Ilargi: What is the Earth Worth (6 Years Later)?

Yves here. This is a day-late Earth Day post, but the proper stewardship of this planet is a 365-day-a-year duty. Ilargi focuses on one of my pet issues, that too many of the remedies for climate change (and environmental protection generally) rely on the illusion of new technology eliminating or blunting lifestyle changes. But in most cases, this way out is illusory. It takes decades for major new technologies to be adopted widely, and we don’t have that kind of runway as far as greenhouse gases are concerned. Second, many green technology fixes merely squeeze the balloon in one place and shift the problem elsewhere. For instance, many of the solutions to water scarcity, like desalination, require energy and also produce residues that need to be disposed of.

Thus the most important steps that can be taken now is conservation, particularly of energy. And we are so profligate that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit if people and companies would make some changes. For instance:

….John Browne of BP in 1997 broke with big oil omerta and committed BP to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 1990 levels by 2010. They met the target in only three years for an expenditure of $20m; the company actually made $650m in savings.

Similarly, one of the biggest sources of wastage of potable water (one of our scarcest resources) is leaky municipal water systems. I saw a presentation years back that said it would be cost effective for city water systems to patch the leaks. But they can’t be bothered.

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth

Once more for everyone who’s got even the lightest slightest shade of green in their thoughts and dreams and fingers, I’ll try and address the issue of why going or being green is a futile undertaking as long as it isn’t accompanied by a drive for a radical upheaval of the economic system we live in. Thinking we can be green – that is to say, achieve anything real when it comes to restoring our habitat to a healthy state – without that upheaval, is a delusion. And delusions, as we all know all too well, can be dangerous.

It’s not possible to “save the planet” while maintaining the economic system we currently have, because that system is based on and around perpetual growth. It’s really as simple as that, and perhaps it’s that very simplicity which fools people into thinking that can’t be all there is to it. Switching to different fuels, alternative energy forms, is useless in such a system, because there will be a moment when the growth catches up with all preservation measures; it’s not a winnable race. There will come a time when a choice between preservation and growth must be made, and the latter will always win (as long as the system prevails). It would be very helpful if the environmental movement catches up on the economics aspect, because it’s not going anywhere right now. It’s a feel-good ploy that comforts parts of our guilty minds but won’t bring about what’s needed to eradicate that guilt.

If you’re serious about preserving the world and restoring it to the state your ancestors found it in, it’s going to take a lot more than different lightbulbs or fuels or yearly donations to a “good” cause. That, too, is very simple. You won’t be able to keep living the way you do, and preserve the place you have in your society, your job, your home, your car. That is a heavy price to pay perhaps in your view, but there is no other way. Whether you make that choice is another story altogether. Just don’t think you’re going to come off easy.

What makes it harder is the question whether we, as a species, are capable of pulling this off in the first place. Still, if we can’t even get it right as individuals… But trying to answer what it would all take, in reality, is still preferable than telling ourselves, and each other, and your children, a bunch of fiction-based lies on a daily basis. At least, that’s my take. Either we make an honest attempt or we say “after us the flood”. Trying to find a snug and comfy but cheating place somewhere in between is an insult to ourselves, our ancestors and our progeny.

I read a number of things this morning that, in typical fashion, all sort of touch on all this, as so many do all the time, but still fall short of the logical conclusion. For many, that’s because perpetual growth is a hard to grasp concept, and an economic system based on it is even more difficult, but it’s a terrible shame that it leads to all those well-meaning people producing what is in the end really little more than gibberish. Jeremy Brecher gets it partly right for the Nation,

‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter This Divisive Big Lie

While concrete, on-the-ground solutions are essential for knitting together labor and environmental concerns, our movements also need to evolve toward a common program and a common vision. We can present such initiatives as exemplars of a broad public agenda for creating full employment by converting to a climate-safe economy. There are historical precedents for such programs. Just as the New Deal in the Great Depression of the 1930s put millions of unemployed people to work doing the jobs America’s communities needed, so today we need a “Green New Deal” to rebuild our energy, transportation, building, and other systems to drastically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gas pollution they pour into the air.


Such a shared program would end the “jobs versus environment” conflict because environmental protection would produce millions of new jobs and expansion of jobs would protect the environment. Such a program provides common ground on which both labor and environmentalists can stand. Such a program can also be the centerpiece of a larger shared vision of a new economy. After all, just expanding the kind of economy we have will just expand the problems of inequality and environmental catastrophe our current economy is already creating. The ultimate solution to the “jobs vs. environment” dilemma is to build a new economy where we all have secure livelihoods based on work that creates the kind of sustainable world we all need.

… but the notion that expansion, any kind of expansion, would protect the environment is dangerous. Expansion is part of the other side’s vocabulary. And using their vocabulary is not a good thing. George Monbiot quotes George Lakoff to make that exact point:

Can You Put A Price On The Beauty Of The Natural World?

George Lakoff, the cognitive linguist who has done so much to explain why progressive parties keep losing elections they should win, explained that attempts to monetise nature are a classic example of people trying to do the right thing without understanding frames: the mental structures that shape the way we perceive the world. As Lakoff points out, you cannot win an argument unless you expound your own values and re-frame the issue around them.


If you adopt the language and values of your opponents “you lose because you are reinforcing their frame”. Costing nature tells us that it possesses no inherent value; that it is worthy of protection only when it performs services for us; that it is replaceable. You demoralise and alienate those who love the natural world while reinforcing the values of those who don’t.

And the rest of Monbiot’s piece is sort of alright, but his from the rooftops support for more nuclear (in Britain) shows that he, like so many others, only gets part of the story.

… the financial case for new roads in the United Kingdom, shaky at the best of times, falls apart if you attach almost any value to the rise in greenhouse gases they cause. Case closed? No: the government now insists [..] that climate change cannot be taken into account when deciding whether or not a road is built. Do you believe that people prepared to cheat to this extent would stop a scheme because one of the government’s committees has attached a voodoo value to a piece of woodland?

It’s more likely that the accounting exercise would be used as a weapon by the developers. The woods are worth £x, but by pure chance the road turns out to be worth £x +1. Beauty, tranquillity, history, place, particularity? Sorry, they’ve already been costed and incorporated into x – end of discussion. The strongest arguments that opponents can deploy – arguments based on values – cannot be heard.

This line of thinking should be applied not just to nature, but to all basic human necessities as well, food, water, shelter, and yes, even the energy that keeps us warm. I have often said that if you allow money into your political system, money will inevitably end up owning that system. And that is true for all resources too: in an economic perpetual growth model, money, if allowed to, will concentrate in just a few institutions and families and eventually own everything. Didn’t Marx, too, say something like that a while back?

And I could go on, but I already wrote it all several times, for instance on May 27 2008, and nothing has changed since. At least not for the good. And so here goes. I wrote this in reaction to an otherwise great article in Der Spiegel entitled:  The Price of Survival: What Would It Cost to Save Nature?

I still really like that Spiegel article, except that it’s wrong on many counts. Here’s from 6 years ago (and yes, I know there are things in it I have mentioned more recently as well):

What Is The Earth Worth?

Another great article from German magazine Der Spiegel. It has one huge problem, though: it is based on ideas and assumptions that are so wrong and misguided they can only do harm. We can not buy back our world, and we can not restore or save it with money. As long as we keep stating the earth’s value in monetary terms, we are irrevocably doomed. If you accept that you come from, and belong to, the world around you, and understand that Darwin has delivered proof that (wo)man has come from all that has been before, that 90% of our genes are identical to those of our pets and so on, than putting a dollar price on plants and animals and rivers and skies is identical to putting a dollar price on your own life, and on your children and loved ones. Everything alive is a part of you. Dollars are not.

In our economic system, based on debt, credit and interest, the future value of everything under the sun necessarily gets discounted over time. That is because currencies lose their value over time. It’s also in our genes: we prefer what we have now over what we might have later. Our ancestors were the ones who focused on immediate threats. Those who focused on future ones, in general didn’t live long enough to procreate.

There is an economist in this article who says: “Protecting diversity is much cheaper than allowing its destruction.” He’s wrong, because of what I just said: all future values are discounted, so destruction is more profitable than preservation. This economist has never grasped the essence of his own chosen field.

The article continues: “Biodiversity – and efforts to preserve it – could in fact become an enormous business in the future”. See, that’s the rub right there, in the word ‘could’, [sometime] in the future . In the here and now, using and destroying all we can get our hands on is the only thing that makes sense economically. If that is hard to wrap your mind around, wait till you get hungry, and you face the choice between eating or protecting diversity. You’ll eat.

The only things in the natural world that have a value in our economics are those that can be sold at a profit, today; and that is all the value they have. All else is luxury. Preservation only has a chance in times of plenty, and even then only in theory. After all, we are today coming out of the by far most plentiful time in human existence, but it has not exactly been a time of preservation. Quite the contrary, it has both led to, and was accommodated by, the worst destruction of the natural environment ever in history. That is not a coincidence; it’s destruction that gave us our riches.

Now, we are entering a much poorer time economically, and that will lead to an even worse destruction, if only because the riches made us multiply like so many rabbits.

As long as our world views emanate from an economic system based on perpetual growth, there is, after the short high we are now leaving, no way but down and worse. We would need to take food, water and indeed the entire natural world out of any and all profit calculations, or they’ll all be devoured in time by the ever-growing credit monster that requires us to pay interest over every breath we take, every plant we grow, every meal we eat, and every house we build. As long as we run our societies on that system, there is no other possible outcome than what we are witnessing today.

To fully understand this, you need to shake off your dreams and illusions about preservation and doing good, and take a good hard open look at the numbers on extinctions and environmental degradation. People have been talking about saving the planet for a long time, but it all deteriorates. And not just that, the deterioration accelerates.

Groups like Greenpeace are almost religiously accepted as being highly beneficial, but in reality are some of the worst players around, since they facilitate the perpetuation of the lies and illusions about saving and preserving, while the house is on fire. Donating to them is like paying the church to be absolved of your sins. That makes them guilty, if not of perpetrating crimes outright, then certainly of aiding and abetting, of being accomplices to the foul deed. Good intentions don’t buy you salvation, not when they’re built on illusions that serve only to make you feel good.

If we are to save this planet, we will have to throw out the economic model. But that is an issue utterly absent from any green program. Green movements indeed are but modern religions, far removed from reality, unable to grasp what happens right before their eyes, focused instead on making those who donate feel good, on keeping the false idea alive that we can continue to live close enough to the way we do and save the planet at the same time.

Man is like yeast, which destroy their own living environment when given the chance. At least yeast have the excuse that they can’t think. Man can think, but is still incapable of understanding that thinking does not control his actions. What does drive us to do what we do, happen to be the same things that drive yeast: billion-year-old primitive instincts with no regard whatsoever for the future. We discount the future in the exact same way that our economic system does. That system is ideally fitted for how our brains function, and that will make it near impossible to get rid of it before it’s too late.

Being able to think equals being able to lie, to lie to ourselves and others about why we do what we do. That makes man both the most tragic and the most destructive animal ever assembled by evolution. As such, we are a unique success story.

I’ve often wondered why it is, and what it means, that man allows himself to destroy the world his children need to live in after he’s gone. What does that say about the idea of “love for your progeny”? It drags down that love to the level of some semi-automated, genetically predetermined (re-)action, like a cat that licks her kittens; but that’s where love stops, for man and cat. But yes, it can be puzzling at first glance: while they obliterate the natural world without which their sons and daughters have no chance of survival, most parents would die to save their kids from a fire today. And there is the essence: it’s about today. We are no better at “doing future” than yeast is.

“But now a revolution is taking shape in the way we think”, claims the article, citing the value of biodiversity to our economic model. “the economic weapon must shoot in the right direction.”But that weapon can only shoot in one direction, there’s no reverse, no steering wheel, and it’s short-range only. The sole chance we have is to take out that “economic weapon” altogether, not try in vain to point it in the “right” direction. We shouldn’t have multinationals giving money to the Congo, we should make sure no multinational ever sets another foot there. For every dollar they donate, they destroy a hundred; that is solidly engraved in the system.

I will gladly admit I cannot say this better than Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend did in their 1993 book “Valuing the Earth” (note how similar the title is to those of this post and the original Der Spiegel piece):

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment—that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process.

A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”

I know it’s the second time in a week that I quote Daly and Townsend, but that’s because I hope everyone will try to understand what it means: that in the end, it’s the use of energy, the amount, that counts, far more than what kind of it. Our present economic system depends for its survival on our using ever larger amounts, and we have the drive to do just that; it will take a very serious effort to resist that drive, and even then there’s no guarantee the rest of mankind will do the same. But anything else, any well intentioned green initiative, is useless and futile and in the end pretty stupid, good only for some instant gratification for that part of the brain that seeks to “do good”, a cheating way to feel less guilty about destroying everything around us, for telling our kids we love them and then leaving them only with smouldering remains, empty rivers and oceans, undrinkable water, infertile soil and sky high mountains of plastic, steel and aluminum. And I don’t know that we can do better than that, but we can at least start by not fooling ourselves into some tempting illusionary comfort zone. Or we can just give up, that’s an option too.

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70 comments

    1. Thor's Hammer

      Yves introductory comments about the desirability of picking the low hanging fruit of conservation fall precisely into the pattern of irrelevance that weakens the conservation movement. And it is precisely this mind set that Ilargi’s article rails against.

      It is intellectually apparent that energy efficiency efforts (the low hanging fruit) could result in perhaps 40% savings in energy consumption at no detriment to the wealth of the American society. That will in turn allow for more growth of population and consumption of electronic toys or personal teleportors or whatever the next Steve Jobs invents until the constraints of energy availability, food or water scarcity, or other physical limitations bring growth to a halt.

      Efficiency improvements in a social/economic system structured to worship growth and dependent upon it for its survival don’t change the dynamic, only the timing of the inevitable.

      The only way to extend growth beyond a few more years is precisely through the technological innovations that Yves dismisses as futile. In the world powered by Kirk Sorensen’s Liquid Sodium Thorium Reactors built on assembly lines, energy would be so cheap that it could desalinate all the water necessary to grow unlimited quantities of food in aquaponics factories. Last week graphene–a material thousands of times stronger than steel- was separated from pencil lead using only a common kitchen blender. Nanoscale molecular assemblers envisioned by Eric Drexler 45 years ago are no longer the stuff of science fiction. And on and on—-.

      Technically another cycle of growth up to another set of finite limits is entirely conceivable.

      Whether human’s tribalistic social organizations and biological nature make it possible is highly questionable. Societal collapse back to a feudal level of organization and population seems much more likely.

      And whether the world that humans individual technical genius may make possible is desirable or even human is an open question.

      1. jrs

        Yea the energy saved by conservation would probably be used elsewhere short of global carbon caps or at least global carbon taxes.

  1. Moneta

    It’s not possible to “save the planet” while maintaining the economic system we currently have, because that system is based on and around perpetual growth
    —————
    I would argue that if our system was truly focused on services, growth would be unlimited. But it isn’t. It is mostly based on hard asset collateral. And services that are valued are often those that are needed by those with the hard assets…and the money printers.

    Since services are unlimited, it means abundance and abundance means lack of value. Goods are limited in the short-term. Scarcity leads to coveting which leads to higher values.

    If your system is based on comparison and competition, the leaders will naturally gravitate towards a system that can create scarcity. Humans have opted for materialism, can they change or will Mother Nature decide our fate?

    1. Thor's Hammer

      Sorry, but the idea that unlimited growth of anything in a finite world whether you label it “services” or SUV’s is delusional, as a simple mathematical proof will demonstrate. “Services” do not materialize out of the ether— they have an energy budget just as does manufacture and use of automobiles. And exponential growth of anything at any rate inevitably uses up all the available resource base, energy, or physical space until it collapses.

      Sustainability or collapse are the only two alternatives in a finite world, not growth.

        1. Thor's Hammer

          I suggest you familiarize yourself with the concept of exponential growth. Since you are using silly examples, perhaps you should calculate how long it would take for every inch of the earth’s surface to be occupied by pairs of children clapping hands if the growth rate in popularity of that exercise is 3% per year.

          You might be surprised to discover that it is less than 600 years. Not exactly Infinity.

          (http://www.peakprosperity.com/video/216/playlist/153/chapter-3-exponential-growth) & Part 4– compound growth

          “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” Dr. Albert Bartlett

          1. Moneta

            I have a math degree and I am quite familiar with exponential growth, thank you for your concern.

            It is pretty obvious that there is a limit to exponential growth when resources are implicated but when we are talking about human endeavour, we are very far from the peak. Instead of watching tv doing nothing, people could be exchanging a very large number of foot massages. Instead of paving their yards, they could be helping the sick. My point is that there are a lot of “exponential growth” in services we could be exchanging without depleting the world’s resources.

            And it’s not a silly example. Everyone is so stuck on materialism, they can’t see a better quality life with less of it.

            1. Thor's Hammer

              I have no problem with your thesis that there are many ways for humans to spend their time and ways to relate to each other that are far preferable to the endless pursuit of materialism, and their ecosystem impact could be drastically less. In fact I agree wholeheartedly. However when you use the words infinite and growth in conjunction your ethical thesis falls over the cliff of logic.

            2. jrs

              Moneta: actually E.F. Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful) had similar thoughts. He divided economic activity into 4 categories and they weren’t all equally destructive to the ecosystem by any means!

              1) non renewable primary goods 2) renewable primary goods (example sustainable farmed food) 3) manufactured secondary goods 4) services

              GDP obscures all this, but these are important distinctions. #2 and #4 could be sustainable indefinitely but #2 has hard limits. The problem is when you get into the existing economic system, say one is a massage therapist, ok a sustainable service, you even use sustainable produced massage lotion, I don’t know. However do you drive to get to your job? You see how quickly unsustainable factors are introduced into the existing economic system (sure public transport is better but still not full sustainability).

              1. Moneta

                Thanks for the reference! It`s something I have not read yet.

                I doubt our activities can ever be sustainable, especially with 7 billion on this planet. But there is a lot of fat to cut, that`s for sure!

    2. mellon

      The need for a number of finite resources will soon fall, for example, as manufacturing jobs become more automated and office and computer-related jobs gravitate towards workgroups being distributed around the country (or even world) working from home over the Internet, the need for many people to commute will decline taking strain off of aging bridges and highways. Also, the younger generation seems to not be as obsessed with getting drivers licenses and cars, and although the economy probably has a lot to do with that, its also true that many people interact enough online such that they feel less of a need to drive around as Americans did in the past. Also, in country after country as literacy rises, birth rates fall. So the world’s population may level off and start faling naturally within a few years.

      1. Karma Fubar

        The need for a number of finite resources will NOT fall if the material goods business ethos continues to gravitate towards the oft discussed model of crapification. Consumer items that are engineered to fail within years (months, sometimes) requiring regular replacement will be a continual and needless drain on finite resources. Efficiency of manufacturing is no substitute for being able to make truly durable items. Bonus points for durable items that are designed to be easily maintained and repaired.

    3. hunkerdown

      Services are not unlimited. There is the factor of time in which to perform them and in which to acquire the appropriate expertise, both of which provide opportunities for artificial scarcity and rent extraction.

      Market economies only support exchanges, however worthless they may be. Maybe a system focused entirely on *service* would be preferable to one too busy diddling numbers to do anything useful.

  2. Moneta

    But anything else, any well intentioned green initiative, is useless and futile and in the end pretty stupid, good only for some instant gratification for that part of the brain that seeks to “do good”
    ——–
    The green initiative is still based on growing our energy use instead of preserving it. Over time, we will have an increasing percentage of the population working to produce energy to the detriment of everything else. In the meantime, we will be deluded and keep on subsidizing sectors and ways of life that make no sense energetically and this will generate even more shocks.

    1. mellon

      I think we’ll be using so less energy soon, due to reductions in commuter related energy use.

      Even if we don’t solve any of the big energy-related problems, our demand for fossil fules will then fall. A big chunk of the energy expended by automobiles in the US is expended by commuters. If the need for people to commute falls, the need for all that gas to be burned will fall with it.

  3. Moneta

    Still, if we can’t even get it right as individuals…
    ——
    As a family we tried to cut on the car and we lasted 2 years. After a messy bus strike and a restructuring of the bus lines “to better serve us” which led to less and full buses by-passing us, we caved in and got a new car.

    It is quite obvious that there is too much traffic and that the public transit should be improved but we are still stuck in a system that promotes car ownership and treats transit users as second class citizens.

    We are so far from the needed change…

  4. Lorrie

    What I don’t get is that almost all of the discussions are about reducing greenhouse gasses and being more energy efficient and everything. This is all true but it does not address the real problem which no one addresses.

    The real problem is that there are too many people on the planet right now. All these people need to eat and sleep somewhere and all want to use energy and aspire to have a great lifestyle. So to me the solution would be that people should decide to have fewer children. This is the only long term solution that is going to work.

    Economists and politician generally hate this idea because it will mean that there will be fewer people working who have to sustain the larger number of retired people. Also as the whole growth model will not work anymore as a declining population will (almost) automatically result in lower profits, growth etc. But it would be great for the environment and should lead to a reduction in energy use.

    So I do agree that we need to completely rethink the whole way our society is organised and start thinking about how we should organise it to get to a sustainable future.

    1. Banger

      Since I have lived in places where there is vey low energy consumption I don’t agree that there are too many people–there are too many Americans. It is possible to live in a sustainable and even happier way with more or less the current population but the carbon barons don’t want that. Lowering population is the way the oligarchs intend to go with all this–they will choose who lives and who dies or so they appear to believe.

    2. Garrett Pace

      You’re fighting the last war. I think world population will be going down sooner than people expect.

      Overpopulation arguments are attractive because their essence is, “spend your surplus on yourself rather than children and save the planet.” It’s an appeal to selfish consumption, dressed up as save-the-planet.

      However, it doesn’t matter how many people are on the earth if the profit motive requires infinite growth. They will dig ore out of mines to build machines to dig ore out of mines.

      1. hunkerdown

        Population gain is one of the two components of finanshul groaf. The other is productivity gain. That population gain can be translated into profit is a good reason not to breed. I suppose next you’ll complain about Lysistrata…

        1. Garrett Pace

          Population growth? Really? As people lose economic power, they cease to exist, and the current economic order can safely ignore them.

          They then become “surplus population”, to quote Dickens. What would any political or financial elite have to do with them?

  5. The Dork of Cork

    Don’t believe what metro minds such as Yves tell you about scarcity.
    I mean they wish to forward the meme that water is scarce in Ireland of all places !!!!

    This is merely a bankers insider joke as conduit people prostrate themselves before these characters.
    And don’t tell me about the amount of energy needed to purify the stuff.
    Its tiny relative to the banks credit slurry production which typically produces a great mass of energy intensive products of dubious real utiltiy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You need to bone up on this rather than spout uninformed comments. Potable water in the resource that will come under serious pressure first, starting around 2050 on current trajectories. And I didn’t hear this at a granola head conference. This was at the Milken conference, from top executives in businesses that depend on getting decent quality water locally (like Coca Cola, which spends a LOT of $ on its bottlers to treat water so that Coke can taste the same everywhere).

      1. The Dork of Cork

        @Yves
        You talk about money (how much corporations must spend on production rather then flying in to solve problems which do not exist in the first place ) as if it was a physical input.
        This is not reflected in typical western energy balance sheets. (i.e.real inputs)

        I really should rest my case after that.
        But perhaps you should refrain from attending such corrupt conferences in the first place – it may do your metro mind some good to look at real numbers.

        The great question of our time remains – how much longer can we afford to indulge people who reside in financial capitals and their absurd long distance supply chains which give the illusion of scarcity when in fact there is none.

        1. The Dork of Cork

          Just to add – there was very few water quality issues in agrarian rural Ireland before industrialization of agriculture beginning proper some time in the 60s and 70s. (EEC entry)
          This is the bankers greatest scam
          They industrialize the place and once you are captured they tax you for it.,

          Filling your mind with a strange sort of green fascist thinking to counter the albeit highly destructive petro country and western sub culture that developed in Ireland late in the game during the 1970s as old practices died a death

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5YzHNYenIY

          What poor old Big Tom never got his thick fat head around.
          His projection of a country and western lifestyle was a fake – a product of bank created slurry production.
          The solution is of course also fake.
          Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          People who live in dense urban centers consume far less in energy terms than people who live in remote settings. They use public transportation. They live in apartment buildings which are vastly more efficient to heat and cool than single family homes.

          I doubt you are a survivalist, living off the land. Ireland is not an autarky. The “long supply chains” is a function of consuming advanced economy products. I have never owned a car. I suspect you do, or at least have. Cars are one of the most costly “long supply chain” items.

          And Ireland as an economy gets a considerable amount of income by playing preferred tax haven to companies like Apple and Google, which depend on extended supply chains, Apple directly and Google indirectly, since pretty much all Web access devices are manufactured using long supply chains. Your very use of this comments section shows you are hardly in a position to throw stones.

  6. The Dork of Cork

    PS
    I find it real annoying to see words such as we and man in articles……….
    There is no we.
    There is us and them.

    I have zero control over the credit process.
    I am a conduit.

  7. der

    In a late ’50’s interview Carl Jung said that man’s biggest problem was man and that it will lead to our destruction. Growth needs customers to fuel it’s demand side. Unless we address over population, increasing demand for decreasing supply, anything we do forestalls the inevitable. From my view it won’t be environmental collapse that forces humankind’s hand but the collapse of the world’s economy brought about by the casino fool’s game of pyramid scheming derivative gambling – covering lousy bets with increasingly lousier bets. It won’t be too long before our elites are faced with hungry angry mobs holding fistfuls of worthless “greybacks.”

    1. James Levy

      What is toughest to fight is the empirical reality that for three centuries improvements in agricultural techniques, the introduction of fertilizers, and the energy derived from fossil fuels did add tremendously to the well-being of the human race. No one in their right mind would go back to the world of the 1690s happily. What’s so dangerous is that this very short historical period has been normalized. We expect new technologies to have similar beneficial impacts, when they demonstrably do not. We also expect the generalized prosperity of the period 1950-1998 to return, which is highly unlikely. We and our leaders were shaped by a conscious history of real growth, real increases in purchasing power, and real improvements in human life and health. It is our nature to project those things into the future. It is natural for us to assume that economic growth and new technologies will be beneficial, because they have for a couple of centuries. And, given a miracle, that assumption may be right. But the smart money is on reducing population, reducing carbon emissions, and reducing waste of all kinds. It will take at least a generation of hardship to abandon our hope that the future will look like the past and start acting wisely in out new reality.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘In our economic system, based on debt, credit and interest, the future value of everything under the sun necessarily gets discounted over time. That is because currencies lose their value over time.’

      This fatalistic statement (which sounds like a quote from Ecclesiastes) is currently true, but it doesn’t have to be and didn’t used to be.

      Irredeemable fiat currencies, ‘backed’ by the slow-motion Ponzi scheme of government debt, are Exhibit A of an unsustainable system premised on perpetual growth. They aren’t supposed to last, and they don’t.

      Effectively fiat currencies are permanent war finance. Not until the West’s NATO military empire (currently gearing up for a fresh bungle in Ukraine) is shut down will Ilargi’s Green New Deal be feasible. Abolish the freaking Fed …

      1. susan the other

        If, in fact, it will become a war on capitalism (financialism) in order to save the planet it will be by definition a fiat world. Cleaning up this mess is going to require all sorts of fiat. One of the things that definitely needs to be fiated is an end to war as we have known it. Not only is war devastating to innocent people, it is fatal to the environment. The US military is the biggest polluter of all. It is just one more bizarre aspect of our confusion that we can’t get our priorities straight without destroying them. I think the human species needs a big intervention.

  8. Carolinian

    I have long thought that the most admirable part of the sixties counter-culture was its anti-materialism. It was also, I suspect, the aspect that corporate America found most threatening. And so, as has been documented elsewhere, clever marketers soon turned “do your own thing” into “do your own thing at the mall.” The Age of Aquarius turned into the Me Decade.

    But I agree with the above that the American way of life is going to have to change. This time around, though, it may have less to do with idealistic impulses and more to do with the austerity juggernaut. We are still a very rich country but the air is fast hissing out of the balloon…

    1. Banger

      The anti-materialism of the sixties revolutionaries (always a minority of the youthful population) was unsustainable because deep down it was a sudden explosion that was based on cultural contradictions that could not be transcended in any other way. The whole thing was quickly repressed and transformed into the culture of narcissism inherent in “do your own thing” ideas–but originally the idea was “do your own thing” within community. Let me put it another way, social groups of hippies saw it as their mission (I don’t know why) to encourage others to be honestly who they were rather than wear the straight-jackets society had set up–it was never meant to be anti-social of individualistic in the traditional American sense–it was always the intention of embracing others in a blanket of love–now within the structure of an ad hoc social group you could be a guy and put on a dress and be embraced. The problem was the ad hoc part of this–we were rootless and we connected deeply with others often through shared LSD experiences and then, later, we were faced with the exigencies of life and we scattered–we were not based in a place either physical or virtual–we drifted and were picked off by snipers one by one and the rest is history.

      1. JEHR

        On a visit to BC a few years ago while exploring the countryside, I came upon a building and a large amount of land high in the mountains that were used by the “hippies” about 30 years earlier. In the front yard was a huge hole into which mounds and mounds of bottles, cans and refuse had been dropped and then piled higher and higher. I thought the residents must have moved on when the waste began to overtake them!

      2. John Yard

        What was rejected in the 1960’s was communal obligation and responsibility. There is a direct continuity between the ruthless grasping private equity outsourcer and the flower children . “Do your own thing” is the motto. The business leaders of the 1960’s were clergy in comparison , and were famously purged in the 1980’s by the upcoming generation weaned on this new ethic.

        1. Banger

          Yes, there was a lot of selfishness as there is in any situation. I saw a lot of real selflessness too however—I was in the midst of it–it was kind of like “the best of times and the worst of times.” People cared about the world, each other as much as any young people did. In order to break through and open up we had to throw out much of the old morality and we tended to throw out the baby with the bathwater–but it had to happen unless you prefer the hypocrisy, racism, and sexism that was the reality before flower-power.

  9. Banger

    We are collectively facing catastrophe yet we actually do nothing. Why? Because we don’t believe in the collective–as Margaret Thatcher channeling the narcissistic culture that surrounds us said: “there is no such thing as society.”

    The tragedy we are facing is, in part, the disruption of natural systems but is mainly a deep crisis in humanity. We cannot act collectively no matter how deep the problem. We are only able to assert our narrow interests. This is true, obviously, for those on the right but it is tragically true for those on the left as well. We seem to have no cultural reference for being part of a larger whole. The right is often obsessed with an authoritarian “God” that is chiefly interested in obedience and the left tends to not be interested in any larger reality other than “me.”

    The left has a notion that we ought to be more collective but lacks a philosophical foundation for why that should be true. To put it another way, the reason why the political left cannot get people to understand that public space, nature and other “greater wholes” are important is that the underlying conceptual framework is still individualistic–the collective is ok as long as it doesn’t intrude in my ability to indulge in all the entertainments available online, on cable and in the marketplace.

    If we find ourselves concerned with climate change and the rapid degradation of many ecological systems we need to take the next step and create a spirituality either of the Earth or something beyond our narrow personal and tribal concerns. These spiritualities are around us and include the Christianity of Thomas Berry (and others), Paganism and the Eastern traditions and some of the less narcissistic New Age ideas that have developed in recent years. We need something like those things to break down the barriers of mistrust that keep us from taking collective action. Some say that it would take only five million dedicated people to utterly transform American culture it they were committed and united. I believe that it could be an even smaller number.

    1. Eclair

      “…we need to take the next step and create a spirituality either of the Earth or something beyond our narrow personal and tribal concerns.”

      I think you are correct, Banger. Our current Western belief systems, the ones that support Capitalism, … with the all- powerful, benevolent yet vengeful male god who “tells” humans that the Earth and all the non-human species exist solely to service them … is nothing but the blueprint for destruction of the planet.

      The New Testament tried to soften the image a bit: Jesus ate with prostitutes, aliens and other low class types, as well as advocating non-compliance with the Roman State. Love thy neighbor, but it’s ok to clear-cut, strip mine and massacre buffalo. And, if thy neighbor isn’t really “human,” but brown or black, then, WTF, massacre them too.

      But on the cellular level, we’re all connected: in the traditional Lakota belief, two-footed relatives to winged and four-footed and crawling relatives. And, to our rooted relatives. And to water … sacred water. As living creatures we are composed mainly of water and … this is vital … without it we die.

      Like the traditional Dineh, we need to awake each morning facing the rising sun and give thanks for its warmth and light. We need to treasure our water and our air, not despoil them with industrial poisons.

      But once we are open to the possibility of deposing that all-powerful male father god, we face the anarchy of non-obedience to hierarchical (mostly male) authority. We don’t bow down before kings; we don’t humble ourselves to presidents and senators; we don’t abase ourselves in front of oligarchs. We worship – and protect – the Earth, the Sky, the Sacred Water, all our Relatives.

    2. Glenn Condell

      ‘We cannot act collectively no matter how deep the problem. We are only able to assert our narrow interests.’

      This is not so much a failure of collective moral imagination as a failure to effectively fashion a system which permits us to act collectively, morally or otherwise, in real time. If such a system existed, even if we all then utilised it only to ‘assert our narrow interests’ it would work a lot better than what we have, because it would be genuinely representative of citizens as individuals. If voting blocs inimical to progressive goals held sway, bad luck I suppose, but I really think that the apparently solid majority that approves of things ‘the way they are’ would dissolve into dregs, mainly consisting of that rump of privilege that currently enjoys a free lunch thanks to current arrangements. TINA, at the moment, because we are trapped in a political space that does not facilitate ‘the will, of the people’

      ‘This is true, obviously, for those on the right but it is tragically true for those on the left as well. We seem to have no cultural reference for being part of a larger whole’

      I think we do, everyone here seems to, most everyone I talk to… it is not a cultural reference or paradigm we lack, it is a practical one. If we had genuine democratic governance, which was delivered within parameters set by citizen referenda, then even when we were disappointed with one outcome or another, we would not be able as we currently are to mutter about dark conspiracies of 1%-ers and govt henchmen, or the goddam stupid Repugs, or whatever. We would know that the decision was arrived at democratically under the aegis of a system we control. The feeling of belonging to a ‘larger whole’ would I think be an organic byproduct.

      ‘The left has a notion that we ought to be more collective but lacks a philosophical foundation for why that should be true.’

      Not sure about that. First, I would call it a conviction rather than a notion. Just as Tories motivated to destroy unions and entrench privilege act upon convictions that these measures are ‘right’. Also, I don’t think we lack a philosophical foundation – the concept of fairness (at its root defined by ‘do unto others’) will do, nothing else is required and really anything else is simply an add-on. Fairness, like motherhood, is it’s own justification.

      ‘the underlying conceptual framework is still individualistic–the collective is ok as long as it doesn’t intrude in my ability to indulge in all the entertainments available online, on cable and in the marketplace’

      Oh I don’t know about that either. It seems to me a tried and true fallback position. Sure we are all lulled, drugged even by the sirens of modernity, but to imagine that these constitute for most of us a Pale that cannot be trespassed is I think wrong. It is not holding on to our toys that prevents us from engaging, it’s the demonstrable lack of effectiveness (and indeed, increasingly the danger) of any engagement not carried out or at least supported by malefactors of great wealth, and the dearth of official instruments thru which to engage and force change which benefits the majority. The contemplation of that apparently endless scenario makes us turn inward, to our escape gadgets.

      ‘We need something like those things to break down the barriers of mistrust that keep us from taking collective action’

      Broken record I know, but it’s cart and horse. The spiritualities are more likely to be a result rather than a cause of positive change. It isn’t so much ‘barriers of mistrust’ as the lack of avenues for any action that doesn’t reinforce the quadrennial two horse dog and pony show (which of course thrives on and reinforces such barriers) and further the interests of those who own it.

  10. Clonal Antibody

    Progressive taxation would be after the event remedy if it were only that. However, progressive taxation (at least in the US and many other countries) is accompanied by one more thing. Namely a 1:1 deduction for charitable donations. Also, increasing business expenses will reduce taxable income.

    The net of this is that progressive taxation encourages people to give away their earnings to charity (a form of Potlatch) or to pay their employees more (becoming a hero to your workforce)

  11. susan the other

    We all knew the earth was in deep trouble 20 years ago yet we went on this last great binge of wasteful living as if there were no tomorrow. Hopefully that little chart of the stages of grief is somewhat accurate and we are finally approaching acceptance. Of the death of our former existence. It feels like we have been mentally demolished and we are all sitting around in the ruins trying to come up with a good way forward. I don’t think the word “growth” can tell us what way to turn because it gets confused with concepts like “increase.” And “profit.” A better concept is to resolve the past, which will provide lots of jobs but the benefit of the new industry, instead of being extracted profits going to, say, private equity (because it would have to keep reinvesting into a deep spiral down and that whole image is pretty insane), will go back to the original source of all wealth – the planet. And our crazy, out of balance accounting can come full circle. If we are good stewards we can eke out a good living – but no more pillage.

  12. Vatch

    One of my all time favorite quotes is attributed to the economist Kenneth Boulding (although nobody seems to know for certain when or where he said it):

    Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

    1. rayduray

      Re: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”
      Attributed to Boulding in: United States. Congress. House (1973) Energy reorganization act of 1973: Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on H.R. 11510. p.248
      Cited here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Kenneth_Boulding

      This quote has been adopted as a sort of motto by the Royal Society of the Arts in the UK.
      They do understand that growth is not the same thing as well-being….

      https://www.youtube.com/user/theRSAorg

  13. allcoppedout

    Monbiot has long been irrelevant to any discussion. He’s some kind of niche progressive. Lakoff is stronger stuff altogether. This paper puts most of his ideas on argument over: http://www.defendingscience.org/sites/default/files/upload/LakoffDAUBERT.pdf

    I see most of what we do in blogs as primate political gossip. Most people have got so up themselves they are hostile to seeing how biological everything is. We are monkey chattering. The noise we make is essentially disconnected from change, We have no mob, It would be good if what Bangor says is true. I suspect it isn’t, though wish the idea well.

    Lakoff’s metaphors are broadly Freudian – strict versus nurturing parent sort of stuff. I suspect “they” have been reducing public argument over the years along similar lines to the Daubert case. Just as judges decide in secret what and whose evidence will be allowed before the jury, pretty much everything that reaches us is subject to conservative gatekeeping. Human beings will live in all kinds of squalor and in utterly mad regimes. We have never been modern or capable of much argument. We are chattering behind the boss’ back.
    Groaf-jawbz. Monkey-jawbz at monkey pay. You can’t steal from the future so burn the planet now. That’s a future with a burned planet in it, nothing stolen.

    So to change the lunacy of the screaming monkeys who do we have to convince? Do we have any public argument? You’d think any fool could follow the argument on global warming. I’m tempted to conclude there can’t be one. The noise is always something else other than argument. Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s use the private sector cavalry. They do miracles! This is a global problem. There’s an obvious answer – building green energy capacity everywhere. The only losers would be the oil and gas industry. Bugger, that’s right, they run the planet.

    1. James Levy

      One day, about three and a half years back, I was team-teaching a Freshman seminar we called Power and Society. Despite many years of teaching experience, it took until then to realize two very important things: 1) my 18 year old students may never have heard an actual argument, as opposed to a set of assertions, in their lives, and 2) most of them had never had a significant conversation about any serious topic with anyone older than themselves. These are profoundly crippling to their ability to comprehend anything.

      When I was a child, on summer nights the adults on my block would take out their lawn chairs (few had air conditioning and back then TV shows were in re-runs during the summer, so outside they went) and congregate in front of one neighbor’s house or another. I would stay within earshot, listening as they debated Watergate, the energy crisis, women’s lib, movies like Straw Dogs and Last Tango in Paris–adult stuff. These were not highly educated people, but they had experience. They had been born before or in the Depression, and had served in WWII or Korea. And they understood how to state their claim and try to back it up while others disagreed, all without getting angry (usually they drank Scotch and beer and laughed over differences, although my dad was, whenever he could get it, a Gin and Tonic man). My own children got almost none of this, and most of my students, less. Without models of adult interactions, people have trouble growing up. This is a tremendous handicap in making any progress towards establishing and acting on the common good.

      1. Thor's Hammer

        Sad but true. And in the workplace expressing an opinion about anything more controversial than football scores will likely get you fired. So your students are just becoming properly prepared for the real world.

        Until they find themselves tumbling off the cliff with all the other lemmings.

      2. allcoppedout

        I’ve tried to keep memories of how dumb I was at certain ages. And boy was I dumb. There’s another feature in university teaching. The kids have been schooled to be dumb. They don’t get any marks for taking part in debate. They are used to assessment and examination systems. That’s all they need to learn. Look at the shiny dross that inhabit our newsrooms winging undergraduate presentation. The clothes, smiles, gossip, the ‘soft skills’ are 95% of what is going on. There is no room for argument.

        But what is argument when what we get on economics and politics somehow doesn’t tell us the human population has tripled since 1950, how many ‘we’ killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that one in seven lives in abject poverty, the planet is burned and poisoned and that the groaf-jawbs prattle postured as the answer is the cause of the problems. And how could we make the argument about this without something very different to the standard newsroom. I tend to think we inculcate the opposite of argument.

  14. jfleni

    RE: What is the Earth Worth ..?
    It’s patently clear to everybody that we desparately need good, widespread, cheap, environmentally sane, PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION! When I look at pictures of Russia, Europe and Japan What do I see: Trolley busses, trains, trams, neighborhood busses – and all this in places where the mania for gas-buggies is just as crazy sometimes as the USA, and even where they may have lots of oil/gas like Russia!

    Except for business and job use (the pick-up/SLOB-UV/van loaded with pipes, tools, lawn-mowers, etc) there is no reason to favor these clunkers at all, except the wailing plutocrat car dealers and their political enablers who make vast, environmentally destructive, profits from this nonsense. Joe Yankee Schmuck gets nothing because all the vehicles are made in the Korea/Jap/Euro factories artfully designed from the get-go to impoverish us here in the USA. They should be taxed out of existence!

    I recently watched a young momma load three small bags in her gargantuan ESCALADE-SLOB-UV,and then climb up to the cab (it looked a lot like trying to get on up a locmotive) to unload her infant (cute as a button all bundled up on a chilly January day in Florida). I thought of Breugel the Elder creating a nightmarish medieval painting entitled “Mother and Child Ascending Escalade! You’ll never see anything like that hanging in the Rieichs-Museum or the Sistine Chapel, only in USA gas-buggy parking lots.

  15. JEHR

    As I read this article, I saw before me the demeanour of Mr. Stephen Harper. I began to feel and see what kind of mind he has and “he is us” but much bigger and more aggressive and particularly destructive of everything including what he himself imagines. The article describes life with and after Harper.

  16. shinola

    It’s rather interesting/disappointing to see commentators fall so quickly into the trap that Raul describes.

    Nothing concrete will be done until we (humans) are at the very edge, the very last millimeter of the precipice. Then it may, or may not, be too late; won’t know until we get there.

    Growth? @1% annual human population growth, we will double our population in 72 years.

    What is unsustainable will not be sustained. We could choose our direction, but we won’t.
    Who is going to be the champion for human depopulation?

    1. Alejandro

      Over-population is no doubt an issue of concern. However, imho, there is the danger that this heightened awareness can be distorted, manipulated and demagogued for the “moral justification” of genocide, wars of aggression, sanctions etc.etc.etc..

    2. Vatch

      Who is going to be the champion for human depopulation?

      It probably won’t be anyone on the politically correct left. They think that encouraging smaller families violates the rights of people to make their own choices in accordance with their indigenous culture. They raise unreasonable concerns about eugenics and complain about Malthusianism.

      It probably won’t be anyone on the religious right. They think that encouraging smaller families violates the biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply”, or the Islamic or Hindu equivalents.

      That leaves people who are not only capable of performing arithmetic, but who are actually willing to do so. A small group, indeed.

  17. The Dork of Cork

    I probably live the most energy frugal of the chiefly American commentators on ths site…….yet it does not matter,
    My austerity (lack of purchasing power to consume the local Industrial surplus) is used to expand (chiefly useless) production beyond my local and national sphere.

    I also find my criticism (removed) of Yves Metro thinking on items which the banks proclaim to be scarce (water) so that more resources can be channelled toward destruction of the capital base mildy amusing.

    Big city thinking has reached its peak some time ago now – their focus always orbits arounfd the question of how to extract from their hintelrand and have therefore nothing more to offer to this debate.

    1. James Levy

      Your comment is there. I read it. I think you are demonstrably wrong. And to instantly and automatically disagree with what any banker says is as bankrupt as believing what they say unhesitatingly. My brother is a banker and sometimes he knows what he’s talking about (he pegged mark to market as a looming disaster long before I heard about it anywhere). Of course we must not take the word of those in power at face value. But that just means we should check things out ourselves. If Jerry Brown tells Californians that they are in a drought, it would be unwise to say “he’s a politician; politicians lie; therefore, there is no drought.” It might make more sense to go out and see for yourself if the rivers have shrunk, the reservoirs are down, and the ground is dry.

      1. The Dork of Cork

        @James
        My comments go through a censor filter before they are published.
        One coment was left through and for a while the other remained hidden.
        It was however eventually published.
        And to be honest I do not trust anybody who comes from a typical London or New York background.
        Almost always there is some angle to it that does not reflect a deep wish to understand the truth of current power dynamics for very obvious reasons.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Prejudiced, aren’t we?

          You are in moderation because your posts are too frequent, too rambling, and too off topic. They often amount to thread-jacking. We were hoping you’d get the message and comment less often, and when you do, more on target with what the thread is about.

          And if you don’t trust “anybody” from a “typical New York background” then I don’t see why you are posting here. I have a typical New York background, in that I lived elsewhere (a lot of elsewheres) when I was growing up, and moved here to start my career.

    2. Andrea

      OK.. And I must be one of the very few here who uses close to zero fossil fuels.

      Home is run on electricity (100% hydraulic / nuclear) and wood. I use public transport which is all electric, except for 3 stops by bus, which brings me to an electric terminal. I take a plane once a year. This is just what life is like here, for many. Of course, my garbage is collected with FF, etc. Large chunks of the economy are dependent on FF, in various ways.

      Does it matter? Switzerland contracted -Kyoto- to reduce GG emissions by 8% from 2008 to 2012 as compared to 1990, a sorta vague pact. This was accomplished with carbon credit swaps for 7 and true reduction for 1…. (!!)

      From 1990 and 2012:

      – GDP rose 36%,

      – the surface of heated buildings 31%,

      – the number of registered cars 36%,

      (many are little driven)

      – population 18%, thru immigration.

      From these numbers you can see that, a) living standards rose, in part through the use of FF, b) some serious effort was nonetheless made. > See my own example.

      Overall, GG emissions per capita per year sank from a peak of 7.8 (measure too hard to translate, explain) to 6.4 today. The next plan is to reduce by 20% to 2020. ;)

      Balancing ‘growth’ with measures to limit GG emission can be accomplished in part, as tallied in the official way. In the long run, it means … nothing at all.

  18. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Two excellent posts today, one on the environment and the other on inequality.

    Is possible to kill two birds with one stone?

    That would require less energy exertion.

  19. Jackrabbit

    Why do so many accept the “we” are collectively responsible. This really seems like blaming the victim. So many seem to discount oil and gas company influence on policy (via political contributions and fake science) and public opinion.

    “We” are not as irresponsible as some would suggest. The oil and gas industry does not have to convince everyone – just pay the right people and sow doubt in the masses. Unfortunately that costs them MUCH less than one might think.

  20. allcoppedout

    Moneta seems to have made the really valid point that there are places for growth. We could treat ourselves a lot better But it’s doubtful we are listening even to such plain sense. We don’t even really need more public transport – we have enough cars and organising ability for door-to-door transport in shared taxis. Can anyone be listening when you look at advertising? I usually watch television in arrears to avoid usury adverts.

  21. Rosario

    I don’t see how we will solve the countless ecological problems we are and will be dealing with until we acknowledge the unsustainable nature of our economic paradigm. Of all the subjects in physics that we enjoy, discuss, and rely on for our prized technological developments we seem to have the poorest understanding of Thermodynamics (at least as it relates to our species’ long term well being). Systems cannot continue to grow (i.e. increase complexity) without a subsequent breakdown of order. This has been known for a very long time, much earlier than the work of Lord Kelvin (who formalized the brilliant revelations of countless scientists before him that I am, unfortunately, unwilling to list). The reason “we” want desalinization plants is because their engineering, construction, and maintenance facilitate the flow of Capital. The reason “we” want enormous geo-engineering projects that shoot aerosols into the upper atmosphere is to facilitate the flow of Capital. Marx made this pretty clear a long time ago, quite beautifully, around the same time Kelvin began formally describing Thermodynamic laws. It’s funny how Capitalism’s imperfect yet meticulous diagnostician began his critique at the same time the physical laws were described that would inevitably lead to its demise. No, technology will not save us. At least not without us willingly critiquing our culture. If we take the easy path, entropy will run its course and we will be forced to accommodate or perish.

  22. Carole

    Ozzie Zehner also agrees that current consumption patterns are at the core of the problem and that we need a different perspective.
    Ozzie Zehner. Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. University of Nebraska 2012. 464 pp. 978-0-8032-3775-9.
    http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Green-Illusions,675003.aspx

    Zehner suggests that we shift our focus from suspect alternative energies to improving social and political fundamentals such as; walkable communities, improved consumption, enlightened governance, and, most notably, women’s rights.

    And there is Annie Leonard’s perspective:
    The Story of Stuff http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM
    The Story of Solutions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkRvc-sOKk

  23. Dan Kelly

    Pretty good analysis – but I disagree with some of your points around those that are trying, like the person who donates to Greenpeace. Every small green effort does make a difference. It doesn’t exculpate, but it helps to normalise environmentalism – is a gateway to understanding (and by extension, accepting) the large scale economic shift we are approaching. So instead of cutting down those donating to Greenpeace as morally weak, we should support them, recognise that the world as it is currently constituted makes it difficult to be green – but that many people, given the chance, would. They are just doing the best they can with the means they have, and while they could always do more, being dismissive of their efforts in a negative way directly undermines the sort of inclusive movement we need to be working towards. Negativity is divisive. It is only by support and inclusion that we might get those on the edge of broader understanding to see the need for, and when the time comes, support, a political shift that makes it easier to be green – indeed gets us to a space where the use of “green” as an adjective is redundant.
    If you want to read more out about the psychology of change, Nikki Hare from the University of Auckland has a great free book :)
    http://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-staff/academic-staff/niki-harre/psychologyforabetterworld.html

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