Our current epoch has now come to be known as the ‘Anthropocene’ for the impacts man has had on our planetary environment. It is also called “The Great Acceleration..”; being the sixth event in the life of this planet where species loss has become so pervasive and devastating.
A May 2017 study for the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America was entitled “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines”. The paper notes in conclusion that: “The massive loss of populations is already damaging the services ecosystems provide to (human) civilization…Thus, we emphasize that the sixth mass extinction is already here and the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most.. All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life. .” In other words, without the survival of significant complex bio-systems of multiple species, each with sustainable population numbers, humans too are rapidly headed towards extinction.
While we talk (and talk) about global warming, what we also ignore is the combined impacts of man-made emissions into the atmosphere with the steady destruction of the biosphere through human “progress’ – the literal cancer of inert dead non-organic edifices being built over the top and at the expense of the natural world that make up humans’ cities and towns and transportation systems, agribusiness destroying countless wilderness areas into single species ‘dead’ environments, the ongoing deforestation of native habitats, increasing wildfires, needless human consumption, acidification and over-fishing of the oceans, human over-population, meat-production, war, pollution, global warming, water-loss .. the list goes on and on… Incrementally, humans are destroying the liveability for all species on the planet at an ever increasing rate, with carbon monoxide production being just one aspect of our ongoing destruction of this planet.
Wikileaks notes: At present, the rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the “base” or historically typical rate of extinction (in terms of the natural evolution of the planet) and also the current rate of extinction is, therefore, 10 to 100 times higher than any of the previous mass extinctions in the history of Earth.
What is urgently needed is a recognition of this fact by humans, and an understanding that the model of human’ progress’ we have espoused for the past few thousand years is killing our planet. An understanding that all life- regardless of species, is inherently sacred and our mutual survival is intertwined, and that consequently human ‘needs’ must be balanced against the rights of other species. One small step to delay or even possibly reverse this destruction, is the urgent massive scale planting of native vegetation in every possible locality and an end to our model of human “progress”.
In Ukraine we see good Ukraine citizens believing that ‘slant-eyed’ Russians ( perhaps Mongols from the 12th century?) have invaded their peaceful country, and along with a tiny number of Ukrainian traitors, have managed to fend off the advances of the peace-loving Kiev government army and neo-nazi Right Sektor militias to return Eastern Ukraine to the fold. We need no evidence- we simply know that this is the case.
In Syria, every good Sunni knows that it was Assad’s government that created ISIS; where else could it have come from? -in order that evil Shi-ite Persians and Lebanese Hezbollah could invade their country. Clearly Sunni Saudi Arabia and their Wahabbist crazies had nothing to do with it!
In America every good Democrat knows that it was only because of Russian intervention and ‘hacking’ that Donald Trump won the election. How else could he have won?
And in the U.K. and in Poland the Russians are coming, if they are not already here! Russia’s aging long range bombers and their sole smoking aircraft carrier are ready at any moment to bring apocalyptic doom to those good democratic shores..
I am once again reminded of my great great grandfather’s time here in sleepy New Zealand, when in the 1890s, a Russian Empire rust-bucket of a warship managed to creep this far south in the Pacific to to cause chaos and concern amongst us gentle white folks. Vast sums were raised to buy ( from British armament factories) long range guns to install on every headland to forestall the imminent threat of a Russian invasion. The Russo-Japanese brief naval and land army altercation of 1904 was to quickly prove how much of a threat those Russian warships and armed forces actually were..
So- those are a few tangible examples of collective pyschosis – how we as humans can so easily be swayed into believing an alternative reality- because everyone else is believing it too.
However – much much bigger than those relatively small events, is humankind’s current conviction (since at least the ‘industrial revolution’) that destroying all of the living things on this planet is ‘progress’ . And, decade after decade, each one of the remaining indigenous cultures have been sucked into this ‘word-view’ that we humans must produce things to make us humans happy and ‘progress somewhere’ . Every one of the material things that we produce comes at the expense of another living thing…
The evidence is very much out there- and has been increasingly obvious over the past fifty years, that we as humans are incrementally, and at an ever faster pace , destroying the capacity of this planet to provide a sustainable habitat to not only ourselves, but to all of earth’s living things. But we are still ‘locked in’ to ‘progress’ – destroying life for another bauble that will inevitably self-destruct in a few months or years…
Perhaps, just perhaps, if we had had a slow motion time-lapse video which had showed the world’s life steadily being steadily and rapidly drained away over the past 2000 years – year upon year – then just maybe we might have done something about it. Instead, we talk about it; we pretend that our machines of ‘progress’ can redress the problems, when the reality is that only other life, other species, can reverse the apocalypse- if we have time.
And that – as we all know- is not going to happen. Because human ‘progress’ its believed, is going to save us with more technology, more ‘progress’ (and more destruction of living things)…
A mammoth global campaign to plant and grow trees everywhere – to revert all our feedstock lands to forest, to plant trees on every available inch of land that is not absolutely necessary to provide humans with a meagre vegetable diet; might permit this planet to survive as a living entity….but the odds look very very slim….Trees not only once almost entirely covered the landmass of our little planet, they provided a home for a huge biodiversity of other plants insects and animals that kept our planet viable flexible and adaptable to climactic and other planetary changes. That capacity to adapt through species diversification is now being squeezed from this planet.
Lovelock had it right the first time. Our planet is indeed a single living entity – Gaia -composed of millions of different living interlocking entities- much the same way as the human organism functions.
As the Earth rapidly approaches the point where the trajectory towards intense global warming and near total species loss becomes inevitable, we now, more than ever, need the wisdom of the indigenous peoples’ connection with nature and acknowledgement of the reality that the earth is a living entity; to save our planet. It may already be too late- but we need to try!
Nothing; despite all the research and incremental indelible evidence of ever-increasing species extinction , has changed our current trajectory of devastating the planet for a few cheap baubles. We appear to be locked into an insane path of self-destruction which takes the rest of the planet with us. Have we reached the ‘tipping-point’? – we will not know until it is too late.
That is not to say the indigenous peoples like the Mapuche of southern Chile or Maori in New Zealand or the other still surviving remnants of indigenous cultures , have all the answers, or are even innocent of harming the planet themselves. But they do have a philosophy and wisdom from the past which acknowledges the reality that, as just one more species on this planet , humans are inextricably linked to what we strangely call “nature’ -ie our fellow living things. And that we are also solidly linked to all the non-sentient elements of this world.
If we are to survive as a species; if the planet is to survive, we must restore this fundamental core understanding to all humans – without which we will most certainly perish- if not within decades, then certainly within this new two centuries.
Our first and immediate step is to restore power and authority to those cultures who do in fact respect the earth and all its living inhabitants above “progress’ and the production of commodities. The next is to produce a world wide covenant that values other species as equal to our own and our obligation as a species to truly become protective guardians of this living planet, given our unique capacity to manipulate our environment.
We must let the voice of all those cultures who call us back to our roots -to be heard, respected and urgently responded to.
The shaman’s drum calls us back to our re-connection with our world.
The recent ‘terrorist’ bombings in European cities may need to be looked at from a wider perspective. Is this increasing wave of violence on urban communities a signal of a deeper malaise?
The ‘terrorists’ who have perpetrated these attacks over the past few years ( ie not just “ISIS’ inspired killings); have inevitably be enacted by dispossessed angry young men who predominantly have no clear ideology of much longstanding. While they have often attributed the rationale for their attacks to some formal ideology like ISIS, I suspect that any ideological excuse would have sufficed for them. The recent killings by those who stated their motivations were in the name of Allah and ISIS, were almost all by young men who had lacked any consistent commitment to Muslim practice; ie not regularly attending a mosque, and indulged in drinking, drugs , gambling etc.
This indicates that the rationale for the killing did not come from idealogical sources, but rather from their own anger and hurt about their own life experiences. Undoubtedly however, the last few years of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other similar extremist groups espousing the glories of the killing of innocents, have provided a focus and a ‘rationale’ for that anger and blood-lust.
This process might be likened to the Christian crusades to the “Holy Lands” in mediaeval times, when Europeans from all walks of life joined armies to supposedly ‘free” the Holy Lands from Saracen tyranny, but in fact used that license to indulge in vast amounts of rape, pillage and terror of local populations, both on their journeys to Palestine through Europe and the Middle East , but also within Palestine itself.
What is different this time around however, is that this is an internal self-immolation of societies and almost a global one: predominantly by young men who were born within European societies, but at the same time alienated from them.
What we see then, is a political response to these multiple deaths which labels them as “terrorists’ attacks rather than an epidemic of murder/-suicides by young angry and hurting men.
Instead of addressing the root causes of that anger; alienation from society, loneliness, poverty, drugs and perceived inequalities and injustices; Western governments have increasingly focussed on more and more draconian responses to these murders; an action which further legitimizes the imaginary ideological fervour of more and more young men.
As in the United States, the political response is to further militarise police forces and restrict human rights and freedoms, and thereby increase the likelihood of inappropriate and unjust responses by the ‘authorities’ to legitimate community conflict situations. It is plain that such actions lead only to community disintegration.
One might therefore argue that the actions by both parties are symptomatic of a global community in decline; in a state of self-immolation, as it unconsciously acknowledges the multiple absurd paradoxes of our global consumer society whilst we inexorably head towards an unliveable over-heated and species depleted planet.
The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the price of shipping dry goods globally, has dropped to its lowest known point in the past few days at 402. Other indicators too are pointing to a rapid downturn in export shipping volumes.
On its own, the BDI low index may reflect nothing more than an oversupply of shipping , but taken with other data measures, indications are that international trade is slowing at a rapid rate globally.
If this is the case, then we are likely to see a further deterioration in commodity prices, particularly oil prices, as demand slumps, an increase in unemployment in the industrial sectors globally and an increasing shrinkage in consumer spending.
And naturally, that decrease i trade globally is simply because people are buying less! Here’s a neat little Bloomberg graph which shows the trend for retail sales in the United States.. People simply seem to be buying less ‘stuff’
Because the human world’s current survival culture is predicated on continuous growth in production of things, such a reversal will have significant implications for poverty, hopelessness and hunger in the short to medium term. It will require no less than a massive restructuring of what it means to be human on this planet, for us all to get to a state of sustainable equilibrium, and to finally recognise our equality with the other species we co-habit the world with.
On the bright side, the elimination of ‘growth’ or even a reversal in growth, will be a significant bonus to the world’s environment. The diminishing need to use more coal and gas, to mine more minerals, to build more cities, dwellings and transport networks and consume more generally, will mean less of what is left of our natural environment will become despoiled.
As the ‘Geography of Transport Systems ‘ notes succinctly, there are many factors which influence the BDI price; lowering oil prices for ships ( bunker oil), too many ships in the market and lastly and likely most significantly, lowering demand for bulk goods. OIl process are approximately 40% of the price and there certainly has been a glut in bulk tankers, but we also know bulk commodity prices ( iron ore, copper etc etc) have dropped precipitously due to much reduced demand from primarily China. But a drop of this magnitude foretells something much bigger in the wind…
And here’s the BDI at 29th January …
And even Bloomberg might be coming to a similar consensus as of 29th January…
T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Hollow Men, ends with the following lines…
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
A recent study, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and using new statistical modelling methods, predicts that this current civilization will likely collapse in another twenty to fifty years. The study draws analogies with past human civilizations; the Assyrian, Roman, Mayan, Minoan, the various Chinese empires…. We can assume that like us; the populations of those civilizations had every reason to believe their civilization was unique and would last forever. While civilisational collapse is quite rare, characterised by entire ways of life, systems of thought, cultural values and worldviews disappearing, political collapse occurs frequently ( eg empires and kingdoms disintegrating). What appears likely to happen in our modern context, given the confluence of a number of catastrophic events, is civilisational collapse.
While this particular study has been sharply critiqued by journalists and scientists alike for its simplicity and generalisations ; the broad conclusion that, as Paul Simon aptly put it ,”everything put together falls apart” , is a healthy reminder of human hubris.
The single most important story unfolding in not-so-slow-motion on this planet is the ongoing destruction of the natural world in the name of “progress” and “growth” (ie consuming ever more “stuff”) by humans; , which will in the near future, significantly negatively impact on this species. Despite our insistence to the contrary, humans are entirely reliant on other species for our survival. It is a given that is blindly ignored by politicians, businesspeople and businesses and all those with a current stake in the way our “civilization’ currently works ( ie all of us).
As key resources become more expensive to extract, the world economy (which is apparently now the full extent of this ‘civilization’) begins to contract and distort . And as the gap between rich and poor widens, the “have-nots” increasingly demand in more and more violent ways, their right to a slice of the pie. As the oceans and atmospheric temperatures rise, so do the pressures on our artificial nation-states. As we progressively and rapidly eliminate species after species to produce more things, to make “progress”; our chances of long term survival as a species are being rapidly reduced. Our civilization demands that we assume that we have an infinite volume of resources to consume for the infinite future in a closed planetary system – a small contradiction in terms! We are indeed heading for the perfect storm.
Study after academic study shows that the more we gain from a civilization’s prosperity, the more we are blind to its failings and contradictions and its inevitable fall. This tunnel vision says , that ‘if I am doing well out of this catastrophe then it cant be a catastrophe at all!’
Homo sapiens pride themselves on their remarkable intelligence; their capacity to manipulate their environment for their own ends. They appear unable to grasp that that self-definition process of appropriating everything good, intelligent and wonderful to human attributes, is simply the result of their blinded vision. If by definition, species that manipulate their environment are determined to be superior to all other species; then lo-and-behold!- homo sapiens are superior beings! Because homo sapiens are above all other traits, social beings, all of us have an intensely strong need to “fit in”, to belong to the group. Agreeing with other people on ‘our’ group’s thought processes and paradigms is an essential part of this togetherness. However, agreement does not it make it truth.
Thus, it does not matter that the capacity to manipulate the environment for the benefit of our species and at the expense of all other species on this planet might not be quite such an intelligent thing to do, given that the environmental devastation and species destruction is largely for homo sapiens’ short term pleasures, power and baubles.
Were we to say that a species that can sustain itself easily and efficiently without damaging its environment in the process, were more ‘worthy’ beings than other species ; then homo sapiens would not be registering on the short-list!
Over the millenia, homo sapiens have been able to convince themselves that people of other cultures, or colour, or background are inferior to one’s own culture because of this self-defining process. Using the same intellectual process, the more different another species is from ourselves, the less worthy , less intelligent, more expendable and worthy of our exploitation and destruction that species becomes. The more differentiated from our species the “other” is, the easier it is to dismiss its inherent traits and qualities and its right to life. However on our ever smaller blue planet, we no longer have the luxury to differentiate between “them’ and ‘us”.
How much easier then is it to dismiss the equality of other species with ourselves when their characteristics, strengths and skills are so different from homo sapiens, and when it is so much to our benefit to be able to kill and exploit other species without moral qualms.
As Henry Gee also points out succinctly in his Guardian article , each species’ particular traits or “strengths” are based purely on, firstly, what biological mechanisms of sense are available to them ,and secondly, how they use those senses to that species’ best advantage. Homo sapiens may not value our sense of smell because its not a particularly efficient sensing mechanism in homo sapiens, but you can bet a dog does!
The capacity for self-delusion in our species is immense. Witness the largely American driven anti- climate -change camp. Of course we cannot be destroying our planet with C02 through industrialization, because capitalism and owning the means of production is the reason for our being! – after all, aren’t we, the US consumer, the greatest people on earth because our nation is the epitome of capitalism?
As another example of collective self-deception, Seth Klarman, the manager of the $27billion hedge fund, the Baupost Group, recently remarked on the similarities of the world’s banking system to the ‘Truman Show’, the late nineties Hollywood film, where the lead character “lives a seemingly charmed world, snuggled comfortably into an American suburbia of white picket fences and crisply cut lawns. But gradually Truman starts to notice something is not quite right. He is actually trapped inside a film set controlled by hidden directors, and discovers to his horror that he is the unknowing star of the world’s most popular reality TV show.” In one of the more blatant nuances of reality shifting homo sapiens have acquiesced to, our financial system is in essence simply one of “smoke and mirrors” -the manipulation of facts and figures designed to obscure reason and reality; a fragile house of cards.
One key point of difference with previous human civilizations around the world is that our current civilization is a global one; each of the parts are inextricably connected. Apart from a few small tribes in isolated areas, every one of us has bought in to this unique method of environmental destruction. Thus when this civilization collapses -(and it is a “when” and not an “if” ), that collapse will be both more rapid and more global; there will not be another model of homo sapien civilization around for the survivors to pin their hopes on. The other significant difference with other previous human civilizations is this current one’s geographical reach. Vast areas of the planet have now been laid waste in the name of human progress.
So, while the modelling conducted by Safa Motesharrei may be flawed, it does provide an opportunity for serious debate about the direction this global civilisation of ours is taking us..