It’s time to have a serious conversation. I know we’ve been having it, but maybe there’s another glove hidden beneath the one we’ve already taken off.
Put bluntly, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of avoiding a collapse of civilization. The forces of the Business-As-Usual crowd are just too strong, the narrative machine too honed, the interests too entrenched to allow any sort of meaningful course correction at this time.
But is that the case?
Writing about the outcomes of the recent Australian elections which saw a pro-business, conservative government elected, Australian based reader-member ezlxq1949 said:
“They’ve stolen our future!”
That was the wail of the 11-y.o. daughter of a Greens candidate who cried herself to sleep the night after the astonishing election results came in. It couldn’t be worse; the public have sold themselves into almost complete captivity to the neoliberal élites called the Liberal Party. (Liberal = Conservative. Go figure.) It was supposed to have been a climate change election but became a jobs ‘n growth election.
Mind you, it wouldn’t have been much better if the opposition Labor Party had won; they’ve moved so far to the right that like the US we really have only one party with two heads. For instance, Labor would not commit to stopping the monster Adani coal mine.
So it’s goodbye to:
- the ABC (the excellent government broadcaster which has the gall and temerity to criticise the government of the day; the government badly wants to get even)
- renewable energy (fossil fools rule ok)
- the Great Barrier Reef (sliced and diced to let coal ships cross it)
- our river systems (suck them dry, privatise the water, send the profits to the Cayman Islands — as is already happening)
- the Great Artesian Basin (world’s largest and deepest, to be contaminated by coal mines and fracking)
- public services (cut back yet again to create a damaging government budget surplus)
- public health (to be Americanised)
- public education (to be privatised; maybe high schools this time)
- the Great Australian Bight (a pristine area which may have oil under it; damn the pollution, full greed ahead)
- southern ocean fish stocks (they’ll let the supertrawlers in now).
The environment is completely expendable. All resources are permanently abundant and all will be fed into the growth machine. Climate change is NOT HAPPENING. It’s fake, right? Bah. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fry.
There’s one ray of hope. Steve Keen predicts a severe recession, Depression really, within 6 months to a year from now. Our economy is indeed wobbling already. This will happen on the Liberals’ watch and they will be blamed for mismanaging the economy. This isn’t supposed to happen. Only Labor does that. Only Labor mismanages the economy. That’s what the Murdoch press drums into our heads. The Libs will panic. The Murdoch press won’t know what to say. Maybe this will shake up people’s belief and confidence in mainstream economics.
I’m not sleeping well at the moment. I wonder why.
I feel your pain and anguish ezlxq1949! You’d think by now people could have and would have gotten the message that Business-As-Usual (BAU) is a killing machine.
But, no, sadly they have not speaking to the power of the BAU narrative machine to spew out complete rubbish unchallenged in either deed or thought.
I wish I shared the hope that elections might do something, but I have no data to support this idea. Whatever parties you have in your country, no matter how they differ at the margins, they are both, or all (depending on your country’s system), in agreement on the need for jobs, economic growth, and keeping things more or less headed exactly where they are now going.
For example, we might note that under Obama what few binding agreements came from Kyoto were set aside for another generation.
This piece captures that well, and speaks to the necessity of having some sort of a rebellion:
Social collapse and climate breakdown
A huge number of people – 350,000 and counting – have downloaded Jem Bendell’s paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.
Here I want to develop one thing that Bendell talks about: social collapse.
But first, for those who have not read his research paper, there are three key truths Bendell tells.
Firstly, climate change has been moving much faster than scientists predicted. Things are going to get very bad within the lifetime of some of us now living. We don’t know and can’t know how bad, or how quickly this will happen.
Everyone that Bendell speaks with bases their predictions on their political beliefs. That’s true of everyone I talk to too.
Bendell chooses to think that social collapse is inevitable, catastrophe probable and extinction possible. That’s my guess too.
A second truth: scientists have, for many reasons, been under constant pressure to downplay the dangers and extent of climate change, and not to scare the mob.
Non-governmental organisations have constantly colluded with governments and corporations to conceal the scale of the catastrophe, and to push solutions that will not solve it. Scientists and NGOs do this because their funders demand that.
A third truth: Bendell says it is hard, at first, to accept what is coming. I have found that too.
I first got involved in climate politics because I’m a freelance writer and in 2004 I decided to write a book about climate change. I thought it would be interesting and there would be a market, God forgive me.
I got involved with a climate action group – the Campaign against Climate Change – and started reading. Several months later I began having the same nightmare most nights for months. In that nightmare I was trying to tell some people something, and they were not listening.
What was happening is that I was understanding the implications of what I was reading. One reason is that I take science seriously, and I understand numbers. The other is that I already understood social collapse.
That was bad enough. For the next four years I knew what would happen if we did not act. Then at the end of the UN climate talks in 2009, on a Friday lunchtime in Copenhagen, I read the text of the agreement Barack Obama had just made the other governments agree to.
That text ended the Kyoto agreement and said that henceforward no government would have to make compulsory cuts in emissions. Every government could choose what cuts or increases they wanted. The Paris talks in 2015 extended that to 2035.
I understood what Obama had done immediately. That text ended the possibility of action for a generation. Since then, I have understood social collapse is coming.
The Extinction Rebellion is capturing that energy of those who realize that we may well yet have to go down swinging.
The powers that be would like us to continue with the fantasy that politics could, may, might, possibly offer a sliver of a chance…if only we could elect the right sorts of people! (Spoiler alert, those sorts of people are never placed on offer to be elected…they are comprehensively weeded out well before then, as we see with Tulsi Gabbard currently in the US for merely daring to offer an alternative to the Bomb First crowd).
In the end, it may simply be that humans cannot rise above their brain stems. Collapse is already baked in the cake. So then the question becomes who you wish to be in these times? How will you act? What sorts of decisions are you going to make?
That’s what I asked in my most recent pieces entitled From Survival to Significance and Creating a World Worth Inheriting.
The continued ““market”” jamming efforts (as well underway today, again) are just attempts to ignore the inevitable. The continued efforts of the mainstream media to heavily promote completely irrelevant items while totally ignoring extremely important topics are best understood through the lens of evolutionary biology.
Humans, you see, are with few bright exceptions, wired wrong to manage connecting complex dots. When given the choice between basic biology (eating, reproducing, and staying safe & warm) and engaging in a bit of temporarily difficult introspection or thought, nearly everybody defaults to basic biology.
Our leaders know that dynamic well, as do advertisers and media moguls and so they give the people what they want. It’s dreadfully simple, easy and popular.
It takes a rare individual to buck that trend. The young tend to be far more facile at it than the old. That’s why rebellions usually begin with the youth.
But meanwhile, the unthinkable is forcing its way into our collective consciousness. The ecosystems of the world that have gently held civilizations over the past 10,000 years are collapsing.
Rains no longer fall where they should, or too much where they shouldn’t. The careful food webs developed over hundreds of millions of years are being suddenly upended. What will it mean that phytoplankton numbers are dropping like a rock, or that insects are 80% depleted? Nobody knows. What happens next is completely unpredictable. Such is the nature of complex systems.
Let me quote again from the above piece of writing, which goes on to speculate how the power structures will go about dealing with the inevitable crises. After writing about the many tens of millions killed during various state imposed famines, wars, and pogroms he writes:
All these numbers are approximate, you understand. No one was counting properly.
Almost none of those horrors were committed by small groups of savages wandering through the ruins. They were committed by States, and by mass political movements.
Society did not disintegrate. It did not come apart. Society intensified. Power concentrated, and split, and those powers had us kill each other. It seems reasonable to assume that climate social collapse will be like that. Only with five times as many dead, if we are lucky, and twenty-five times as many, if we are not.
Remember this, because when the moment of runaway climate change comes for you, where you live, it will not come in the form of a few wandering hairy bikers. It will come with the tanks on the streets and the military or the fascists taking power.
Those generals will talk in deep green language. They will speak of degrowth, and the boundaries of planetary ecology. They will tell us we have consumed too much, and been too greedy, and now for the sake of Mother Earth, we must tighten our belts.
Then we will tighten our belts, and we will suffer, and they will build a new kind of gross green inequality. And in a world of ecological freefall, it will take cruelty on an unprecedented scale to keep their inequality in place.
These formerly “unthinkable” thoughts are now popping up all over the place in print, word and deed. The students on strike in Europe, the Yellow Vests, and the Extinction Rebellion are all examples.
I hinted at these things in The Crash Course, and purposely did not expound upon them because I was trying to gently wake those who were close to waking already. I did not want to scare people back to sleep by drawing the conclusions to the many possible ends. For those with the ability to add and subtract, and to connect dot A to dot B, the implications were clear enough.
A global civilization that is expending 10 or even 20 calories of fossil fuels to grow and deliver a single food calorie, yet has no plans on the books for how it will feed everyone once that source of energy runs down, has a predicament on its hands. The author quoted above takes the next step and connects the dots through history to conclude that we’ll probably just ignore that predicament until we can’t and then be rather unpleasant about it all with each other when the time comes.
He’s got history on his side, and the 11-year old quoted at the top has managed to rightly conclude “they’ve stolen out future!” Indeed, they have.
Sustaining the Unsustainable
I would hazard that about 99% of everything in the mainstream media is dedicated to sustaining the unsustainable, and 100% of everything in the financial “markets” is geared towards the same.
Politicians seem to have a near complete inability to grasp these issues while in office, and a stunning ability to “get it” once they’ve left.
Would it surprise you to learn that most of the financial titans who spend their every waking hour promoting and leveraging the system for their own private gain also have but out plans and escape holes readied?
This idea of sustaining the unsustainable is really so popular that it’s never examined.
I did recently when I observed that if the US Federal Reserve gets its way, and somehow magically manages to create 3% real GDP growth for the next century, what will it have done? Will it have saved us all and delivered to us some awesome future?
Well, if we take the US economy as being $20 trillion now, it will be $385 trillion after 100 years of 3% growth.
That would make the US economy alone nearly 5 times larger than the entire world economy right now. Need we point out again that even 1x current world GDP is killing the planet? Is it not self-evident that it’s not possible for the US alone to be 5x larger than the entire current world economy without destroying everything that even makes having an economy possible (or worth it) in the first place?
Or what if we magically held world population steady from here, but then delivered the equivalent of an Australian standard of loving to everybody? Well, then we’d increase consumption by the planet’s citizens by a factor of more than 20. Oops. Another unworkable idea.
These are very simple thoughts to entertain but let me list for you know every single question of this sort posed by every journalist covering the Federal Reserve’s hearings and press announcement: 0
None. Nada. Zilch.
How is this even possible? How can the most powerful entity in the world, charged with steering the economy to ever larger levels never, not once, be asked a question along the lines of “tell us please, if you are as successful over the next 100 years as you have been over the past 100, what sort of world do your models indicate for us?”
How is this not a legitimate question to ask? Every one of us has an interest in the answer, including every single journalist, but the question is never asked.
Probably because the answer would be too disturbing to the average sensibility (or brain stem)
And yet, the pressure grows. The natural world that sustains us all, the immature space fantasies of Bezos and Musk aside, is the most important thing there is. Destroy that, and all the rest matters not one tiny bit.
Someday, I predict, your choices will narrow down to “join the young” or “become one of them.” Rebel, or suppress the rebellion. This side, or that. Agent of change, or victim of circumstances.
Same as has been true every time throughout human history when the rains did not come, and resource became tight.
Once things have gone too far in one direction, then collapse is in the cards.