Casaubon's Book

Regulating the Disaster

We still don’t have the faintest idea how much oil is spewing out of the well in the Gulf. Nor do we have the faintest idea what the full environmental consequence of what may well be the biggest single-event human-caused. ecological disaster of all time (the very fact that I have to add the word “single-event” to that statement should tell you something). We know that it is almost certainly more than all the low estimates to date, and we know that the ecological consequences will be huge, lasting and we do not understand them.

That is, we know some of the potential effects, we know they will be horrible and devastating to oceans, wildlife, people, communities and the nation, that they will play out in ecologies both human and wild, in politics, economics, in day to day life in thousands and thousands of ways, all of them horrible. We know that the costs will be unendurable and we know that they will play out not over weeks, but over years and decades. And we also know that we don’t know what many of them will be. Consider this AP report:

The loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas.

The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 560,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea reefs.

“At first we had a lot of concern about surface animals like turtles, whales and dolphins,” said Paul Montagna, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi who studies Gulf reefs. “Now we’re concerned about everything.”

On Sunday, researchers said computer models show oil has already entered the loop current that could carry the toxic goo toward the Keys, the third-longest barrier reef in the world.

“Now we’re concerned about everything” is a pretty good summary. And we should be – the unintended consequences of a whole host of things – our lax regulatory strategies, our desire to let industries supervise themselves, and most of all, our endless and insatiable desire for liquid fuel – will be coming back to haunt us in both predictable and unpredictable ways.

Now when such disasters strike, our first question is always “how could this be prevented.” Except that we don’t actually ask that question. Right now, the public is fixated on greater regulation of British Petroleum, which would always be and have been a good thing. The public is fixated on an automatic shut-off switch that might or might not have worked to prevent the oil spill (one has never been used at these depths) were it mandated. But they are not focused on the real and honest fact that while it is possible that some changes in policy might well change this situation, ultimately the only one that would have absolutely prevented this disaster was to leave the oil under the ground.

Barack Obama spoke about his real frustration with the situation last week – and I believe he is sincerely frustrated. Presidents can’t come out and say “well, part of the problem is my own fixation on off-shore drilling, and the culture it creates, and on re-establishing economic growth and the oil consumption it requires” so you can’t really blame him for this, or for pointing his frustration at BP. The words “hearings” and “regulation” are being thrown around.

And there will be hearings and there will be new regulations and there almost certainly will be automatic shut off valves on wells deep off the coast, and there probably will be a good long delay in developing new offshore drilling, since California and Maryland and the rest are all probably thinking that they don’t really want this. And this will almost certainly last until some kind of oil price crisis comes along and makes people decide that this probably won’t happen again and it wasn’t really that awful, because after all, it wasn’t in their neighborhood.

But the regulations don’t really deal with the problem, and that, of course, is the real difficulty. The regulations being proposed after the economic crisis don’t actually address the crisis, or really prevent such a thing from happening again – they can’t because every single one of the political figures proposing them knows that they depend on those very unsustainable economic structures to keep the economy going – and that when their consituents lose jobs, they lose their jobs. They can regulate, but only in such a way as to permit the vast unsustainable structure of debt to keep going forwards.

And the people can vote them in or out, can demand regulation or not, but what they can ask for is finally limited by their own dependence on it – they cannot ask for a full opening of the books and closing of the derivatives market because that would mean bearing the full costs of real losses – and the people can’t handle that either. They can’t retire or send their kids to school without a functioning stock market. They can’t eat or pay their housing costs without the false accounting of our economy. We can clamor for regulation, but not honest regulation – and it can be proposed and voted on, but not honestly.

The same is true with the Gulf oil spill. Ultimately, its enormous harms cannot be fully redressed because redressing them involves addressing our deep investment in making them happen. It was not just BP that caused this disaster, not just the failure to regulate, not just the valve, not just the President, not just you, it is me and my vehicle and my family – and yours too. As long as we desperately need oil to run our economy – and we have done virtually nothing to meaningfully transition off oil – we can clamor for regulation that will keep us safe, but cannot actually propose the measures that would work. We are too deeply invested in the cause.

It is common among environmentalists to wonder what the man who chopped down the last tree on Easter Island was wondering. I’m pretty sure I know the answer – it was probably “I have no choice. I need it.” All of us always have such good reasons for our choices – we need to get to work, we need to take the kids to school, we need a vacation, we can’t walk long distances – all our reasons are so good. And I do not say that with any sarcasm at all – they are good reasons.

The aggregate of our reasons leave us so deeply invested in maintaining a system headed rapidly towards disaster that in the end, the only hope we have is to stop needing so very much and so very often. And that can and will happen eventually – we need only remind ourselves where the strongest American regulations of the financial markets came from. They were results of the Great Depression, of precisely the point at which most people had stopped, horribly, forcibly, needing to give a damn about the financial industry and were able to take regulatory steps that actually mattered.

We will shut the barn door after the horses escape, we will regulate the petroleum industry. But only to the point where regulation does not interfere with our need. We will regulate teh financial industry, but only to the point where regulation does not interfere with our need – and thus, does not interfere with the next step in the crash. Only when we’ve lost our dependency will we be able to shift the balance of regulation to what is actually needed to forestall the worst consequences. It is a faint hope to imagine we might do so because we have voluntarily and freely shrugged off our dependency, rather than because we have lost so much that our ties are broken.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Michael Dawson
    May 17, 2010

    We actually do have an idea — 5 to 16 times more than officially admitted, according to Samantha Joye.

    Meanwhile, since when is all this “our” decision? Our overlords make the rules and regulations and caps on damage payments.

    http://www.consumertrap.com/2010/05/tort-abortion.html

    They are also the ones who insist on cars-first transportation policies.

  2. #2 yogi-one
    May 17, 2010

    Thanks for telling the truth.

    The Age of Oil is going to come to its tragic end. A lot of people will lose their lives. A lot of people will lose their livelihoods. A lot of people will lose their market portfolios and retirement money. A lot of people will be exposed to harmful petrochemicals and will get chronic, long-term illnesses.

    There will not be a smooth transition to new energy sources. There will be a long term degradation of the standard of living for society as a whole. People will stop driving their gas-powered cars only when they physically cannot get the gas for them. After the stations shut down. After the rioting and deperate behavior engendered by a societal breakdown.

    After the worst-case scenario has become the scenario that actually happened. Not before.

    I hate to say it, but the first half of the 21st century is going to be a Hellified Muther.

    All the warning signs were there. We chose to do nothing.

    The Devil promised us dominion over the whole Earth. We took the deal.

    What was our first act as planetary stewards? We raped the earth, dumped all our garbage on her, and over ran her with 6-billion-plus ravenously hungry, tool-using apex preadators.

    We let ourselves get out of contriol, and we let the ecosystem destabilize. The result of that is inevitably a mass extinction event.

    Oops.

    Better luck next time.

    See you after the New Dark Ages. Good luck!

  3. #3 george.w
    May 17, 2010

    What really fries my cheese is that we’ve known for a generation what we needed to do.

  4. #4 Jennie
    May 17, 2010

    Michael,
    I think it is our decision. As a free person, I make the decision every time I get in my car to drive somewhere, I make the decision every time I walk or bike instead.
    Yes, our congress-sheeple focus on cars-first, but that’s their decision, not mine or yours.
    You have the power to make different decisions than they, it’s guaranteed by a couple of different founding documents.
    -Jennie

  5. #5 Brad K.
    May 17, 2010

    Rather than regulations (that exist, and aren’t adhered to), how about subsidies for each barrel of oil extracted from the gulf – like, about $1 a barrel. Gather a couple hundred thousand barrels, and it might make a difference, in addition to a certain amount of “do it, we won’t watch closely how you do it” lattitude. BP or any BP_affiliated companies would be required to sell any recovered oil at $10/bbl until the leak stops.

    An oldy but goody interview from Australia, about a tanker that broke up and spilled oil in the 1990′s. “The front fell off.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0LPUI0lfVw

    I find it fun to watch the interviewer, trying to keep a straight face as more and more silliness emerges. I wonder if this was a hiring interview for deep sea drilling regulators . . .

  6. #6 Diane
    May 17, 2010

    Can you reach your work, grocery store or doctor without a car? Most people cannot because our public transit was dismantled and our towns designed for automobiles. Nor can they pick up and move to a bike friendly or walkable neighborhood. The “people” didn’t do this to themselves. The corporations, in collusion with governments, did it. And by bailing out car companies and failing to fund public transit they continue to tilt the balance. Individual responsibility sounds like a great idea until you realize it’s code for letting government and business off the hook for creating a humane and sustainable society.

  7. #7 darwinsdog
    May 17, 2010

    …in the end, the only hope we have is…

    You tell the story so honestly & eloquently, Sharon, but always with the caveat of “the only hope,” the final hope, the ‘last chance’ to ‘do something’ before the tipping point tips, or whatever. When do you finally come to the conclusion that all the points have already tipped and “the only hope” is long past? When do you finally admit to yourself and to your readers that human population is much too great, the anthropogenic insults to the biosphere much too many, too severe and interactive, the damage done to the integrity of functioning ecosystems too systemic… for there to be any hope of stopping the mass extinction of species including our own? Is the reason for avoiding addressing this outcome something akin to the “argument from consequences,” something like ‘why say anything at all if human extinction is a certainty’? I wait in vain to hear one completely honest voice on the blogosphere admitting that unstoppable forces have been set in motion by a particular species of African ape intent upon burning down the biosphere of its own home planet. An ape preeminently successful at burning down the environment that supports it, if at nothing else. An ape that never should have been allowed to play with fire.

    Will there still be that “only chance” after the next massive oil spill, the next reactor meltdown, the next mega-dam choking the life out of a river, the next sub-Saharan famine, the next oil war, the next nuclear exchange, the next Holocaust? Always that “last chance,” eh, until the last human draws his or her final breath? Some may regard such hopefulness as noble. I consider it pathetic.

  8. #8 Jim Thomerson
    May 17, 2010

    One problem with regulating an industry is that people who have the knowledge to effectively regulate are likely to be from the industry, or at least have ties to the industry. Secondly, there is inevitable politics in the regulatory process. These politics pull the regulatory process in one direction or another, almost always away from what it should have been.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    May 17, 2010

    Diane, no one forced the suburbanization of the American public, and no one forces them to live where they do now. The very poor may have no choices, but a sufficient number of people demanding walkable communities – or even getting their butts out of their cars and into carpools – could have enormous results. The “politicians and the mean old corporations did it” story is nonsense – it isn’t wholly untrue, but the corporations did it with the money we gave them and the politicians with the votes we gave them and any significant dissent would have changed things. I’ve little patience with the “it isn’t *my* fault” narrative.

    DD, you are right – I do think we remain at a point where there is a tiny amount of hope. There will be a point at which there is none, but we have enormous remaining resources and that provides a measure of resilience. And the reason I think it is so important to emphasize this isn’t because I think we will do it, but because I think it is absolutely essential that people realize *WE ARE CHOOSING* our fate – rather than naturalizing “all those poor people die and get screwed because of natural causes that by X point we were totally powerless to stop.” It may be true that those of us who actually cared to stop it cared too little too late, but that’s a choice, and I absolutely refuse to pretend that it is anything else.

    Sharon

  10. #10 Jadehawk
    May 17, 2010

    Interestingly enough, I agree with both Diane and Sharon here. It is the corporations and the government that did this, and only the government is going to be able to fix it on a systemic scale (and therefore help the poor members of society who can’t move, can’t find alternatives, etc.)

    But government can’t do any such thing by itself, since it isn’t a person with its own volition and motivation; it needs to be pushed into doing this, and the only way to push it to do this is for those who can act, to act as much as possible for them; this adds up to the pressure that can make governments change (if not the big, fat federal government, then at least the local government, to install more sidewalks and bikepaths and buy more busses and maybe even build a lightrail)

    Anyway, I wrote a two part, loooong rant about it, so I’m not gonna bore everyone with it and just link to it:Part One, part two is linked from there (because I got my post stuck in moderation, and they never seem to re-emerge from there)

  11. #11 darwinsdog
    May 17, 2010

    ..I think it is absolutely essential that people realize *WE ARE CHOOSING* our fate..

    Are we? If, after humanity goes extinct due to breeding itself into carrying capacity overshoot facilitated by burning any & all flammable substances that can be ignited, we somehow were given a second chance to start over, fully cognizant of the outcome first time around, I bet that we would do the exact same thing all over again. And again on our third try, and again and again and again. Because sacrificing individual fitness for the benefit of the group or of the environment isn’t how selection works. And someone who is cold & starving has no qualms about setting fire to whatever’s handy in order to stay warm and cook a meal. We are fated to burn it all down, and we would do the same thing again were extinction not forever. I say that as a species we have *NO CHOICE* in the matter.

  12. #12 greenpa
    May 17, 2010

    Jim: “One problem with regulating an industry is that people who have the knowledge to effectively regulate are likely to be from the industry, or at least have ties to the industry.”

    That is what the industry and current regulators always say. It’s repeated as truth so often that most people accept it as proven fact. But, you know? I just don’t believe it. It looks, sounds, and smells like smoke to me. Certainly effective, too, if you judge by how many industry wonks wind up “regulating” themselves.

    I think if it were simply law that no government regulator can ever have worked FOR any company in the industry (sorry, but a 5 year break is a joke) – there would be no shortage whatsoever of PhD’s, MBAs, etc, etc, etc, who would apply for those positions.

    We should try it- and find out, I think.

  13. #13 Diane
    May 17, 2010

    Jadehawk:
    Thank you for explaining my point better than I did. My comment was meant to urge political as well as personal efforts.

  14. #14 Colin
    May 17, 2010

    Economics, sociology, political science, medicine, cosmetics, fast food service, culinary arts, photography, business management, journalism, theology, etc. are fields that WILL NOT SOLVE THIS PROBLEM.

    We can want and wish all we want, but we need more engineers, more scientists, and more research done. We cannot just magically convert away from petroleum, except by stopping cold turkey. Assigning blame is great fun and all but it doesn’t get us any closer to solving the problem.

  15. #15 Jim Thomerson
    May 17, 2010

    A humorous comment in support of darwinsdog’s comment on doing the same mistake over and over.

    The Wildcatter’s prayer, “Dear God, Please let me make just one more big strike. I promise, this time, I won’t piss it all away.”

  16. #16 Dunc
    May 18, 2010

    Darwinsdog – I think I’ve read enough of your comments now to have a reasonable idea of your basic thesis, which seems to be “we’re completely fucked, there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, and extinction is not only the only way forward, but best for all concerned”… Does that strike you as a reasonable summary? If so, I have one question… This may appear rude, but it’s not intended that way – I’m genuinely curious: why haven’t you killed yourself already?

  17. #17 Sharon Astyk
    May 18, 2010

    I’m happy to agree with you, DD, that at some point, the human species is doomed. That said, however, I do think that there’s an enormous critical difference in how soon and how between our perspectives. That doesn’t mean we’re not seriously fucked, merely that human beings have endured and survived “seriously fucked” for a very long time. We don’t have all the choices, but we still have some, and human beings have stepped back from the brink – not, perhaps, to some magical happy land, but from the worst possible outcomes. I just don’t think that the case for short term human extinction to nothing is that compelling.

    Colin, I’m not at all convinced that’s true – that has been the narrative for decades of course, we just need more good science. But good science, and even knowing what we have to do hasn’t gotten us very far – even if we could magically invent the super technology today, it generally takes 30+ years to implement a major technological shift, and neither climate change nor depletion will wait that long. I’m all for good science education – just as I’m for good literary and historical and theological and linguistic education – but I don’t think its a magic bullet. Moreover, I tend to think that the engineering mindset, that sees our predicament as a problem to be solved may actually hurt us.

    Diane, I’m all for political actions as well as personal ones – the most effective ones involve the removal of dollars – lots of dollars – from the power of politicians and corporations. Which pretty much mean that the political and personal end up merged – you can’t take the dollars out of Exxon and BP without getting out the car. But what I’m deeply suspicious of is the implication that we all have done all we can. Nonsense.

    Sharon

  18. #18 darwinsdog
    May 18, 2010

    #14:

    …we need more engineers, more scientists, and more research done.

    Quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Let’s engineer ourselves out of the predicament we’ve engineered ourselves into. Yeah, right…

    #16:

    …and extinction is not only the only way forward, but best for all concerned”…

    “Best” is a normative value judgement. I don’t traffic in those.

    - I’m genuinely curious: why haven’t you killed yourself already?

    Why should I? I’ll die soon enough as it is. However, should the pain, tedium, pathos… of it all become too unbearable, I keep firearms handy just for this contingency, among others.

    #17:

    I just don’t think that the case for short term human extinction.. is that compelling.

    Sharon, you know good & well that never before has human population been as great as it is today. Never before have resource constraints been as pressing. Never before have environmental problems been so serious, so global in scope, so intertwined, so overwhelming. Never before have humans driven the evolution of antiviral resistance in viruses, antibiotic resistance in bacteria, herbicide resistance in “weeds,” pesticide resistance in insects. Never before has climate change been so swift. Never before has the pH of the surface oceans been dropping so rapidly.

    In the past, the collapse of cultures has been rapid but has also been local or regional. I’m sure that shortly before collapse people have echoed your sentiment that the case for the worst possible outcome just isn’t that compelling. Didn’t seem that compelling at all, I’m sure, until people were blindsided by it.

    Today problems transcend the local and regional. Problems are biogeochemical in nature, they are inimical to the intrinsic mechanisms by which the biosphere regulates itself and maintains the relatively steady state that allows biodiversity to accumulate. We know this to be the case because biodiversity is no longer accumulating – it is crashing. Processes that required millions or hundreds of thousands of years to work themselves out in the past are occurring over the course of human lifetimes. Not the magnitude but the rapidity of environmental change is unprecedented. Range shifts & selection cannot keep pace. There is no built in resilience left. Systems have been stressed by human perturbation beyond their limits, and are dysregulated and in collapse. This isn’t about some hypothetical future threat that if we don’t “do something” about now, will eventually rise up to bite future generations in the ass. This is about the free fall collapse of biodiversity, about mass extinction, the destruction of ecosystems worldwide, and the uncoupling of the biogeochemical cycling dynamics of nutrient elements from one another. I’m sorry that I don’t concern myself with economic or sociopolitical issues too much, but I consider these to be trivial compared to the physical, biological & ecological problems humanity & the biosphere faces. Human civilization is utterly dependent on the integrity of the biosphere and on its ability to regulate itself. We have pushed the biosphere beyond the parameters within which it is able to regulate itself and maintain its integrity. Try and look at the big picture. It may not be pretty but one ignores these realities at one’s own peril, or at least at peril of appearing uninformed or obsessed with trivialities.

  19. #19 mark
    May 18, 2010

    according to the bbc – this spill doesnt even count in the top 10 of oil spills. Please have some perspective! There was a 70s oil spill in the gulf that was 10x bigger. Exxon Valdez and many other tanker disasters spilled more. Then there was the millions of barrels a day from the Kuwait fires… what about the oil sands in Alberta – that’s over a million barrels a day of effluent into tar lakes.

  20. #20 mark
    May 18, 2010

    ps. i do agree with the tone of the article though – we are all to blame. I changed job to be 1 mile from where i live to cut down on my commute. I am a firm believer in peak oil and expect the oil production to shrink. I’m concerned we’ll destroy ourselves (environmentally) with rainforest destruction, palm oil production, oil sands and the like to make up the difference.

  21. #21 DC
    May 18, 2010

    Is this not the story of our age? Even the people directly affected by the spill probably only have one central concern. They want the mess “cleaned up” or for it magically go “away” so things can get back to “normal”. How many of the people we see bemoaning the disaster leave the air-conditioners on 24/7 in there poorly-built heavily leveraged homes? How many of them drive 2 1/2 blocks in there gas-powered mobile trash-bins to buy trivial pieces of junk that most likely end up in ocean anyhow doing as much damage as the oil spill is now? Probably far to many. In the same you americans wanted the finacial crisis to “go away”, so you could get back to building more crappy gas-powered trash bins, more roads, more plastic suburbs and more strip-malls, im sure you real concern is for the gas spill to “go away” as quickly as possible for exactly the same reason. If this sad disaster is to have one beneift, I would hope it would to bring home(literally) to large numbers of peeople the real cost of oil. However to this point, all I see people worried about are valves and how they can get back to trashing the envroiment w/o the awful inconvience of the conseqences of our collective maddness washing up on our shores…

  22. #22 Paul S.
    May 18, 2010

    Moreover, I tend to think that the engineering mindset, that sees our predicament as a problem to be solved may actually hurt us.

    What’s the better alternative? There is clearly a problem – either people look for solutions or resign themselves to disaster. Isn’t the desire for a more sustainable way of living one of the proposed solutions to this problem?

  23. #23 darwinsdog
    May 18, 2010

    #19:

    according to the bbc – this spill doesnt even count in the top 10 of oil spills.

    This depends on the rate of discharge. If one accepts BP & the Coast Guard’s estimate of 5K bpd then you are correct. If the estimate of 70K +/- 20% bpd, as made by an independent expert based on videos of oil gushing from the wellhead, is correct, then the Deepwater Horizon spill is well on its way to being the worst in history.

    What’s the better alternative? There is clearly a problem – either people look for solutions or resign themselves to disaster. Isn’t the desire for a more sustainable way of living one of the proposed solutions to this problem?

    If a person is slowly dying of some incurable disease, he or she may choose to try an experimental treatment that, if unsuccessful, will kill the patient even quicker. What’s to loose besides some low quality additional time? Others may decide to try and enjoy what time they have left as best they can. Which would you choose? Myself, I think would opt for the latter course. You might prefer, perhaps, to frantically scramble for the fix. It hardly matters since in the end, dead is dead.

    I don’t think that anyone rationally thinks that “a more sustainable way of living” is going to make any difference to the population as a whole. There’s no possibility of 6.8 billion people surviving indefinitely, regardless of how “sustainably” we all try to live. “A more sustainable way of living” might allow a much smaller population to persist indefinitely altho I would contend that forces are already set in motion that make even this a futile hope. This is not to say that striving for “a more sustainable way of living” isn’t worth the effort, however. It just might buy time for the immediate family and in any case is the right thing to do, regardless of the eventual outcome.

    P.S. That’s a hen turkey, alright.

  24. #24 Joseph
    May 18, 2010

    As for personal versus political solutions, I suppose we could agree that both are half-truths.

    I dont know a lot about your life, but doesnt your husband have an outside job? Does he walk to it? What if he was told, “Sorry, no money, we’ve got to let you go.” What would you do then? Couldnt someone then turn around and say, “Hey Sharon, you should have thought about the situation BEFORE you had 4 kids, the info was surely there.”

    In other words, people are locked into a system and it isnt easy to go “off-the-grid”. Remember, it has only been in the past 5, 6 years that we found out that Peak Oil and Climate Change were both coming much faster than previously predicted.

    Also, to fail to mention how our elites have been dragging us into Empire, and fail to mention the oil used, and pollution generated by, the US Imperial Forces is HUGE, creates a woefully unbalanced picture of the situation

    I’d be careful if I were you with the self-righteous tone. As Ive said before, the idea that humanity is psychologically sick and spiritually degenerate on a mass scale, and is thus headed for catastrophe, has been well known to those who looked at what was going on with open eyes 30, 40, years ago, and few listened. Hell, the 60s counterculture was a Gaian Revival, and had people listened, we wouldnt be in the mess we are in today.

    And as I have said before, the people who read this blog dont need to be guilt-tripped; save that for the rich and super-rich who dont give a damn, use 20 times the amount of energy used by the average person and who control the political process. Without shifts and a re-direction of macroeconomic wealth away from Empire and toward mitigating the effects of the Collapse, the Collapse is going to be horribly bad no matter what we all do on a personal level.

  25. #25 darwinsdog
    May 18, 2010

    Remember, it has only been in the past 5, 6 years that we found out that Peak Oil and Climate Change were both coming much faster than previously predicted.

    If you had taken an environmental science course in the early 1970s you would have probably been convinced that peak oil and climate change was going to doom civilization well before the turn of the millenium.

    …the idea that humanity is psychologically sick and spiritually degenerate on a mass scale, and is thus headed for catastrophe, has been well known to those who looked at what was going on…

    Oh, please. Spare us the metaphysics. The situation is bad enough from the abiotic, biological & ecological points of view. We can skip with the psychological and spiritual pathology, whatever that means.

    Without shifts and a re-direction of macroeconomic wealth away from Empire and toward mitigating the effects of the Collapse, the Collapse is going to be horribly bad no matter what we all do on a personal level.

    It’s going to be “horribly bad” regardless. You accuse Sharon of having a “self-righteous tone” yet you yourself pontificate about how bad things are going to be, unless… Unless what? Unless we follow your recommendations? How self-righteous is that, hypocrite?

  26. #26 Mark N.
    May 18, 2010

    The next time an old man with a gray beard and sandals comes off a mountain and tells us to:

    “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

    …I say we ignore him.

  27. #27 Sharon Astyk
    May 19, 2010

    No, my husband doesn’t walk to his job – and we’re not perfect in many ways. But the average American family (considerably smaller than mine) uses 8xs the energy resources that mine does. I’m not at all saying everyone should do as I do, but I just don’t buy that all our energy use is voluntary – I think that’s bullhockey. Having done the Riot for Austerity for years now, what I’ve found is that the first 50% in energy cuts is easy for most people in most areas, if they are serious about it.

    But that’s not really my point – the point wasn’t to exclude myself from responsibility (that’s why I said it was my responsibility in there), it was to observe that this a collective responsibility.

    I’m also with Darwinsdog on this one – we’ve known about these issues since I was born. We may as a society and individuals not have thought about them, or chosen not to know. I didn’t know until the 1990s – but the information was there, and again, I don’t place the responsibility for not knowing on other people, but on my own lack of self-education. For those who lack the skill set to teach themselves, and never came in contact, that’s a legitimate claim – but for the affluent on the internet, what you know is something of a choice.

    It isn’t all choice – and no one ever said it was. Nor is our energy use all choices – and some people have fewer options than others. But all of us have some choice, and we’re not exercising it.

    Sharon

  28. #28 Sharon Astyk
    May 19, 2010

    Mark, I like your comment.

    DD, we both agree we’re at an unprecedented situation – we just disagree about what the logical outcomes are. I think the draw down of the resources we depend on, and probably the die-down of population (it would be great if this were an die-down by natural causes, but that won’t be, unfortunately) is going to take several generations. And even after that, I think that our biological history suggests that human beings will adapt – in much smaller numbers – to our new conditions if almost anything can.

    Sharon

  29. #29 Paul S.
    May 19, 2010

    I still think that humanity will come through the crisis better than a lot of people believe. Historically, anyone who bets against the human race’s ability to meet serious crises has been a lot more likely to lose than to win.

    (I realize that this optimism will not give a favorable impression of my intelligence or judgment for most of the people here.)

  30. #30 darwinsdog
    May 19, 2010

    #28:

    Well, even if die-down occurs over the course of the next several generations, it’s still “imminent” from the point of view of ecological or evolutionary time. I tend to think that it won’t occur gradually over generations but that some unforseen event – and perhaps not even a very significant event in & of itself – will precipitate an acute die-off. Events will build up to it then something will trigger it & hundreds of millions will die over the course of months or a few years. It’s too late for this to happen during the heyday of my generation so perhaps in that of my children’s or grandchildren’s generation. My point is that human population collapse will appear instantaneous from the perspective of the fossil record, were there to be any left to interpret fossil evidence.

    #29:

    Human species chauvinism is widespread Paul, and to be expected. Displaying it doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on your intelligence or judgment. Rather, it’s a reflection on the success with which you were socialized to the dominant social paradigm. Since such socialization is the goal of schooling, it just reflects how successful the agents of socialization were at inculcating the mind set in you that they desired. You probably fit in better in contemporary society because of it, relative to someone who resisted or later overcame all efforts to socialize them.

    This is not an indictment of socialization efforts in general. If a social paradigm is rational and just, it is a good thing to become well socialized to it. But the current social paradigm in the capitalist West is insane. Being well socialized to an insane paradigm is to be insane. Today, sanity consists of rooting out our socialization. Few can be expected to succeed at this effort, in the face of constant & pervasive efforts on the part of ‘teachers,’ preachers, advertisers & propagandists to preclude this happening on any large scale. To my mind, the value of Sharon’s blog and others like it consist in gently attempting – arguably too gently – to shake people out of their socialization re: lifestyle, dietary & resource consumption choices.

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