Prepare to witness:
1) A continuation and exponential growth (as power is discovered in numbers) of the current worldwide movement by large collectives of people with a shared viewpoint toward what they see as common, oppressive conditions, rising up to assert what they perceive as their legitimate grievances in the face of immigration laws, treaties that foster economic globalization, occupations of traditional homelands, invasions of sovereign nations, and a grave feeling of loss of identity as “ways of life” endemic to certain regions are forced to homogenize into conformity with the broader western dominated, civilization of MacDonald’s, Disney, iPods, politically-correct-speak, God-fearing devotional-superstition, technologically anesthetized yes-man, Chevrolet, IBM and NFL consumerism.
3) Diseases begin to spread, and as most human populations are not guaranteed health care, epidemics will become pandemics when inoculations do not reach the multitudes of the poor and disenfranchised.
4) Water will become a more precious commodity than gasoline or gold. But water, often, will also carry diseases.
5) Next will ensue a period of rioting and lawlessness, followed by armed, military repression.
6) Uncoordinated and unconnected, a civil war will break out on a global scale with the lower classes rising up against the middle classes, and both against the rich.
7) All this activity, combined with the likelihood of continued fighting in the Fertile Crescent and Middle and Near East, will further stoke flames of the planetary furnace fueling Climate Change, exacerbating its eventual effects – in duration, intensity, and accelerated activity.
Yes, this is a dim view of the future.
Even though Europe has tried to curb its contribution to Climate Change, the United States just keeps on increasing its energy consumption, exacerbating the planetary exposure to the effects of Climate Change. In addition, China and India are only beginning to join the party spreading consumerism, waste, the growth of individuals’ sense of entitlement, pervasive use of individual automobiles while skylines choke gray with the stench of fossil fueled exhaust from cars, factories and energy producing plants which fuel he Great Wheel of the Economy. With not only no end in sight, but no serious efforts underway to address the potential cataclysm, how can any sane observer see anything but a continually bleaker future on the horizon?
All the while, Americans distracted themselves from attacking the real “threat to their way of life,” Climate Change, with an invented one through Bush’s neocon agenda fostered war on terrorism. The American public became so consumed with either maniacally perpetuating the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan or rightfully seeking a quick, workable and peaceful conclusion to the American occupations, that there wasn’t enough energy or concern left to focus on the problem of impending Climate Change. Yet, the war, with its bombs, tanks, ships, rockets, explosions, bullets, fiery oil pipelines, white phosphorus, and charred, lifeless, scorched earth only fuels the effects and hastens the onset of Climate Change. At the same time, the war was such a big issue that it dwarfed necessary attention away from Climate Change.
Then, of course, the market collapse of 2008 created a climate where the economy, and American’s concerns for their continued affluence, dwarfed even the war as individual Americans let their vision and prioritization of immediate individual concerns dominate every other universally shared crisis facing the family of humanity. Rather than see the opportunity to scale back everyone’s fascination for the false idols of wealth, consumption, accumulation, waste and a voracious, insatiable appetite, Americans dedicated themselves to preserving the altar upon which they worshipped, feasted, and led the world ever-closer to the brink of calamity.
I am sorry to say, the me-first attitude expressed toward the economic downturn of 2008 (and which continues to pervade the consciousness of everyone in the western world) only obviates the narcissistic demands by the mass of humanity to not only go on, business as usual as it was before, but to have an even more robust economy so that jobs, production, consumption, pollution and waste can get America back to the level of affluence its citizens require! Consequently, I just do not see a reduction in global energy consumption or a change in fuel sources fast enough to avert disaster, nor do I see sufficient will of the people to force governments to act, or to force corporations to change. The changes which must necessarily be initiated and effected go far beyond merely finding a new energy source which will burn clean.
America seems adamant in its unwillingness to sacrifice one iota of comfort and convenience, even in order to save their “way of life,” although George W. Bush convinced the population of the United States to engage in a perpetual war against an amorphous network of evil to protect that very same “way of life.” But watch out, as the conditions of Climate Change increase in severity and spread across the globe, everyone in the world may turn against the U.S. because of its willingness to forego a responsible approach to its pervasive ideology and attachment to entitlement.
Scientists, in early 2009 informed humanity that the rate of production for greenhouse gas emissions continues to grow at the rate of 3.5% since 2000 and that because the presence of Climate Change causing gases is now greater than previously estimated, the effects of Climate Change promise to be more severe than any previously modeled scientific estimates provided. Scientists also informed us that, even if all the industrialized nations of the world could perform a miracle and bring carbon dioxide levels back to the Earth’s natural levels present in the pre-industrialized era, it would still take 1000 years or longer for the changes in climate already triggered by the CO2 levels currently accumulated and the heat already absorbed by the oceans to be reversed. Scientists at the NOAA, headed by Susan Solomon explained in a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the oceans will rise higher than estimated and that droughts will ravage the American southwest, southern Europe, northern Africa and Western Australia in a manner consistent with the American “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Solomon also stated that the changes to our climate will persist at least to the year 3000.
Remember, that level of change to our climate was modeled on a best case scenario, one in which we miraculously get rid of and cease to produce more CO2 emissions immediately. By April 3rd, the NOAA explained that the planetary temperature increase they had measured from 2005 to 2008 registered as being 5 degrees C (9 degrees F). That level of increase in the Earth’s temperature had not been expected to accumulate until 2070, not 2008! Consequently, we’re pretty far behind the curve for minimizing the effects of Climate Change. Meanwhile, Australia offers itself up as an early warning system. The Great Barrier Reef which is among the world’s most bio-diverse sites on the planet, and the largest structure built by living organisms, is vanishing as Americans continue to drive their vehicles through the local McDonald’s without even shutting the engine off and going inside to a degree that it will be functionally extinct by 2050. Simultaneously, tropical storms deluge the tropical north of Australia with floods, warmer ocean currents spawn increases in both the number and intensity of cyclones, the interior of the continent parches into baked dead zones yielding vast brush fires, killer heat waves, increased tropical diseases, withering of crops, loss of livestock, severe water shortages and quickening rates of species extinction.
This glittering, sleek, high-tech, fashionable, televised world to which humanity has grown accustomed and addicted is about to wilt in the heat of tomorrow. Already, the effects of Climate Change rear their ugly heads in the increased quantity and intensity of storms in the northern hemisphere, too, as well as the rising planetary temperature, continued reduction in glacier mass, constantly shrinking polar ice caps, heating of the oceans, vast reduction in the oceans’ system of reefs (the oceans’ breadbaskets), and the continued, exponential growth of human population including the consequent proliferation of urban and suburban sprawl and it’s attending garbage heaps.
The growth of the cities will be their own undoing. The seeds of this undoing sprouted long before now. Those seeds of destruction can be seen in the effects of the home lending/foreclosure crisis of 2007-08. Before I get ahead of myself, though, let’s take a trip through the light fantastic which is the growth of the cities.
From the beginning of pre-human history, when our ancestors gathered together in clans for protection and community, the gregarious trend for people to coalesce into groups with a defined social structure has always been part of human nature. For eons, beginning with the period when humans had not yet invented language, through the time when communication was limited to grunts, facial expressions and arm waving, to a time when words were developed to aid in understanding, to the era when complete ideas were expressed through sentences, and finally through the time when written language developed out of humanity’s first efforts in drawing, people lived as hunter gatherers, meaning clans moved over a defined territory, finding their food, and generally residing in a, more or less, centralized location, usually sheltered from the weather and near a source of drinking water. Later, people gained mastery over agriculture, learned to domesticate animals, and invented their own housing for shelter. These three advances led to a revolutionary transformation of human society and social structure.
With the advent of agriculture, food became plentiful. As the nutrition of humanity improved, brains grew and, simultaneously, populations exploded. Another significant development arose as humans started codifying and preserving their knowledge through their newly-developing written traditions. This development meant each succeeding generation of humans would not have to reinvent every human breakthrough over again, an advantage over every other species on the planet and together with the human use of the thumb and extreme doses of ambition led to the development of civilization. This is how intelligence builds upon generations of accumulation and development of knowledge.
Lifestyle morphed from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer social structure into one primarily defined by permanent communities of farmer-hunters. Again, it becomes necessary to allow eons to tick off the clock. During this period, humanity continually added to its collective knowledge stored by its written records. As clan sizes expanded, territorial influence spread, and systems of communication between clans grew into both trade relations and conflict due to disagreements resulting from competition. Just as humanity seemed to rise to the top of the food chain and could live without fear of real predators, people discovered a new kind of threat, members of their own species who belonged to different clans.
Once the human mind identified what it determined would be a constant source of danger – one community of humans attacking another – a plan of action had to be devised to make communities more secure. Hierarchies within clans existed essentially from the moment people grouped into clans. Early leaders were the strongest in the clan, necessary because that individual would best lead the hunt, defend the group in a fight, and withstand any threat to power from within the group. Later, as agriculture and knowledge supplanted physical strength as the most important avenues to continued survival, leaders emerged with those skills. Once battles between clans developed, groups found greater difficulty deciding who to select as their leader, the strong fighter or the wise and shrewd tactician.
At some point, a leader arose who was capable of thinking out of the box along with the development of new kinds of defenses. This was the true beginning of the city – fortified encampments where most people lived together in the evenings, shared entertainment and found shelter from the dangers of the wild. Cities became centers of trade, jobs, finance, thought, art, religion, community and so much more. The consequence was that people discovered they could find anything they sought in cities. Hence, more and more people flocked from countryside to city.
Over the last 5000 years, cities slowly centralized their position among humanity as the dwelling place of choice for most. As populations swelled, cities sprawled. When the industrial revolution interposed its changes on evolving human society, nearly all work available required individuals to reside in cities, thereby dramatically increasing the pace of centralizing populations in cities. At the same time, factories and assembly lines offered employment for what seemed an ever growing number of people, adding fuel to the population explosion. The technological revolution increased this trend. The ever-expanding proliferation of people and products built the model of the ever-expanding economy to which Capitalist dinosaurs of industry still cling.
Over time, cities ceased to be collections of wooden buildings erected on dirt, near farms and ranches, with streams, rivers or lakes nearby, standing spaciously and comfortably in a pastoral idyll. The industrial revolution and the invention of the automobile changed all that. Cities paved over the dirt with concrete, cement and asphalt. Wooden buildings were replaced by concrete, steel and glass monstrosities standing as tall as mountains. Such huge numbers of people flocked to the cities, that now, streams dry up, rivers flow contamination past banks of concrete and cement, and lakes shrink into puddles of pollution.
Humanity grew dependent on its invention, the artifice known as the economy. Advances in shipping and air travel improved trade relations. Developments in communications media made it possible to conduct business across oceans and through the skies. Population totals in many cities run to several million people. There seems to have been a constant thread running through the economy – there are always more people than there are jobs available. Competition has grown fierce among individuals for the best paying positions, and after the economic downturn of the past couple of years, for any job at all. These arising, ever-more competitive conditions have led to an extremely significant change in the interrelationships of humans living in cities.
Over the last century, individuals residing in cities find their search for serenity, security and accomplishment invaded by the alienation, disaffection and mistrust endemic to competition and stress. Once, people grouped in cities to enable cooperative efforts aimed at: assuring group survival, developing interpersonal relationships upon which they could rely, sharing the bounty of the communal efforts, limiting size in order to strengthen the bonds between group members, provide for a common defense against any real threat, and join together in “celebration of the mystery of it all.”
Today’s cities are so much larger, leading to a variety of differences. Today, we compete with our neighbor; we complain about our neighbor; we envy our neighbor; we only invite some neighbors over to dinner; we one-up our neighbor; we steal from our neighbor; we even sometimes kill our neighbor. As you can see, the modern city pits individuals against one another, fosters insecurity and stress, encourages class-ism and elitism and undermines all sense of “community.” Now, I’ve come full circle and shown why cities will be susceptible to causing their own undoing. Without a cooperative, communal and directly interpersonal ethos, pressure leads to riots as we have seen in the past, and the calamity that will be Climate Change will yield collapse.
As temperatures rise and populations increase, the demands for water in cities will become unquenchable, especially as glaciers (which feed our rivers and lakes and provide the water we drink) shrink to nothing. Water may be rationed; yards and parks will wither in the heat, un-watered. People will notice that the wealthier will seem not to suffer so badly. Yet, so many average, one-time-working people will suffer without jobs or sufficient food and water. The concrete-jungle-cum-desert-wasteland will bake the housing, leaving it too hot to stay inside.
“One effect of high-density development that can potentially increase energy consumption is a phenomenon known as the ‘urban heat island.’ This is principally caused by the construction materials -- brick, concrete, asphalt, stone and other substances -- used most often in building central cities. Because these materials retain heat and cool slowly, they raise the ambient air temperature and make central cities a few degrees warmer than rural and suburban areas. For instance, the temperature difference between Phoenix and its outlying areas can be upward of 10 degrees. The difference is even more pronounced at night because rural and suburban areas have fewer buildings, less concrete and asphalt and more vegetation, and thus cool faster.” [“Developing a hotter L.A.”, Ali Mondarres, LA Times Op Ed, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2007.]
A forsaken mass of human cogs will live tired, desperate and fearful existences without a machine in which to insert themselves. Belligerence will dominate. As conditions worsen, tempers will inevitably flare. Class warfare will erupt. The wise escape from the cities early. Those left will likely kill each other for the meager crumbs and few quenching drops available. First police, then national guards, militias, martial law and finally armies will have to be brought in to try to quell the violence; all to no avail. The social structure will break down into everyone for themselves. Corporations will disband, and ultimately, governments will collapse.
Today, land and water access are controlled by deeds, laws, courts, police, governmental entities and even armed forces. As governments are at first overwhelmed by having to react to violence in the cities and the mass closure of corporations, and later those governments collapse themselves, land rights will cease to be enforceable through any of the traditional means mentioned above.
The next stage will arise as Climate Change over a succession of seasons yields continuing accelerations, magnifying the changing, worsening effects. Some people will be forced to seek shelter from the severe, long term winter, while others will face dustbowls. The more temperate seasons of spring and autumn will nearly completely vanish. Diseases will spread hand-in-hand with famine and starvation. People will collect near sources of water. So will whatever animal life is left, and that promises to be primarily predators and scavengers, leaving people at risk for becoming dinner as likely as eating it.
Soon, the residual fear resulting from the strife in the cities could slowly give way to an uncomfortable alliance among clans, and humanity may begin to re-learn the need for fraternity and cooperation amongst individuals as groups re-form out of necessity, once again as communal, cooperative structures dedicated to group survival. Eventually, these clans will find arable land near water, and teach their children the values and skills necessary to promote survival and comfort. But most of the skills and knowledge needed for the future, a time without our current mechanical tools, will be exemplified and enhanced by smaller clans with a diversity of knowledge and ability, especially those clans which exemplify the ability to work together, to live as one, and who respect not only each other, but all of humanity, and indeed, all of life on the planet.
This appears to me to be the future humanity intends to choose as we approach this crossroad: this bleak view, the natural progression of our current world paradigm. However, there are alternatives, but those alternatives much embrace a rapid change in social structure, size and function, the manner in which business is conducted, and a more modest way in which people must learn to see comfort. Yes, the changes necessary are drastic and must be implemented quickly. Yes, it would be worth it to do so. And, you’ll create a whole new economy for the future based on a holistic, ecological approach if you make the choice to embrace change.
Let me offer a view into what kind of world we can create if we embrace the kinds of changes necessary for humanity to protect our habitat and properly husband it so we will have something of value to continue to offer to our children, their children, and generations beyond.
First, let me begin by looking at root causes.
Normally, the obvious place to begin any commentary on ills facing society lies with the thing causing the problem. With regard to the potential ills facing society as a result of Climate Change, most people take that “thing which is the problem” to be the combustion engine, which, by burning fossil fuels, injects greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Those gases insulate the planet, causing the atmosphere to retain heat. Atmospheric heat retention leads to Climate Change. I would like to reframe the discussion. I suggest that individual humans, each of us separately yet linked as the great mass of humanity, are responsible. Furthermore, we express denial both individually and collectively for our role by projecting the problem lies: not with our continued use of these machines, not with our having invented them, not with our failure to replace them now that we know we are creating our own doom, but simply with some generalized, nonspecific continued use of the machines which fails to accept any personal responsibility for how individual actions exacerbate the problem amid no apparent will or motive to act in one’s self interest by changing energy consumption habits. No, humans create excuse after excuse why they cannot do or have not done anything to address Climate Change, acting like ostriches with their heads in the ground. If this act continues, the ostriches will become lemmings as humanity hurtles itself over the ledge which is Climate Change induced disaster.
Overpopulation in combination with an unseemly human arrogance avowing as its birthright mastery over every aspect of the planet Earth are really the underlying root causes of just about all of humanity’s current problems. While saying that, I do not want to be taken as suggesting that had the total human population remained what it was, say, in 1850 (or even 1700), that we would not still be causing Climate Change with our fossil fuel use. Of course we would, just more slowly, and probably less perceptibly. The point is that when the world seeks answers for the question of how best to address Climate Change, no one ever seriously offers as a suggestion details of how human conduct and basic behaviors must change, immediately, in order to prevent the worst effects Climate Change can bring us and avert bequeathing these disasters as the estate in this generation’s will to later generations.
The first realizations humanity must come to grips with lies in admitting there are too many of us and we live with too matter-of-fact an attitude of entitlement. As a species, we cannot feed, house or clothe as many as the approximately 6.6 billion people who are currently alive. We seem incapable of providing for the security of healthcare and employment to our hugely inflated numbers as well. Yet, these realities are always mistakenly projected as the fault of those who suffer due to want because they fail to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and work harder to overcome their conditions.
Meanwhile, we are stripping the planet of her trees, extracting every last drop of oil and block of coal we can find, eradicating the last vestiges of the wild, rendering extinct huge numbers of species, and encroaching into every possible habitat left for the planet’s creatures. They live here, too, and we have to recognize that. This land is their land, too. We do not own a deed to Earth. However, if we execute one and eradicate all life not domesticated and used by humans in some way to assure human survival, we will seal our own doom, because the planet Earth is one ecosystem, and if we that completely diminish its diversity, the planet will cease being able to sustain us.
The Swiss-based World Conservation Union, known by the acronym IUCN, a little over a year ago in its release regarding the latest information on species extinction rates provided a bleak prognosis. “’In all, 16,306 species are threatened with extinction, 188 more than last year,’ IUCN said. One in four mammals are in jeopardy, as are one in eight birds, a third of all amphibians and 70 percent of the plants that have been studied. ‘Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken,’ the IUCN warned. IUCN says 785 species have disappeared over the last 500 years. A further 65 are found only in artificial settings such as zoos.” [“Ebola threatens gorilla recovery”, Planet in Peril Series, CNN, September 12, 2007.] This information was updated by a Wildlife Conservation Society release of a report presented by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to the Edinburgh, Scotland conference of the International Primatological Society Congress informs us that habitat loss and hunting are the greatest threats to the world’s wild primates. This report went on to point out that almost 50% of the world’s primates are in danger of extinction. The situation is dire in Africa, but it is even more so in Asia, where 70% of monkeys, apes and other primates are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. [This information was reported by CNN on 8/5/2008.]
How can we limit the human population on the planet? I don’t know. Anyone can offer a draconian answer such as: every woman who gives birth to her second child should be required to have an operation to prevent her becoming pregnant again; every man who sires two children should also be required to have an operation to prevent him ever impregnating another woman. Yeah, that would be a start. But it wouldn’t be honoring individual Free Will. Really, that sounds more like an admonishment from the Old Testament or a totalitarian government than a sustainable cultural ethos which future societies would embrace enthusiastically.
Sure, some might say that they think it would also assist in curbing some of the impetuosity of youth that leads to early, unplanned pregnancy. If one only gets two kids, one is going to maximize the situation surrounding those two births. This would, sociologically, place a higher cultural value on each human child conceived and life lived, and have a tendency to reinvigorate the family unit. At the same time, to assist governments to meet reduced population goals, governments can offer incentives to people for having the operation after only one child, or even none if they so desire. However, recipients must understand, the operation will not be reversed. But I can’t agree with imposing those kinds of impositions on human freedom. No, but I certainly do believe that as a species, humanity must learn to embrace the ideas which encourage each individual to make the choice to limit their procreativity.
Draconian measures offer no respect for each person to choose the life they wish to lead, and I do believe the right to choose how one lives is a most basic and fundamental human freedom which must always be acknowledged and preserved. No, the real answer is to educate the world on the reality of our current situation, and share with everyone the promise that by limiting our numbers, we can each actually enjoy greater prosperity while simultaneously reducing the extreme degree to which we overtax the planet’s resources. One answer is to get rid of the absurd notion that economies can grow forever. Another answer lies in each individual being properly educated so they can individually arrive upon a conscious decision to limit the human population. A third answer lies in getting the entire planet involved in an honest discussion of our collective need to change our lifestyles, now, while we still can, and while we can still preserve our cultures, rich history, and even much of our valuable technology.
The planet has limited resources. The present day culture lives like the planet has unlimited resources and has a right to try to fathom the extent of “unlimited’s” meaning! That indicates there must be many ways, through the implementation of which, we can improve our chances for survival just by changing the way we approach the kind of life we want to carry into the future.
Exciting new technology is being brought into use which will make solar energy affordable for most. The new solar panels are less expensive to produce (and could be even more affordable if the government would invest in the companies which produce the panels in a manner which would assist the companies to create assembly lines for production and hire the work force to man those assembly lines) and more efficient in accumulating energy. They are even able to recycle energy from indoor light use! The battery cells are also far improved. Most single family homes could not only go off the grid for their electricity needs if they converted to solar and installed the new equipment, but they would likely sell energy back to the electric company. I would strongly suggest that it is absolutely madness to allow any new buildings to be erected without requiring the new solar technology be incorporated. It is also absurd for the federal government not to just make it a policy to pay for the solar conversions of all buildings in the country. What more appropriate way to spend our tax dollars? Instead of bailing the richest men in the country, the government could actually make an investment in the future, invest in future technology and future jobs, and bring the future into the present. In so doing, the government would also be investing in an improved environment to give to future generations instead of just high taxes because of the interest accumulating on national debt incurred to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bail out the nation’s banking system and other larger, antiquated, Climate Change causing industries.
Here’s a novel idea. Instead of fighting over oil and wasting 100s of billions of dollars (not to mention the terrible waste of human life and the incredible damage and wanton destruction which accumulates to the infrastructure of populations as well as the growing enmity between cultures), let’s invest that money in our own infrastructure, rebuilding our nation into a model of sage and harmonic ecology which the developing nations of the world can aspire to emulate.
Too much concrete and asphalt add to the heat. Let’s take that down and build smaller, more compact communities. Smaller community sizes means smaller population totals, and an ethos of cooperation over competition, pitching in to help one another and making the communal experience the most enjoyable and prosperously productive one possible at the same time as maintaining a clear and sane perspective on consumption, waste and entitlement.
Let’s provide sleek, new, mass transit which runs off either solar power, or the kind of magnetic power currently being used to operate trains in other countries, like Japan. Let’s have solar and wind homes which are well insulated. Let’s grow food locally, on smaller, organic, local farms. Let’s stop trying to transport every good made everywhere in the world.
By going solar, we can keep our electricity, although we’ll have to convert everything. But the beauty of doing the conversion right now, in these hard-hit, economic times, is that it will put 10s of millions of people to work in all the new industries created. This idea also offers local jobs for local communities as the local work forces are employed in the work of converting to the new system and which can still tie the world’s federation of smaller, localized communities into a global village through the web and television (both of which could thus be maintained and continue to serve the public needs indefinitely into the future). With new transit, we can eventually do away with individual cars, but for the time being, we can reduce auto use and consequently the pollution they emit. By shrinking the size of communities, we can all remain healthier and fitter by biking and walking shorter distances and taking the train or tram when it makes sense.
Other behavior modifications to be considered should include: the size of the economy, the fixation on money, accumulating wealth, amassing and hoarding caches of possessions, the dedication to consumerism, and the cult of celebrity worship.
Capitalism gives people an illusion of upward mobility and that carries with it a snobbishly elitist class system. Certainly, some people do climb classes. However, no one ever stops to consider that, by the very nature of Capitalism, some people will always be in a lower economic class, and, consequently, also a lower social class. You see, Capitalism relegates people to classes through hierarchical divisions inherent in labor division, relative incomes and ownership interests in a way similar to how people are graded on a test when the grading is done on a curve. It is impossible for all students to get “A”s when graded on a curve just as it is impossible for all workers to reach even a middle class standard of living in a Capitalist system. The must be a poverty class to balance off the wealthy class with a middle class between the two. The size of the class of poor is always commensurate with the percentage of wealth held by the wealthy class. The broad mass of humanity which represents the working class comprises the middle, however, as more and more jobs are subsumed by machines, the size of the middle class will necessarily shrink with more capital and wealth vesting in the accounts of the wealthy class, consequently, the size of those living in poverty will increase. This is, in fact, to a large measure, the effect which we are witnessing today in the current economic downturn.
In that sense, Capitalism and the underlying premises of democracy are fundamentally at odds. We can declare that all people are created equal and pretend that all have equal opportunity. However, the chosen economic system guarantees that some people will always be economically and socially less equal than others, while a select few will always be more equal than the rest (and it is the cult of celebrity worship and our media’s fascination with the wealthy which perpetuates the entire system). Furthermore, the conditions present in the living conditions of the poorer classes perpetuate their inferior position and status within the culture because of how the effects of stress among those living in squalor and poverty reduce neurogenesis among the children born into those conditions.
Another unfortunate consequence lies in the inherent competitive nature of Capitalism. Humanity can best reach its greatest potential by working together, collectively, harmoniously, peacefully, and in friendship. However, the concepts of self-entitlement on the individual level, and of the fixation on continual national, economic growth on the governmental level, and in continually growing and expanding corporate market shares on the international level, which is seemingly embedded in the DNA of humankind, generate a kind of echo effect, feeding back on itself, assuring a perpetual and symbiotic synergy between the wanting of more by the greater public and the divesting of nearly all wealth into the hands of the already rich and powerful.
The average American, today, tosses out 2 million tons of trash a year. Is any human really entitled to waste that much of the finite resources available? Is it permissible simply because we can? Does anyone stop to realize, every vital resource wasted and sent to a dump to be burned: 1) fuels Climate Change and 2) takes those vital resources away from potential use by another, either now (which might, perhaps, provide necessary sustenance to those living under austere conditions) or in the future (perhaps even to one’s own children and grandchildren). What a selfish way to live. Meanwhile, additional human waste is dumped into the ocean, poisoning the seas and destroying our seas system of reefs so essential to maintaining the balance of life in the oceans as well as protecting islands and coastlines from the most severe effects from typhoons and tsunamis.
Sadly, this is the dream to which so much of the “underprivileged” world aspires. This is the society they seek to build because they see the U.S. and Europe as the model to be emulated. Certainly, based on wealth and standards of living existing in the U.S. and Europe, who would argue that the poorer nations, as they develop, shouldn’t try to emulate those Western models of success? Unfortunately, the models of success are destroying the entire basis for that alleged success. The planet cannot handle the amount of pollution being made by today’s polluters (who are, in fact, each of us in the US and Europe). How fast will we seal our doom if China, India, South America and Africa all industrialize to the same degree and in the same manner as the United States and Europe? Well, that is where the present course leads.
One huge way of dealing with the problem is to require all buildings to include solar panels. Then, at least we could greatly diminish our requirements for constant use of electrical grids, though, certainly, they will still be needed from time to time. They should be modernized, as well, incorporating solar and wind energy sources. However, to gain mastery over our selfish use of resources and the incredible waste we make through trash, we will have to give up our fanatic obsession with consumerism and learn to live more modest existences. This also means corporations will have to scale down their future earnings projections and production schedules. However, again, if the community sizes are decreased and we stop shipping products all over the world, but instead learn to produce more modestly on a local level for local consumption, we will go a long way toward achieving the goals of changing mindsets, reducing individuals’ fixation on consumption, cutting back on waste, and obviate the need for even having huge corporations while also eradicating the ideas of ever-growing market shares and ever-growing corporate incomes.
Instead of seeking to gain control over the exponential growth of the planetary human population, nearly every culture present on Earth suggests that populations should continue to expand. We hear it from religious leaders, we hear it from nations, we hear it from politicians, we hear it from leaders of various minority groups, and we hear it from corporations. Why do so many seem so invested with the continued growth of population levels? The reason is twofold, money and power. Corporations want more consumers and workers so their bottom lines indicate continued growth trends. This, in theory of course, opens avenues for more jobs, increases production, stimulates additional investment in the corporation, increases the size of the consumer class, and places vast additional sums into the bank accounts of the super-wealthy. Governments want whatever the major corporations of their country desire, since it is through the funds donated by corporations that politicians get elected. Certainly, one reason religious leaders seek to increase the size of their flocks is for the altruistic reason of “saving more souls.” However, let us not forget there are temporal rewards creating human reasons as well. The additional membership increase adds to the clout and power of the religion and its leaders, and the funds coming into the church, thereby increasing the wealth and power of individual religious leaders at the same time. No, everyone believes they have something to gain if the population continues to grow.
Unfortunately, in a world with finite resources, all the attempts to reach the projections of perpetual growth will eventually strip the Earth of all it has to offer, and because of the huge horde of humanity which will exist as a result of our ever-growing population, billions might die in a famine catastrophe in the not too distant future. All it would take is one freak weather pattern, one worldwide drought. Already, in 2007, a drought in much of Canada and the United States, as well as shorter growing seasons elsewhere due to an earlier and longer summer, led to wheat shortages. Then, in 2008, climate affected a cyclone that hit rice producers hard in the Asian subcontinent and threatened a severe rice shortage. As population totals continue to grow, a world with far reduced water available for growing and drinking in addition to less arable farming land will mean nothing but reduced crop harvests and worldwide food shortages.
I believe it is important to point out an apparent downside to nuclear power. There will come a time when humans will no longer inhabit planet Earth. There also may come a time when, like during the Middle Ages, technology falls into disuse, even though humans continue to populate the planet (and that time may not be very far off given the rapid, geometrically increasing speed with which Climate Change’s effects are being felt).
Apparently, our technologically obsessed societies intend to leave behind a string of nuclear reactors, well spaced, all over the globe. It is also inevitable that earthquakes and other natural disasters, including erosion, will eventually open up containment areas and release radiation into the environment from those nuclear reactors. What effect is that going to have on whatever life which may exist in the future of the planet when the radiation leaks? Whether or not humans are here, and they well might be, even if in far reduced numbers and greatly impaired industrial/technological capacity, we could be responsible for other potential disasters or mass extinctions, one at a time, with each nuclear reactor a potential ticking, doomsday bomb.
Even today, we run the risk of catastrophe with just the few nuclear power plants currently in existence. In the summer of 2007, Japan suffered a magnitude 6.8 earthquake which caused dozens of problems at the world’s largest nuclear facility. Radioactive elements were released into the air and ocean as a result. Japan, as a nation, has a history of nuclear accidents followed by cover-ups. Meanwhile, who can forget the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979 or the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986? But, how many of you even know that 9 gallons of highly enriched uranium spilled at a processing plant in Tennessee in 2006? A puddle formed a few feet from an elevator shaft. If that puddle had continued to drip, and in so doing had found its way into the shaft, it could have formed a critical mass sufficient for a chain reaction which would have released sufficient radiation to kill or burn workers nearby. The report from the Nuclear Radiation Commission was hidden from the public’s view. [“No to Nukes”, Los Angeles Times Op Ed, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2007.]
As gas and oil prices rise, the option of turning back to nuclear power has been offered by neocons and conservatives as a viable and quick fix. However, that urge should be resisted. Sure, most facilities are much safer than they were in Chernobyl’s day, but accidents can and do still happen. The Union of Concerned Scientists informs us of an incidence rate of 51 accidents at 41 facilities which led to shutdowns for more than a year, revealing the seriousness of widespread safety problems. Additionally, nuclear facilities offer prime targets for terrorist groups to either attack, sabotage or steal the necessary ingredients for making their own “dirty” bombs. With the proliferation of weapons, the security of these facilities must be an additionally grave concern. I can’t see how all the costs and risks are worth the reward given that we are going to have to change all of our habits, including how much and what types of energy we consume, anyway. Furthermore, and I feel the need to press the point over and over again because of what it means in every phase of how humanity must change its behavior, if we just reduce the size of our communities and produce locally to be consumed locally, we won’t need nuclear reactors for power sources. The reasons neocons and conservatives want to push nuclear power on the public is because they seek to keep growing economies, keep growing corporations, and keep growing corporate profits, maintain the current system and hierarchy. We do not need to make a God out of the current hierarchy and the manner, degree and personhood in which wealth is currently vested.
The time when individuals will be allowed to travel alone in automobiles may be quickly coming to an end. Soon, gasoline will be too expensive for most, and too precious a commodity for governments not to regulate the access and availability of its consumption. Mass transit will be the way of the future, and needs to be rapidly integrated, immediately. The sooner we integrate viable, convenient, comfortable, safe and timely mass transit that runs often enough to service the needs of the population size in each city so that individuals will cease relying on driving their own car everywhere and in all situations, the sooner we can begin to reduce our Climate Change-causing emissions, the sooner we can begin to adjust our lifestyles to more reasonable standards, the sooner we can begin to re-educate children regarding concepts like entitlement and waste, and the more likely we will be to retain some reduced individual driving privileges on into the future.
Let me explain this theory of mine.
Crude oil resources, from which gasoline is refined, are finite. Gasoline use continues to grow exponentially. At some point, governments are going to have to limit public access to available fuel in order to maintain sufficient resources to operate the armed services, the trucking industry, the shipping industry, the airlines and the police and other emergency services agencies. This will lead up to the time when governments actually will decide to deny all access to gasoline. First they will try to discourage use through high prices, use taxes and rationing. Ultimately, as reserves shrink, even after access is limited, public access to gasoline will, eventually, be forbidden. This is inevitable. How soon it occurs depends on how fast and in what quantities we want to keep consuming it.
However, early conversion of the contemporary American lifestyle – from driving alone in a car almost everywhere one travels to mostly using mass transit and only resorting to driving to the market once or twice a week, and on the occasional motoring trip – will greatly reduce our use of fossil fuels, reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, slow down the progress of Climate Change, and greatly reduce human needs for expenditures on car insurance, traffic citations, and death and injury due to accidents. Motoring trips will likely be limited by gallons allowed per month. All vehicles should, inevitably, be converted to either solar or electric power.
I say solar or electric as opposed to ethanol and hydrogen power for specific reasons. First, solar power and electric power are the cleanest of all possible power sources. Second, they are the cheapest of all these power sources. Third they are the most readily available of the power sources. Fourth, they make the most long-term sense from the consumer’s point of view.
Automobile manufacturers like the combustion engine. It has a lot of moving parts that break down over time and need to be replaced. Auto manufacturers actually make more money off the sale of parts on vehicles over the life of those vehicles than they do on the sale of the vehicle. They do not want to make electric or solar cars because those vehicles have next to no moving parts which will wear or break over time. Whoops, there go the profits! As far as hydrogen cars, all that promises to do is preserve the economic prominence of oil companies who will just convert from gas stations to hydro-cell stations and keep taking your hard earned dollars from you. Ethanol would actually do more harm in reducing our ability to feed the hungry of the world than actually help to reduce emissions (and palm oil can only be grown in such localized regions it could never adequately fuel all the vehicles of the world, especially as those vehicles are increasingly owned in China and India now and in the future).
Besides, a new partnership between ZENN Motor Co. and EEStor is poised to provide us with electric cars that can run for 500 miles on a 5 minute charge without any gasoline. Electricity costs to run the engine are cheap, too. And then, of course, there is also John Weber in Idaho who has converted his GEO Metro to a solar power automobile which does not use any gasoline at all. Weber’s solar vehicle has batteries in a manner similar to electric cars. He has added solar panels to his vehicle to aid in recharging those batters. However, they can also be recharged by plugging in to a source of electrical energy.
If individuals can get into the spirit of change quickly, the program can work and a huge amount of future carbon emissions will have been averted! At the same time, a fast conversion to this lifestyle would enable this to be a continued lifestyle far into the future, without gasoline needing to become so precious or quickly regulated of a commodity and without consumers even needing to power their vehicles with gasoline or other petroleum products.
With China and India rapidly industrializing, and with cars becoming more prevalent in those nations, as well as being desired in other areas of the “under-improved” world, this kind of system really needs to be embraced by those nations who are emerging into industrialization as they industrialize before they become too invested in the same, suicidal approach currently enveloping the United States and to prevent them from having to incur huge costs and wastes of resources in order to make the changeover which the U.S. and Europe will have to make now. Most of Europe already lives generally along the lines I just described, except that they do, still, use gasoline based combustion engine automobiles when they do drive.
Air travel must be greatly reduced as well. The average person has no conception of how much air pollution is caused by air travel or how much of our oil resources are siphoned off from potential future use though our indiscriminant indulgence in air travel. Let’s look at some information on the subject.
“Airports cause as much pollution as power plants, incinerators and oil refineries, although they are subject to less regulation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The hundreds of thousands of airplanes taking off, landing, taxiing and idling each day across the country create smog, contribute to global warming and severely impact local air quality.
“Major airports rank among the top 10 industrial air polluters in many cities and have been linked to health problems from asthma to cancer.
“Because airplanes are considered part of interstate commerce, they are not subject to local and state pollution laws. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration has the potentially conflicting responsibilities of monitoring pollution and promoting air travel.” [“Ask E”, Earth Action Network, Inc., 2003 Gale Group, a Thomson Corporation.]
Next, let me provide information from another report about the pollution which arises from aircraft and airports.
“In recent years, much attention has been given to the role of automobile emissions in climate change. But air travel - which has been rebounding since 9/11 - is equally damaging to the climate, per mile of travel. Flight is one of the most fuel-guzzling forms of passenger transportation. Airplanes’ fuel use (and resulting emissions of carbon dioxide), per passenger and per mile, is almost as heavy as driving.
“Beyond their emissions of carbon dioxide, aircraft release other gases that have disproportionate but short-term effects on our planet's climate.
“Flight one is one of the most fuel-guzzling forms of passenger transportation. Airlines compensate for their high fuel bills by packing passengers into their aircraft, but, per mile, powering a jet uses almost as much energy, and emits almost as much climate-changing carbon dioxide, as each passenger would use driving alone in an average car. [Hence, if a family of four traveled by car instead of airplane, they’d save almost ¾ of the fuel used and reduce the amount of climate-changing emissions by the same, nearly ¾, amount.]
“Air travel also has a disproportionate short-term effect on climate: Carbon dioxide has the same effects on the climate no matter when or where it is injected into the atmosphere. But other aircraft emissions - such as nitrogen oxides - have potent, climate-changing effects because of the elevation at which they are released. Over the short term, they more than double the effects of the CO2 alone. Over time, these other pollutants disappear, but the carbon dioxide remains aloft capturing heat for decades.
“These short-term climate-altering effects of air travel are concentrated, along with the residents of affluent nations, in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
“Air travel is on the rebound: Air travel is rebounding from recession and 9/11; the most recent [that time being August 1, 2004] monthly figures show US air travel up by 13 percent over last year.
“Solutions: Traveling by other means - especially for shorter trips - is a better choice for the climate.
“Air travel destroys good ozone, creates bad ozone. In the stratosphere - at altitudes where many military and supersonic jets fly - aircraft pollution destroys ozone. That’s a problem because ozone in the stratosphere is a good thing. It shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. In the upper troposphere, at altitudes where most commercial jets fly - aircraft pollution creates ozone. That's a problem because ozone in the upper troposphere is a bad thing. It’s a potent, though short-lived, climate-changing greenhouse gas.
“Military aircraft use more fuel a piece than civilian aircraft. A decade ago, military aircraft were one fourth as numerous as civilian aircraft worldwide, yet they consumed roughly one third as much fuel. Furthermore, military jets, with their high performance requirements, produce more climate-changing pollutants, especially nitrogen oxides.
“Airplanes’ contrails may also play a role in climate change. Contrails are high-altitude vapor trails. They form when water vapor in the atmosphere condenses and freezes around tiny, cooled particles of engine exhaust."
“The three-day grounding of all American air traffic after September 11, 2001 created a natural experiment for studying contrails’ effects. Researchers discovered that the absence of contrails expanded the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures by a full degree Celsius, compared with the average of the last three decades. Apparently, contrails dampen natural temperature variations. [Or, perhaps they prevent cooling at night through the greenhouse effect of having trapped the heat within the Earth’s atmosphere.]
“Airports are also big polluters of local air. Jets release huge plumes of exhaust during taxiing, idling, takeoffs, and landings. For instance, one airplane taking off and landing from JFK airport in the mid-1990s would produce as much nitrogen oxides as a car driven 26,500 miles. Newer planes have improved since then, but fleets are still heavily populated by older vehicles. Many airports nationwide are among the top ten point-source polluters in their city.
“In addition, most people travel to and from the airport in personal vehicles, rather than more energy-efficient public transportation. In 1995, 60 percent of traffic to Seattle-Tacoma airport was by private car; another 25 percent was by commercial car.
“Such emissions remain little regulated, because the US Clean Air Act gives states little authority to regulate emissions from aircraft while they’re on the ground.” [“Air Travel Heats Up the Planet Again”, Elisa Murray, Sightline Institute, Aug. 1, 2004.]
Here, we have at least a few indications as to the degree of damage aircraft usage has on the environment. The damage to the environment will directly affect humanity’s “way of life.” Yet, governments would rather wage war against nebulous networks of evil than attack the real dangers facing the future of our civilization. Indeed, this mirrors the beginning of the collapse of the Roman Empire, our lemming-like fascination to peer over the precipice of Climate Change and into the face of doom, would reveal in its fulfillment the truth in Arnold Toynbee’s statement, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”
“In 1993, aircraft emitted 350 million pounds of VOCs and NOx during landing and takeoff cycles, more than double 1970 levels, according to the NRDC report. These two classes of compounds are precursors of ground-level ozone, which can interfere with lung function. ‘During the summer . . . between 10% and 20% of all East Coast hospital admissions for respiratory problems may be ozone-related,’ says the NRDC report.
“Airports are among the greatest sources of local air pollution. A major airport’s idling and taxiing planes can emit hundreds of tons of VOCs and NOx annually. John F. Kennedy International Airport is the second largest source of VOCs in New York City. LaGuardia is among the major sources of NOx.
“The VOCs emitted by airports may comprise a variety of toxic chemicals, according to a 1993 study by the EPA. Chicago's Midway Airport released more benzene and formaldehyde than most Chicago factories.
“And, in fact, ground access vehicles such as passenger cars and buses just entering and leaving airports often exceed airplanes as the dominant sources of air pollution at airports. Nationally, ground access vehicles emit 56% of VOCs, while aircraft taking off and landing give off only 32.6% (including emissions from APUs), according to the EPA. Ground access vehicles emit 39.3% of NOx, trailing closely behind emissions by aircraft and APUs of 46.3%.
“Ground service equipment is responsible for 10.9% of airport-generated VOCs and 14.3% of NOx nationally, according to the EPA.
“In 1993, one out of five U.S. citizens lived in a locale where air failed to meet national standards for ozone. Thirty of the nation's 50 busiest airports are located in ozone non-attainment areas, and three of these are located in the dirtiest non-attainment area, the Los Angeles-South Coast basin.
“But with 25-30 year lifetimes for jets, emissions from airplane engines will remain a problem long after the 2010 deadline for SIPs for extremely polluted areas such as Los Angeles to achieve air quality standards. According to projections by the CARB, aircraft NOx emissions at so-called South Coast (the southern coast of California) airports will have doubled in 2010 over 1990 levels, to 24.8 tons per day or about 13% of 1990 levels. The board expects hydrocarbon emissions to drop somewhat, from 7.0 to 5.4 tons per day.
“In contrast, the board expects ground access vehicle NOx emissions, mostly from automobiles, to drop to 2.4 tons per day, or about one-quarter of 1990 levels. The projected reductions are due to California's stringent automobile air quality standards. But critics say the figures are optimistic because they assume a slower rate of growth than is actually occurring.
“California’s efforts illustrate the difficulties of cleaning air as population and travel explode. [Emphasis added.] The California SIP incorporates a 50% increase in air traffic in the South Coast region, says Henry Hogo, planning manager for the South Coast air quality management district. ‘We try to balance economic needs with health,’ he says. ‘We want to allow growth and see if we can come up with ways of reducing emissions.’
“Nonetheless, in 1994 the state asked for the federal government’s help to curtail reductions in federally regulated interstate transportation sources such as trucks and airplanes, says Hogo. A 16% reduction in emissions, recently proposed by the International Civil Aviation Organization [Recent to Aug. 1, 2004], would not come close to delivering the required reduction. The proposed reduction is being opposed by two U.S. engine manufacturers - Pratt & Whitney and General Electric - as well as by the FAA, and is unlikely to be implemented.
“The EPA is looking elsewhere for [reductions in air pollutants]. The easiest emissions reductions could be had by powering ground service equipment with electricity and alternative fuels [vehicles with hybrid engines?], and having aircraft at the gate plug into the terminal ‘instead of running those dirty [auxiliary] engines,’ says Lo. Nonetheless, these two sources represent a small percentage of VOCs and NOx, and, so far, less than a ton per day of possible reductions has been identified. [Isn’t every ton a valuable reduction we should seek to implement? Because it’s “only” a ton, they say, “Why bother?” Yet, they’ll take your access to fuel and flight away someday in the name of national emergency.]
“Politics have stifled the South Coast district's own efforts to manage local air quality planning, critics charge. ‘The state legislature has taken away some of our authority in this area,’ admits Hogo. In 1994 the district had considered reducing passenger car traffic into airports. At the same time, it had proposed requiring owners of sporting event centers and shopping centers to develop plans to reduce vehicle trips into their locations, says Hogo. A cross-section of business interests pressured the state legislature to block the latter proposal; the legislative stone killed both birds.
“Gary Honcoop, manager of the office of air quality and transportation planning at the CARB, refuses to discuss what other approaches to cleaning airport emissions might be explored, saying, ‘There is a lot of sensitivity because of the airlines involved and some of their concerns. I would hesitate to stir that process up by identifying too much specificity at this point.’
The interests and influence of big business corporations are so strong they have stifled the ability of politicians who have good intentions to clean up our airports and our air.
“NASA, however, is developing new engines that could reduce NOx by 70% by the middle of the next decade. ‘We have a pretty good indication that [these levels] can be achieved,’ says Richard Niedzwiecki, a senior engineer in aeronautics for combustion and emissions research at NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Such engines could be in commercial aircraft as early as 2008. [Unfortunately, now that we have arrived at 2008, we find none of these new engines in place and nothing is being done to curb aircraft emissions. Meanwhile, the demand for air travel by consumers continues to rise.]
“Nonetheless, global warming will complicate further efforts to bring down emissions, says Niedzwiecki. To save on CO2 emissions, he explains, aircraft weight must be reduced. But reducing NOx requires engines with larger combustion zones. Furthermore, higher operating temperatures reduce CO2 emissions, but raise NOx emissions. [Notice how no one suggests that we just plain reduce the number of flights allowed as a means of cutting pollution. Humans, again, show a complete unwillingness to sacrifice anything for their, and the planet’s, future well being, and it especially won’t be mentioned or considered if the suggestion will reduce corporate profits.]
“’There is now talk of seeking much more substantial CO2 reductions, and we are putting a program together,’ says Niedzwiecki. He is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that both CO2 and NOx goals can be met, but the time frame for doing so, he says, is 2010-2050. [“Plane Pollution”, Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 105 Number 12, December, 1997.]
This degree of foot dragging should not be acceptable to the voting, and lung breathing, and procreating public.
Clearly, humanity will have to get a handle on its air travel. We can’t keep putting these quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere and expect any semblance of the world in which we currently reside to be sustainable very far into the future. In addition to the aircraft contribution to air pollution, another reason for presenting the previous discussion was to show how difficult governments find it to deal with the problem, and to urge individuals to send a clear mandate to all politicians that ecologically unsound policies will no longer be tolerated.
Politicians believe they need campaign contributions from large corporations to get elected. In order to receive significant campaign contributions from corporations, politicians must make promises to the contributors. As long as business can thwart the best interests of the human population (and consequently, the voting public) by buying politicians’ votes, Climate Change will continue to loom as the great destructive force that will bring about the end of modern civilization. It is up to voters to change the perception politicians have on receiving corporate contributions. That can only be done by sending a clear message on voting day, all politicians who do not constructively assist in the re-greening of the environment should be voted out of office in the very next election. That has to be made into a hard and fast rule.
“Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” That was a popular bumper sticker not so many years ago. Wealth, or the accumulation of things, should not be the focus for determining the value of any human life. Accumulation of things should not be a competition through which humanity rapes the planet of vital resources just to glorify the individual.
Oh, and then after years of using products, whose only benefit is to steep the individual with a deeper narcissistic attitude, consumers find out, for example, that their lip gloss is going to give them lip cancer. People are in an incredible hurry to rush products to market before we know all the potential ramifications that may arise from using these products. Meanwhile, the FDA turns itself into a rubber stamp, approving whatever new products and drugs corporations decide they want to sell, yet the drugs are never the ones that people would want, or that do any good.
How can anyone look the mirror and seriously maintain their life is redeemed and validated by the quantity and quality of possessions they have accumulated? One may respond, “The possessions are an indication of the quality of life lived, as well as enjoyment and happiness levels attained in life.” I concede that may be true for some people, but I feel sorry for their diversion of attention away from everything that can bring real meaning to life in order to find purpose out of satiation, self-indulgence and the elitist pursuit of status, all acquired by out-consuming one’s friends and neighbors which is then held up as an example of, and means of proving, one’s greater worth to humanity. The fascination with consumerism, accumulation and adulation is nothing more than narcissism raised to the level of potential planetary cataclysm.
The systematic eradication of the rugged individualist is a surprising result of the size and breadth of influence modern society exerts. The “New World” was discovered and largely built on the back of those rugged individualists. The expansion across the continent was accomplished by, and because of, the frontiersman. With no, apparent, new frontiers to explore (the undersea and outer space are nearly impossible explorations for any individual to attempt today because of costs, necessary technology, and governmental rights which must be obtained), it becomes paramount to wonder, what has become of the spirit of the rugged individualist today?
To answer that question, one must define rugged individualist. I suggest the major, necessary quality is that the individual be an iconoclast. The term, iconoclast, has come to be figuratively applied to any person who breaks or disdains some kind of established, cultural or sociological dogma or conventional way of seeing the world and/or living in the world.
One may immediately want to point out there are plenty of iconoclasts in the world; why, the Sundance cable channel even has an entire series based on revealing modern “Iconoclasts,” as the show is titled. Well, those persons presented on the show as iconoclasts fit the definition primarily from the point of view of how they see the world, and in varying degrees, only in small amounts as to how they live in the world.
Let me explain the conundrum in different terms.
There is a particular quality of spirit in some people that sets them apart from others. Highly creative people, like: Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Homer, Plato, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Bertrand Russell, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche; wise, caring and sensitive teachers, like: Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tze, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, Martin Luther, Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, and John Lennon; and brave, inquisitive minds like Christopher Columbus, Leif Erikson, Marco Polo, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Dan’l Boone, and some cowboys and “mountain men,” all exemplified that spirit which needs an avenue to express itself in the contemporary world. Entrepreneurship is not the outlet which that kind of individualist needs. Entrepreneurship is nothing more than an avenue to money; it is not the expression of an individual’s inner soul. No, it is just the expression of desire interposed as one’s raison d’ etre.
In a world where all the land is owned by some entity, where does one go to just head off into the woods if one wants? Except for aborigines, some African tribes-people and Suvivorman from the Science Channel, no person is allowed to just walk off into any wilderness to subsist, and even Suvivorman can only do it in one place for a week at a time.
What if a person really doesn’t want to have to be a cog in the machinery of this suicidal economy? Well, too bad, everyone is stuck unless they are willing to live the life of the homeless. Every new baby is born into a world which the baby must accept, acquiesce to, study about, and integrate into so that the baby may have a roof and food. Real freedom does not exist when one is born into slavery to the cultural norm. Anyone who wishes not to take part in or be connected with the economy, culture, and ethos is branded insane and locked up, brainwashed, banished to live on the streets or given mind lobotomizing drugs.
What does an individual do if that spirit is encoded in their DNA? Who can say? Maybe they end up trapped within delusions. Maybe some are silenced by the super-wealthy, who have the most to lose. But a truly great society will find a way for the breed of deeply innovative thinkers to thrive. To foster the brilliant, we can’t numb our minds with banality, like reality TV; we dare not homogenize the world into one pervasive, consumerist culture as “globalists” scheme to impose, nor can societies force conformity through psychiatrists’ practice of prescribing drugs designed to purge individuals of their individuality.
The contemporary world includes the internet. Its influence cannot be overstated. The internet may not yet reach everyone, but it does extend everywhere. Who controls the internet? The machinery exerting the primary impetus operates through advertisers for western corporations. These interests promote their dream for humanity, and bind us to their vision, every day on and through the internet.
I do not deny the internet affords everyone (including me) a chance to post whatever they may choose. That contains a potentially potent opportunity for power, wealth, recognition and/or celebrity. The seduction: yes, you, too, are afforded a one in 6.6-odd billion chance of being discovered on the internet, or American Idol, or… Let’s all play the lottery and agree that we can all get rich once before the end of life as we know it. Is that really what you want to leave as your personal legacy? The internet is a far greater tool to mold minds and reinforce the socio-cultural status quo than it is a megaphone for the individual human voice.
Legitimizing the right of the culture at large to define what we all may and may not do with our lives denies each of us the first and most basic right of sentient existence: the right to self-determination! How can any of us say we live in a democracy when we live in a world where no one has the right to self-determination? This world functions as a tyranny of the wealthy, those who seduce and brainwash the majority into supporting the aims of the wealthy even when those aims are contrary to the best interests not just of that majority, but all life on the planet, too.
Unfortunately, you, that majority, haven’t even stopped to question if you want what you support through your un-contemplated acquiescence. You just blindly support it because you were born into it and haven’t thought about whether the culture your forebears have bequeathed you is the world you actually want to live in. You haven’t even stopped to consider if there might be something better. Conventional wisdom, the media and contemporary culture informs humanity this is the best possible world, so humanity blindly and blithely accepts that fairy tale.
It is understandable this happened. Humanity has undergone about 60 years of being prepared for and indoctrinated into this new globalized order which sets western multinational corporations at the head of society by television programming and radio pundits who are nothing more than shills for those corporate interests. So many new, glittering gimmicks abound to buy. Advertising bombards us from before we even understand the language. People use television programming to “help” instruct their infants so the parents can do their chores. What they didn’t know is that infants learn language from real adults, present with the baby, and can’t learn language by watching television. But they can learn a fascination for things. Later, when parents teach their children language, the children begin to take the programming hook, line and sinker.
Children learn possession, ownership, desire and control in our society long before they learn language through their relationships with other children and ads for pretty, shiny things on TV. It becomes an unavoidable consequence that every individual, from infancy, is indoctrinated into this vainglorious, consumerist society, and then who almost immediately after saying, “Mama,” spit out a demanding, “Mine!”
The American culture prides itself on being “tolerant.” Well, it extends tolerance as long as one does not challenge its authority or legitimacy and one subscribes to its ethics and moral values. Individuals are not free; they are constrained by the contemporary economic climate and cultural group-think, private business, and governmental control over land access rights. Governments have enacted laws telling individuals what they may and may not do in their own homes, even in situations where no one is rendered a victim. People must carry passports to move freely across the land and seas. The prevalence of prejudices throughout the world by class against class, nation against nation, religion against religion, race against race and, both between and within political systems, all exemplify how “tolerance” is still a long way away. Meanwhile, “tolerance,” as a goal, leaves an implication of distaste, whereas, “acceptance” and “understanding” express a better approach to relationships of all kinds.
“A man is the king of his own castle.” That old saying had two intended meanings. One reinforced the antiquated and illogically prejudiced, pervasive male dominance over human culture. Another meaning, however, implies that a home should be sacrosanct from outside intrusion. Another right, fundamental to all sentient life, is the right to freedom of choice and action within one’s own home as long as no other living being is harmed financially, physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually, and as long as any other beings present are both consensual in their presence and to whatever events will transpire.
In the United States, that should be covered by the Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to freedom from unwarranted search and seizure and Jefferson’s "Pursuit of Happiness" doctrine. This is especially true when those guarantees are viewed in a historical context. The British Crown enacted laws telling the colonists what they could and could not do in their homes, including what kinds of things they may possess and from whom they may have obtained those items. Things like tea and rum were of special concern to the colonists.
From the same point of view, in a circumstance whereby an individual wants to: 1) possess marijuana in one’s home, 2) agrees only to use it in their home, 3) agrees not to drive a car while under the influence of marijuana, 4) agrees not to violate certain legitimate group concerns like contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 5) agrees only to use the substance in situations which will not impinge on some other individual’s right of consent (the user won’t force anyone to use it, be present while it is being used, or even while the user is under the influence), and 6) agrees not to leave the substance in plain view; then no government has a right to deny that individual the right to grow, possess and smoke marijuana. Any additional restriction is not meant to protect society from a (however mistakenly) perceived wrong. Additional restriction can only be viewed as an illegitimate intrusion into one’s most basic anticipation of privacy and usurpation of the rights of self-determination and "pursuit of happiness."
In the same sense, and as another example, no government has a right to proscribe against suicide. Yes, laws can be enacted to make certain no other individual(s) is(are) placed in danger and to insure that the perpetrator should pay for any costs incurred by society as a result of committing suicide. But does a society have a right to prohibit it entirely? Not if it wants to portray itself as a free society which respects the right of self-determination.
Cultures want to deny the right to opt out of the socio-political, economic order. Each cog is necessary to assure continued growth – both as consumers and as workers. No individual is allowed to opt out, either by living off the land outside the economy or by suicide (there even exist laws preventing the homeless from sleeping anywhere).
I’m not saying all suicide is legitimate. Certainly, teenage angst, and lovelorn ennui at any age are not sufficient reasons, and I do believe there should be a rigorous process for obtaining the right to opt out. Society does have a legitimate concern against just discarding individuals who may actually be mentally or psychologically challenged, or who are simply deemed undesirable by some segment of society. Nonetheless, an individual can arrive at a sane and rational choice that they no longer wish to go on, and such a choice should be respected.
This culture does not foster independent thought, it fosters conformity and consumerism. Governments restrict individuals interested in exploring, experimenting or developing on their own. Vast sums of money are channeled by governments into pet projects designed to insure their position and power by pursuing investments in areas where they already wheedle influence.
With the pervasiveness of the internet, recorded pop-music, television and the movies, the only new voices – politicians, leaders of movements, writers, musicians, poets, artists, filmmakers, scientists and activists – are those who are deemed “worthy” by the moguls controlling the media. Those moguls certainly have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Consequently, no truly revolutionary voice has a chance, today, to be heard against the din of conformity (although I am certainly endeavoring to buck the trend and try to shout loudly enough to be heard, even if I am required to self-publish and provide my materials for free to the consumer).
In the above meandering, long, laundry list is laid bare the root causes of Climate Change. In the long list of traits endemic to humanity you should see yourselves: sitting, idling in cars in drive-thrus, flying to Hawaii on a whim, delicately savoring each bite of your imported caviar, driving to the corner convenience market for just a pack of smokes or six pack of beer, disdaining carpools and mass transit because you feel entitled to sit alone, sitting in front of your videogame pretending to participate in an activity instead of going outdoors and really experiencing it, or merely charging another meaningless possession on your credit card, helping to fund Climate Change and the war in Iraq in the process. You can blame politicians for not making manufacturers build more ecological products. You can blame car manufacturers for not making cars that are more fuel efficient which would force you to buy wiser. You can blame governments for not making mass transit perfect. You can blame your neighbor. You can blame the generations who came before and created this mess. However, none of those projections of guilt absolve you of your complicity through nearly every action of your daily life. The time to change is now, not tomorrow, not next week or year. Each passing moment adds, geometrically, by degree and duration to the impending cataclysm Climate Change will bring. Get smaller, get fewer, get nicer, get an even distribution of abundance, get calm, get connected, get along, get more secure, get understanding, get alive, get smart, get moderate in consumption, get environmentally aware, get a replacement for fossil fuel, get peace. I think there is still time, but there isn’t long left within which to act.