rest and come to Robert’s
Clearly, those … who base their lives
on fear and loathing, are self-made
victims of their own blindness.
…and wonders about anyone who doth protest so. BT does not ‘fear’ death. He heeds his own heart, knowing his fate. Perhaps, surprise of surprises, he and Robert converge here: that a realization, a recognition, a struggle first against, and then in acceptance deeply, of one’s own fate, is at the heart of leading a joyful life.
But he also notes that we ONLY know about that life during our journey in the flesh, among the living. BT can’t buy the framing Robert promoted so tenaciously previously, and again here:
A celebration of life is necessarily
a celebration of death – for they are
but two sides of the same coin.
From BT’s perspective Robert is what we called in the 60’s ‘hung-up’ on this rhetoric about death. Yes, we have the shadow ever at the edge, yes, when we remember a life and acklowledge loss in death, we ARE celebrating life, yes, we may follow the Tibetan conscious-practices regarding death’s approach. And just perhaps, in a complete exposition of Robert’s philosophy it will be that the lopsided ‘cri’ he utters will spin another way.
For now, no. It’s humorless – one of the, pardon this, most deadly of all possible sins in artistic production. So BT will leave the last words to Robert, with the caveat: Robert, it takes one to know one.
“Lose your mind – find your way”.
This is the timeless wisdom we need at
this moment. Few, however, will be
willing to know the unutterable joy of
I want to add a note for any other readers who might still be following all of this.
It is not that I want to hijack a discussion, less into a mostly-personal exchange with one person, or two. I do consider the exchange occupying Robert and me to have important elements, though, and I’m willing to let it continue, and to call those shots as things unfold, if they continue to do so.
At the same time, what brought me here in the first place WAS the article ‘When Words Fail’ and I have posted in that vein, wanting to dig into that Gordian Knot some more.
If anyone has further thoughts, especially because I consider myself very much challenged, but short of answers for that, I’d be pleased to see more discussion.
Having greater concern for “grammar” (form) than meaning (substance or truth) is, of course, exactly what has led us to the brink of catastrophe.
Perhaps the greatest of all human sins is to use the overly-developed mind for obfuscation rather than illumination.
With that, I leave what light I’ve shed on this topic and move on to fields where people have ears to hear and eyes to see, and those with mouths to speak have something worth saying.
Arrgh Robert-o, HOW could I have been so foolish? Of course (slapping forehead) function FOLLOWS form. NOW I see….
Hannah – this discussion aside for a moment. While you were in CA (volunteered at the Ecology Center in Berkeley in 1970.) did you know Stephanie Mills – author, ecological activist, and
bioregionlist? Ms. Mills is one of (many) my favorite authors and is now living in my native neck of the woods in northern MI where I will be returning next summer.
To: Robert Riversong and BT/Bob Tyson:
As an early participant in this forum who has read every post, I respond, “Enough already! I benefited from your conflict. Now, please stop. I want the discussion of Bill McKibben’s and readers’ ideas to continue.”
To that end, I am reminded of a Supreme Court justice’s comment years ago about pornography. He said something like, I can recognize it easily but it is hard to put into words.
I am also reminded of the search for a logo 30 something years ago at Hospice Atlanta. It was agreed early on that we would recognize it when it we saw. Quite a few ideas were suggested including a couple by me but none resonated throughout the group. Then, one meeting, one of the founders of the group came it saying, “It came to me last night!” She was so certain of her idea that she went to her ex-husband (a commercial artist) and got him to make manifest her idea. When their work was shown to the group, it resonated with everyone and was immediately accepted and helped propel the hospice movement forward in the Atlanta area.
My last reminder comes from the movie, “Escape from Sobibor.” It is the story of the successful mass escape of Jews from the Sobibor death camp during WWII. Another escape attempt had just failed and the Nazis have forced every recaptured participant in it to pick another prisoner to be executed with him. Each selected a friend. One selected his son. All died without complaint. In the aftermath, the leader of the prisoners, played by Alan Arkin, said something like, “I know for certain that the next plan must include everyone for to no do so would be unethical.” There was immediate complaint as no one had ever successfully escaped. Arkin responded, I know but I, also, know that the plan already exists. Our job is to find it.
Maybe there is no ONE galvanizing number, idea or image. Maybe we will need a hundred. Maybe one does. I don’t know.
What matters is that I know it/they exist AND that we can uncover it/them.
For my and my parent’s generation, it was inconceivable that the USSR could break up except in a terrible bloodbath. Despite that, it did–just like the tsars before it–almost entirely peacefully.
Those are but 2 of many precedents that positive change which is inconceivable to most is not only possible, it does happen. As a bumper sticker popular several years ago said, “Expect a miracle!” I would, “To do otherwise is to be unrealistic.”
And our job is to continue to work for that miracle, while we are awaiting its arrival.
For me, the catalytic image is a photograph of a polar bear standing on a small piece of ice not much bigger than it in an open sea with no other ice/land in sight. That is the present, not just the future.
Hope proceeds from faith; not faith, from hope. My faith demands that I have hope.
So, I want to keep this discussion going for it may reveal such a number/image/idea.
I respect what you say, and agree – in your first paragraph as to the direction of discussion.
Note I am holding off further, as to the reasons inescapable for my dismay at Robert Riversong’s declarations, AND, PLEASE — take note of the considerable effort, and written attempts I have made to go ahead in the discussion, based on McKibben’s article.
I think McKibben would be agreed, actually, that both areas of concern have ‘weight’ and deserve attention. Although I certainly agree that the balance swerved very far in one direction….
…to which the counter-balancing thing is to keep on discussing the important parts, according to … you, and you …. ‘in ogni caso’that is regardless. (Insert smiley.)
In my own reflection after the most recent posts to which you refer I can see a way to bring that other full circle, which I may, or may not, return to in future post(s). Beneath the rancor, which IS unfortunate, there IS substance, and it is relevant.
Meanwhile I will digest all that you have added, and see where that may lead.
In the Italian city of Turin, during the Napoleonic Wars, the population declined from around 76,000 to about 50,000, or by one-third. Twenty-six thousand, mostly dead by war or its consequences, disease, exposure… Then, in the recent past, this city again lost one-third of its population. This time the actual number involved was much larger, but with the important difference that the driving force was not war but economic and industrial change. Those lost from the population have not died, but moved elsewhere in search of work, following closures at firms such as Fiat and Olivetti. Another subset, having realized sufficient wealth on the strength of the economy, have moved away to preferential living zones and life styles by choice.
In either case there is something to mourn; but in the second at least, the changes have ultimately helpful consequences. Those who leave and their children do so for better, more significant venues in which to apply their labor and harvest the benefits. Despite the discomfort and sacrifice of dislocation there are more winners than not.
That is obviously a huge over-simplification, in both historic contexts. As an earlier poster pointed out, historical outcomes have often included unforeseen positive development or growth. (One might quarrel over the violent end of the Tzars in 1917-18, demonstrating that there is, usually, room for honest debate.)
This year is the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’. One feature of Darwin’s reflections and direct observations of living systems was that for most species the production of offspring far exceeds the number that can actually survive to reproduce. Thus the mechanism of selection may operate…. It may actually be that we, too, are fated to collapse back to a small population through processes of starvation or fire. From a geological perspective that isn’t impossible to believe, although here again this observer thinks the time-frame for such an outcome is actually more likely to be longer rather than shorter, in spite of recent news concerning rapid change in the geosphere.
And yet, even if such a fate were to be truly unfolding, what is the deepest response we might make? One answer might be pragmatic: work to understand the processes, forces, factors driving events and organize our response. Fire? Water. And so on. (See, in today’s LA Times, an article on a salt-loving plant that looks promising: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seafarm10-2008jul10,0,3389394.story ) Another, for the sake of remaining sane and perhaps joyous, might be artistic, or for those who prefer it, religious: expressive celebration of the human condition. Or just telling good jokes. (A colleague, saying ‘see-ya-tomorrow’ the other day, quipped, ‘Well, if every you feel a little depressed, or sad, or — you can just drop by when you need to.’ To which of course my answer was, ‘And when would I NOT feeel that way??’ Great laugh by all present…)
Black humor is better than resignation, and resignation isn’t worth the energy it sucks away. I wish I could heal the nay-sayers. Comfort the fearful of controversy. Harden, but not too much, the too-tender of sensibility.
Your Turin example of recent years should be thought only in terms that reflect that history has yet to play out.
I live in the Detroit area. The city has been devastated because of relocation to the suburbs. And even older suburbs have their problems as second and third waves of suburban migration have left their mark.
I suspect that the Turin situation is far different than American cities that go through suburbanization. I imagine that what is left in Turin is probably worth saving as opposed to cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, IN, etc.
This is one of the things that cause me to wonder about the years going forward in America. We’ve moved out of our cities using the suburban car culture. We’ve built freeways to get around rather than mass transit. We sit at $4.00 gas today, wait until $6.00 or $7.00 in a couple of years.
Our way of life must change, we can’t keep driving away from our problems and then building upon our forests, wetlands and farmland to escape those problems, because the new problem is now becoming the fact that we’ve done just that.
….Turin example of recent years should be thought only in terms that reflect that history has yet to play out.
Why? Rather, I don’t understand what you mean by this, can you say it ‘in other words’?
PS, gasoline in Turin costs 8-9 $ per gallon, today.
I do usually respond to what I read in ‘waves’ so I guess this must be about the third on this one, unless I’ve already lost count.
Turin does have much that is worth preserving, but it also has a hell of a lot that deserves to be trashed and built over. The post-war boom here produced look-alike, inhumane expanses of vertical housing blocks that are the pretty-bad equivalent of post-war surburban expansion and blight in the US. Coincidentally there is a huge architecture conference in town at which a principal speaker emphasized that very point.
So what’s wrong with tearing down freeways, with re-colonizing the inner city? I actually did visit Detroit not too long ago, from the glowering hulk of the Ford River Rouge complex to the glittering symphony hall. And the WW-I-inspired urban desolation that surrounds it, punctuated by the gated palace towers currently under construction. Between that and the blandness of the new Tigers’ stadium there’s much to howl about, but also plenty of room for correctives.
….and. Detroit, and every American city, has lots worth saving. Celebrating. Let’s not toss de babe wid’ de bat’ wattah.
Another odd thought, make of it what you will.
Looking at the photograph of McKibben’s group spelling out ‘350’ something had been bothering me. Speaking as artist, some formal dis-synchronization, a note out of tune.
Now I see what it is. Notice how the ‘3’ is aligned at the left edge of a patch of grayish floor tiles. Then the ‘5’ slops over from that gray zone into the next, tan one, but in a haphazard way. Leaving the ‘0’ to fend for itself, to hunker and squeeze, not quite successfully, into what’s left on that tan panel.
Try a visual-mental exercise.
Imagine, or sketch, the ‘3’ as being nudged over to the right, so that a narrow margin of gray is left over between it and the tan area. Move the ‘5’ to the right, so it leaves an equal margin open between it and the gray zone to the left, and by default pretty well fills out the tan panel. That leaves the ‘0’, which I’d center on the narrow gray band that it right now just touches.
See if that formal adjustment doesn’t come forward visually with more force and clarity.
Or – maybe it will seem useless. What it is not, is unimportant. A successful symbol or logo hinges its potency on just such devilish details.
“Turin example of recent years should be thought only in terms that reflect that history has yet to play out.
Why? Rather, I don’t understand what you mean by this, can you say it ‘in other words’?”
In other words…we don’t know what results that changes that have been made in the recent past will bring about in the longer run. History has to play itself out, run its’ course. History has to pass to see what kind of repercussions, unintended consequences, blow back (call it what you will) will occur. Global warming is a prime example of unintended consequences at the largest scale.
For instance, when Detroit started carving up its’ land for freeway building (a supposed change for future progress) it actually divided up and separated decent neighborhoods that later was judged to be part of the cause for the decline of those neighborhoods. Further those freeways led to the exodus to the suburbs also known as “white flight.”
Detroit is a mess. Comerica Park is one of the few bright spots. I’ve been there a number of times and it’s a good ballpark.
We may disagree about Comerica Park’s virtues, but it is, actually, one thing I would save in Detroit, along with some spectacular Art Deco palaces, and that symphony hall. And the hulk of River Rouge, for a bunch of reasons.
History has to…run its’ course.
…to see what kind of…unintended
consequences…will occur. Global
warming is a prime example of
unintended consequences …
Well, this puzzles me, because it seems to say we can’t really know what we’re doing, or that any decision is likely to have unintended consequences, that is unforeseen ones, and so it’s better to do nothing? That, after all, is the negation of human energy and ability to which I’ve objected in these pages.
There will always be unexpected outcomes. Which will it be, to give up and not decide? Not examine, observe, analyze, discuss, confront, on the way to sifting priorities and evaluating possible strategies?
Or to engage in those things, to the furthest possible extent of what we know and may learn? And take action accordingly?
I went back to McKibben’s article where the first paragraph lays out the challenge in very interesting terms:
But the longer I’ve spent working on global
warming…the more I’ve come to see it as
essentially a literary problem. A technological
and scientific challenge…
But centrally? A crisis in metaphor…
How do you say: the world you know today…
the world that has remained essentially
the same for all of human civilization,
that has birthed every play and poem
and novel and essay…is about to be…
(I would apologize for severely truncating his prose with my ellipses, but he badly needs an editor; I trust I’ve not warped his intended meaning, or if I have, his full text is only a click away.)
I couldn’t agree more, from my twin crouches, on a scientist’s lab stool (or as geologist, more like some outcrop out there), and in the dim cave of the camera oscura, the studio of art. It really IS about finding that image-istic nexus, that lens, that hook of some kind that can leave its after-image on the retina and the brain – and the hearts – of millions. And do it in some way that also stokes willingness to take action, and a second look at what we are up to.
I’ve expressed my doubts about the ‘350’ formula, or number. I doubt it’s going to resonate, so to speak, nor that it actually represents a ‘defensible’ real quantity of anything. But I’m certain there must be another, another number or fact or formulation of some kind that can be a lever. I just don’t see it, yet. But ‘absence of evidence’ isn’t the same as ‘evidence of absence’. It’s out there.
There was an article yesterday about public pay-toilets that might be helpful. The gist was that an advertising company has succeeded in persuading some US cities to install its fancy public johns and to profit by sharing the revenue gained by posting ads on the exterior space of the toilet kiosk. Users of course have to pay to pee or whatever, a quarter or more per drain-dump.
However in parts of LA with large homeless populations there is no use fee. The street folks have no quarters to contribute and do their business in the gutter anyway. So they are now rewarded to not pollute, by doing that, if they come to the ‘free’ toilet and use it. In India also, there is a setup where the town installed toilets and now PAYS locals to use it. The reason is that if they didn’t, people would continue to defecate in public, fouling the environment for everyone. It’s a money-making proposition since it avoids cleanup costs and disease that otherwise are consequences of public elimination.
We might want to think about that. How can we do more to pay people for the energy they save, for the CO2 they do NOT emit? And how can we rig up any such solution so it connects to some catchy phrase, image, or number, yes, that helps it float into people’s heads? Kind of like 9-1-1 did years ago. I’m sure, if you are old enough, you remember comedy routines, to get people NOT to think of it as ‘nine-eleven’. THAT came later.
“Well, this puzzles me, because it seems to say we can’t really know what we’re doing, or that any decision is likely to have unintended consequences, that is unforeseen ones, and so it’s better to do nothing? That, after all, is the negation of human energy and ability to which I’ve objected in these pages.”
I didn’t say anything about being better to do nothing. It’s impossible to not do anything. But, whatever we do does in fact cause something else into the future.
What I see about humanity is that far too often we do things with this sort of optimism that every thing will work out in the end, and too often things don’t work out simply because every outcome couldn’t be foreseen. Or for reasons of greed (since making money seems to be the first consideration in almost every project or endeavor) the unwanted consequences are simply dismissed.
And then there is this “magical thinking” that projects done in a capitalist society are guided by the unseen hand of the market.
All of these ways of going into some sort of effort, is a history being written, but the full history can’t be known for many years.
So for your Turin example, just because people moved away, I don’t consider that a good thing or even a bad thing…it’s just a thing that still needs the judgment of history. The story still needs to be filled out. I could give you my personal predictions, but history isn’t written from predictions.
As to Italy’s or other countries gas prices, it’s all relative. In the U.S. we subsidize gas prices in at least a few ways. One, we give actual subsidies to the oil companies directly from our government that begins from our taxes. Two, we all know the Iraq War is about the oil. We are paying a trillion and counting for that war.
So, our taxes we pay that goes to the government for oil company subsidies and the Iraq War should be added to the price of gas at the pump. And those are just the most obvious inputs into why Americans might have lower prices at the pump. Tax structure in America is so convoluted it’s simply too hard to understand the dollars in/dollars out of the federal government, but it does affect gas prices and probably that it only appears as if we pay less at the pump.
It does seem that at some point one has to, as they say, fish or cut bait. What would YOU do, at present? How would you – vote, or pay or not pay your taxes, what sacrifice, if any, might you consider at a personal level, if indeed you even consider that needed change requires it? How do you come down, on that question, while we’re at it?
Really, we make calls on the outcomes all the time. Certainly we’re not always right, and time tells us that. I’d hoped that the Turin example might carry a certain flavor of decisiveness, because history HAS had some time to mull over the Napoleonic Wars from 200 years ago. Even the changes of the past twenty CAN be judged, or at least compared with that earlier era, or, say, with the fates of populations during the Second World War. Or, how about with what is happening to displaced Iraqis right now. I don’t really think we have to hold off making certain calls for too very long. What would you answer to the question who is making better progress now, a displaced Iraqi in Syria or even inside Iraq, or a laid-off Olivetti worker in Italy?
Something feels a lot more ‘right’ in the case of the Italian, even though there’s much to worry about in Italy. The Iraqi, it seems to me, is in terrible shape. I wish I could reach out to him, to her, to whole families. Just compare Iraq to Germany after WWII with the Marshall Plan. Was that the last sign of American enlightened policy? (Being a brat – an American brat, here. Excuse me.)
The market and it’s mythical ‘efficiency’. Ah, yes. Maybe and maybe not, I’m not savvy enough to say. But if we only say ‘markets’ and no more than that, maybe we’re fighting with one hand behind us. A lot about markets, economics, trade and development is sort of like gravity. It’s just there no matter what. Part of reality, so we deal.
What are the details? Maybe that gets us closer to McKibben, too, and to this search for a relevant, compelling image or metaphor.
The usual further thought.
Maybe the pay-toilet example is worthwhile. ‘Doing something’ when it combines engaging individual self-centeredness (or greed) with a beneficial shift in behavior seems to me a good thing to encourage.
So in the US we impose pretty small tax burdens on gasoline directly. I forget the number but it’s not much, in terms of the actual pump price for a gallon of gas. Contrast, in Europe about half that price is taxes.
While it is true that we’ve figured out how to set up subsidies and bury the actual mechanism or money path, in the US, we might find that connecting that subsidy load more directly to the user price could be constructive. Nobody will like it of course. All the same it might 1) discourage consumption 2) encourage alternatives that are less destructive 3) foster dialog on all of the above.
Which might just circle back to the toilet example, which, instead of using a stick – higher taxes, a user fee – dangles a carrot – payment for doing one’s business. How about paying people to park their bicycle at the office? So long as they don’t sneak-drive.
I’ve told you my first suggestion of what to do, gas rationing with no sort of cap and trade. A reasonable amount of miles of driving at a reasonable price, anything beyond those miles, a huge price increase. This forces the biggest users to pay the most and makes them consider alternative answers to their use.
This is important for at least two reasons, our use of oil for motoring (because we will need oil for the continuing production of so many things that use oil within the product…our computers for instance) and to reduce greenhouse gases from the tailpipe.
This should even include the trucking industry (sorry truckers), but we need to use our rail system more. It’s going to require improvements and expansion of rail, this is starting to happen, but in fits and starts. That expansion should involve more electric rail. Ultimately a certain balance between trucks and rails will be needed.
Certainly we need more solar and wind power generation, both large and small, power plants, individual homes and neighborhoods. I’m a bit tired of the not-in-my-back-yard crowd as to wind turbines. I say to them, “fine, then we’ll plop a nuclear plant or another coal plant in your backyard. Willing to change your mind?” I’m tired of the turbine complaints as to birds getting killed. I ask, “Well, global warming is increasingly killing off all sorts of species. Birds that aren’t going instinct or many species going instinct? Choose.”
Here’s the thing, any plant building turbines or solar should be on a solar or turbine grid use. To build the infrastructures it seems important to contribute the least amount of CO2 as possible during this transfer of our energy infrastructure.
More mass transit. This is particularly aimed at the U.S. At one time in this country there was electric light rail in virtually every city with a population over a few hundred thousand. We should have never ended that, but now we have to return to it.
America again. Limits to suburbanization. Large metro areas need to draw the line around their area and stop building beyond. Our suburban stretching is unsustainable as we go forward due to oil prices. Besides the inner cites are becoming wasted space. A few metro areas have done this, Portland, OR., for example.
I’m critical of the U.S. for a few reasons. Because I know it best, and what I know is that we are the biggest CO2 users per person in the world (in other words, the most selfish). We also can be so late to the game, waiting until the last possible moment to make changes. That must change.
These are the major changes to be made and really the first things. Without the impetus of a national “Marshall Plan” for energy there is less motivation at the personal level. A simple example for a person to say, “Why should I walk or bike to work when our members of Congress don’t?” Or, “why should I care about global warming when the government doesn’t?” And ultimately the big changes result in the biggest reductions of CO2.
But you know I’m pessimistic about action. You’ve seen my reasons why. Because all of the above changes need to be done, not a few things, all. There are other big changes as well, those are just what I deem the most important. And they needed to be started yesterday. We are behind the curve in America, we need big leaps forward and soon.
I’m a bit pessimistic about the idea that we must preserve individual driving habits. I’m not even a big proponent of hybrids (still uses gas), I’m in favor of all-electric vehicles as the vast majority of Americans only make small trips that electric can handle. For longer trips, then rent a hybrid. But more mass transit can even reduce electric personal vehicles.
As to paying people to do the right thing, pay to park a bike for instance. That just seems so modern American, “I’ll do it, if I’m paid.” But somehow that idea just shows how selfish we’ve come since the 1930s and 1940s.
People use to save and use everything, very little trash per person in comparison to today. Rags were recycled for Pete’s sake. During the war years, much was rationed, including gas. Nobody had to be bribed with money into doing the right thing. And where does that money to pay bike users come from? Taxes. Those taxes are really needed to make all those changes I’ve mentioned.
Crisis seems to be the impetus in America. Maybe we are about at that crisis point. The mortgage meltdown continues, people are cutting back on things beyond basic needs. The federal government is in huge debt, from about $5 trillion in 2000 to probably $10 trillion when Bush exits…this doesn’t bode well for some sort of Manhattan Project for energy, but on the other hand a massive public works will create jobs. We have an ongoing credit crisis in finance, this could be a problem as well for a national building project, or the changes could help those financial institutions in the long run.
Just plenty of ifs and buts, but I’ve said it plenty…go ahead and start the big changes, I just don’t see it happening.
As to paying people to do the right thing,
pay to park a bike for instance.
That just seems so modern American,
“I’ll do it, if I’m paid.”
Well, maybe. Suppose for a moment you’re planning to go somewhere. Might be across town or across the country. Let’s say there are two of you. You have a car. Or you can take the bus, or fly, or a train. Do the math. Right now, in most cases, it can be said that the car is cheaper. Deciding to drive may be selfish, but it only demonstrates a basic self-preservation at work.
What it does NOT make obvious, of course, are all of the external costs, especially with the car. The manner in which roads and services are subsidized in such a way that the driver won’t ‘feel’ them by the mile driven. There are also hidden supports for rail, bus, local transit, and so on. No local system pays its own way from rider fares.
Remember also that the example of paying people to use a certain service, instead of insisting that THEY pay, in order to accomplish a communal good, was from India, and not from the US. What does that mean, if anything?
Have I presented the following story in this forum? If so, I accept that I am repeating myself. To paraphrase Whitman, ‘Then I repeat myself.’
I worked on a project, years ago, to estimate the total project cost for a new underground subway for Buffalo, New York. At some point the project chief muttered to me, ‘We think it’s gonna cost about 800 million bucks, but if these people were smart they would take half of that amount, buy buses with half of THAT, and invest the other quarter of the 800 mil so that they could maintain and run the system forever on the investment income.’
And nobody would ever need to put a quarter in the slot.
If that kind of thinking can be encouraged, there’s one way to proceed. But turning things around and paying to encourage changes in behavior isn’t as simple as ‘bribing’. If I stop driving to the station and use my bike, partly because I GET a quarter every day I do that (or maybe a ‘free’ enclosure where I can safely leave the bicycle), it not only saves me the enormous per-mile costs of driving, parking, insurance, maintenance, it also saves the community the up-front costs, that now run to the tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds, to construct and maintain each parking stall for those cars, including mine.
Think about that. And how about ‘bribing’ me by easing a shift, for me and my neighbors, that results in LOWER TAXES. And less – or no – carbon, by the way.
The article to which I referred was titled (I am NOT making this up) ‘Crap and Trade’ by William Saletan in Slate. Might be worth a look. http://slate.msn.com/id/2195071/
Now, there is an example of the kind of compelling ‘bit’ of stuff to energize people that McKibben gets at in his Orion article. 350? Crap? Which one -uh- makes your spine tingle more? I’d argue the four-letter version has more ‘legs’ (four!) just because it’s a tad off.
It’s off in another way of course, because it is not a word or image that sits squarely on the CO2 debate. At all. It may be that what will work will not come out of the CO2 numbers debate itself. What else could there be to nudge people and point to changes tipping the boat in the right directions?
The underlying theme in Saletan’s Slate article relataes to the structure of such ‘trades’. In the India example the town set up the pay(you!)* toilets because there existed a great downside cost if they did nothing: the problems of sanitation, spread of disease, cleanup, hospital treatment, the indirect costs of inaction, in that example.
In some cases the pay-the-user strategy can be offset more directly when the resulting behavior change reduces expenditures for the infrastructure or services no longer needed to meet the same user need, such as the bicycle vs. car parking example.
The line between these categories is fuzzy, but the objection that often arises, as it did in post 80, is that we in effect either expect something to be ‘free’ – or even be paid to do what is right – or we complain that the costs we ALREADY pay by NOT changing course, such as, in India, giving hospital care to indigent people, ought somehow not to come out of the public treasury. Psychologically, politically, the difficulty lies in getting many people to see, and to act, on the connection, while acting, also, to re-direct the kinds of disinformation put forth by vested interests from the status quo. (Highway departments….)
We overcame these objections and mandated seat belts in cars. The lives and serious injuries saved also paid us handsomely in costs not requiring reimbursement; same thing when airbags came in. (There’s a story that a month after cars came on market with air bags the police were called to a head-on collision. The officer who first arrived said that when hesaw the cars he thought, ‘Nobody gonna be alive here, but who are those two people calmly standing at the side of the road?’ They turned out to be the drivers of the two cars, neither seriously hurt thanks to the air bags.
How about the elimination of fluorocarbons as refrigerants, because of the damage they caused to the ozone layer in the atmosphere? How many cases of skin cancer, or acclerated damage to ecosystems, did that avoid? And what monetary saving did that leverage for everyone, despite the foot-dragging by industry and many consumers at the time?
I hope the examples trigger reflection.
‘Hey YOU!’ (or) ‘Pay YOU!’ (or) ‘Gold Lamé’ (or) THAT was lame (or) ‘Lame ME’ (or) . . . .
One last example. I am a photographer, for years I used a conventional darkroom to print on gelatin-silver black and white papers, and processed films that were silver based. In the fixing process the unused silver in the film or paper coating is removed and chemically held in the hypo solution. When the hypo is exhausted it is a toxic material that requires specific disposal or after-treatment.
For awhile I investigated a piece of hardware and a recovery service offered by Kodak, by which the silver could be removed from the hypo and returned to Kodak which would purchase it. So, a possibility of reclaiming a cost (getting paid) and leaving the exhausted hypo in a less-noxious form for disposal. Note, without this recovery process the hypo rightly should go to a toxic waste processing center, which became possible where I lived in the late 1970s, but in fact many small operations like mine simply poured the materials down the drain. As did industry, contaminating hundreds of square miles of riparian and bayside habitat in ways that may never be repaired, at least directly.
So the moral is that because the scale of my work was small it could not be economical to use that recovery method, that is too costly both in money and in effort, to use. For me it suffered from the ‘last straw’ defect: yes, I can save up the hypo until I have a quantity that makes the recovery workable; yes, I can put the gadget over there; yes, I can operate it; yes, I can pack up the sludge per specifications and send it back to Kodak; yes I can wait for the check. But darn it. That’s a lot of work and the projected return is peanuts. Now if I were a really BIG operation, for the same time and energy that check would amount to something, and—-
So you see where that heads. The measly check was the ‘last straw’. For the commuter thinking about using a bicycle, maybe it’s the worry about having the bike stolen at the station, or the expense of a Y membership so she can shower before going to the office. The Crap and Trade model offsets that last straw and replaces it with a last treat, or an ultimate payoff. Let’s search for more.
I wanted to write to Bill McKibben to tell him about an action that our church had on Sunday, July 13. Our church, First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, Illinois, tried an Alternative Transportation Sunday event to help promote the new website -www.350.org/
On Sunday morning, we had a big board outside our church where we asked the question: “How did you come to church today?” Then we kept track of those walking, biking, or taking mass transit. We used 3M sticky flags color coded- green for walking, yellow for biking, and blue for mass transit.
Then we asked folks to put their names on the flags, posting them for recognition. We designed the board so that it is reusable. We also put a star sticky note on each person’s clothing which indicated