Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No, We Can't Have It All

An Excerpt from 'Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization'
By Derrick Jensen

25 April, 2010

We all face choices. We can have ice caps and polar bears, or we can have automobiles. We can have dams or we can have salmon. We can have irrigated wine from Mendocino and Sonoma counties, or we can have the Russian and Eel Rivers. We can have oil from beneath the oceans, or we can have whales. We can have cardboard boxes or we can have living forests. We can have computers and cancer clusters from the manufacture of those computers, or we can have neither. We can have electricity and a world devastated by mining, or we can have neither (and don't give me any nonsense about solar: you'll need copper for wiring, silicon for photovoltaics, metals and plastics for appliances, which need to be manufactured and then transported to your home, and so on. Even solar electrical energy can never be sustainable because electricity and all its accoutrements require an industrial infrastructure). We can have fruits, vegetables, and coffee brought to the U.S. from Latin America, or we can have at least somewhat intact human and nonhuman communities throughout that region. (I don't think I need to remind readers that, to take one not atypical example among far too many, the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala was overthrown by the United States to support the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, leading to thirty years of U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads. Also, a few years ago I asked a member of the revolutionary tupacamaristas what they wanted for the people of Peru, and he said something that cuts to the heart of the current discussion [and to the heart of every struggle that has ever taken place against civilization]: "We need to produce and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so.") We can have international trade, inevitably and by definition as well as by function dominated by distant and huge economic/governmental entities which do not (and cannot) act in the best interest of communities, or we can have local control of local economies, which cannot happen so long as cities require the importation (read: theft) of resources from ever-greater distances. We can have civilization -- too often called the highest form of social organization -- that spreads (I would say metastasizes) to all parts of the globe, or we can have a multiplicity of autonomous cultures each uniquely adapted to the land from which it springs. We can have cities and all they imply, or we can have a livable planet. We can have "progress" and history, or we can have sustainability. We can have civilization, or we can have at least the possibility of a way of life not based on the violent theft of resources.

This is in no way abstract. It is physical. In a finite world, the forced and routine importation of resources is unsustainable. Duh.

Show me how car culture can coexist with wild nature, and more specifically, show me how anthropogenic global warming can coexist with ice caps and polar bears. And any fixes such as solar electric cars would present problems at least equally severe. For example, the electricity still needs to be generated, batteries are extraordinarily toxic, and in any case, driving is not the main way a car pollutes: far more pollution is emitted through its manufacture than through its exhaust pipe. We can perform the same exercise for any product of industrial civilization.

We can't have it all. The belief that we can is one of the things that has driven us to this awful place. If insanity could be defined as having lost functional connection with physical reality, to believe we can have it all -- to believe we can simultaneously dismantle a world and live on it; to believe we can perpetually use more energy than arrives from the sun; to believe we can take more than the world gives willingly; to believe a finite world can support infinite growth,much less infinite economic growth, where economic growth consists of converting ever larger numbers of living beings to dead objects (industrial production, at core, is the conversion of the living -- trees or mountains -- into the dead -- two-by-fours and beer cans) -- is grotesquely insane. This insanity manifests partly as a potent disrespect for limits and for justice. It manifests in the pretension that neither limits nor justice exist. To pretend that civilization can exist without destroying its own landbase and the landbases and cultures of others is to be entirely ignorant of history, biology, thermodynamics, morality, and self-preservation. And it is to have paid absolutely no attention to the past six thousand years.

One of the reasons we fail to perceive all of this is that we -- the civilized -- have been inculcated to believe that belongings are more important than belonging, and that relationships are based on dominance -- violence and exploitation. Having come to believe that, and having come to believe the acquisition of material possessions is good (or even more abstractly, that the accumulation of money is good) and in fact the primary goal of life, we then have come to perceive ourselves as the primary beneficiaries of all of this insanity and injustice.

Right now I'm sitting in front of a space heater, and all other things being equal, I'd rather my toes were toasty than otherwise. But all other things aren't equal, and destroying runs of salmon by constructing dams for hydropower is a really stupid (and immoral) way to warm my feet. It's an extraordinarily bad trade.
And it's not just space heaters. No amount of comforts or elegancies, what that nineteenth-century slave owner called the characteristics of civilization, are worth killing the planet. What's more, even if we do perceive it in our best interest to take these comforts or elegancies at the expense of the enslavement, impoverishment, or murder of others and their landbases, we have no right to do so. And no amount of rationalization nor overwhelming force -- not even "full-spectrum domination" -- will suffice to give us that right.

Yet we have been systematically taught to ignore these trade-offs, to pretend if we don't see them (even when they're right in front of our faces) they do not exist. Yesterday, I received this email: "We all face the future unsure if our own grandchildren will know what a tree is or ever taste salmon or even know what a clean glass of water tastes like. It is crucial, especially for those of us who see the world as a living being, to remember. I've realized that outside of radical activist circles and certain indigenous peoples, the majority has completely forgotten about the passenger pigeon, completely forgotten about salmon so abundant you could fish with baskets. I've met many people who think if we could just stop destroying the planet right now, that we'll be left with a beautiful world. It makes me wonder if the same type of people would say the same thing in the future even if they had to put on a protective suit in order to go outside and see the one tree left standing in their town. Would they also have forgotten? Would it still be a part of mainstream consciousness that there used to be whole forests teeming with life? I think you and I agree that as long as this culture continues with its preferred methods of perception, then it would not be widely known to the majority. I used to think environmental activists would at least get to say, ‘I told you so' to everyone else once civilization finally succeeded in creating a wasteland, but now I'm not convinced that anyone will even remember. Perhaps the worst nightmare visions of activists a few hundred years ago match exactly the world we have outside our windows today, yet nobody is saying, ‘I told you so.'"

I think he's right. I've long had a nightmare/fantasy of standing on a desolate plain with a CEO or politician or capitalist journalist, shaking him by the shoulders and shouting, "Don't you see? Don't you see it was all a waste?" But after ruminating on this fellow's email, the nightmare has gotten even worse. Now I no longer have even the extraordinarily hollow satisfaction of seeing recognition of a massive mistake on this other's face. Now he merely looks at me, his eyes flashing a combination of arrogance, hatred, and willful incomprehension, and says, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

And he isn't even entirely lying.

Except of course to himself.

Derrick Jensen is the acclaimed author of thirteen books, including A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and Endgame. Author, teacher, activist, small farmer, and leading voice of uncompromising dissent, he has been hailed as the philosopher poet of the environmental movement.

© 2010 Derrick Jensen

Drums in the Deep

US warms to strike on Iran

US warms to strike on Iran thumbnail
“With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] capable of reaching the United States by 2015,” claimed a Pentagon report that was declassified on Monday. The almost simultaneous timing of two key recent revelations – this and Israeli accusations that Syria had transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon – has contributed to a fresh escalation of tensions in the Middle East and to speculation that the stage is being set for a military show-down.

The war of words has become particularly harsh, and threats are now being exchanged openly between the United States and Iran: the first salvo since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, and a troubling development. “We are not taking any options off the table as we pursue the pressure and engagement tracks,” the Pentagon’s press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said this week. “The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military … It is clearly not our preferred course of action but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table.”

Days ago it was revealed that the US military was actively preparing for war against Iran. “The Pentagon and US Central Command are updating military plans to strike Iran’s nuclear sites, preparing up-to-date options for the president in the event he decides to take such action,” CNN reported on Monday.

The Iranians, meanwhile, have embarked on a show of force of their own. “Iranian armed forces on Sunday displayed three generations of modern home-made ballistic missiles in military parades marking the country’ Army Day,” Fars News reported. Last week, the agency quoted the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, as saying, “As I have already announced, if the US attacks Iran, none of its soldiers [in the region] will go back home alive.”

What is particularly worrisome is that a US (or Israeli) military strike against Iran in the near future would, in a sense, fit in with Obama’s goals and public relations image up to now. Firstly, there are growing indications that, after the Democratic nomination, the presidency, and the healthcare bill, the Middle East has become the next major quest for the US president.

For example, this is also reflected in the US administration’s massive pressure on Israel to make further concessions to renew the stalled negotiations. “At the heart of this disagreement [between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] lies a dramatic change in the way Washington perceives its own stake in the game,” the former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, wrote on Monday in an op-ed for the New York Times. “It actually began three years ago when secretary of state Condoleezza Rice declared in a speech in Jerusalem that US ’strategic interests’ were at stake in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a judgment reiterated by Obama last week when he said resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is a ‘vital national security interest’ for the United States.”

Moreover, Obama has acquired a reputation for slow, methodical escalation of rhetoric, followed by daring and decisive action. He tends to give his most powerful opponents ample room to debate and negotiate, and to show maximum reserve in an attempt to secure a claim to the moral high ground: a brilliant public relations strategy, if nothing else.

In the case of Iran, he has gone so far as to delay vital support to the Iranian opposition in the post-election demonstrations last summer and to openly pressure Israel not to attack. He kept a lid on all talk about a possible military scenario coming from anywhere important in his administration for close to a year, and has been reluctant to discuss such an option himself to date.

Critics have accused him of being too soft, but the harshness of his administration’s rhetoric toward Iran has been growing since late last year, when a first few cautious officials started talking about the possibility of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program. Escalation has been slow but consistent, in a way similarly to the progression of the domestic healthcare debate that ended in a dramatic victory for Obama.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported on parts of a secret memo by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, accusing the administration of lacking a clear policy to thwart the Iranian nuclear program [1].
Apparently, still-classified portions of the memo called for an adequate preparation for military strikes. Coming from Gates, a Republican who stayed on as defense secretary after the George W Bush administration was dissolved due to his long-standing opposition to war against Iran, this development is significant.

Analysts see the conflict between the US and Iran as complex and far-reaching. “Until 2003, regional stability – such as it was – was based on the Iran-Iraq balance of power,” writes prominent think-tank Stratfor. In the wake of the Iraq war, “The United States was forced into two missions. The first was stabilizing Iraq. The second was providing the force for countering Iran.”

There are serious doubts whether the rhetoric itself has not gone so far that reconciling now would have to be a failure for one side or the other. “There is a legitimate concern that if sanctions are considered a political necessity now, will military action be regarded as a political necessity in 2011, once the sanctions have been deemed a failure?” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, this month. [2]
Last month, I pointed out that key US regional allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had reportedly been pushing for US military action. [3] “There are countries [in the Gulf] that would like to see a strike [on Iran], us or perhaps Israel, even,” said US Central Command chief General David Petraeus to CNN in March.

There are consistent indications that Israel, too, is gearing up for an impending regional war and perhaps is considering initiating action on its own. “For practical reasons, in the absence of genuine sanctions, Israel will not be able to wait until the end of next winter, which means it would have to act around the congressional elections in November,” Brigadier General Ephraim Sneh, a former Israeli deputy defense minister, wrote this month in an op-ed for Israeli daily Ha’aretz.

Sneh’s assessment has been among the boldest so far in terms of specific time-frame predictions, but high-ranking Israeli officials and politicians, including Netanyahu, have called for the use of military force as a tool of last resort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Israeli prime minister has repeatedly asserted his belief that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential challenge to the Jewish state, and must be prevented despite the high price tag.

Sources close to him add weight to his words in light of the special relationship between him and his 100-years old father, who predicted the Holocaust in 1937 and who is a prominent hawk on Iran. “Look the danger straight in the eye, calmly weigh what should be done, and be prepared to enter the fray the moment the chances of success seem reasonable,” said the elder Netanyahu as advice to Israel and his son during his centennial celebration address last month. [4]

In this context, last week’s Israeli accusation that Syria had supplied Scud missiles to Hezbollah can be seen as, among other things, part of a public relations campaign to discredit Lebanon and Syria in preparation for a possible conflict there. This is not to say that the Israeli claim is incorrect: on the contrary, it appears to be true, and this is yet another indicator of volatility in the region. Even a high-ranking Hezbollah source (albeit an anonymous one), interviewed by Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai, confirmed the reports. Israel has long maintained that the transfer of sophisticated missiles to Hezbollah would be considered a legitimate reason for preventative military action.

Tensions have risen in the past six months or so despite mutual attempts between Israel and Syria to avoid a full-blown war. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decided on a surprise visit to Egypt to discuss the possibility of an Israeli-Syrian war, Ha’aretz reported. [5]

Oddly enough, Lebanon appears to be one among few issues in the Middle East on which Israel and the US can agree. “If such an action has been taken [transfer of Scuds to Hezbollah] … clearly it potentially puts Lebanon at significant risk,” US State Department spokesman P J Crowley told reporters last week.
It is hard to tell whether a major Middle Eastern war is inevitable at this point, but the clouds are getting significantly darker, and the US appears to be rapidly warming up to the idea of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, whether carried out by the Americans themselves or by Israel. This is a major development, and the next big red line to watch for would be a statement affirming military action coming directly from the US president. If his track record is any indication, when Obama decides to act, he will abandon his reserve and act swiftly and decisively.

1. Gates Says US Lacks a Policy to Thwart Iran New York Times, April 17, 2010.
2. Israel evades ‘ambush’ at nuclear summit Asia Times Online, April 15, 2010.
3. Israel puts US on notice Asia Times Online, March 13, 2010.
4. Now the Americans are certain no one is in charge here
5. Report: Assad due in Egypt to discuss fear of Israel-Syria war
Victor Kotsev is a freelance journalist and political analyst with expertise in the Middle East.
Asia Time

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Peak Oil: Surveying the Field and Charting a Course

Peak Oil: Surveying The Field And Charting A Course

By Guy R. McPherson

16 April, 2010

It’s all the rage to talk about a double-dip in the industrial economy. That would be an economic trend in the shape of a W. I think an M is far more likely. The assumption of never-ending growth underlies all neoclassical economic assessments, but I think that assumption is about to break up on the shore of resource limitations.

How does one know what to believe, and who to trust? We’re surrounded by lies. During our finest moments, we don’t believe the media, the politicians we elect (from the very small slate of candidates selected for us), or the CEOs and NGOs to whom we give our money. Awash in misinformation yet surrounded by culture’s unrepentant, never-ending message, we vacillate between cynicism and swimming in the powerful current of culture.

Although the happy-talk Obama administration — and its proxy and partner in crime, the mainstream media — would have you believe the industrial economy has recovered, many signs indicate the impacts of the last oil price spike haven’t been fully worked out. The U.S. national debt rises every day, and it already exceeds the value of all currency ever produced and all gold ever mined. It cannot be paid off. Ever. If the notion of a Soviet-style default doesn’t give you pause, consider still-rising foreclosure rates, still-falling home prices, massive unemployment, financial bankruptcy at all levels of government, ballooning entitlement programs, and collapsing pension programs. This is merely the short list of economic issues we face. Needless to say, every single one of them is a profound surprise to the vast majority of neoclassical economists, few of whom saw this economic recession coming (as if passing the world oil peak didn’t provide sufficient warning, well in advance).

Knowing culture will lead us astray, we nonetheless invite scorn when we seek the truth beneath the cultural current of the main stream. Culture does not have answers to meaningful questions. But skepticism for the sake of skepticism is no virtue, either.

Applying reason as a path to knowledge (as I’ve suggested here and here, for example) is easy enough in theory. But in practice, it’s difficult to extract the facts and then synthesize them into a coherent message that guides the way. Much less the Way. And yet, we muddle along, individually and societally, relying on some inexplicable combination of faith and rational thought. For me, the guides include data (recognizing they are undoubtedly massaged before general release), historical anecdotes (ditto), my own dubious moral compass (shaped, necessarily, by culture), and an informed set of predictions from a variety of scholars. As with any gestalt, mine is formed from parts that don’t quite add up to the whole.

So how do we go from this list of economic issues to the notion of economic collapse? I’ve moved from imperialist city educator to economic doomer rural sharecropper in one (damned difficult) step. This move was driven by many factors, including the profound (and profoundly late) realization that we live immorally, buying and selling nature’s bounty at an imperialist whim. Another contributing factor was my strongly held suspicion that we’re headed for a collapse of the industrial economy by the end of 2012. If the industrial age does not end soon, we’re headed for the complete absence of habitat for humans on Earth. Obviously, there is plenty of disagreement with me on both points, and I’ve been asked to make my case. What tea leaves do I read?

I restrict this essay to economic collapse, thus leaving the issue of environmental collapse to previous posts (and perhaps future ones). The data on collapse are clearer than the rest of my guides, so I’ll start with them.
The data interact with other elements: History indicates 10 of 11 recessions since World War II and all 6 recessions since 1972 were preceded by a spike in the price of oil. The lifeblood of civilization, and its price, dictates the direction of the industrial economy. At some point, the price of oil becomes too great to maintain the industrial economy. In fact, a per-barrel price of $147.27 nearly brought the industrial economy grinding to a halt. Only massive, and massively illegal, intervention by the executive branch of the U.S. government kept the lights on in your grid-tied house, the trucks coming to the grocery store, and water coming out the taps. These actions have been written about widely. A quick search on “plunge protection team” is a nice starting point, although the issue is far broader than even omniscient Google reveals.
For information about oil supplies, I rely on Hubbert’s model and data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). Hubbert’s model indicates we passed the world peak for crude oil in December 2005. Data from the EIA indicate peak month was May 2005. Because the industrial economy is barely limping along today, in far direr condition than when the price of oil exceeded $140, I doubt it will take a second round of $140 oil to bring the industrial age to its overdue close. Several forecasters suggest we’re headed beyond that mark with a year or so.

A little more from history: Empires fall. All of ‘em, so far. Some fall slowly, others rapidly. Some fall with a modicum of grace, others with extreme violence. American Empire is so complex, so dependent on finite materials, and intricately connected with the entire global economy that it’s difficult for me to foresee a long, peaceful decline.

The industrial economy relies heavily on crude oil, and particularly inexpensive oil. We’re perfectly willing to spend $400/gallon for gasoline to support our imperial ambitions in Afghanistan if that’s what it takes to keep the price of oil at a reasonable level for us exceptional Americans. (How exceptional? Check the charts in this essay.) But when the price of gasoline exceeds $4/gallon in the heartland, there’s trouble brewing for our all-important economic growth.

In addition to the near-term price of oil, our empire is threatened by the ever-tightening grip of globalization, which ensures that economic collapse in any of the world’s large economies will lead, domino-like, to economic collapse throughout the industrialized world. This grip was allowed and facilitated by cheap oil, and it’s no coincidence that the end of the cheap-oil era resulted in financial crises throughout the civilized world. Today, Greece is the word. But Portugal, Spain, and Japan hover on the brink (Japan is the world’s second-largest economy). So does the U.S. and the remainder of the industrialized world, though you’d never know it based on mainstream media reports from this country. We have the advantages of the world’s reserve currency and the largest killing force in the history of the world (and the willingness to use it, everywhere, all the time). But when China stops buying U.S. Treasury notes, a process already under way, the de facto rate of interest will rise, taking us inexorably and likely quickly into the land of hyper-inflation. At this late juncture in the industrial era, the only questions of great significance are whether our bubble will pop before China’s, and which of myriad potential events will serve as the proximate cause to the end of American Empire. The price of oil was a trigger event, and it might be again. But it might not, too.
As far as my moral compass is concerned, I’ve written plenty about that. There’s no need to pummel the deceased equine yet again. Check the archives, if you’re interested. Or, for a different take on the situation, read this.

So much for the models, data, history, and my sense of morality. What about those voices I hear words I read?

When I open my browser to start the day, several tabs reveal themselves. Some of these websites give the facts, as accurately as they can be determined: Bloomberg energy prices, American stock markets, and the U.S. national debt clock. Others are information clearing houses with occasional original essays, notably including the sites of Matt Savinar, Mike Ruppert, Rice Farmer, and Chris Martenson, along with Energy Bulletin, Counter Currents, and The Oil Drum. Others provide synthesis and analysis: Business Insider, Baseline Scenario, Dmitry Orlov’s blog, Speak Truth to Power, Economic Collapse Blog, The Automatic Earth, and Zero Hedge. Finally, one tells me what people are thinking out there in the culture of make believe: MSNBC. Needless to say, that’s the scary one.

I’m not foolish enough to read every article, much less read every article linked from these pages. But there is plenty of fodder here, much of it informed by biophysical economics. Biophysical economists, unlike neoclassical economists, know about finite materials. As a result, the former know starvation can kill people. Any self-respecting neoclassical economist assumes the rumbling of his stomach will cause food to appear.
Now let’s pause for a quick story about neoclassical economists.

Four shipwrecked economists wash ashore on a deserted tropical island. The first Asian economist says, “I’ll gather wood and start a fire to keep us warm and cook our food.” The second Asian economists says, “I’ll find water.” The third Asian economist says, “I’ll find food.” The American economist sits down, smiles, and says, “When you’ve got that all taken care of, I’ll consume whatever you produce. You’re darned lucky I’m here: Without me, the entire system falls apart in a hurry.”

We now return to our regularly scheduled essay.

Among the places these links lead are the following. This summer’s hurricane season likely will contribute to high oil prices. And we might not need the hurricanes: According to the International Energy Agency, world oil demand will set an all-time record this year, exceeding the amount actually being sucked out of the ground by 2.4 million barrels per day. The global financial system is primed and ready to implode. The Fed admits to breaking the law in the name of transferring wealth (and not to me or you). “Real estate built America, and it’s going to take it down. Foreclosures will be the wrecking ball for the American economy.” Recent reports of economic growth are mere mirages from the smoke-and-mirrors cabal behind the curtain (duh). More than half your tax dollars support the military (yeah, that’s sustainable; even an increasing percentage of military personnel is questioning whether they will accomplish their amorphous mission in Afghanistan). Warren Buffett bought the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, calling it an “all-in bet” on the U.S. economy, as if he’d been reading the work of James Howard Kunstler. Buffett’s partner Charles Munger wrote a parable transparently about the U.S. economy titled, “Basically, it’s over.” A large European bank warned its clients about completion of the ongoing collapse by the end of 2011. The U.S. dollar will collapse, causing world economic collapse, by 2012. Catherine Austin Fitts moved from New York City to rural Tennessee to build a doomstead. As should be obvious, “from now on the risk of entering a collapse must be considered significant and rising” (pdf file). And so on. The evidence mounts daily, and it all points in the same direction.

My interpretation and synthesis of these many essays and the data on which they rely suggests the industrial age is near its terminus. How near? Recognizing the difficulty of predictions, and the animus they elicit, I’ll go out on the often-wrong limb of forecast and give us a 99% chance of “lights out in the empire” by 21 December 2012. And I didn’t even look at my Mayan calendar.

Reinhart and Rogoff’s 2009 book, This Time is Different, describes financial crises in 66 nations dating to the 13th century. For a change, I agree with the rallying cry of people subject to previous collapses: This time is different. This time it’s not one of 66 nations. It’s every country in the entire industrial world. Indeed, this time is different.

In short, civilization is only a few days removed from chaos or, if you’re an optimist like me, from anarchy. This has always been the case, for every failed civilization as well as the one left standing. With every passing day, we move further into ecological overshoot and also closer to the end of western civilization and its apex, the industrial economy. For most individual industrial humans, the end will not be welcome. But for the living planet on which we depend, and therefore our very species, the end of industry will bring a welcome relief from decades of oppression. It might even give us back our humanity while granting our species a few more decades of planetary existence.

This essay was inspired by a comment from Marguerite Daisy.

Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory, primarily with an eye toward conservation of biological diversity. Currently, his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more than 100 scholarly papers and nine books.
contact information:

Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona 85721
email: grm@ag.arizona.edu

Friday, April 2, 2010

Other creatures of the same kind...

I attended a Business Meeting this week in Flowood, a kind of suburb, I guess, of Jackson, MS.  It was at a Best Western, in a Conference Room, with canned soft drinks and everything, and I sat in my seat like an Ent in winter.  It was predictably dull, unproductive, tiresome, monotonous, and useless, as well as costly to me in time and money.  Being a reluctant veteran of this kind of business, I knew what to expect, though, so I had readied my mind and spirit in advance; so that while I was able to appear attentive, even interested (I can beam like brass into the most leaden visage), my thoughts wandered elsewhere most of the time.  In such wise I came through it soul unscathed.  Mostly.

Then I drove home.  My first challenge:  getting through Flowood, and then Jackson.  At five o'clock, Prime Meridian.

I spent much time sitting at red lights, or near red lights, or within eyeshot of red lights, for a long time; one nondescript car in a revving, smoking, ticking, popping ribbon of a few thousand other cars.  It was much like the meeting:  soul-wearying, even for the prepared.  But (as a bonus!) I was provided ample opportunity to survey several miles of the City of Flowood. 

Of course, I was not impressed.  I felt pity for the struggling crepe myrtle and loropetalum, valiantly pushing against their concrete barracks in the medians, Asians marooned by American city planners to provide a semblance of natural color in a gray and black Thunderdome.  (I used the American spelling "gray" here, as "grey" is too elegant for the effect I am aiming for; the latter is appropriate to a smooth river-stone, or a cloudy sky... not man-made stuff.)  They were pretty enough now, in early April, but they will positively cook come July and August, and suffocate in the exhaust fumes. 

What do the city planners think they are doing, stranding those plants there?  Do they think to lull the Happy Motorists into a false sense of gentility, that they are actually practically enjoying country life along with their trips to Babies-R-Us and Mellow Mushroom and Mug Shots (in that order), when they are really about as far removed from country life as Joan Rivers? 

It has become abhorrent to me, the Urban Landscape.  I never much cared for it, but now it is intolerable.  Those not spiritually strong enough to deal with it must needs ingest copious amounts of drugs -- from nicotine to caffeine to alcohol, on up -- just to keep from offing themselves in despair.  I myself, still drink too fucking much coffee.  I wish I could kick the habit, but I don't know (Deep Down) that I really, really want to.

Further, it has gotten to the point that I long to see the end of the Urban Landscape.  I'm serious.  I want to see trees, and grass, grazing animals, wild animals, free-flowing streams... everywhere.  Sure, I can see those things, if I make a special trip.  No, I want to see a fucking flock of wild turkeys among the crepe myrtles of Flowood, MS.  I want to see the death of the Urban Landscape.  I am ready.  I honestly yearn for the day when people can no longer hop in the automobile and drive to Wal-Mart.  I want to walk out my back door and not hear the roar of the Interstate.  Maybe, once in a while, the sound of a train in the distance would not be so bad. 

I want to walk out into my back yard at night, and see all the stars, like I was able to for a couple of weeks after Hurricane Katrina.  The heat was awful, but I got used to it, and grew to love the stillness of the nighttime, and the stars winking at me through the pine trees.

I feel so alone with those feelings.  I know of few others who feel similarly, almost none within my family -- and none at all who seriously believe it themselves.  They are too caught up in enjoying the amenities of the past Age.  One can hardly blame them.  Maybe I'm the abberation, wanting to do away with cheap electricity, cheap gas, cheap everything.  Who in their right mind would want to chop firewood, when there is a chainsaw available?  Me, that's who, which makes me not in my right mind, I guess.  I can only argue, weakly, that such work is more honest -- the work of hands, of back, of legs, of shoulders.  (I find myself forgoing my circular saw this Spring, and using my simple hand saw instead.  Takes longer, but I like the work better.)

We live in a time of dwindling fossil fuels and dwindling monetary wealth, a time of change, a Paradigm Shift so overwhelmingly obvious for those with eyes to see that it leaves us bewildered at pretty much everyone else, all the time.  I am coming to welcome the Paradigm Shift with open arms, relishing it almost as one coming home after a sojourn in a dark, dry wasteland.  Am I the only one?  How many out there are like me?  When will they join me in leaving the old ways behind, letting others jostle for the table scraps of the Twentieth Century, and return to the real Old Ways?

Meanwhile, I will stand beneath the oaks and poplars and pines, listening to the fading of the engines on the Interstate, and note the silences between the fading of one and the approach of another.  These days, those silences are longer.

     Even as he spoke, there came forward out of the trees three strange shapes.  As tall as trolls they were, twelve feet or more in height; their strong bodies, stout as young trees, seemed to be clad with raiment or with hide of close-fitting grey and brown.  Their limbs were long, and their hands had many fingers; their hair was stiff, and their beards grey-green as moss.  They gazed out with solemn eyes, but they were not looking at the riders:  their eyes were bent northwards.  Suddenly they lifted their long hands to their mouths, and sent forth ringing calls, clear as notes of a horn, but more musical and various.  The calls were answered; and turning again, the riders saw other creatures of the same kind approaching, striding through the grass.  They came swiftly from the North, walking like wading herons in their gait, but not in their speed; for their legs in their long paces beat quicker than the heron's wings.  The riders cried aloud in wonder, and some set their hands upon their sword-hilts.
     'You need no weapons,' said Gandalf.  'These are but herdsmen.  They are not enemies, indeed they are not concerned with us at all.'
     So it seemed to be; for as he spoke the tall creatures, without a glance at the riders, strode into the wood and vanished.  -- The Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers:  "The Road to Isengard"
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"