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.

_________________

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 . . .

What if we forgave everyone?

Of all the essays I’ve read on the present climate chaos, Catherine Ingram’s Facing Extinction is one of the best, and perhaps most consistent with my own point of view. This is partly because it addresses the related issues of population growth and human frailty in conjunction with climate change. Though it is a long read, around 15,000 words, it is worth all the time you can to give it.

The essay is divided into ten sections: Dark Knowledge, Courage, Distraction and Denial, Social Unrest, Over-Population and Co-Extinctions, Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars, The End of Legacy, No Blame, Grief, and Love. As well, she ends the essay with a number of ways of dealing with all this: Find your community (or create one); find your calm; release dark visions of the future, and pace your intake of climate news; be of service; be grateful, and give up the fight with evolution. I offer one quote from each section:

Dark Knowledge

“Because the subject is so tragic and because it can scare or anger people, this is not an essay I ever wanted to write; it is one I would have wanted to read along the way. But the words on these pages are meant only for those who are ready for them. I offer no hope or solutions for our continuation, only companionship and empathy to you, the reader, who either knows or suspects that there is no hope or solutions to be found. What we now need to find is courage.”

Courage

“Courage is often confused with stoicism, the stiff upper lip, bravado that masks fear. There is another kind of courage. It is the courage to live with a broken heart, to face fear and allow vulnerability, and it is the courage to keep loving what you love “even though the world is gone.”

Distraction and Denial

“You may find yourself in the company of people who seem to have no awareness of the consequences we face or who don’t want to know or who might have a momentary inkling but cannot bear to face it. You may find that people become angry if you steer the conversation in the direction of planetary crisis. You may sense that you are becoming a social pariah due to what you see, even when you don’t mention it, and you may feel lonely in the company of most people you know. For you, it’s not just the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant on fire in the room, and yet you feel you can rarely say its name.”

Social Unrest

“We now see large regions of the world that are no-go zones. Failed states, where life is cheap and barbarism reigns. Huge swaths of Africa are now lawless and controlled by armed and violent men and boys roaming the countryside in gangs, engaged in despicable acts too sickening to write. The Middle East is much the same as are parts of South America. All of these areas are enduring severe drought. As professor and journalist Christian Parenti said in an interview with Chris Hedges, “How do people adapt to climate change? How do they adapt to the drought, to the floods? Very often, the way is you pick up the surplus weaponry and you go after your neighbor’s cattle or you blame it on your neighbor’s ideology or ethnicity.”

“It is a mark of immaturity to be unable to delay personal satisfaction for the chance at greater wellbeing for all at a later date. And it is yet another wearisome example of why we humans are in the mess in which we find ourselves. We see it throughout human history. Greed is not new to modern times. We can easily understand the greedy impulse as most of us are afflicted with it. Perhaps the evolutionary imperatives from ancient times would have had no use for delayed gratification since servicing immediate needs often meant the difference between life and death. However, we can now see that being enslaved to our base desires and impulses is contraindicated to our survival. Seeing disintegrations occur in the developed countries gives a glimpse as to what societal and economic breakdown will look like when there are widespread food shortages everywhere and when the infrastructures, including the electric grids, become spotty, too costly to maintain, or are no longer working.”

Over-Population and Co-Extinctions

“According to many scientific studies, some of the inevitable outcomes of overpopulation are severely polluted water, increased air pollution and lung diseases, proliferation of infectious diseases, overwhelmed hospitals, rising crime rates, deforestation, loss of wildlife leading to mass extinctions, widespread food shortages, vanishing fish in the oceans, superbugs and airborne diseases along with diminished capacity to treat them, proliferation of AIDS, less access to safe drinking water, new parasites, desertification, rising regional conflicts, and war. As astrobiology professor Peter Ward explained in a story on the BBC, “If you look at any biological system, when it overpopulates it begins to poison its home.”

Techno Fixes and Escape to Mars

“Energy and industrial technologies have destabilized and poisoned our atmosphere and waterways. Our cyber technology has created a global industry of online financial theft, child pornography and predation, identity theft, illegal drugs, and many other criminal endeavors made possible through the internet. War technologies have made us the most effective killing species ever in history. In the 20th century, the deadliest in history thus far, an estimated 231 million people –most of them non-combatants–died in war and conflicts. High tech weaponry in the 21st century is even more capable of large scale death and destruction at the push of a button from thousands of miles away.”

As Joanna Macy told me in an interview more than thirty years ago, “We think technology will save us. Technology got us into this mess.”

The End of Legacy

“There is a cognitive dissonance that takes getting used to when you realize there is no need to consider how you or your name will be remembered in the future. Not only that, your interest in future projections about life begins to fall away. You may marvel at how many personal conversations with people you know or news items from around the world assume that human life carries on indefinitely. You may find it difficult to hold interest in these conversations and stories, as though you chanced upon a madman on a street corner earnestly proclaiming his grand plans for the future when it is clear he is hallucinating. You don’t hang on his every word.”

No Blame

“In a recent blog post, writer James Kunstler proposed a pithy theory of why humans chose each step of our path in history: “It just seemed a good idea at the time.” We plunged forward with each new way of doing things, each new invention, because it made life easier at the time. There was no intention to destroy ourselves. On the contrary, for most of the time since the Industrial Revolution, it seemed that life was getting better for greater numbers of people. With medical advances, we wiped out most of the contagious deadly diseases, controlled infections, and greatly extended life expectancy. We built transportation capabilities that allowed us to travel to the far ends of the earth in a day and thereby learn of other cultures while on their own turf. And then we hooked ourselves up to each other in a world of instantaneous communication, which has been a whole lot of fun. But we didn’t factor in the cost of all this bounty as we built modern civilization.”

Grief

“Many of us are also in anticipatory grief; that is, in the period leading to full extinction, we are aware of how hard it will be for those who are already living marginally, such as the nearly one billion people who are now under nourished and who must search for food each day. These numbers will increase and food and fresh water will become impossible to find. Even here in a rich country, I know many people who live month to month, barely making the rent, foregoing all but the most basic necessities. They are considered the poor in our First World countries, and they are also growing in number. In the United States alone, many of those who were formerly middle class now live in their cars or in homeless shelters or on the streets. Even those in situations of abundance are often relying on jobs that are destined to disappear or on bank accounts and investments that will likely disappear as well. After all, much of the so-called wealth of the privileged is simply numerical digits floating on cyber screens.“

Love

“Left to its own conditioned patterns, our minds get into all kinds of trouble (unless one was very lucky in one’s conditioning, which is rare). Developing the habit of re-directing your awareness when your mind is lost in fear or troubling stories induces confidence along the way. Your attention starts to incline toward ease more frequently. You find that you can choose calm. You can choose gratitude. You can choose love.”

Visit Catherine’s web site HERE. And a YouTube audio version of the essay (read by the author) HERE.

143 Million Climate Refugees by 2050

According to the World Bank, internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change. Their recent report, “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration“, shows that, without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 143 million people move within their countries’ borders between now and 2050.

This study is one of its kind. It is comprehensive and up to date. The number ‘143 million’ does not include migration and displacement from other causes, such as extreme events, like hurricanes. Nor does it include cross-border migration. It is a little known fact that, globally, there are three times more people that move within countries than across borders. About 750 million people move internally, and around 250 million move across borders. These are not the migrants studied in this report: In most cases, these are economic, social, and political migrants. This report is about slow and persistent climate impacts that are bearing down on people, forcing them to move to another location.

The poorest people will be forced to move due to slow-onset climate change impacts, including: decreasing crop productivity, shortage of water, and rising sea levels. But if we act now, we could decrease the number of people forced to move due to climate change by as much as 80%, or 100 million people.

In order to do this, we would have to cut greenhouse gases now, imbed climate migration in development planning, and invest now to improve understanding of internal climate migration. The following 4 minute video is a good introduction to the problem.

Download the World Bank report: Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration (256p).

The report identifies “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration. These include climate-vulnerable areas from which people are expected to move, and locations into which people will try to move to build new lives and livelihoods.

I highly recommended the following 16 minute interview with Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Lead Environmental Specialist at the World Bank:

Outbreaks

On my ABOUT page I discuss what I refer to as ‘the intersect of extinction”: When climate change, population growth, and human frailty come together, they produce a churning cauldron of destabilizing ingredients, locked in a deadly cycle of destructive feedback loops.

The following TED Talk by Charles C. Mann gets at some of what I mean by this when he talks about what biologists call ‘outbreaks.’

Mann says that an outbreak is “when a population or species exceeds the bounds of natural selection. Natural selection ordinarily keeps populations and species within roughly defined limits. Pests, parasites, lack of resources prevent them from expanding too much. But every now and then, a species escapes its bounds. . . . Populations explode, a hundredfold, a thousandfold, a millionfold.

He continues: “Put a couple of protozoa into a petri dish full of nutrient goo. In their natural habitat, soil or water, their environment constrains them. In the petri dish, they have an ocean of breakfast and no natural enemies. They eat and reproduce, eat and reproduce, until bang, they hit the edge of the petri dish, at which point they either drown in their own waste, starve from lack of resources, or both. The outbreak ends, always, badly.

He says that “from the viewpoint of biology, you and I are not fundamentally different than the protozoa in the petri dish. We’re not special. All the things that we, in our vanity, think make us different — art, science, technology, and so forth, they don’t matter. We’re an outbreak species, we’re going to hit the edge of the petri dish, simple as that.”

But, he asks, is this really true? “Are we in fact doomed to hit the edge of the petri dish?”

He then goes on to discuss a number of things we can do, one of which is this: “[If] there’s a difference between us and the protozoa, a difference that matters, it’s not just our art and science and technology and so forth — it’s that we can yell and scream, we can go out into the streets, and, over time, change the way society works, but we’re not doing it.

Listen to the entire talk. It has already received over 2 million views.

Is nuclear power safe and is it a renewable source of energy?

Perhaps these are not the right questions right now. Perhaps there is a more urgent and important question that must be addressed first.

Can the waste products of nuclear energy be managed in a way that will assure the safety of human civilization in perpetuity? If they cannot, I believe nuclear energy must be put on hold.

Would we build a high-rise condominium without bathroom facilities, perhaps with the idea that we would probably figure something out in the future? This has been an inveterate problem for the industrialized world. And this will be one of defining problems of population growth: where will be put all of the shit, the garbage, the waste, and the thousand and one trifles we simply must have? Even the question of CO2 emissions is, in essence, a problem of excrement management.

According to a new report commissioned by Greenpeace France:

“Without exception, no solution has been found for long term management of the vast volumes of nuclear waste. This includes the highly radioactive spent fuel produced in all nuclear reactors, for which to date all efforts to find secure and safe permanent disposal options have failed.”

“The use of nuclear power to generate electricity over the past six decades has created a nuclear waste crisis for which there is no solution on the horizon, but which will require the safe storage and management, and ultimately final disposal for hundreds of thousands of years forever.”

“One reason why reactor lifetimes and decisions on nuclear phase out are central is because of the amount of high level nuclear waste the world will have to eventually manage.”

These quotes are from the executive summary of the report which can be found HERE.

A Keynote Address to the Human Species

This talk by Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion (XR) may be the best and most comprehensive presentation on this topic to date. In my mind, it is a Keynote Address to the Human Species. Please take the time to watch it; there may be nothing more important. It is 50 minutes in length, and every minute is riveting in a quiet but powerful way. One would do well to view it repeatedly and take close notes. To her credit, she provides a minute of silence between parts I and II.

Part I: She discusses the ecological crisis: the latest science on what risks there are, and our current trajectory, including the possibility of abrupt (i.e. near term dramatic climate change) and human extinction.

Part II: She deals with understanding our emotional responses and what appropriate responses we might make.

I encourage you to view this presentation in its entirety, read the ABOUT page of this blog, and then take a long solitary walk.

New study establishes causal link between climate, conflict, and migration

This research begins to get at the intersection of climate change and population growth that I am looking at throughout this blog. The study shows that climate change leads to movements of people from rural to urban settings, thus causing overcrowding, which leads to unemployment, political unrest, and even civil war (as in Syria).

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis found that climate change played a significant role in migration, with more severe droughts linked to exacerbating conflict.

The effect of climate on conflicts is particularly relevant to countries in western Asia from 2010-12, such as the so-called Arab Spring, political uprisings which occurred in countries including Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and Syria, where the conflict led to an ongoing civil war. In Syria particularly, long-running droughts and water shortages caused by climate change resulted in repeated crop failures, with rural families eventually moving to urban areas. This in turn led to overcrowding, unemployment and political unrest, and then civil war. Similar patterns were also found in sub-Saharan Africa in the same time period.