As an anarchist I’ve long thought the two party electoral system of the US is deeply, fundamentally flawed. It’s never been a democracy so much as a republic with a veneer of democracy. Of the two parties the Democrats are the ones that are, in recent decades, the party seen as being “left” or progressive. Of course it’s not at all but it has those elements within it and is seen as the best chance for a manifestation of those political expressions. Robert Reich’s article discussing the Democrats in terms of 2022 politics is on point. This bit stood out for me:
The most powerful force in American politics today is anti-establishment fury at a rigged system. There is no longer a left or right. There is no longer a moderate “center”. The real choice is either Republican authoritarian populism or Democratic progressive populism.
Democrats cannot defeat authoritarian populism without an agenda of radical democratic reform – a pro-democracy, anti-establishment movement. Democrats must stand squarely on the side of working people against oligarchy. They must form a unified coalition of people of all races, genders, and classes to unrig the system.
Trumpism is not the cause of our divided nation. It is the symptom of a rigged system that was already dividing us.
Several weeks ago I shared the below video on a family thread and one of the comments I received was:
Takes an extreme mindset to live this type of “one with nature lifestyle”.
Watching the video I’d had the opposite reaction. My reaction was that it felt natural, healthy, fun, beautiful. I mulled over that response, “that it requires an extreme mindset” and I suppose that for many that live and grow up in “Western/developed” nations would agree. Those living in this moment expect comfort in the form of modern convenience.
But, just to flip it… thinking about humans on earth… Based on an estimated homo sapiens origin of 300,000 years ago, we lived on Earth for 299,500 of those years in ways much like we see in the video. And it’s not really been until the last 100 years that many people (in western nations) moved out of agriculture and into cities. In a blink of an eye, we’ve come to view the natural way that humans lived on the planet for 99% of our existence as extreme.
What we have to day has only existed as normal for a very short period of time and won’t likely persist for more than another 50 years. And I see no evidence that it should. It’s a life out of balance with not just the planet but even with other humans who have had access to far less during this short, destructive experiment that began with the industrial revolution.
At the Guardian, Robert Reich asks if America is experiencing an unofficial general strike?
Corporate America wants to frame this as a “labor shortage.” Wrong. What’s really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage.
Unless these shortages are rectified, many Americans won’t return to work anytime soon. I say it’s about time.
I wrote a few days ago about rural cycling and micromobility and since then I’ve spent a bit of time reading and listening on the larger concept. Much of what I’ve come across thus far is focused on micromobility in the urban setting because that’s where it is most useful and where so many humans live.
Also, worth noting perhaps, is that my current primary source on the topic is Micromobility.io, the website and the podcast by Horace Dediu and Oliver Bruce. After perusing the site and listening to several podcast episodes this seems like an excellent resource on the topic though it does largely come from an interest in the business potential of micromobility which would be last on my list. His specific interest seems to be centered on the prospects of providing micromobility devices such as scooters and e-bikes as a ride-share platform such as Lime. I understand why Dediu takes the approach he does and it’s informative and very helpful and in a global economy with rampant capitalism it obviously has a place.
That said, I think coming at this from primarily a business interest sets it up with certain bias. In episode 41 of the podcast he specifically states at one point that he’s really only interested in micromobility devices as a service platform when he and co-host Oliver Bruce are discussing ownership as a utility product vs a rental services platform. At about 26:24 he states that “if the market is only utility I’m going to be out of it in a couple of years. Forget it. I’m done.” It’s possible I misunderstood that bit of the conversation but if correct I feel as though he’s going to be biased in his approach of the larger picture of the technology.
But really, I’m out of my depth in that I’m just a passerby who has stopped for a sip of water. Perhaps his is the best approach, a focus on micromobility as services built on apps with easy access is best. It certainly has a place in how people access the devices. But I tend to come at things from a concern for the planet and overall health. And certainly these concerns are addressed on both the podcast and the site, for example this post regarding micromobility and climate change.
In general I’m not a fan of capitalism and the idea that capitalism can or should or will be the primary force in solving the social ecological problems it has caused seems off. Surely it has a role to play and I’m not going to say that specific companies and services can’t have a positive role to play. It’s complicated. Our social and ecological problems are complicated. If there are companies that can make a profit via micromobility device sharing services which help address the problem of climate change then that’s certainly positive. But I see no reason to rule out an approach that allows for other forms of distribution and development of such devices.
Which brings me to another point. Along with the focus on micromobility as a service I’m also seeing a focus on urban environments. Again, maybe that makes sense from certain perspectives. But in doing just a bit of preliminary searching for rural micromobility I came across the Shared-Use mobility Center and in particular this article on Rural and Small Town Transportation:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a rural area is any area that is neither an urbanized area (50,000 or more people) nor an urban cluster (between 2,500 to 50,000 people). Currently, over 60 million (1 in 5) Americans live in such areas. Similarly, the term “small town” has a wide array of connotations, encompassing communities ranging from tiny village to sprawling suburb.
And so, I return to the topic of rural and even small town micromobility. I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the content published by Dediu and others but what is to be done outside of cities? It may only be 20% in the US but certainly a solution is still needed. I’ve only really pondered my own small town and rural setting which, like many in the U.S. is relatively poor. Certainly many who are in this small town could be served fairly well by e-bikes. I’d guess that many in small towns smaller and larger than this might also find great utility in having access to one or two Ebikes equipped for shopping or other utilitarian purposes.
And as I’ve pointed out in numerous recent posts documenting my current use of an e-bike for riding to town there is also potential for some rural residents to make use of such assistive devices. My six to eight mile ride to town allows for me to do most of the things I need to do when I go to town. I don’t know what the numbers are for rural residents living in a similar radius but certainly small towns and their associated 5 to 8 mile radius of residents is worth including in the discussion of micromobility even if such areas are not prime profit markets?
As the the article on Micromobility and climate change states,, most of trips are short and that’s where most emissions are. I’d guess that the numbers vary when one get’s into the specific settings such as urban, suburban and rural ares but perhaps not by much. In any case, the problem of poverty and carbon emissions exist in rural and small town areas as well as urban and I’d suggest that while it won’t be the only solution certainly micromobility has a role to play here.
I’m probably a bit sloppy in my thinking here. Or, perhaps more accurate, I’m showing my newness to an area of analysis that’s been pretty well developed in a very specific direction. I’m looking forward to learning more from Horace Dediu and Oliver Bruce as well as the others writing and being interviewed. I’ll also be looking at the thoughts of others coming at it from other, less profit-driven perspectives.
Life is once again headed for total collapse. While coverage of last week’s major Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on biodiversity loss rightly played up the dire numbers — an estimated 1 million species gone by 2050 — what’s truly remarkable are the solutions the authors offer in response. Ditching the timid pragmatism of technocrats, these scientists are calling for nothing less than the total transformation of the global economy. Producing for profit has failed us, they say, and failed the planet. We need a new system.
Only “transformative change” can stop massive species loss, according to the report’s conclusion. That means overhauling the global economy to prioritize human well-being and environmental sustainability rather than the pursuit of profit. “We’re not addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, which is the way we organize economies, production and consumption patterns, our institutions, and our rules,” says Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University and a coordinating lead author of the IPBES report. “We need to transform the sheer fabric of our society to become more sustainable.”
Today’s great dying is happening faster than ever before, and its causes are clear: breakneck development, fossil-fueled global warming, industrial pollution, single-crop agriculture. Complex as these processes are, they point to a common culprit: A growth-based economic system bent on wringing cash from nature has exploited the planet’s ecosystems beyond what they can bear. Now, Earth’s fragile life-support system is entering a death spiral that threatens human existence and which no one is prepared to stop.
Over the past couple years Automatic Earth has become one of my favorite economic blogs and Ilgari’s Christmas Eve post is a good example of why I venture there daily. Ilgari makes the point that the past year’s economic developments were, essentially, about the transfer of private debt to the public. This picture just gets worse and worse:
Many people today feel happy and positive when they look at the stock markets, because they think these reflect the real economy, and since the markets are up, things must have changed for the better in the past year.
But they haven’t, not below the surface. It’s all veneer and no substance. What actually has happened is that -virtually- no debt has been paid off in our economies, in fact we’ve added trillions of dollars more in debt. What is different from a year ago is that a huge part of the old debt and all of the new debt has been transferred to the public, and away from private business, in particular financial institutions (and, to an extent, carmakers).
So it comes down to the fact that people feel happy for being deeper in debt, and quite a bit deeper. Being the humans we are, we focus on the short term gratification which can be found in the Dow and a whole slew of increasingly fabricated numbers and government reports, while we conveniently ignore the enormous increases in debts, both public and private, that we will have to pay off down the line.
But, you say, it’s not as bad as it may look, because when the crisis is over, we will return to growth, and that will take care of the debt. That and shrewd dollar-inflation strategies by the wizards at the Fed and Treasury.
Really? What if the crisis lasts, let’s say, ten years? All that needs to happen for that is for home prices to keep falling, or even stagnate. And that seems a near certainty.
The US has no private mortgage market left, or even a viable housing market. Neither do Canada, Britain, Holland and many other countries for that matter. Homes are sold and mortgages approved only because the state takes them off the lenders' hands and books the minute the deals are closed. The loans are then securitized and sold on to, in America’s instance, the central bank. In other words, all of the risk for all of the entire loans processed in this fashion lies squarely with the taxpayer.
And that is not a good thing if prices keep dropping. When unemployment won’t come down. When governments start raising taxes because sovereign debt goes through the various rooftops.
The main problem’s not even paying off the principal of the debt. That won’t start happening for years to come, if ever. It’s paying the interest on the debt that will become the most immediate headache.
It’s been awhile since I pointed folks to any of my favorite blogs and when I came across this quote over at the Automatic Earth I thought I’d remedy that. First, from this post at the above mentioned site:
Joe Bageant has something to add to that picture:
Speaking of motives, there are those who worry about an American
authoritarian police state one day rounding folks up, shuffling them off to
geographically remote camps, such as the Department of Homeland
Security’s scattered FEMA Camps. But physical geography isn’t the only
geography. There is geography of the mind too, where another kind of
hellish internment may be conducted.
One without razor wire or sirens but surely as confining and in its own
way, as soul chilling as any concentration camp. One with plenty to eat
and filled with distractions and diversions enough to drown out the
alarms and sirens that go off inside free men at the scent of
tyranny. If a round up of Americans is real, then it began years ago. And as far as I can tell, everyone went peacefully, each one alone, like
children, whose greatest concern on that day when the gates were closed,
was the absence of Ranch flavored Pringles.
As someone who has spent most of the past 18 years outside of the american mainstream I can say that Bageant nailed that perfectly. Chomsky called it the manufacturing of consent in his analysis of the media which has served over the past 60 years or so as the primary tool used to control the public. In any case, do check the Automatic Earth for a fantastic daily post which offers what I think is the best take on the current economic collapse. The format of each post usually consists of a page of introductory thoughts based on a huge buffet of stories which follow. I never have the time to read those so I read the intro and skim the headlines below and then skim the comments.
Next on the list would be Sharon Astyk. While she often offers her take are various aspects of our current economic and environmental predicaments, most of her writing is geared towards helping folks actually prepare for a different kind of life. In particular she offers folks the detailed, practical information for becoming more self reliant in terms of growing, preparing and storing food as well as taking care of other necessities of daily life. She ranges from thoughts on medicine to raising kids to what food to grow and where to get the seeds. She’s a very inspirational read with fantastic posts on the importance of family and community and the general need to be connected as we work through this mess.
More I’d like to add but I don’t have much time so I’ll post this as is and add more later!
Oh yes, I know that the stock market had an orgie of a day yesterday on the news of the schemes being cooked up by the Obama administration to deal with the toxic assets currently in the financial system. More of the same and it won’t work because it is a refusal to deal with reality. The whole reaction to this massive mess of fraud is more fraud. The spectacle is truly disgusting.
Harvey Ussery of The Modern Homestead has written a fantastic article regarding the deepening crisis. I encourage you to read it. Here’s an excerpt:
The only thing surprising about the crisis—I should say the crises—now deepening around us, is that it has taken so many of us by surprise. For several years before the subprime mess started the current hemorrhage in global finance, I read detailed predictions for how the subprime mortgage bubble would burst, with the shattering and cascading effects in the wider system that we have now seen—analyses, mind you, not of Ivy League economic think-tankers, but of reflective folks of ordinary common sense like you and me. If such people were able to read the writing on the wall, where were the deciders in government and Wall Street, the head of the Federal Reserve? What were they thinking?
But this crisis has been long in the making, and the biggest mistake would be to assume that an anonymous “they” out there—Wall Street moguls, hypesters for junk-level, credit-for-everybody mortgages, OPEC gougers—are the ones who have brought us to grief, through no fault of our own. We are supposedly adults in a functioning democracy, not children, and as such we cannot escape responsibility for our willful complicity in an economy that defies compatibility with natural systems, meaning natural limits, and which opts consistently for short-term gain in preference to long-term soundness and sustainability.
I remember reading on the first page of the first economics textbook I ever encountered (Economics, by Paul Samuelson, when I was in graduate school) that the foundation of our economy is: perpetual growth. Not the natural resource base. Not equitable distribution of wealth. Not sustainability. The author was emphatic and unambiguous: Without constant, vigorous expansion, our economy would stagnate and fall apart. And on that first page, even a bonehead neophyte ignoramus like me was saying in confused surprise, “But that’s impossible—nothing can grow without limits!” (Except cancer, whose perpetual growth is precisely what in the end kills its host.)
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Exactly. In his latest post, The Abyss Stares Back James Kunstler writes:
In the broad blogging margins of the web that orbit the mainstream media like the rings of Saturn, an awful lot of reasonable people have begun to ask whether President Obama is a stooge of whatever remains of Wall Street, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs’s puppeteer, Robert Rubin, pulling strings behind an arras in the Oval Office. Personally, I doubt it, but it is still a little hard to understand what the President is up to. For one thing, the stimulus package, so-called, looks more and more like national sub-prime mortgage itself, a bad bargain made under less-than-realistic terms, with future obligations fobbed onto whoever inhabits this corner of the world for the next seven hundred years – and all to pay for a bunch of granite counter-tops and flat-screen TVs.
We’ve heard it over and over and over and over from those in power in reference to this coming depression: “We have to do something.” My thought? No, no actually you don’t HAVE to do something especially when doing something is the wrong thing to do. Action for the sake of action is stupidity. But they are not just doing something. They are doing the same thing that got us into this situation. Taking on more debt to fix debt for the sake of growth that is not even real growth. Well, the consumption was real and the growth for China was real, but the debt taken on in the U.S. was just that, debt. We got in the habit of telling ourselves, as a nation, that credit and debt were wealth but they are not even close to wealth. They may create the illusion of wealth but when it comes time to pay back what you don’t have the reality comes home.
There will be no getting out of this mess, no way to navigate around it. The hard truth is that we will have to slog through it day by day. This collapse was a very long time in coming and the going will be an equally long time. Unlike the first Great Depression though, when we begin to come out of this we will not find a ready, seemingly limitless supply of oil to tap into. We’ll discover that the production peaked sometime between 2005-2007. The good news though is that by that time we will have gotten used to a scaled back, lower income, lower energy way of life.
Again, to quote Kunstler:
Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn’t get that the conventional process of economic growth – based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era – is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium? Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead – at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re-finance.
It really is that bad and wishful thinking will not help.
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I thought I’d direct folks to this fantastic post at The Automatic Earth regarding the costs of homes in relation to personal income and the role of banks in removing wealth from our communities. Some interesting points there about the end of a functioning capitalist system as well as a sensible, community-based approach to dealing with foreclosures. The only thing I’ll add is that we have been far too focused on wishful thinking in this country and that has to end. The longer we try to hold back reality, the more energy we spend trying to go around this mess rather than through it, the more intense and longer lasting it will be.
Why is 3 times income a reasonable price for a home? Shouldn’t the prices perhaps be
exclusively set by the cost of building a home? If 3 times income were
“normal”, consider that prices have become easily 3 times the cost of building
the home. So most homes cost 1 time annual income to build. And that’s just
the start. A mortgage of the elevated value will cost 3-4 times its notional value
to be paid off in full. Thus instead of living in a home paid off at 1 time annual
income, buyers will need 10-12 times annual income to own a home free and
clear. All this is money that disappears from communities, and into the vaults of
big faceless banks. It’s little wonder that communities and individuals have an
ever harder time establishing a decent level of services and decent living
standards, health care, education, water treatment etc.
Why do we accept so easily that speculation is a good thing when it comes to
our basic needs? It will come back to haunt us in a very aggressive way. Now
that the speculators, banks and developers can no longer rely on housing for
their gambling incomes, they will turn to other basic necessities, none of which
are shielded from the so-called free market. Thus, as incomes drop and
deflation expands its rule over the earth, prices for food, water and energy will
be set by “free” markets.
If we would stop handing money to the banks, which are insolvent anyway,
take the troubled mortgages they hold or have sold to Fannie and Freddie, who
would also receive not one additional penny, and give them to the communities,
who can negotiate with the occupants about a reasonable rent that would allow
them to remain on the premises (perhaps the Obama 31%-38% of income?!),
providing the communities with income, we do away with the need for all these
bail-outs. In one fell swoop.
A situation such as the one I’m painting here will eventually and inevitably
come to fruition. But our political and societal structures will not let it, not
voluntarily. And that will unnecessarily raise the suffering to levels we do not
even dare to fear. Free market capitalism is dead, and I don’t say that because
I have communist sympathies. I just look around me and see that no society
can exist that allows too many of its citizens to fall into utter misery. What
killed our capitalist system is the inclusion of basic human needs in an economic
system based on speculative games. If you set up an economy that propagates
gambling with basic human necessities, you will of necessity end up gambling
away the lives of the people who depend for their survival on those necessities.
Our societies have played these games beyond our borders, in Africa and Asia,
for hundreds of years. And now, because the system dies of it cannot grow, it’s
I cannot resist to also share this excellent quote about Obama’s $275 billion plans to halt foreclosures, also from a recent post at The Automatic Earth :
The fact of the matter, of course, is that the $275 billion will not, and are not
meant to, benefit the homeowners. They are provided for the benefit of the
lenders, the banks. They are meant to guarantee an ongoing flow of funds
towards the vaults replete with toxic debts based on the very homes the
government now showers with cash. They are meant to artificially continue to
prop up US real estate values, which, if they were allowed to simply follow the
course of the markets, would bankrupt not only the owners, for which
Washington cares preciously little, but also the banks, for which Washington will
bend over backwards any time of day. The main problem is that it’s way too
late. The banks will drown, and everybody knows it. So the only real purpose
served by these measures is to transfer ever more of the public’s funds to the
banking sector. It’ll go on until the nation itself is completely broke and broken.
Want to get a better foundational understanding of the Greater Depression that we have now entered? Here are a few blogs I’d suggest you read every day or at least a few times a week.
Sites which focus on the economic system specifically:
The Automatic Earth
The Market Ticker
Sites which discuss a broader range of issues (peak oil, self reliance, homesteading, climate change, suburbia…) related to the current collapse and what will follow:
The Archdruid Report
Here’s a little sample from November 7 post from
The Automatic Earth: Debt Rattle: Hocus Focus:
Obama’s chief of staff is a former Freddie Mac board member and fervent supporter of the invasion of Iraq. Many of the ‘experts’ are, or have been, Goldman and Citigroup execs. These people like the power and the money they have gathered while driving the economy into the ground. They’re not going to give that up just to build a financial system that would better serve the people. They’ll build one that best serves them.
Sure, some loose ends will be tweaked, but mostly they’ll spend the nation into a depression by attempting to salvage corporations that would have long since died if it were not for America’s 21st century version of Mussolini’s corporate fascism, and the unlimited access to the public trough it provides.
The broke man in the street will be broker, until he’s broken, until he lives in the street, his last hard earned penny squeezed from his hands and dumped into banks, insurers and carmakers that have zero chance of ever turning a profit again.
The taxpayer will be taxed, and will be forced to pay until (s)he can pay no more, if need be at the barrel of a gun, until (s)he no longer has a job, a home, dignity or a future. And then the growth machine will spit her out. Whoever can’t produce or consume is a write-off.
We’ve spent too much, and now we’re broke. Let’s spend more, and lots more, ‘cause then we will be whole again. Double or nothing, it’s all we know.
The dice will come up nothing.
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Sharon Astyk has peeled back the layers of the current economic collapse… an excellent essay worth checking out.:
What is reducing the amount of productive work accomplished, and moving the money increasingly only into a few pockets? It is the high price of food. And what is the root cause of the high price of food? Well, the single biggest factor, according to a number of studies, including the UN studies, has been the move to food based biofuels. So if we peel back the onion one more layer, what we find is that one of the major factors slowing the economy has been, well, oil. The rush to biofuels is a response to tightening oil supplies and rising costs, and the aggregate effect has been to push up food prices all over the world, while doing pretty much nothing to increase energy security, reduce greenhouse gasses or do much of anything else useful.
I’m no economist, and I don’t pretend to be. But I wonder, when we peel back the layers of the onion later, and look at the history of this Depression, I wonder if we’ll see that in fact, what happened was that we squeezed out the lifeblood of the very thing we’d built our economy upon - new workers/consumers who could be counted on to grow the economy outwards and upwards. We could have forseen this - but we chose not to - we chose, as we struggled to keep our lifestyle intact on the backs of the world’s poor, not to see that we stand on their backs, and it is people…all the way down. In killing them, we killed ourselves. It may be that besides the tragedy of starving millions of poor people, we may also have brought down our own system, simply because we did not see, did not realize that the poor matter more to us than we like to admit.
As of now we all know that the bailout did not pass though it could still happen. Chris Martenson on the government bailout:The Greatest Looting Operation in History:
Here we must face the hard truth that merely transferring the failed loans from the insolvent banks to an insolvent nation will do nothing but forestall the problem until a slightly later date (when it will be larger and more severe, by the way). The fact that both candidates for president are openly supporting the bailout says that reality has not yet penetrated the inner beltway.
So the first challenge will be recognizing that it really is not possible for an insolvent nation to bail out an insolvent financial system by borrowing more money. This is an absurd notion, and in total it really is no more and no less complicated than that. One cannot solve a crisis rooted in debt by issuing more debt.
While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president. In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers or nurses.
Now, having mismanaged the economy for eight years as well as having lied about our situation by continually insisting, ‘The fundamentals of our economy are strong,’ the Bush administration, six weeks before an election, wants the middle class of this country to spend many hundreds of billions on a bailout. The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush’s policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all. This is absurd. This is the most extreme example that I can recall of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.
Via Chris Martenson who had this to say:
This looks like the old populist message that has been so long dormant/suppressed in this country. Should that animal spirit re-awaken, social unrest will follow. Hell hath no fury…
Want to know more about the current economic situation and coming Depression? Check out the Crash Course by Chirs Martenson. This is a fantastic series of flash video/slide presentations that explains money, inflation, and the economy. Watch it and share it. This guy does a really excellent job of presenting the history and the current situation… everyone should watch this at least once. It is… STUNNING.
Pass it on.
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Over the years I’ve spent countless hours reading, learning and speculating about the future of humanity and the planet we call earth. In my first years of college in 1988-1990 I first started learning about the human rights movement, alternative agriculture, and the budding american Green movement. I founded a Green local in my college town, Kirksville, MO and I began to identify myself as an activist. Between my time away from family as well as this fundamental shift in my identity I began to notice a crack which became a gulf in how I related to my fellow humans and they to me.
Looking back I’ve come to realize that the “activist” is actually a strange phenomena. In a participatory democracy, there would not be a need for “activists” which are really just citizens which are involved in the community process of self-government. In a participatory democracy all citizens are active. The republic that we have today is, of course, a far, far cry from a real democracy. To suggest that it is democratic is to twist and pervert the word to such a degree that it no longer resembles its original meaning. (It was never a participatory democracy at all, but a republic that was supposedly controlled by citizens via representatives via “democratic” elections. But really, the differences, while important, are another topic for another time.)
Over the years (most notably beginning after WWII and the rise of suburbia) the people of United States have been taught that life is about the American Dream. It is about being happy which comes with certain material possessions as well as a neatly defined nuclear family of husband, wife, and kids. Of course the American Dream is open-ended and the list of material possessions grows and grows and is never completed. In accepting the American Dream as our way of life we gave up citizenship and became consumers who were no longer concerned with the serious responsibilities of being involved in government. In allowing ourselves be redefined we gave up power to those who did the redefining: the wealthy upper-class which controlled corporate capitalism and the state.
The role of “activist” came about because there are still citizens that strive to be actively engaged. I’ve come to realize that the disdain and outright hostility that I’ve faced as an activist is a fairly common experience and is related, at least in part, to the psychological and life investments made by the majority of people in the U.S. People went along for the ride. They were offered a way of life and they took it. They may not have even realized what was happening. My parents are a good example. They were a product of their socialization and they accepted what was put before them as the normal way of life. The development of suburbia and a shift to consumerism were the next steps to be taken after the Great Depression and the emergence of the U.S. as a world power after WWII. My parents got their jobs, bought their car and home then started having children. They moved, kept their jobs, bought another car and continued to raise their kids. They invested their lifetimes in this way of life. They believed in this way of life. My two siblings followed suit with their own families, jobs, homes, cars, pools and kids.
Imagine the emotional response of having that way of life criticized. By definition an activist (active citizen) is critical and vocal. The role of the citizen is to strive towards informed and ethical decision making for the community good. It is an unfortunate fact that to be an active citizen in our society often leads to separation from the majority in thought and behavior in part because we are often considered to be “judgmental” which, of course, we are. We do “judge” in the sense that we form opinions and conclusions regarding the everyday life around us. Being an active citizen is a never ending process of responsibility which leaves no stone unturned. It means looking at how we get things done: transport, growing of food, production of material goods, etc. and making determinations of how those actions and systems are working or not working.
In the 20 or so years that I’ve considered myself an active citizen I have consistently been met with resistance. Most people are not open to the idea that their way of life requires the suffering of others. It’s not comfortable or convenient because it implies a sense of guilt about both the system and the people who are a part of it. If a way of life is implicitly unfair and unsustainable and we willingly participate in it what does that say about us?
With the arrival of peak oil, climate change, and serious economic crisis all at the same time, many people are seeing the cracks in the way of life that they have taken as a given. As the cracks begin to expand and the system crumbles the whole gamut of emotional and mental states will run its course through the “consumers” of this nation. I suspect that anger, fear and confusion will dominate. The process is already well under way and if we’re lucky it will continue to unwind slowly. If that is the case then perhaps panic and violence will give way to community-based movements of cooperation. I don’t hold out much hope for this. The shift in our way of life is going to be monumental. Every aspect of how we live is about to change as the cultural, political and ecological repercussions of the past 60+ years step onto the stage. Perhaps the two most significant differences between the Great Depression of the last century and this “Long Emergency” (as James Kunstler refers to it) are the planet’s population of 6.5 billion people and dwindling fossil fuel resources.
Eleutheros of the excellent blog How Many Miles from Babylon describes it as a
shift in paradigm :
Facing the realities of our immediate future calls for a shift in the paradigm, a shift in thinking, a shift in the mindset.
We are mentally conditioned to think that we would be happier, more comfortable, in a larger over heated and over cooled house. We think prepackaged food is vastly easier to prepare. We think a food processor is a hundred times easier than a knife. Of course this farmstead is on the lunatic fringe. We have experimented with cutting all the firewood we need for heating and cooling with hand tools. It’s some more work, to be sure, but not much. Yet in the imagination of the uninitiated, a chainsaw is many hundreds of times less work.
On this farmstead 85% of our food involves zero food-miles and almost all the rest is bought bulk, we use very little electricity and no commercial gas or other fuels. We wear used clothing. We drive bottom feeder vehicles and those only very rarely. Yet how much do we impact global energy and resource use? None, negligible at any rate. The random motion of molecules accounts for more fuel savings that we do in the scheme of things. What we represent is not some quantified amount of energy and resources saved, but rather a complete paradigm shift from the consumerist world.
I’ve said many times before that I think it is far too late to stop what is coming. It is a done deal. The question is how will we handle ourselves as this amazing shift in our way of life occurs. Will we rise to the occasion? Will we learn and share the skills necessary for survival? Will we step out of our air-conditioned lives and do the work that is now required? Billions of people on planet earth deal directly with survival issues every single day. They know hunger, thirst, extreme cold and heat… for them, survival is not a reality television show but a fact of everyday life.
When fossil fuel based agriculture fails and the shelves remain empty will we eat the drywall of our over-sized homes or will we learn to grow and preserve food the way our ancestors did? I wonder how many people have a basic understanding of how to garden and preserve food? How many have actually tried it and thus have an awareness of how much can actually be grown on any given amount of land or how much time is required? What about growing from seeds and saving seeds for the next season? Will they have access to gasoline and a tiller to prepare the soil or will they double dig by hand or sheet mulch with cardboard? Do they know about squash bugs or japanese beetles? What will they do about water during times of drought? Will a nation of people used to consuming fast food and microwaveable box dinners even know what to do with the vegetables that they’ve grown? How long will it take them to learn to enjoy real, whole and healthy food?
As individual people we have a lot of growing to do. As individuals that inhabit rural roads or streets in towns and cities, we’ll need to develop better relationships with neighbors which can then be grown into communities.
Activism, Agriculture, American Politics, Capitalism, Climate Change, Consumerism, Consumption, Economic Collapse, Economic Depression, Energy, Energy Conservation, Energy Crisis, Energy Shortage, Environmentalism, Food, Food Production, Fossil Fuels, Gardening, Global Depression, Global Warming, Living Simply, Natural Resources, Oil, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Permaculture, Politics, Recession, Self Reliance, Sustainable Development, The Long Emergency
Regarding the recent U.S. elections Ted Glick writes that it was Not the Revolution, But an Opening:
Fundamental, revolutionary, political and social change is clearly needed in the USA and the world. Corporate domination of the economic and political system and mass culture is a huge threat to the possibilities for a decent and sustainable future for humankind and for all forms of life on the earth.
King Coal and Big Oil continue to use their power and vast wealth to keep us locked into a reliance on earth-heating fossil fuels that, if not quickly reversed, will lead to a steady escalation of catastrophic climate events and a breakdown of an already-stressed ecosystem.
The dominance of the Pentagon and corporate-supporting, militaristic approaches to problems, the immense amounts of money wasted in weapons production, robs the masses of people of badly-needed resources for housing, health care, education and economic development. It also generates armed resistance, including the terrorism of the stateless that, in a nuclear age, is indeed terrifying.
Yeah, a very small opening and frankly I’m not too hopeful that this new congress will do squat because there’s not much new about it. I’d agree that fundamental, revolutionary political and social change are needed.
Randolph Schmid writing for the AP reports on news that will surprise no one: Signs of warming continue in the Arctic:
Signs of warming continue in the Arctic with a decline in sea ice, an increase in shrubs growing on the tundra and rising concerns about the Greenland ice sheet.
“There have been regional warming periods before. Now we’re seeing Arctic-wide changes,” James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said Thursday.
For the past five years, it was at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average over the Arctic over the entire year, he said.
The new “State of the Arctic” analysis, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also reports an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-2004. This may have contributed to a continuing reduction of sea ice.
During that time, there were record lows in sea ice coverage in the region, Overland said. This year there was more normal coverage in the Bering area but a record low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic.
In the past when such a shift occurred, there would have been no net loss of ice overall, just a change in where there was a smaller amount. Now, however, there is both the shift and an overall net loss of ice, he said.
Indeed, the report said Arctic sea ice coverage this past March was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s.
Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said the sea ice decline is now being observed in both winter and summer.
Yet another pile of reasons to put George Bush and his cronies in jail. Will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court does with this: High court to hear global warming case:
The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming.
A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles.
Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned. It is the principal “greenhouse” gas that many scientists believe is flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, leading to a warming of the earth and widespread ecological changes.
The Bush administration intends to argue before the court on Wednesday that the EPA lacks the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The agency contends that even if it did have such authority, it would have discretion under the law on how to address the problem without imposing emissions controls.
More concerning the Supreme Court and climate change from this article by Greg Stohr: Nobel Laureates Back Case Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming:
Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.
The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth’s temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.
Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court’s usual ideological lineup, would “light a fire'' under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.
“They will have no choice but to get going,'' says Browner, who – along with a group of scientists that includes two Nobel laureates – is supporting the states and environmental groups.
That might add new burdens on automakers, including Detroit- based General Motors Corp. and Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co., and may also lead to tougher rules for coal-fired power plants.
Shortly after Bush took office in 2001, he rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases on the grounds that the agreement would cost jobs and hurt the U.S. economy. In 2003, the EPA declined to regulate carbon emissions, citing “substantial scientific uncertainty'' about the effects of climate change and the most efficient means to deal with it.
George Monbiot: Drastic Action on Climate Change is Needed Now - and Here’s the Plan:
The government must go further, and much faster, in its response to the moral question of the 21st century
It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern’s report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn’t mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.
But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we’re to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.
So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.
1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. Even the annual 3% cut proposed in the early day motion calling for a new climate change bill does not go far enough. Timescale: immediately.
2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It’s a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU’s emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.
3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.
4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff “feebate” system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. Every year the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.
5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.
6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.
7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.
8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to “spending policies that tackle climate change”. Timescale: immediately.
9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. While capacity remains high there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.
10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve: Tesco’s “state of the art” energy-saving store at Diss in Norfolk has managed to cut its energy use by only 20%. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Out-of-town shops are also hardwired to the car - delivery vehicles use 70% less fuel. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.
These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we are used to, and some pretty brutal emergency planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). But if you believe that these are worse than mass death then there is something wrong with your value system.
Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it’s happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.
Regarding the recent climate talks, we have a long way to go and… it does not look good. Slow Talks Could Leave Climate Deal in ‘Tatters’
A new global agreement to tackle climate change may be scuppered by cumbersome international bodies and a lack of political will, David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, fears.
He warned that politics was now lagging dangerously behind the science on global warming and feared that negotiations on a new deal might drag on so long that there would be a “gap” in 2012 when the Kyoto protocol’s first stage runs out.
To ensure deeper cuts in carbon emissions from then, he said, agreement in principle would be needed by the end of next year. “If we have a gap in 2012, we would have a very serious problem. The whole system would be in tatters,” he said.
Mr Miliband was speaking yesterday after returning from a United Nations conference in Kenya involving 189 countries, which ended without a major breakthrough but agreed to keep talking about a “son of Kyoto” treaty.
In an interview with The Independent, he said: “The political institutions and their speed are out of sync with the scientific needs of the issue. There was real progress on important issues in Nairobi but the gap between the science and the politics remains large, with industrialised and developing countries divided by priorities and divided among themselves."