Around the web
From John Michael Greer
I was saddened to learn a few days ago, via a phone call from a fellow author, that William R. Catton Jr. died early last month, just short of his 89th birthday. Some of my readers will have no idea who he was; others may dimly recall that I’ve mentioned him and his most important book, Overshoot, repeatedly in these essays. Those who’ve taken the time to read the book just named may be wondering why none of the sites in the peak oil blogosphere has put up an obituary, or even noted the man’s passing. I don’t happen to know the answer to that last question, though I have my suspicions.
I encountered Overshoot for the first time in a college bookstore in Bellingham, Washington in 1983. Red letters on a stark yellow spine spelled out the title, a word I already knew from my classes in ecology and systems theory; I pulled it off the shelf, and found the future staring me in the face. This is what’s on the front cover below the title:
carrying capacity: maximum permanently supportable load.
cornucopian myth: euphoric belief in limitless resources.
drawdown: stealing resources from the future.
cargoism: delusion that technology will always save us from
overshoot: growth beyond an area’s carrying capacity, leading to
It’s always a tricky moment for the corporate media when a foreign leader dies. The content and tone need to be appropriate, moulded to whether that leader fell into line with Western policies or not. Thus, when Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez died in 2013, conventional coverage strongly suggested he had been a dangerous, quasi-dictatorial, loony lefty. For instance, the Guardian‘s Rory Carroll, the paper’s lead reporter on Venezuela from 2006-2012, appeared to let slip his own personal view on Chavez when he wrote:
‘To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.’
By contrast, the sociologist and independent Venezuela expert Gregory Wilpert praised Chavez’s ‘tremendous legacy’ and ‘many achievements’. These included nationalising large parts of the private oil industry to pay for new social programs to tackle inequality, much-needed land reform, and improved education and public housing.
From David Edwards
Writing for the Washington Post in June, Paul Farhi wondered if, in breaking the story of the US National Security Agency’s spying programme, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald had ‘become something other than a journalist in the activist role he has taken’.
Farhi paraphrased comments from Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s journalism school, who said that having a ‘social commitment’ did not disqualify anyone from being a journalist: ‘But the public should remain skeptical of reporters who are also advocates’.
Farhi concluded that ‘the line between journalism — traditionally, the dispassionate reporting of facts — and outright involvement in the news seems blurrier than ever’.
In July, regular Guardian contributor Nafeez Ahmed examined claims that Israel is seeking to create a ‘political climate’ conducive to the exploitation of Gaza’s considerable offshore gas reserves – 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, valued at $4 billion – which were discovered off the Gaza coast in 2000.
Ahmed quoted Israeli defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, to the effect that military efforts to ‘uproot Hamas’ were in part driven by Israel’s determination to prevent Palestinians developing their own energy resources. Ahmed also cited Anais Antreasyan who argued, in the highly-respected University of California’s Journal of Palestine Studies, that this is part of a wider strategy of:
‘separating the Palestinians from their land and natural resources in order to exploit them, and, as a consequence, blocking Palestinian economic development. Despite all formal agreements to the contrary, Israel continues to manage all the natural resources nominally under the jurisdiction of the PA [Palestinian Authority], from land and water to maritime and hydrocarbon resources.’
At the time of writing, Ahmed’s July 9 piece has received a massive 68,000 social media shares and is far and away the most popular Guardian article on the Gaza conflict. In the event, however, it was the last article published by him in the Guardian. The following day, his valuable Earth Insight blog, covering environmental, energy and economic crises, was killed off.
Fukushima — TV: “Animals basically dying on our beaches” along West Coast — “New, worse calamity seems to be unfolding” — Experts: “Like walking skeletons”; “So hungry they gnaw on rocks”; “Skin hanging off”; “Extremely unusual… maybe the fish have all left”; “Prepare for the worst”…
Orange County Register, Jan 25, 2015 (emphasis added): … Marine mammal experts say the numbers could hit even higher levels than in 2013 [a record-setting year for sea lion strandings], which federal officials called an unusual mortality event… The difference this year: Starving pups showed up as early as December. Sick females and juveniles are also being found… “The difference [now] is we’re not just seeing little pups,” said Lauren Palmer, a veterinarian [with the Marine Mammal Center at Fort MacArthur]. “Females and yearlings are coming in… It’s really hard to wrap our head around the story of what’s happening.”…
David Bard, operations director at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, Jan 19, 2015: “What we’re seeing that’s different is we are seeing a wider array of species and age groups, so in other words [in 2013] we were seeing primarily California sea lion pups, this year we’re also seeing harbor seals and fur seals as well as some sub-adults and adults.”
Although “renewable” energy is growing faster than ever before, it is neither carbon neutral, “clean” nor sustainable. We need to transform into low-energy societies that meet human – not corporate – needs.
Renewable energy is growing faster than ever before. Sure, some countries are lagging behind, but others are setting widely praised records.
Germany has installed over 24,000 wind turbines and 1.4 million solar panels, and renewables generate 31 percent of the country’s electricity on average – and as much as 74 percent on particularly windy or sunny days. According to the German government, 371,400 jobs have been created by renewable energy. Norway generates 99 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. Denmark already generates 43 percent of electricity from renewables and aims to phase out fossil fuel burning by 2050.
Many view such news as rays of hope in a rapidly destabilizing climate. We all need some good news – but is renewables expansion really the good news people like to think? Can we really put our hopes for stabilizing the climate into trying to simply replace the energy sources in a growth-focused economic and social model that was built on fossil fuels? Or do we need a far more fundamental transition towards a low-energy economy and society?
Thomas Paine was an English American writer and pamphleteer whose “Common Sense” and other writings influenced the American Revolution, and helped pave the way for the Declaration of Independence.
“Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.”
Thomas Paine was an influential 18th-century writer of essays and pamphlets. Among them were “The Age of Reason,” regarding the place of religion in society; “Rights of Man,” a piece defending the French Revolution; and “Common Sense,” which was published during the American Revolution. “Common Sense,” Paine’s most influential piece, brought his ideas to a vast audience, swaying (the otherwise undecided) public opinion to the view that independence from the British was a necessity.
The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, California is one of the many community garden projects in the area, yet is unique in its mission and its everyday actions. This particular site is still known for its organic produce and sustainable practices, but it is the devotion to the city and its homeless populations that makes the Homeless Garden Project unique. On any given day, a mixture of students, professional workers, and homeless men and women work kneel in beds of lavender, kale, and cover crops, to produce fresh produce and to enrich not only their own lives, but the community as a whole. The Homeless Garden Project (HGP) is a certified organic community garden in Santa Cruz, California, that “provides job training, transitional employment and support services to people who are homeless”(What We Do). The mission statement of the HGP is that “In the soil of our urban farm and garden, people find the tools they need to build a home in the world”.
The HGP operates on three acres of land between the Monterey Bay and the redwood forests of Santa Cruz. The garden is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk, and visitors are welcome to walk through the gardens and sample a fresh strawberry. From Thursday through Sunday volunteers may come to work and join in the day’s activities. There they meet the staff and trainees, and share a meal with all who make the garden happen. Through community involvement, sustainable farming, and a genuine desire to help the homeless population, the HGP has established itself as a principle actor in the sustainable agriculture movement in the Central Coast, and a model cooperative for others to follow.
From George Monbiot
With the sudden collapse of the neoliberal consensus, it’s time to ditch tactical voting and start choosing what we want.
Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse(1). And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want, rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.
Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.
From Media Lens
One of the weirdest features of contemporary culture is the way even the best corporate journalists write as though under enemy occupation.
Journalists admit, even in public, but particularly in private, that there is much they just cannot say. As Noam Chomsky has noted, the best investigative reporters ‘regard the media as a sham’ trying to ‘play it like a violin: If they see a little opening they’ll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn’t make it through’.
Of course, the truth of the sham is one of the ‘tunes’ that doesn’t get played. While not typically subject to Big Brother-style threats, journalists are keenly aware that they can be swiftly ‘disappeared’ by the grey, profit-oriented suits draped in hierarchical chains above them.
To his credit, George Monbiot is one of the better journalists who seriously wrestles with his conscience on these issues. The crisis apparent in his writing and in his reaction to criticism – Media Lens ‘drives me bananas’, he says - is characteristic of someone trying, and failing, to overcome the limits on free speech.
From The Conversation
The aftermath of Christmas is a good time to think about where consumer-capitalism is getting us. The sad fact is that, with these values, our society can never be ecologically sustainable or just. Accelerating global problems cannot be solved in a society obsessed with production and consumption, affluent living standards, market forces, the profit motive and economic growth. The only way out is via a huge and radical transition to The Simpler Way.
An exaggeration? Only if you fail to grasp the magnitude of the overshoot. Consider, for instance, the well-known “footprint” numbers. It takes eight hectares of productive land to provide water, energy, living space and food for one person in Australia.
If the 9 billion people of the future were to live as Australians do now, we would need about 72 billion hectares of productive land – about nine times the total on Earth. Even now, footprint analyses indicate that the world is consuming resources 1.5 times faster than we can sustain.
It gets worse…
From Chris Hedges
“American Sniper” lionizes the most despicable aspects of U.S. society—the gun culture, the blind adoration of the military, the belief that we have an innate right as a “Christian” nation to exterminate the “lesser breeds” of the earth, a grotesque hypermasculinity that banishes compassion and pity, a denial of inconvenient facts and historical truth, and a belittling of critical thinking and artistic expression. Many Americans, especially white Americans trapped in a stagnant economy and a dysfunctional political system, yearn for the supposed moral renewal and rigid, militarized control the movie venerates. These passions, if realized, will extinguish what is left of our now-anemic open society.
The movie opens with a father and his young son hunting a deer. The boy shoots the animal, drops his rifle and runs to see his kill.
Renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behavior, culture and society.
Whether you want to learn a new language, learn to cook, take up a musical instrument, or just get more out of the books you read, it helps to know how your brain learns. While everyone learns slightly differently, we do have similarities in the way our brains take in new information, and knowing how this works can help us choose the most efficient strategies for learning new things.
Here are six things you should know about the brain’s learning systems.
I didn’t know what I was going to write about today.
When this happens, normally I grab a coffee to help get the ideas flowing, but for the last few days in Montreal, no one’s been allowed to drink the water due to a bacteria leakage, which also means, no coffee.
So instead, I grabbed the next best thing to help me get going – a beer.
This got me wondering about coffee and beer and which one would actually help me be more creative and get work done. Hopefully, this will help you decide when it’s best to have that triple shot espresso or ice cold brew.
From Valerie Tarico
Some of humanity’s technological innovations are things we would have been better off without: the medieval rack, the atomic bomb and powdered lead potions come to mind. Religions tend to invent ideas or concepts rather than technologies, but like every other creative human enterprise, they produce some really bad ones along with the good.
My website, Wisdom Commons, highlights some of humanity’s best moral and spiritual concepts, ideas like the Golden Rule, and values like compassion, generosity and courage that make up our shared moral core. Here, by way of contrast, are some of the worst. These twelve dubious concepts promote conflict, cruelty, suffering and death rather than love and peace. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, they belong in the dustbin of history just as soon as we can get them there.