Saturday, June 9, 2012

We're Losing Altitude

Recent news of dire straits on the environmental front are not news to many, but that it comes from a collection of esteemed scientists makes it something that people pay attention to. What they are pointing to has an analogy that might further illuminate the predicament we are in. Imagine a small plane, the kind with props. It is a commuter that carries maybe eighteen people including crew. It has a maximum takeoff weight. Every passenger is weighed along with their baggage. The baggage is stowed, the workers careful to balance the load. The pilot stares at the manifest and adds up the different weights. The plane is exactly at its maximum payload. The passengers are allowed to cross the tarmac for boarding. The copilot stands at the stairs. Along the tarmac are bars of gold. Each passenger is aware that the plane is at maximum payload, but each one figures that their single bar of gold will not bring the plane down. Surely the engineers built in a margin of safety.

You know the rest of the story. The plane roars down the runway. At that point where it should lift--no-- leap into the air, the wheels seem stuck to the rapidly shortening runway. The pilot panics, throwing the throttles forward, adjusting the flaps for maximum lift and the plane does lift, but shortly thereafter it stalls. The plane slides sideways as its forward momentum carries it towards the trees. In the last seconds, each passenger strokes their bar of gold, fervently believing that they will be the one to survive this crash. But the plane cartwheels into the trees and bursts into flames. All are killed.

We are those passengers with our bars of gold. This gold could be actual gold or a car or a computer much like the one I'm writing this essay on. It could be your tupperware, the air-conditioning in your home, the shopping cart you stole to haul aluminum cans for sale. It could be your Reeboks, your jeans, your eyeglasses, your bread.

In fact, it is everything that oil or any form of modern energy has touched including solar and hydro and geothermal. Anything, everything that is not created by natural processes that you yourself did not pick up and pop into your mouth for sustenance is in fact one of those gold bricks that are bringing down our little commuter planet better know as Earth. And, I think that metaphor of Earth as commuter planet is very apt. We treat it like a vehicle that is transporting us to some wondrous future point where everything will finally be perfect. Someday we will have enough goldbricks that we can finally stop and be perfectly happy. Even as the planet is being destroyed, we pick up gold bricks.

I have news. We arrived 2.5 million years ago. In fact we never left except in our addled minds when we invented agriculture and began the relentless high-speed march of human destruction. For two million years we evolved in place. We were part of the world's largest ongoing recursive breeding/scientific experiment ever. As the environment changed, we changed. But we did not start really destroying the planet in earnest until we invented agriculture. From that point on, our lot was the destruction of our local environment followed by a move to fresh lands which we promptly started destroying. As Derrick Jensen said, "Forests precede us and deserts dog our heels."

Now, many will get all worked up instantly and drag out the tried and true distractors that help keep us ignorant and locked into the destroyer paradigm: "Well, you're writing on a computer using the Internet," "What about medicine?" "You would have us kill billions?""We are too smart for this. We will fix it." "Quit spoiling the party for the rest of us," "I have children," "I recycle," "I ride a bike," "I give money," "I vote," "I" "I" "I"..............................................

Can you hear the flatline? None of these arguments matter. Like the Zen Buddhist master who tries relentlessly to get his student to understand that thoughts are not the thing, I try to do the same. All of your complaints and arguments all ignore the one startling fact. The planet is dying. All the bars of gold in the world will not stop that. In fact, the bars of gold are exactly the problem.

Instead of working to fix that one small patch of ego concern that you are fixated on over all other things, try to see the larger picture. Trying to save the car culture with solar power is insane. To recommend that one use cloth shopping bags instead of plastic is nuts. To continue to advocate for growth to create jobs is bat-shit crazy. To continue teaching young people the horrible, tragic lies of our industrial culture is like putting a shotgun barrel in your mouth and your children's mouths and your children's children's mouths.

We need to reverse population growth aggressively. That means the use of random sterilization of children at birth. That means paying money, lots of it, to people who voluntarily get sterilized. It means emptying the cities. It means localization. It means a national education that teaches the basic principles of a sustainable planet. The details will vary by microclimate, of course, but everyone should know that gold bricks are truly bricks of shit flavored with arsenic. It means we need to let the planet rest from its being raped for 10,000 years.

So, what I'm saying is, you don't have to kill yourself (though, if you are an American, it would be the equivalent of seventy third worlders, I'm just saying.) In other words, do all the small stuff, but whatever you fucking do, do not believe that that absolves you from acting to destroy the planet killer for one second. Shrink your footprint to as close to nothing as possible, then join the revolution. The Earth needs you. And when I say Earth, I mean every last living creature needs you, not some cartoon Madison Avenue image that is easy to dismiss.

Finally, to those of you who might have stumbled on this blog and have read this far and who are now puffing up their manly chests and making ooga, ooga noises while they prepare to tell me that I'm a communist or fag or some such unbelievably stupid shit like that, just stop. Stop. The planet does not give a rat's ass for what you say. If the planet continues on its current trajectory, you and all your small-brained kin will die except you will be too stupid to realize that you did it to yourself. And, I will not get any joy out of the fact because so many lives that are worth two nickels will have been killed because of your evil shit. Get back on your boat and crack a beer. Stop being a dick.


  1. Richard,
    I don't know where to start. Your post is awesome and so right on, it's incredible.

    I have talked the same speech, phrased differently, but the same issues. And of course, the number of people who can actually "hear" what one is saying, is small in number. "None are so blind as those who will not see, or those with ears that will not hear." Notice that is not that they can't, just that they won't.

    I think of it in terms of biological imperatives... survival characteristics (at least short term wise). The animal that approaches the water hole first, gets the cleanest, most available water;... the animal that waits has less risk of being killed/injured by a hidden predator, but also gets the dirtier water, if there is any left. EACH has survival value, depending on how things play out, in the short term, which allows them to survive.

    Humans are still stuck in their primitive brains... unable to see long range patterns. When we improved sanitation/hygiene, developed medicine, decrease #'s of deaths via war... we should have had the intellectual sense to modulate our population growth. When the death rate of people in the 1900's suddenly decreased... we threw ourselves out of "balance" with historical nature. 1850 before we hit 1 billion people, and now look where we are at. Pathetic... for a supposedly intelligent people.

    You would think it would be obvious. Every problem we encounter is related to overshoot in terms of population and it's resource use/waste products.

    Anyway, lots of absolutely awesome stuff you are covering in this post.
    I was looking for a way to find out when you were going to publish the rest of your trilogy. VERY well written... (yes, better than Kunstler). I really enjoyed "One Second After", because it also did a very good job of stepping through the issues as they emerge.

    I'm from a medical background (HiRisk OB)... with our current 30-40% cesarean rate, I see huge issues with birth problems when our access to hospital care crashes.

    In working in the medical field, I used to say that from the insurance company's viewpoint (or an HMO), the best patient to have is a dead patient. No more expenses that will outstrip the "payments made".

    The aging population, with their expectations that their $100,000 pay into the insurance system is going to cover their $1,000,000+ expenses are in for a brutal awakening.

    But aside from that. We got tired of being a victim and decided to be proactive. While my husband works full-time at an outside job, we lease a small farm, raise our own food (beef, pork, chicken, milk, cheese, veggies), build up the soil via manures & composting, to increase the nutrient value of our food. Each output on our farm becomes an input (one or more inputs) to other systems on the farm. The point is to move away from monoculture, relocalize, educate (mentor, workshops, example), and build person to person community.

    People are so attracted to this framework... it is amazing.

    Hope to hear that you will be publishing soon. Very interesting approach in presenting all the issues. I think it is one of the real ways you can reach people... in a story format. It gets them thinking...

    The Farmer's Wife

  2. Amy,

    Thanks for your comment! Sorry I hadn't responded earlier.

    Clearly you are one of the few who get it. I really appreciate all your efforts to prepare and to educate. That is exactly what this world needs.

    I have been working on the second novel in the trilogy, but it has been slow going due to illness for the past couple of months. Nothing serious, but debilitating nonetheless.

    I hope to have it done soon and published in September.

    Thanks again!


  3. Spot on. Nothing to add.

    Mostly I feel like the one cow who lifts it's head up and balks at being led down the corridor into the warehouse. The other cows say "Dude, don't be a doomer, the greatest minds in the world are working on it."

    1. Great analogy! Mind if I steal it from you?

      Have you seen this video?

      I highly recommend it.


  4. Just wandered upon your Blog and so far I'm really liking it. Thumbs up!