‘Earth Is Exhausted’: Humans Have Already Consumed the Planet’s Annual Resources

“The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world.”

by Jake Johnson, staff writer, Commondreams
Reprinted from Commondreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

"This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period," World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement.

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period,” World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement. (Photo: Guy Gorek/Flickr/cc)

With several months left until the end of 2017, humans have already used up more natural resources than the planet can regenerate in a year, making today Earth Overshoot Day. For the rest of the year, humanity is “living on credit.”

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s.”
—Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period,” World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement.

“The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world,” the groups added, “in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 8, an indication that the world’s population is accelerating the pace with which it blows through the planet’s annual resource budget from year to year.

When viewed over the longer-term—Earth Overshoot Day has been marked annually since 1983—the acceleration becomes even more glaring.

According to environmental groups and climate scientists, Earth Overshoot Day is just one of many urgent indicators that only rapid and systemic restructuring of our energy systems can reverse the trends that continue to deplete and degrade the planet.

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s and remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the Ecological Footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network, said in a statement. “To achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, humanity would need to exit the fossil fuel economy before 2050.”

But recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump have significantly undercut hopes that the global community can work together to accomplish this necessarily ambitious transformation.

Imperfect as it may be, the Paris Climate Accord generated global goodwill and hope that humanity was ready at last to tackle its biggest challenge yet,” writes The Telegraph‘s Patrick Scott. “However, the deal suffered a huge blow in June when Trump announced his plans to withdraw from the agreement.”

According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like the U.S. population, we would need five Earths to sustain the level of consumption.

(Image Source: Global Footprint Network)

Watch “An Inconvenient Sequel” This Weekend—But Then Do This

Actions to take after you see Al Gore’s new documentary

By Mark Rahner
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

Al-Gore-Inconvenient-Sequel.jpg
Al Gore with former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya, in the Raya family home. Tacloban City, Philippines, March 12, 2016.
Photo by Jensen Walker.

What’s changed since Al Gore first gave us An Inconvenient Truth?

It’s hotter. In 1999, Seattle friends thought I was an asshole for having air conditioning in my car. Now everyone does. Have air conditioning, that is.

Gore is older, grayer, and maybe thicker in the middle.

There’s an anti-science party running the White House and both chambers of Congress that would make Galileo feel like he really didn’t have it so bad in the Inquisition.

And there’s a sequel.

Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now.

A decade after the former vice president’s Oscar-winning documentary comes his follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I went to a screening in Seattle where Gore stopped on his tour to promote it, and he might think I’m an asshole, too. Because as effectively sobering, terrifying, and infuriating as the documentary is, it doesn’t go far enough.

Another change: Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now. Seems fair, if not an understatement.

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the film follows the tireless Gore—understandably weary—as he visits glaciers that aren’t just melting, but also exploding like strings of firecrackers; wades with local officials through waterlogged Florida; and works behind the scenes to get India on board for the Paris climate agreement. Meanwhile, he gives slideshows similar—but more dire—to the ones in the first film to climate leadership training groups.

More dire, because the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters have increased along with the denialism funded by the Koch brothers and other polluters. Gore notes the barbs aimed at him for predicting climate change’s threat to New York’s 9/11 memorial site, then shows footage of it being flooded by Hurricane Sandy just a few years later.

The U.S. boasts the only major party in the industrial world that denies climate change science.

Someone sitting behind me sighed heavily and a couple minutes later said, “Jesus …” They continued doing that throughout the entire film.

I fought back my own profanities watching the climate-caused deaths in the Philippines and other horrors documented.

After the credits rolled, Gore walked out to a standing ovation and a fawning fluff session of a Q&A with an awestruck moderator. I was in a theater full of Seattle liberals who didn’t need to be convinced of any of this.

The people who really need to see the movie—in red states or even red regions on the other side of my state—won’t go near it. They wouldn’t listen to Gore if their houses were on fire and he was standing there with a hose. And they’re no more likely to listen to any graduate of his climate leadership groups than they are to read David Wallace-Wells’ July 9 gut punch of a New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

If I’m raining on and submerging the parade, look:

From oncology to engineering, if 97 percent of the experts in any field other than climate science warned us of something, everyone would listen to them and not the outliers. The U.S. boasts the only major political party in the industrial world that denies climate change science. There’s some American exceptionalism.

Deniers appear not to understand that skepticism toward basic science literacy should consist of more than “No, it isn’t,” and that the scientific method has already been applied to climate science. (See: Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and “red team.”)

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

These are people who think we can treat the environment like a toilet for 150 years with no repercussions. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe bringing a snowball to the Senate floor is our real-world equivalent of Kryptonians laughing at Jor-El before their planet goes boom. Inconvenient Sequelincludes footage of an exchange between Gore and Inhofe in which the senator won’t even let Gore finish a sentence.

I’m saying the people who really need to see this movie are The Unreachables.

Now add a president who said climate change is a Chinese hoax and has promised to bail on the Paris agreement. Consider his picks to run the EPA, departments of Energy, Interior, Education … and here we are.

Actual headline, July 31: “EPA museum to scrap climate change displays, add coal exhibit.” Heavy sigh and Jesus, indeed.

Gore and the filmmakers don’t spend a lot of time documenting The Unreachables (my term, not his) and the political polarization that threatens the poles as much as carbon emissions. Trump’s Paris betrayal comes near the end, but Gore leans heavily on optimism. He compares the climate crisis to the fight for civil rights and marriage equality in a moving climactic speech.

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

To that end, Gore urges people to vote the Kryptonians—I mean, deniers—out of office, and the film offers resources for action. You can sign a pledge, organize a screening of the film, download a 10-minute version of Gore’s slideshow, follow the movie across social media. There’s information on voting, reaching out to lean on elected officials, and more.

It’s not nearly as aggressive as the situation demands, given the added threat of The Unreachables.

I think this would be an appropriate action: Trump and every other Republican who’s blocked efforts to mitigate climate change should be charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and everyone at Exxon Mobil who knew about the damage for decades.

Short of that, I have some other suggestions:

Demand that news media end the phony “balance” that gives deniers a platform, let alone equal time with those who understand climate science.

Research the deniers’ talking points so that you can refute them any time they come up in conversation or social media—from Al Gore’s carbon footprint making him a hypocrite to all that sweet dough climate scientists stand to rake in.

Be less polite. No, you don’t respect deniers’ opinions. It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

More climate-related lawsuits. Evidence and facts matter in courts.

Protest by phone, email, town hall, or social media any time a science denier or science illiterate is put in charge of a government science department at any level. Remember Rep. Paul Broun who called evolution and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” and who served on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? And Inhofe, who chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works? People like that need to go do something else.

Agitate to get the money out of politics. That’s at the Koch-fueled root of denialism. Always follow the money.

Until then, no matter where you live, you’re gonna need a car with air conditioning.


Mark Rahner wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mark is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author, and podcaster based in Seattle.  

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Talk

We’re not all ready to have the same conversation, but perhaps that’s a good place to start

      Reprinted from CommonDreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

A placard warning against the dangers of climate change used in the March on Washington stands by an overflowing garbage can on Saturday, January 21, 2017. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

 

My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

“We humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species…”It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in  this essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming.  Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.

Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species. We’ve been able to do this due to a temporary subsidy of cheap, bountiful energy from fossil fuels, which enabled us to stretch nature’s limits and to support a far larger overall population than would otherwise be possible. But now we are starting to see supply constraints for those fuels, just as the side effects of burning enormous amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas are also coming into view. Meanwhile, using cheap energy to expand resource-extractive and waste-generating economic processes is leading to biodiversity loss; the depletion of soil, water, and minerals; and environmental pollution of many kinds. Just decarbonizing energy, while necessary, doesn’t adequately deal with systemic overshoot. Only a reduction of population and overall resource consumption, along with a rapid reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a redesign of industrial systems, can do that.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem too. As we’ve grown our economy, those who were in position to invest in industrial expansion or to loan money to others have reaped the majority of the rewards, while those who got by through selling their time and labor (or whose common cultural heritage was simply appropriated by industrialists) have fallen behind. There’s no technological fix for inequality; dealing with it will require redesigning our economic system and redistributing wealth. Those in wealthy nations would, on average, have to adjust their living standards downward.

Now, can we do all of this without a crash? Probably not. Indeed, many economists would regard the medicine (population reduction, a decline in per-capita energy use, and economic redistribution) as worse than whatever aspects of the disease they are willing to acknowledge. Environmentalists and human rights advocates would disagree. Which is to say, there’s really no way out. Whether we stick with business as usual, or attempt a dramatic multi-pronged intervention, our current “normal” way of life is toast.

Accepting that a crash is more or less inevitable is a big step, psychologically speaking. I call this toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread, and this understanding can lead to depression. In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually. Some willfully ignore their own mortality for as long as possible; others grasp at a belief in the afterlife. Still others seek to create meaning and purpose by making a positive difference in the lives of those around them with whatever time they have. Such efforts don’t alter the inevitability of death; however, contributing to one’s community appears to enhance well-being in many ways beyond that of merely prolonging life.

In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually.

But is a crash the same as doom?

Not necessarily. Our best hope at this point would seem to be a controlled crash that enables partial recovery at a lower level of population and resource use, and that therefore doesn’t lead to complete and utter oblivion (human extinction or close to it). Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.

This discussion started in the 1970s, though I wasn’t part of it then; I joined a couple of decades later. There is no formal membership; the conversation takes place through and among a patchwork of small organizations and scattered individuals. They don’t all know each other and there is no secret handshake. Some have publicly adopted the stance that a global crash is inevitable; most soft-pedal that message on their organizational websites but are privately plenty worried. During the course of the conversation so far, two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.

The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.

The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides;  the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.

Somehow, the work of resilience building (whether top-down or bottom-up) must focus not just on maintaining supplies of food, water, energy, and other basic necessities, but also on sustaining social cohesion—a culture of understanding, tolerance, and inquiry—during times of great stress. While it’s true that people tend to pull together in remarkable ways during wars and natural disasters, sustained hard times can lead to scapegoating and worse.

Most people are not party to the conversation, not aware that it is happening, and unaware even that such a conversation is warranted. Among those who are worried about the state of the world, most are content to pursue or support efforts to keep crises from occurring by working via political parties, religious organizations, or non-profit advocacy orgs on issues such as climate change, food security, and economic inequality. There is also a small but rapidly growing segment of society that feels disempowered as the era of economic growth wanes, and that views society’s power holders as evil and corrupt. These dispossessed—whether followers of ISIS or Infowars—would prefer to “shake things up,” even to the point of bringing society to destruction, rather than suffer the continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, this last group may have the easiest path of all.

By comparison, the number of those involved in the conversation is exceedingly small, countable probably in the hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Can we succeed? It depends on how one defines “success”—as the ability to maintain, for a little longer, an inherently unsustainable global industrial system? Or as the practical reduction in likely suffering on the part of the survivors of the eventual crash? A related query one often hears after environmental lectures is, Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?

This is not a conversation about the long-term trajectory of human cultural evolution, though that’s an interesting subject for speculation. Assuming there are survivors, what will human society look like following the crises ensuing from climate change and the end of fossil fuels and capitalism? David Fleming’s book, Surviving the Future, and John Michael Greer’s, The Ecotechnic Future, both  offer useful thoughts in this regard. My own view is that it’s hard for us to envision what comes next because our imaginations are bounded by the reality we have known. What awaits will likely be as far removed from from modern industrial urban life as Iron-Age agrarian empires were from hunting-and-gathering bands. We are approaching one of history’s great discontinuities. The best we can do under the circumstances is to get our priorities and values straight (protect the vulnerable, preserve the best of what we have collectively achieved, and live a life that’s worthy) and put one foot in front of the other.

The conversation I’m pointing to here is about fairly short-term actions. And it doesn’t lend itself to building a big movement. For that, you need villains to blame and promises of revived national or tribal glory. For those engaged in the conversation, there’s only hard work and the satisfaction of honestly facing our predicament with an attitude of curiosity, engagement, and compassion. For us, threats of doom or promises of utopia are distractions or cop-outs.

Only those drawn to the conversation by temperament and education are likely to take it up. Advertising may not work. But having a few more hands on deck, and a few more resources to work with, can only help.

Message to Democrats: Get on Board With Medicare For All or Go Home

For universal healthcare to become a reality, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board.”

 

Medicare for All “is the only real answer,” said Max Fine, one of the original architects of Medicare. (Photo: Molly Adams/Flickr/cc)

Amid surging support for Medicare for All at the grassroots—which can be seen both in recent polls and at anti-Trumpcare protests, where demonstrators have brandished signs declaring “healthcare is a human right”—activists, physicians, and policy experts are imploring Democratic lawmakers to either get on board with the growing majority of their constituents, or go home.

This coming Monday, July 24, activists across the country are set to target Democratic lawmakers who have yet to sign off on Rep John Conyers’ Medicare for All legislation. The nationwide events, coordinated by the group Millions March for Medicare 4 All, are part of a growing call “for America to do for its citizens what literally every other developed nation in the world has had for decades.”

“The size of one’s bank account should never be the determining factor in whether one gets medical care,” said Beverly Cowling, the organization’s co-founder. “This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages, and we will not stop until every American has access.”

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.'”
—Dr. Carol Paris, Physicians for a National Health Program

Responding to politicians and commentators who argue that incremental improvements to Obamacare and the implementation of a public option are the most practical steps toward universal coverage, Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said in an interview on Democracy Now! that such steps amount to “creating another opportunity for the insurance companies…to put all the sickest people in the public option and keep all the healthiest young people in their plans.”

“We really need to go forward now to a national, improved Medicare for All,” Paris concluded. “And really, the bill in Congress, H.R. 676, Congressman Conyers’s bill, is the way we need to go.”

Writing for Common Dreams on Thursday, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that the public option is “fool’s gold.”

Far from being a step on the path to universal healthcare, the public option “could undermine the movement for single-payer, discrediting a fully publicly financed system that is not a feeble adjunct to the private insurance market,” DeMoro wrote.

She went on:

The Congressional Budget Office in 2013 concluded that adding a public option would not even slice the number of uninsured, and could even encourage employers to dump workers they now cover into the ACA exchanges. With millions still either uninsured or paying exorbitant costs for care, imagine promoting a publicly financed Medicare for all to a public that sees a public option that is just as unethical as the notorious private insurers, or a financial wreck that just went belly up.

Analysts tracking public opinion on healthcare have been startled by the speed with which the debate over Trumpcare has shifted popular attitudes to the left, in the direction of Medicare for All.

As Common Dreams reported on Thursday, 62 percent of Americans—and 80 percent of Democratic voters—now believe it is “the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.”

Indeed, as Max Fine, one of the architects of Medicare, told The Intercept‘s Zaid Jilani recently, the original intent of the program’s creators was to expand it to everyone. Medicare for all, Fine concluded, “is only real answer” to our current healthcare woes.

The job of single-payer proponents now, Dr. Paris emphasized, is to make it politically damaging for Democrats who refuse to listen to their constituents and instead remain committed to a failed for-profit system, under which millions remain uninsured.

“We’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, ‘Now it’s politically feasible.’ If we wait for that, we’re going to be waiting for the rest of my life, your life, and many more lives,” Paris said.

To translate popular attitudes into public policy, Paris said, “it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board with this.”

Watch Paris’s full interview on Democracy Now!:

Beyond calling forcefully for Medicare for All during demonstrations against Trumpcare, activists are urging the creation a broader, national movement that will rally support for Medicare for All and pressure lawmakers to act.

On Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of progressive organizations announced the launch of a new initiative called “The Summer of Progress” with the goal of pressuring House Democrats to support, among other legislation, Conyers’ H.R. 676.

Will Democrats in Congress Go Bolder or Backwards?

The new Democratic Party ‘Better Deal’ agenda features a job-training proposal that demands less from CEOs than the training proposal Bill Clinton ran on a quarter-century ago.

 
By Sam Pizzigati

Originally published in Inequality.org
Reprinted under a Creative Commons License 3.0

The Democratic Party’s congressional leadership has just unveiled a new slogan — and set of policy proposals — to help the party prep for the 2018 midterm elections ­­­


 

Peter Van Zant: Be Skeptical of NID Scare Tactics

NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 24, 2017 – Nevada Irrigation District (NID) still hasn’t dropped its ill-conceived plan to build Centennial Dam on the Bear River. They have yet to demonstrate the need for the project or explained how they plan to pay for the dam’s construction. And there is no assurance that the ratepayers won’t get stuck with the $1 billion tab either.

In the face of mounting public opposition, NID resorts to using scare tactics. The latest is NID’s claim that someone is going to take our water if we don’t ‘use’ it. However, California water rights laws guarantee that NID will always have priority over any other water agency for the rights to the water needed in the NID service area.

NID ratepayers need to ask the following questions:

Will hydropower sales pay for the dam? NID no longer plans to install hydropower at Centennial. But premium hydro-power revenues will eventually dissipate due to the ongoing construction of alternative electric power storage like PG&E’s recently commissioned Browns Valley battery installation and many others coming on line. Why do you think PG&E wants to sell its local hydro operations to NID?

How much more water do we need? According to NID’s own reports and local general plans there is very little additional water needed locally (including Placer County). And there’s really no new local water need if NID would just lead us to take the modest steps toward wiser water use being implemented elsewhere throughout the State. The number of new rate payers will not be enough to service a new $1 billion debt for the dam.

How will the dam be paid for? Most likely NID will need to finance the $1 billion dam project. So what will NID do? Sell water. That’s right, the huge debt needed to build Centennial will require NID to sell our water out of the area to water the lush lawns of Los Angeles and other Southern California desert towns.

Without the dam debt our water will be safe. The real threat is if NID finances Centennial Dam with out of district water sales. A water sale contract automatically removes county of origin protections for the water sold. When it’s gone, it is gone.

Our complex California water rights laws give NID first rights to this water. No one will ever ‘take’ our water. NID has a variety of water rights, many of which are pre-1927 that cannot be affected by any other filings now or in the future. Also, if a true local need for more water emerges in the future, NID gets first take because of laws passed after 1927 to protect watershed areas like NID’s from out of area water grabs.

Don’t be scared. Be skeptical.


Peter Van Zant- Peter is a former Nevada County Supervisor, a former President of the SYRCL board of directors, and a SYRCL Dam Watchdog. He lives in Nevada City with his wife Mary and three goofy pets.

How to Face the Ecocide: Climate chaos, mass extinction, the collapse of civilization: So what if we’re doomed?

By Brian Calvert
     Image credit: Elena Dorfman
     Reprinted with the permission of High Country News

In the winter of 2013, I drove up California’s Central Valley to Stockton, to interview Cambodian parents who’d lost children in one of the nation’s many mass school shootings. A local man named Patrick Purdy had parked his station wagon behind an elementary school, set it on fire with a Molotov cocktail, and, as curious children ran toward him, shot them with an assault rifle. Purdy killed five children and wounded nearly 30. All of the dead were Cambodian or Vietnamese. The parents had survived war, genocide and refugee camps, only to have their children murdered in America.

The shooting took place in 1989, 24 years before I visited, but one mother wept so hard during her interview, it seemed no time had passed for her. I had spent much of my early career as a foreign correspondent, speaking to men, women and children in places torn up by war or political violence. And though I’d left the last of these assignments, in Afghanistan, more than a year earlier, the stark irony of the Stockton shooting brought back a familiar, low-register pain. I wrapped up the interviews and headed back to Orange County, south of Los Angeles, dragging the day behind me like a chain. I had a small apartment near the coast, and in the mornings I would run along the Bolsa Chica wetlands, where a pumpjack groaned in its lonesome, eternal way and a pair of kestrels hunted the brush from a cluster of palm trees. Some mornings, a pair of Blackhawk helicopters would fly by, thundering over the surf. We’re still at war, they’d whisper. Do not doubt it.

In this state of mind, a few days after the Stockton trip, I came across the work of Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who called himself a “recovering environmentalist.” He was one of the founders of The Dark Mountain Project, a movement of philosophers, writers and artists that had emerged from the 2008 economic crisis, and he believed the planet was experiencing an “ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent.” Ecocide — the total destruction of our home — seemed inevitable to them, and to me, given the things I’d seen and any number of ongoing catastrophes: mass extinction, climate chaos, flooded coasts, mega-drought; oceans turning to acid, permafrost to muck. We humans are a disastrous species, as bad for the Earth as a meteor strike, and the realization of this had established in me a new kind of sadness, a mixture of guilt and mourning for a loss yet to come. Kingsnorth was one of the few people who seemed to voice a similar pain, and I began following his writing. I eventually moved to Colorado, and, not long after, saw that Kingsnorth was hosting a retreat in the Spanish Pyrenees, for “grief in the age of ecocide.” I immediately signed up. Now that my pain had been named, I wanted to understand what to do with it.

THE RETREAT WAS CALLED “SHADOWS IN THE WILD.” The idea behind it was to learn meditation methods, eat healthy food, hike — and discuss the ecocide. A short week of this would conclude with a 24-hour solo in the “wilderness.” There were about a dozen participants, mostly from Europe: journalists, professors, musicians, programmers, civil servants. On the first day, we hiked to an old stone farmhouse in the Alta Garrotxa, a folding, forested range of steep canyons and limestone crags in the eastern Pyrenees. We pitched our tents among the pine trees surrounding the house, then gathered in the main room to join Kingsnorth and our guides for dinner. A fire roared in the hearth, and we sat around two heavy wooden tables, drinking the last wine we’d see for the week.

Kingsnorth, then 44, was tall, with shaggy brown hair, ruddy cheeks and a soft-spoken manner, polished no doubt by the numerous gatherings he’d hosted since the inception of the Dark Mountain Project. Over the next few days, he told us, we would engage in a kind of therapy designed for people who believe the end of civilization is upon us. “Simply by paying attention to the darker things in the world — it gives people permission to have a conversation with people that they’ve been having a hard time having,” he said. “Dark Mountain is a rolling conversation about how to live in the age that we’re living in without falling into the abyss.”

His outlook had not always been so grim. He grew up wandering England’s mountains and moors with his father, “a compulsive long-distance walker.” This led him toward environmental activism, as did a formative trip, at the age of 21, to Borneo’s rainforest, with its moonlit rivers, fruit bats, hornbills and hooting gibbons. Back home, he saw his society as “atomized” and inward-looking, a place of streetlights and asphalt and advertisements, “screaming for my attention, trying to sell me something, tell me who to be, what to desire and to need.” He set out to save “nature from people,” first fighting road development in England, then organizing protests against globalization. Over time, though, he became disillusioned. Environmentalism had left the wild behind in favor of “sustainability,” he thought, “an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for ‘the planet.’ ”

“Something inside me broke somehow,” he said. “I thought, ‘This isn’t working. We’re totally fucked. The machine will go on until it’s killed everything or collapses or both. But the wild world, justice — I still believe in that. What can I do with that?’ ”

And so he had gone looking for another way of being. He started writing and publishing fiction, poetry and essays. Along the way, he came across the work of a forgotten 20th century poet named Robinson Jeffers, and there found an intellectual mooring. Jeffers thought humans unable to understand themselves as a part of nature, and therefore doomed to destroy it. He wrote from the Northern Coast of California, putting landscape and animals above humans and their delusions, through two world wars and the onslaught of the modern industrial age. His writing had a grim resolve to it that matched Kingsnorth’s, a sense of tragedy best captured in the poem from which Dark Mountain draws its name, “Rearmament.” Jeffers wrote the poem in 1935, the year Hitler became führer and a windstorm swept 12 million pounds of dirt from the Great Plains into Chicago. Jeffers describes humanity as a slow-moving glacier “bound to plow down a forest,” headed for a future only fools believe they can change: “The beauty of modern / Man is not in the persons but in the / Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, / the dance of the / Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.”

Kingsnorth felt a kinship with Jeffers, he said, “standing like a hawk on these wild cliffs, watching a process he clearly thinks is doomed, and just watches it, even though it causes him grief.” Relying in part on Jeffers’ work, Kingsnorth built an idea he called “dark ecology.” In the Orion essay where he coined the term, he offered five answers to the ecological crisis, most of them suggestions for reconnecting to the wilder world: preserving nonhuman life; rooting oneself in the work of land or place; insisting that nature has intrinsic value; and “building refuges” where non-human life can flourish. “Withdraw,” Kingsnorth advised, “so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance — refusing to tighten the ratchet further — is a deeply moral position.”

Withdraw? I could almost hear the groans from activists around the world — protesters, lobbyists, lawyers, half of California, every editor at Grist. Indeed, writing for Grist in 2012, Wen Stephenson warned against Kingsnorth’s “defeatist” approach, saying that without serious action to address climate change, “the consequences will be a whole lot more ‘unthinkable’ than darning socks and growing carrots,” especially for “those non-rich, non-Western folks Kingsnorth cares about.” He had a fair point, but not a helpful one. Without concerted action, the world was probably headed for a new Dark Age, one of heat and hurricanes and sun-blasted barbarism. I simply wasn’t convinced humans could prevent it. Spain, then, was a way to examine that belief, to figure out what to do with it.

Later that night, I walked out of the farmhouse and into the darkness, following the beam of my headlamp along a stone wall and down a dirt path to my tent. The air had a spring bite, and my breath came in puffs that drifted through the trees. I paused to watch the stars. Some of what Kingsnorth said made sense, but I found it hard to reconcile the idea of withdrawing with simultaneously seeking justice. His message articulated a kind of common despair, or resignation, as though the human race were a cancer patient given six months to live. But that kind of thinking can only assuage grief, not turn it into something useful.

Perhaps there were more answers in Jeffers’ work, beyond Dark Mountain doom and catharsis. After all, the poet profoundly influenced environmental thought throughout the 20th century. Ansel Adams was a friend, whose famous black-and-white landscapes bear Jeffers’ metaphysical fingerprints. John Steinbeck would pore over his poems alongside his friends, Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, and Ed Ricketts, a marine ecologist. David Brower, the former head of the Sierra Club, called Jeffers’ relationship to the California Coast, “one of the most uncanny and complete relationships between a man and his natural background known in literature.” Edward Abbey has conversations with Jeffers throughout Desert Solitaire, though he never mentions his name. In a poem called “Hurt Hawks,” Jeffers describes a wounded redtail that he must put down. “I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk,” he writes. Abbey’s version: “I’d rather kill a man than a snake.”

These men were drawn to Jeffers’ work in part because of his philosophy of “inhumanism” — a deliberate attack on the human exceptionalism that Kingsnorth so derides. At its center is a perspective of deep time and humanity’s insignificance in the cosmos. And yet Jeffers also saw humans as an integral part of an interconnected whole: “There is not an atom in all the universes / But feels every other atom; gravitation, electromagnetism, light, heat, and the other / Flamings, the nerves in the night’s black flesh, flow them together; the stars, the winds and the people: one energy, One existence, one music, one organism, one life, one God: star-fire and rock-strength, the sea’s cold flow / And man’s dark soul.”

I crawled into my sleeping bag, as an owl hooted somewhere in the woods. There was a clear connection between Jeffers and the environmental movement — a bright shining line of well-meaning white guys that stretches from Abbey to Muir to Thoreau and on back to the Romantics. Their influence runs now through slick REI ads and “cabin porn” websites, and I must admit the fantasy tempts me: drop off the grid, chop wood in warm flannel, ease back each night by the fire with a couple of tuckered dogs, a book and a shimmering tumbler of whiskey. But even if it were realistic, could that actually be a morally defensible position? What about everyone else?

SUBLIME: The L.A. River 3, 2015.
Elena Dorfman
  • About this photograph

    “Some friends from the Westside see the (L.A. River) as a glorified sewer,” photographer Elena Dorfman told the L.A. Times. “For me, it’s a conundrum, a sanctuary and place of great sadness. A mystical and beautiful place that kept calling me back.”

    This photograph is from her series, “Sublime: The L.A. River.” Images are composed of dozens — even hundreds — of Dorfman’s own photographs, taken along the 51-mile-long concrete-channeled river over the course of two years, and layered with historic images.

    “The river is presented as metaphor,” Dorfman writes, “highlighting the ebb and flow between civilization and savagery, the cycle of social and cultural development, and the descent into ruin and back again.”

THE NEXT DAY, WE HEADED OUT FOR A HIKE and an exercise in storytelling. The hills behind the farmhouse were steep, like everything in the Alta Garrotxa, which was wilder than I’d expected. We marched single-file up the trail, through holm oak and beech, past vines and brambles and patches of earth churned by wild pigs. I stepped over a salamander, bright yellow and black, as an Australian named John, a professional gambler, hiked ahead of me. John, a lanky, buzz-cut 40-something, had come to see most people around him as wasteful and oblivious. He’d look out from his place in the city and see offices empty, lights on, row after row, and despair. “I’m a person who has lost almost all hope,” he told us. Now, though, John took the lead, his long legs carrying him at a brisk pace. I felt lighter, too, in this strange column of dark-mountaineers. At the end of an arduous section of trail, we stopped to catch our breath. John was smiling now, sweating. “I think we’re doing something right,” he said. “I think so,” I replied.

At a clearing, we separated into smaller groups. Our guide, a bright-smiling German named Korbi, told us to hike into the woods alone, find objects that spoke to us, and assemble them in a way that would answer the question: “What brought you here?” I followed a game trail through a thicket of holly, where an ancient dead pine stood. It was massive and gray and twisted, and reminded me of trees I climbed as a boy. After a sheepish look around, I heaved myself up, settled into its branches, and thought about home.

I grew up in Pinedale, Wyoming, a ranch town divided by Pine Creek, the outlet of Fremont Lake, named for an “explorer” and carved by glaciers. My family’s trailer wasn’t far from the creek, which was flanked on each side by woods — pine, aspen and willow. As children, my sister and I spent most of our time there. Carrie and I were born 13 months apart, “Irish twins” and best friends, and when the creek ran high from snowmelt, we would strip to our underwear and float it through town. The water and woods were our summer home, which we shared with duck and moose, marten and osprey, fox and deer.

One afternoon, I went to the creek alone, exploring the bottomlands until I found a rise of sagebrush and potentilla I’d never noticed. As I started to cross, a killdeer appeared, shrieking and feigning a broken wing. She kept up her dance until I backed away. I chose another angle to walk, noting again when she began to feign injury. We had this conversation until I triangulated where her nest must be. I scanned the ground, inch by inch, until I found it, three speckled eggs in a tight grass bowl. It was a moment of communion: the mountains, ground by glaciers, flowed into the lake, whose water built my bones, and these eggs and the chicks within — all of us connected, the peaks, the lake, the creek, the birds, the boy. A feeling of great responsibility came over me. Their secret uncovered, the fate of the eggs was up to me. I rose and left them safely hidden. This is one of my last good memories of childhood.

Pinedale sits in the basin of the Upper Green River Basin, once rich in beaver and mink. In the late 1800s, it was a gathering place for trappers and bands of Shoshone, who would come out of their mountain hideaways each summer to revel and trade. For many years, Pinedale celebrated this “Rendezvous” with an annual pageant, billing it as “a must-see” reenactment of “the most romantic era of Wyoming history.” It included a fur trader wagon train; a pipe ceremony; a sun priest and pony dancers; the purchase of a Shoshone woman named Sweetgrass; and a horse race for blankets. Rendezvous weekend meant a lot of tourists, and a lot of drinking at the three bars in town, which all drew their names from our more cattled history: the Corral, the Cowboy and Stockman’s.

In the pageant, Carrie and I played Shoshone children, our hair spray-painted black, our skin colored a burnt umber. No one could do anything about our eyes, however, so those stayed bright blue behind the paint. Our job was to play around the teepees, where our mother and other women, similarly costumed, scraped hides in the sun. My mother’s new husband, Dave, played a mountain man. Dave was a short-tempered veteran of the Vietnam War, a chest-poker unamused by stepchildren. He took his trapper role seriously, grew his beard and hair out, wore beaded buckskin and a fur hat, carried a muzzleloader, a hatchet and a jug of whiskey. He rode through town wild-eyed on a dun horse, awesome and frightening, a man stuck in a myth. At the end of one of those drunken Rendezvous nights, Dave came home late to the trailer, stumbled down the hall — and turned into the room where Carrie slept.

I COME FROM A CULTURE OF TAKERS. No white male, certainly not from the American West, can claim otherwise. The takers flowed out of the Bronze Age, from riders of the Carpathian steppes of Eastern Europe, who put together the unbeatable combination of horse and wheel, who buried their warriors with their steeds, their chariots and their javelins. The takers spread as far as India, Europe and Scandinavia, to Vikings and the “Northmen” of what is now France. In 1066, these Normans invaded England and usurped the Anglo-Saxons, raiders named for their swords, who had ousted the Celts.

One sleepless night, I found online an old reference to my family name, from 1203 — a knight of the Norman Conquest. The first Calvert to settle in America sailed from England with two ships full of Catholics to found the state of Maryland, in 1634. He planted a cross and claimed the land in the name of his father, Lord Baltimore. When their descendent, my great-great-grandfather, came to Wyoming as a scout for the Army and the Union Pacific Railroad, he was the sharpened tip of that culture of conquest, the same culture that colonized and subjugated places I found myself in, decades later, as a journalist.

These takers are Marlow’s “conquerors” in Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” Indigenous people of South America call them “termites.” In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls them Dreamers: “Once, the Dreamers’ parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent.”

Carrie’s abuse lasted years, until she left home, at the age of 14. Our family fell apart, a splintering that took decades to mend. Determined to become a different kind of man, I ran as far away as I could — to Cambodia and wars and sorrow that echoed my own. Carrie eventually made peace with things, but I held onto a deep sense of shame and anger.

What brought you here? This culture, these takers. My life’s history is tied to their system of plunder and its superstructure: a culture of greed and power; locomotives, interstates and Manifest Destiny; pavement and parking lots; extirpation and extinction; genocide, slavery, racism; combustion, warheads, oligarchs. The takers’ mentality runs through the environmental debate, too, and now we face the prospect of their bright-green vision, a dying world where humans have mastered, godlike, the technologies of dominion: massive solar arrays, geo-engineered shade, gleaming hydroponic cities and sweeping fields of mono-cultured soy — the output of a cultural algorithm that has been running thousands of years, a system of consumption and motion that will do anything to keep its wheels turning.

I descended the pine tree, saddened. But then I noticed the fresh green needles of the younger pines, which seemed to be the progeny of the giant. I picked up a dead branch, stripped a living one, bound them together with a sprig of holly, and returned to the group. I’m here, I told them, because I want to find a way to bring all that I’ve seen to bear on the ecological crisis. I just don’t know how.

ON THE THIRD MORNING of the retreat, we gathered on a grassy terrace below the farmhouse for a lesson in qigong. Qigong is a practice of movement and meditation that comes through Taoism and includes ideas of balance for well-being, between opposites, as symbolized by yin and yang, or between five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, wood. I had seen many practitioners of qigong over the years, in Beijing’s parks or along the Phnom Penh riverfront, as I stumbled home from a night of drinking. I had never tried it, the idea of power meridians and chakras being too much for me. Here in the mountains, though, barefoot on the dewy grass, sweeping my arms from side to side, I felt the pain of the previous day dissipate, replaced with calm.

There was something in the way the week was going, with its emphasis on quiet and connection, that I found helpful. But I was still having a hard time squaring my thoughts with Kingsnorth’s message and the Dark Mountain rationale. It wasn’t that I thought they were wrong; it just seemed like they were missing something, especially in Jeffers. A few weeks earlier, I’d called a Jeffers scholar at Minot State in North Dakota, ShaunAnne Tangney, who also studies the American West and apocalyptic literature. “I don’t see a good ‘but’ in the Dark Mountain Project, quite frankly,” she told me. “Jeffers played with the rise and fall of cultures, but there’s always something else that comes after for him. Humanity will fall, but nature is still here. From beginning to end, earliest to last, Jeffers has one constant, and that’s beauty.”

That thought stuck to me like a bur, all the way to Spain. If I was initially intrigued by the darkness in Jeffers’ poetry, I was coming around to his ideas on beauty. Helpful now, following my pine-tree reveries, was the realization that Jeffers’ art was a product of grief.

Jeffers had watched both his newborn daughter and his father die in 1914, the same year the Great War began. Not long after, he and his wife, Una, moved from Los Angeles to Northern California. In 1919, the couple bought land near Carmel, a place of pine and fog north of the roaring coast of Big Sur. They lived first in a drafty cabin, where they cut and burned eucalyptus and oak, redwood and pine, and which they filled with books on flowers, shells, birds and stars. The Jeffers liked their promontory, where cormorants and pelicans kept them company, along with the hawks that would become a central symbol in Jeffers’ work — marsh- and sparrow-, redtail, Cooper’s.

Despite the idyllic setting and the birth of twin boys in 1916, Jeffers remained in a state of despair. His poetry, he thought, was unoriginal, “doomed to go on imitating dead men,” even as a new movement of writers seemed to be “divorcing poetry from reason and ideas.” At the birth of the Modern Age, Jeffers was contemplating suicide.

The couple, meanwhile, had plans for a house made of granite and hired a stonemason to build it. A despairing Jeffers offered to help. Day by day, he hauled stones from the oceanfront and mixed mortar, slowly learning to fit each piece together. He found solace in the stones, in the waves and tides, in the work. At night, he walked to watch the stars. His younger brother, Hamilton, was an astronomer at the nearby Lick Observatory, and Jeffers liked to think about the earth and sea amid the swells of deep time, a universe of moons and planets, galaxies and novas.

By the time the house was done, along with a tower Jeffers built himself, he had transformed into an original artist and thinker. With the California Coast as a backdrop, Jeffers wrote poems that were compared to the works of Walt Whitman and Homer. One critic called his verse “as primitively American as the flintlock and the Maypole.”

By 1932, he was celebrated on the cover of Time, for elegant achievements in verse-craft and honest thought. He was popular for a time, but as his sons reached fighting age, Jeffers spoke out against World War II. His darker views of humanity earned him few fans, given the tide of American jingoism and the threat of Nazi Germany. The publisher of his 1948 collection, The Double Axe, included an objection to its “unpatriotic” content. His work lost favor with academic critics and faded from public view. He was left out of university anthologies. Jeffers died in 1962, aged 75, and somewhat forgotten — though not by everyone.

Jeffers’ works had an impact on Doug Tompkins, the billionaire conservationist and founder of North Face. In the early 1990s, Tompkins left the commercial world behind to live in Chile, at the Southern tip of the world, using his wealth to establish massive conservation programs. Tompkins died in a kayaking accident in December 2015, paddling a section of General Carrera Lake, high in the Andes. At the time of his death, he and his wife, Kris, had managed to preserve 2.2 million acres of land — a sanctuary across coastal fjords and endangered forests, supporting rare deer and wild pigs, pumas and jaguars, anteaters and macaws. His death was a huge loss not only to friends and family but to the wild places of the world. Tompkins had been a reader of Jeffers and was long been inspired by beauty, Jerry Mander, his friend and fellow co-founder of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, told me. “He would talk about beauty all the time.” Tompkins considered beauty itself a natural resource in need of legal protection, and beauty had been a primary force in his life beginning from his teenage years. “A lot of people talk about beauty, but he would talk about it as a cause itself,” Mander said. “That was his primary guiding force, to tell you the truth.”

I’d been thinking a lot about that conversation, and the idea of beauty in general, in Spain. Tompkins, who also knew Kingsnorth, was the epitome of Jeffers’ ethos. But was his work meaningful? And if so, was that only because of its scale? Or was dedication to that kind of beauty merely glorified withdrawal? Where does the establishment of a nature preserve in Patagonia fit with the murder of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, or the drowning of Syrian refugees in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, or the collateral damage of U.S. drone strikes?

At night in Kabul, awakened by nightmares, I’d stand on the roof and smoke, Scorpio shimmering over the dusty city. I’d try to put myself somewhere else in the world in relation to the stars, the mountains of Wyoming maybe. I could never do it. I was always overwhelmed, disoriented. When I’d had enough, I moved to California. I would surf in the mornings, watching the waves come in, undulating, gunmetal-gray, dolphins slipping beneath me like shades. I felt at peace there — and useless. I thought I should try environmental writing and a healthier way of living, but what I found was a new kind of grief. I’d run out of places to go. In taking a step back in Spain, however, I was starting to see a way through. Kingsnorth embraced Jeffers’ inhumanism, and Tompkins his ideas on beauty. But the immensity of the ecocide demands more. Our grief comes from the takers and their modern machine, which is one of violence and injury. If our sanity is to survive the ecocide, we must address these two pains in tandem: grief for the loss of things to come and the injustices that surround us.

We can do this through beauty and justice, which are closer together than they first appear.

Consider the portrait series by photographer Nick Bowers, “Scared Scientists.” In it, Bowers takes portraits of researchers as they are interviewed about their greatest fears. The result is a collection of images that captures the low-grade trauma many of us are experiencing. The greatest fear for Shauna Murray, a biological scientist at the University of Technology Sydney, for example, is “reaching four degrees (Celsius) of warming.” “At the moment, we’ve at least 10,000 different papers, completed over 20 years, each using different data sets, and they are all coming to the same climate change conclusions,” she says. “We’ve a weight of evidence that the average person is simply not aware of — and this frightens me. I’d like to think that we’re not going to reach the projected four degrees of warming this century; because I can’t even imagine what that would look like. Eighty years is not that long, and unless we act soon, my seven-year-old daughter will probably have to live through that.” Her portrait looks like something out of war photography: hair mussed, eyes wide in shock, mouth grimacing — a new class of soldier, one traumatized by computer models and visions of a frontline future unknown to most of us.

Bowers’ work bears witness to injury, not only to the scientists but to future generations. The series is a work of art that bends beauty toward justice, addressing grief with both. Likewise, when Coates establishes a relationship between injustice and exploitation of both people and nature, he is arguing for justice. However, he is also arguing for integrity, which is close to Jeffers’ ideal of beauty: “However ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand / Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history … for contemplation or in fact … / Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is / Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.”

Perhaps, then, the way through the ecocide is through the pursuit of integrity, a duty toward rebalancing the whole, toward fairness, in both senses of the word. Elaine Scarry, a professor of aesthetics at Harvard University, describes this relationship in her book-length essay, On Beauty and Being Just. The word fair comes to us through Old English, fæger, which meant both pleasing to the sight and morally good. This is because beautiful things serve a specific purpose. They “give rise to the notion of distribution,” Scarry says, “to a lifesaving reciprocity, to fairness not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of ‘a symmetry of everyone’s relationship to one another.’ ” Beautiful things “act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space … letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before.”

The pursuit of beauty can create a form of justice, a healing of injury. When I allow my backyard to grow unchecked, when the un-mown lawn becomes a tangle of blade and seed, the garden a mess of roses, grapes and hollyhocks, I have created a refuge and put something to right, returning wild to the world that has been taken away elsewhere by violence, trespass or dominion. The benefactors are the sparrows and buntings, hummingbirds and butterflies, the praying mantises, hornets and bees, the black widow in the shed, the garter snake in the flowerbed. Conversely, the creation of beauty can come from advocates of justice. A human rights lawyer, a sanctuary church, protesters for women’s rights or science or both, demonstrations against police violence — these heal injury also, rebalance the whole, adding beauty to the world.

I am a decade shy of the age at which my mother died, less than a year after my grandfather’s suicide. One day my ashes will be scattered in the eroding mountains, and our civilization, like that of Ozymandias, crumble, and the Earth be swallowed by our dying red star. This is no cause for despair; it is a reminder to be meaningful, to be makers instead of takers, to be of service to something — beauty, justice, loved ones, strangers, lilacs, worms. This is what Jeffers, the poet laureate of the ecocide, has to teach us. He points the way, but we must go further, and we must do so while keeping a sense of perspective. In Spain I carried with me a handwritten note from James Karman, a Jeffers scholar and author who helped me greatly in my reporting. On it are the final lines of a poem called “Credo” and a favorite Jeffers’ insight: “The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty / Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.”

THE FINAL DAY OF THE RETREAT promised to be dismal. It had rained all night and through the dawn, sagging the tents and soaking the fields. This was our finale, the “wilderness solo,” and it was shaping up to be a sufferfest. In some sunnier moment, I and two other men had decided to range far from the farmhouse to a nearby crag. We slogged down old roads and footpaths, through muddy valleys and drizzling woods, as raindrops pounded our parka hoods. Climbing through brambles and mist, we broke at last from a stand of mountain pine at tree line. Just then the sun came out. Still silent, as instructed, we grinned and laughed and hugged.

My companions found their way to solo sites nearby. I scrambled a bit higher, to a flat section near the crag’s peak, where I found a soft, grassy spot between two boulders. I rigged my tarp, fluffed my bag and removed my wet shoes and socks. I sat back against a rock and stretched my toes and let the sun dry my face. I watched a crow for a while, and two hawks wheeling above a derelict stone keep. I took deep breaths, turned a smooth stone in my hand. From the valley came clamorous birdsong, from the mountains a chilly wind and wisps of fog. I took a swig of water, then closed my eyes and leaned my head back, feeling for the first time in a long time an emotion that might have been joy.

Which is probably why I didn’t notice the storm blow in — not until the first flash-bang of lightning and thunder. I jumped up to see dark clouds sweeping down valley, a thick, determined thunderstorm. From below the cliff rose the panicked bleating of wild goats. I considered going down. But this was the last day, and I wanted to make it count.

Fuck it, I thought at last. I’m doing qigong. I found a flat, smooth spot and stood there with my bare feet apart. I took a soft breath, sweeping my arms over my head and down. Rain lashed the mountaintop and spattered my face and lighting flashed in purple, splintered arcs. Sometimes it sparked sideways, sometimes straight down, flash after flash, followed by thunder. To the east, the moon rose over the wine-dark sea, breaking through the clouds as a giant bolt of lighting flashed below it. I laughed out loud. No one would believe this; no one would care. This moment was mine alone. I stood transfixed in the darkness, watching the storm and grinning like a lunatic, a tiny living part of a beautiful, heartbreaking world.


Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on July 24, 2017.

This coverage is supported by contributors to the High Country News Enterprise Journalism Fund.

Image: “SUBLIME: The L.A. River 3, 2015” by Elena Dorfman

Poems from Robinson Jeffers, The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt, Volume 2, 1928-1938. © 1938, renewed 1966 by Garth and Donnan Jeffers. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Stanford University Press, www.sup.org.

Artist Gordon Pelton’s View of Trump: “A Thousand Flaws”

Gordon Pelton

Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: Artist Gordon Pelton is my brother.

To appreciate Gordon’s deconstruction and reconstruction of Trump, you’ll need to click on the digital image below, then click on it again to enlarge it and reveal the full text of Trump’s “thousand flaws.” Over the last few months, Trump’s flaws have seemed limitless. This dynamic image makes the point in a very powerful way.

See more of Gordon’s work here.

A THOUSAND FLAWS no sig 17x22 72 dpi

Why I’m bringing centuries-old ‘ghost ponds’ back to life

By Emily Alderton
File 20170713 12477 t9q3tx
Emily Alderton, Author provided

Over the past century half of the world’s ponds and wetlands have been destroyed, with many being filled in and turned into agricultural land. However, all is not lost, and it is possible to “resurrect” these buried habitats from the seeds and eggs stored within their historic sediments. A new conservation approach pioneered by the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group can restore aquatic habitats lost to the landscape for centuries.

Ponds can be extremely biodiverse. They support more aquatic species than any other freshwater habitat and provide important food sources for farmland birds and bats.

At the start of the 20th century there were an estimated 800,000 ponds in England and Wales – now, it is thought that fewer than a quarter of these remain. Similar levels of pond loss have occurred across farmland in Europe and North America, associated with increasing intensification of agriculture. Pond and hedgerow loss are often linked as hedges are uprooted and used to fill in ponds, before ploughing over the entire area.

A ghost pond in north Norfolk prior to resurrection.
Emily Alderton, Author provided

Many lost ponds leave behind a “ghostly” mark in the landscape – visible as damp depressions, areas of poor crop cover, or changes in soil colour. Colleagues and I have recently discovered that these buried “ghost ponds” are not completely lost, but can be resurrected from historic seeds lying dormant underneath intensively cultivated agricultural fields.

These ghosts are an abundant yet overlooked conservation resource. Resurrecting them would of course mean more ponds, which in turn links up aquatic landscapes as plants and animals jump from pond to pond and species are able to thrive in larger populations. But the main advantage of a ghost pond, compared to a new pond, is the historic seed bank buried below the surface. This provides a source of local native species, speeding up the process of colonisation, and potentially restoring lost populations or even locally extinct species to the resurrected pond.

We already knew that aquatic seeds were able to survive dormant for centuries within existing lakes and wetlands. Scientists recently tested 13 lakes in Russia, for instance, and found stoneworts (a keystone species in aquatic habitats), could grow from 300 year-old spores collected from lake sediments.

However, our recent paper, published in the journal Biological Conservation, is the first to demonstrate this astonishing survival ability within habitats which had been assumed lost to agriculture. In our study, we resurrected three ghost ponds in north Norfolk, eastern England. These ponds were similar in type, location and surrounding land use to the 8,000-plus ghost ponds buried across Norfolk and many more across the UK. While buried, ghost ponds are subject to the typical stresses of intensive agriculture (soil compaction, fertiliser and herbicide use), making the long-term survival of their aquatic seed banks particularly astonishing.

Our three study ponds had been buried for around 45, 50 and 150 years. Each was re-excavated down to the pond’s historic level, which was easily distinguished from the overlying topsoil by its dark colour, silty texture, and even its distinctive “pond smell”. This layer of sediment was left mostly undisturbed to provide the source of historic seeds and eggs within each pond.

The ‘resurrection’ of a ghost pond; a) First, a trench is dug to locate the historic pond b) aquatic and wetland plant seeds found in the historic sediment then rapidly colonise the pond c) one year after ‘resurrection’ Emily Alderton, Author provided

All three ghost ponds were colonised within six months by native plant species. In total, 12 species of aquatic plant colonised the ghost ponds and eight of these species proved to have originated from the seeds that had lain dormant below the ground. To check these plants really had grown from the ghostly remains of the previous pond, and hadn’t been carried in by the wind or seed-eating birds, we kept some of the historic sediment in sealed aquariums. There, even under controlled conditions, the same species still grew out of this centuries-old sediment.

Species recolonising from the historic seed bank included stoneworts, which are important for maintaining water quality but are increasingly threatened in farmland, and floating leaved pondweeds, which provide key habitat for dragonflies and damselflies. We also found crustaceans including Daphnia (water fleas), and copepods (tiny invertebrates which swim in a jumpy motion using their antennae), were able to hatch from eggs buried in the ghost pond sediment samples.

a & b) Stoneworts and broad leaved pondweed growing from 50-year old sediment c) A germinating rush seed, sieved from 150-year old sediment. Emily Alderton, Author provided

Although only common species were resurrected from the sediments of our three ghost ponds, these included seeds of all different sizes and types – from a variety of aquatic plant species. This suggests that a wide range of plants, including potentially rare or even locally extinct species, could potentially survive within the buried sediments of ghost ponds. The boost to recolonisation speed and diversity from the historic seed and egg bank may also reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established.

The ConversationGhost ponds represent abundant yet overlooked biological time capsules. Their restoration could facilitate the rapid return of wetland habitats and aquatic plants into the agricultural landscape. This process could play a significant role in reversing some of the habitat and biodiversity losses caused by the global disappearance of agricultural wetlands – and I urge conservationists to make use of this valuable yet hitherto little considered resource.


Emily_Alderton

Emily Alderton, PhD student in Aquatic Ecology, University College London (UCL)

“I have recently completed my PhD on ‘ghost ponds’ in the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC), University College London. My research focuses on the historic propagule banks buried within former ponds (in-filled for agricultural land consolidation), and the role they might play in the resurrection of these lost habitats. I previously completed my MSc in Aquatic Science at UCL, and my thesis was on the diet of Eurasian otters at a UK upland lake.”


This article was originally published on The Conversation under a Creative Commons License. Read the original article.

Steve Frisch on Trump, Our National Embarrassment: “This Too Will Pass”

By Steve Frisch

The following impromptu “essay” was written by Steve Frisch in the form of a comment to his Facebook friends, and reprinted here with his permission, in honor of July 4th, 2017.

“I think the first step in celebrating America this weekend is recognizing that as much of a national embarrassment as Trump is … this too will pass.

“Yeah, I am embarrassed by having a President, apparently selected by my peers, who brags about grabbing pussy, bullies his opponents and staff, has been implicated by numerous women including his ex-wife in sexual assault, bought a beauty pageant so he could walk in on young women half naked, has been sued by the Department of Justice for racial discrimination, hob nobs with the New York mafia, has been fined for breaking casino gambling rules, has been sued for intimidating tenants in his buildings, was fined $750,000 for breaking anti-trust rules, has bankrupted 4 businesses while saying America needs to be run like one of his businesses, hired undocumented workers while saying we should build a wall, has stiffed literally hundreds of contractors on millions of dollars worth of goods and services delivered to him, and uses the money to buy his own books so he can say they are bestsellers and print fake covers of Time magazine to say how great he is. Oh and did I miss that he has a gold plated shitter?

“It says a lot that that paragraph is so long yet contains a mere fraction of his gauche behavior.

“But lets get real, he is 71 years old, and a friend of mine says we are just a funeral away from perfection.

“I know, I know, I spend a lot of time expressing how disgusted I am with Trump. But I spend a hell of a lot more time working hard to try to counter the idiocy that seems to have descended on our nation and eventually WE will win.

“To all my friends doing all those good things out there to make America a better place for everyone I salute you and love you today.

“Trump and his mind set do not represent this nation. You represent this nation.

“We are a nation that values freedom and individualism, expression and speech, privacy and free will, hard work and the benefits it brings.

“It may take time, and be a fight, and be too slow coming for ‘the other,’ but we value equality, ensconced it in our founding documents, rededicated in blood in the 14th amendment, fought for at Seneca Falls, the lunch counter, in farm fields, at Stonewall, and in court every goddamn day.

“More important, we are a nation and a people who look forward. We are less concerned with our European, or Asian, or African past and their social conventions and traditions than we are the future and making the future count. There is a fundamental American belief in progress and a better future.

“We are bold, brash, assertive, direct, rough hewn, and at times self indulgent and chauvinistic, but at the end of the day we value goodness, honesty, sacrifice and achievement. We still weep and revel in the accomplishment of others. We root for the little guy, followed the Cubs through a 106 year drought, and when every other option is exhausted as Churchill said, we end up doing the right thing. In the end by and large, we are good.

“So celebrate the 4th of July because we are here…and no one or any authoritarian blow hard can take that away.

“Once civic responsibility was a bedrock American value, and compared to many societies it still is…but if we have one challenge in the next few years it will be re-engaging to advance goodness. Our actions to advance democratic governance matter…it is the societies where people give up, hide, protect themselves putting their peers at risk, that democracy dies. We have a responsibility to defend all of those values articulated above every single day. Whether through involvement in an organization, on policy, through charity, in church, or at the indivisible meeting, we uphold democratic values every day and fight for our freedom.

“This too will pass and the next America will be defined by what you do today.”


Steve_Frisch

Steve Frisch is President of Sierra Business Council and one of its founding members. Over the last 20 years Sierra Business Council has leveraged more than $100 million of investment in the Sierra Nevada and its communities through community and public-private partnerships.  Sierra Business Council also manages the Sierra Small Business Development Center focusing on advancing sustainable business practices and linking new and expanding businesses to climate mitigation and adaptation funding. Steve manages SBC’s staff and programmatic development.

Prior to joining the Sierra Business Council, Steve owned and operated a small business in Truckee. Steve serves on the board of the California Stewardship Network, the Large Landscape Practitioners Network, the National Geographic Geo-tourism Council, Capital Public Radio, and Leadership For Jobs and a New Economy.  Steve is also a former Fulbright Exchange Program Fellow, sharing information and knowledge gained in the Sierra Nevada in China and Mongolia.  Steve is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Political Science.

 

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