Whenever something is wrong, something is too big: The problem of unmanageable proportions.

Delhi Traffic Jam

Recommended Exercise: Meditate on the following texts and then express the ideas that come to mind. Time limit: 3 hours.

“The answer to all questions underlying our problems today is the size factor—not unemployment, not warfare, not juvenile delinquency, not business fluctuations, not Black Mondays, Black Fridays, or Black Tuesdays. What matters is the enormous scale of these maladies. It’s huge! The world today is faced with the consequences of nuclear power, but the problems can be solved only by tackling the scale of it and the huge nations that need it, not by demonstrating against it. These huge nations cannot exist, poor creatures, without nuclear power, which is so efficient—so efficient that only 5% of the population is needed to contribute to the economic upkeep; all the rest must be tied to the bureaucracy or the military or the educational institutions that teach people to spend their time with no purpose. The fundamental effect is a vast increase in our human numbers; if there is to be a way out, these numbers must be reduced, and the way to reduce them is by reducing the size of nations, which at a smaller scale no longer depend on nuclear power but instead on muscle power, small electric power, wind power, and so forth.” — Leopold Kohr

The following texts are from Paul Kingsnorth’s essay on Leopold Kohr.

“Kohr’s claim was that society’s problems were not caused by particular forms of social or economic organization, but by their size. Socialism, anarchism, capitalism, democracy, monarchy – all could work well on what he called “the human scale”: a scale at which people could play a part in the systems that governed their lives. But once scaled up to the level of modern states, all systems became oppressors. Changing the system, or the ideology that it claimed inspiration from, would not prevent that oppression – as any number of revolutions have shown – because “the problem is not the thing that is big, but bigness itself”.”

. . .

“Bigness, predicted Kohr, could only lead to more bigness, for “whatever outgrows certain limits begins to suffer from the irrepressible problem of unmanageable proportions”. Beyond those limits it was forced to accumulate more power in order to manage the power it already had. Growth would become cancerous and unstoppable, until there was only one possible endpoint: collapse.”

. . .

The last texts are from James Lovelock’s “The Revenge of Gaia.’

The root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population. There is no single right number of people that we can have as a goal: the number varies with our way of life on the planet and the state of its health. It has varied naturally from a few million when we were hunters and gatherers to a fraction of a billion as simple farmers’ but now it has grown to over six billion, which is wholly unsustainable in the present state of Gaia, even if we had the will and the ability to cut back. (ed. This was written in 2006, the population in 2019 is about 7.4 billion; and the forecast for 2050 is about 9.5 billion)

. . .

“Personally I think we would be wise to aim at a stabilized population of about half to one billion, and then we would be free to live in many different ways without harming Gaia.”

Again: Meditate on the texts and then express the ideas that come to mind. Time limit: 3 hours.

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Leopold Kohr (1909-1994) was an openhearted, urbane, convivial man who loved intellectual companionship and discussion. He was an economist, jurist, political scientist, and self-described philosophical anarchist. Believing in the effectiveness of returning to the local level to solve the problems affecting humankind, he saw small self-governing communities as best able to solve their problems with their own resources. Read more . . .

Paul Kingsnorth – I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers. I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays. Read more . . .

James Lovelock – James Ephraim Lovelock, CH CBE FRS (born 26 July 1919) is an independent scientist, environmentalist, and futurist who lives in Dorset, England. He is best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system. Read more . . .

All this talk about the fate of Earth

“Everything is changing about the natural world and everything must change about the way we conduct our lives. It is easy to complain that the problem is too vast, and each of us is too small. But there is one thing that each of us can do ourselves, in our own homes, at our own pace—something easier than taking out the recycling or turning down the thermostat, and something more valuable. We can call the threats to our future what they are. We can call the villains villains, the heroes heroes, the victims victims, and ourselves complicit. We can realize that all this talk about the fate of Earth has nothing to do with the planet’s tolerance for higher temperatures and everything to do with our species’ tolerance for self-delusion. And we can understand that when we speak about things like fuel-efficiency standards or gasoline taxes or methane flaring, we are speaking about nothing less than all we love and all we are.” from Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich

“Losing Earth” by Nathaniel Rich

Available April 9

From the Editor: “By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours.”

“The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to Nathaniel Rich’s groundbreaking chronicle of that decade, which became an instant journalistic phenomenon—the subject of news coverage, editorials, and conversations all over the world. In its emphasis on the lives of the people who grappled with the great existential threat of our age, it made vivid the moral dimensions of our shared plight.”

“Now expanded into book form, Losing Earth tells the human story of climate change in even richer, more intimate terms. It reveals, in previously unreported detail, the birth of climate denialism and the genesis of the fossil fuel industry’s coordinated effort to thwart climate policy through misinformation propaganda and political influence. The book carries the story into the present day, wrestling with the long shadow of our past failures and asking crucial questions about how we make sense of our past, our future, and ourselves.”

NB: NPR’s Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with Nathaniel Rich HERE.


On climate change becoming a partisan issue
We’ve entered this weird funhouse realm where now if you jump ahead to the present day you have a political party … that endorses a position that’s essentially to the right even of what the industry now says in their public statements. Exxon publicly today doesn’t deny climate change, but you have a party that does. I think it’s something that future historians will spend a lot of time piecing out is: How this little lie grew into a big lie and overwhelmed our politics.

Nathaniel Rich