Whither Our Exit?

In Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit — a play I once directed — one of the character opines, “Hell is other people.”  Alan Farago’s article, “The Potemkin Village Economy,” is a good example of why this statement is so often true. It is also a superb illustration of the forces impeding our ability to limit our ecological footprint. Think Kunstler meets Kafka. Kunstler being James Howard Kunstler. A new urbanist, author of The Long Emergency, and star of the documentary Escape from Suburbia. Kafka needs no introduction. Suffice to say both men meditate usefully on how hard it is to escape ‘The system’.

Those terrified by climate change often think that there is no better single argument for changing human behaviour. The nuclear abolitionists have long believed the very same thing; i.e., that the threat of “ultimate doom” can be leveraged to create systemic change. In the latter case at least, sixty-five years and multi-trillions of $ on bombs  later, we are still waiting. 

Social justice advocates and the religiously inclined on the other hand tend towards the project of developing a more spiritually enlightened human being. And while it’s true that slavery has been, mostly, abolished it did take thousands of years. Ditto the emancipation of women, a project far from complete in any case. 

Meanwhile the free market theorists insist that the problem is we haven’t gone far enough in their direction. Like unrepentant Marxists they insist utopia is right around the corner if we but submit ourselves wholly to the guidance of their invisible hand. I at least remain unconvinced. To say I’ve more company than usual on this score after the recent derivatives induced financial disaster is an understatement Twain would appreciate.

To my mind the environmental scientists may be closest to the right track. They did,  for example, manage to spark the movement, policy mechanisms, legislation and enforcement required to stop acid rain — at least until the tarsands started up (sigh). They also managed to save the ozone. No small thing.  In fact, it was an extremely large thing. 

It is very telling how underplayed this narrow escape was/is by the media and our politicos. Especially when you compare and contrast the exposure they give to the comparatively minuscule threat represented by Iran and Iraq’s putative WMD.   To quote scientist and Aussie ‘Man of the Year’ Tim Flannery: “If we had failed to agree, as a species, on banning those chemicals in 1987, we know what the trajectory of chemical production was and we can work out what the burden of the CFCs would have been by 2007. … For every one percent decline in ozone or one percent increase in radiation, we get a one percent increase in failure for seeds to germinate. The same thing happens at the surface of the ocean, among tiny creatures that are the basis of the food chain. So if we hadn’t agreed in ‘87 to ban those chemicals, today we would be facing a full-blown crisis of life on Earth.”

These victories over acid rain and ozone depletion were both timely and staggeringly important — obviously. However, they are akin to what we now need in the same way that an acorn is akin to an oak. Such is the enormity of the demands we have placed on ourselves in our enthusiasm for progress, modernity, and the latest plastic gewgaw. Like a sorcerer’s apprentice dabbling in forces beyond our control we have concocted  a ‘triple-threat’ rather more out-sized than the talent of last year’s Oscar emcee Hugh Jackman; i.e., environmental degradation, climate change and resource depletion.

The sad truth it would seem is that we are trapped in a labyrinth of our own devising and there are minotaurs around every corner. As Robert Newman put it in The History of Oil — his exceptional and extraordinarily funny one man show — “There is no way out.” 

Given the timelines we are being presented by science and circumstances what is now necessary it seems to me, as unlikely as this will undoubtedly sound, even to me as I say it, is a global epiphany; i.e., a universal moment that allows an overwhelming majority of us to simultaneously see the same thing. A shared experience of our zeitgeist, if you will, that acts as did Copernicus’s, Einstein’s or Newton’s insights. We have made this level of leap before; i.e., a collective, well on nigh universal, shared experience based on a deeper understanding of the nature of physical reality.  An experience that changes nothing materially and everything conceptually.  I stress this last statement for I am most decidedly not suggesting a “cataclysmic and catalyzing” moment. Far from it. 

The moment I am talking about would in, and of, itself change nothing but our perceptions. And yet by the alchemy of this transformative conceptual inversion most of what we previously thought we knew would be changed, and as a result so too would our behaviour.   Absent this exceedingly unlikely ‘awakening’, escape from ‘The system’ as represented by business as usual will not occur.  At least not on the timelines represented by climate change, resource depletion and population.  Instead market forces will prevail and demand will be the least of the destruction that we witness.   Scale, scope, inertia, careerism, greed, deregulation, myopia, ignorance, intranational, intergenerational, and international mistrust, and the gospel of GDP growth — everywhere still espoused by governments and business – all vitiate the possibility or worse work in the opposite direction.  

In short, through inaction we have led ourselves to the unpretty pass of needing something on the order of a miracle.  Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962.  Six years earlier,  Dr. Hubbert established the scientific veracity of peak oil.  The Limits to Growth was published in 1972.  The Brundtland Commission report in 1987; i.e., around the same time that climate scientists around the world came to understand that this problem was existential in scope. To quote from the communique from the first international summit on climate change held in Toronto in 1988:  “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequence could be second only to global nuclear war.”  When our scientists, the most sober and conservative of all human communicators, start talking like crazy people it is time for the rest of us to take notice.     

I bring these moments up to highlight the fact that we could have started earlier, and that there were was no shortage of scientists and science-based commentary advising us to do so.  Instead the last thirty years have been led by those who denied the available evidence and derided as “unrealistic” those who advocated conservation and green energy.  It is a bleak irony indeed that our businessmen, politicians and lawyers were able to get away with lecturing our physical scientists on the nature of “reality”.  That our media unwaveringly backed this p.o.v. and marginalized the science and its messengers is proof positive of the inherent bias and limits of advertisement based information.  This last problem alone defies any obvious solution that could actually be implemented, and in this case at least the only obstacle is ourselves.     

If we had started serious conservation and green energy measures after Jimmy Carter’s 1977 speech to the nation on conservation we may well have led the OECD, Russia, China and India on to a different developmental path.  At the very least we could have restrained our corporations and capital from adding so much fuel to the new Asian fires. Instead we got the Carter Doctrine which readied the Middle East for invasion, and Reagan’s first symbolic act was to tear the solar panels off of the White House roof. The following twelve years were focused on policies, tax breaks and subsidies designed to maximize throughputs and emissions. Thanks to Thatcher, Howard and Mulroney the same was true throughout the Anglosphere. Our example emulated pretty much everywhere thanks to the economic and political dominance that once was ours.  The Clinton years changed little if anything and the Bush jr. years speak for themselves. As does Obama’s multi-trillion dollar defense of business as usual first year in office.    

That things are still very little different than they were thirty years ago was clearly illustrated by the media treatment that the Liberal Party of Canada and its leader Stephane Dion were given when they campaigned for a carbon tax two short years ago.   The result was the election of oil man and tarsands backer Stephen Harper and his ironically named Conservative Party.  As a Canadian, it has been surpassingly strange to watch my country devolve from a first world industrial economy to a petro-state in the new millennium.  So much for 2000 being the advent of the ‘Great turning’.  2012 is all the rage these days, perhaps then.  Numerology is easy to mock but given the paucity of alternatives being offered by the bipartisan consensus its popularity is equally understandable.    

Today we hear from our scientists on the perils of topsoil depletion, ocean acidification, overfishing, fresh water shortages, and peak grain, and this just for starters. And if our scientists have got the right end of the stick, and they do, we are going to need this miracle soon. Unfortunately, to quote Miracle Max from the Princess Bride, “You rush a miracle man — you get a rotten miracle.” A chance we are going to have to take, but one of the many costs to foreclosed options. The inevitable consequence of delay.    

At this late date in my life I am beginning to gain a better appreciation for the practice of prayer. For while it is true that Elvis has left the building Godot has yet to enter it.  Though there is no shortage of pretenders to that throne in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Glen Beck or Sarah Palin for President anyone?  Which brings us full circle: Whither our exit?  A question we will all find ourselves increasingly occupied with over the next few decades.  And while Dostoevsky was certainly right about the capacity of imminence to focus the human mind, its efficacy in the face of these challenges is at the very least an open question. 

N.B. None of this is to suggest that we abandon ourselves to fate. Luck goes to the prepared, and the more prepared you are the luckier you get. And in this case at least too much of a good thing just ain’t possible. Better late than never is another felicitous phrase that springs to mind like hope eternal.

ton confrere

Jeff Berg is a freelance writer and activist whose focus is Energy & Emissions and their micro and macro implications ecologically, economically and socially. Read other articles by Jeff, or visit Jeff's website.

24 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Don Hawkins said on March 4th, 2010 at 11:46am #

    Jeff your writting and a few others is starting from all walks of life. Are the others from Wall Street or corporations who it appears control our goverment here in the States, No. An ad on TV here in the States from an oil company goes something like this. We are helping kid’s to learn in schools we are in the barber shop the mountains the valleys we are everywhere and we are an energy company. There is still time granted not much and the time to fight back is now. The truth the knowledge there worst enemy and it will take a lot of us. Again calm at peace think of this as kind of a war the truth the knowledge one voice the time is now as if we see or don’t see this get started for real in the next three years it’s check and mate as a few very few make plans for themselves and my kid’s get noise generators as a start.

    A universal moment that allows an overwhelming majority of us to simultaneously see the same thing.

  2. Don Hawkins said on March 4th, 2010 at 12:58pm #

    Texas-based refiners pledge to fund fight against California’s global warming law

    Valero and Tesoro have reportedly pledged as much as $2 million to help gather signatures for a ballot initiative to suspend the greenhouse-gas-cutting law until the jobless rate improves.

    March 03, 2010|By Margot Roosevelt
    Two Texas-based refinery giants have pledged as much as $2 million to fund signature gathering for a ballot initiative to suspend California’s landmark global warming law, according to Sacramento sources.

    The companies, Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., own refineries in California that would be forced under the law to slash emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. latimes

    It’s not just these people who control the media our throughts, policy but you name it if it hurts the bottom line the money and strangeness starts to roll. It will take a lot of us and easy it will not be as they control the media, banks, policy the goverment and they have a little adicktion called money and power. Initiative to suspend California’s landmark global warming law what a vision.

  3. Don Hawkins said on March 4th, 2010 at 2:04pm #

    I guess a miracle could happen and the jobless part go away but it would be the shortest on record such clever people after the jobless rate improves. To these energy companies and the people on the top floor we will teach you how to work change your own brakes maybe farm how’s the back ok now you could get on board and make that energy in a clean way and soon to hard like the easy way out well that is no way out the BS is not going to work much longer. Tax carbon and return 100% of that tax back to the people all the people like that idea? You don’t why not the vision in the mountains and the valley’s all across the land the barber shop please.

  4. Don Hawkins said on March 4th, 2010 at 4:08pm #

    For 250 years Western societies had, in general, deferred to the authority of science. Now, perhaps for the first time since the controversy over Darwin, that authority was seriously challenged. With Darwin, the challenge was mounted by the Church. With climate science, it was mounted by an assortment of charlatans, ideologues and contrarians on behalf of the fossil fuel-based corporation. Robert Manne
    Are the scientists wrong I hope so and the odds they are? About the same as human’s walked with dinosaurs and the Earth is 8,000 years old and the Sun revolves around the Earth.

  5. kalidas said on March 4th, 2010 at 7:27pm #

    Not to be contrary for the sake of it, Darwin is demonstrably flawed, especially in his science.
    It was then and still is a theory. All the lecturing posturing and smugness and $$$ won’t change that one bit.

    Evolution has always looked like a theory in search of a soup. Still does.

    “Questions Arise

    I was probably in college when I found myself asking what seemed to me straightforward questions about the chemical origin of life. In particular:

    (1) Life was said to have begun by chemical inadvertence in the early seas. Did we, I wondered, really know of what those early seas consisted? Know, not suspect, hope, theorize, divine, speculate, or really, really wish.

    The answer was, and is, “no.” We have no dried residue, no remaining pools, and the science of planetogenesis isn’t nearly good enough to provide a quantitative analysis.

    (2) Had the creation of a living cell been replicated in the laboratory? No, it hadn’t, and hasn’t. (Note 1)

    (3) Did we know what conditions were necessary for a cell to come about? No, we didn’t, and don’t.

    (4) Could it be shown to be mathematically probable that a cell would form, given any soup whatever? No, it couldn’t, and can’t. (At least not without cooking the assumptions.) (Note 2)
    -Fred Reed

  6. E. R. Bills said on March 5th, 2010 at 7:30am #

    kalidas?! what steaming glob of New Earth dinosaur manure. Darwin did not concern himself so much with the first spark of life. he focused on evolution and His theory is definitive. the idea that organisms evolve is indisputable now. you may not like the findings or theories on what evolved into what, but there’s no question evolution took place and it’s still happening, though perhaps not in terms of your thought processes.

  7. bozh said on March 5th, 2010 at 8:35am #

    Iniquitous structure of a society arose millennia ago. The iniquity and the root causative factor for al ills that befell us since that time on interpersonal level was based on leadership’s unilateral proclamation that the ‘leaders’ [misleaders] were superior in intellect-prowess to peasantry and thus had the right to rule over them in perpetuity.

    The theory of primacy was established on the basis of animal behavior for survival: the weak perish and strong survive. The ‘principle’ [read please swindle] was called survival of the fittest; which gave birth to universal fascism.
    And then applied to humans. However, human survival also depends on our numbers and intellect; our ingenuity to adapt to any condition and not just our phisical atributes or tendency to deceive with a solemn face.

    Nevertheless, the priestly ‘theory’ runs strong in all asocialist [fascist] countries.
    Epitome of it being US. There fascism had been honed to a near perfection! tnx

  8. kalidas said on March 5th, 2010 at 9:07am #

    Mr. Bills, have you ever read or ever heard of…
    “Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative To Darwin’s Theory”
    or “Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race.”

    Do organisms devolve as well?

    I’m not saying evolution per se isn’t happening.
    It’s obvious it is.

    I simply do not believe humans evolved from apes.

    I do have my moments of doubt though…

  9. Hue Longer said on March 5th, 2010 at 4:05pm #

    Great article, Jeff…well thought out and written (sorry, I’m going away from it for the following).

    kalidas, you read this and attacked Darwin and evolution? Why?

    “Darwin is demonstrably flawed, especially in his science.
    It was then and still is a theory”.

    Stating that someone’s science is flawed and then in the very next sentence exposing a complete misunderstanding of theory leads me to suggest that your sentence would make more sense if you replaced the word “science” with “voodoo” as that is your grasp of it and those understanding science would then agree with you.

    Humans are apes but if you intended to instead say that you don’t believe humans evolved from the other apes not extinct, you’d be correct because humans evolved from common ancestors.

    You actually claim that you think evolution is obvious when you haven’t the slightest idea of it…Please leave the word “science” alone.


  10. kalidas said on March 5th, 2010 at 7:31pm #

    Mr.Longer, have you ever read or ever heard of…
    “Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative To Darwin’s Theory”

    If not, please leave the word “think” alone.

  11. Deadbeat said on March 5th, 2010 at 7:39pm #

    The author writes …

    Meanwhile the free market theorists insist that the problem is we haven’t gone far enough in their direction. Like unrepentant Marxists they insist utopia is right around the corner if we but submit ourselves wholly to the guidance of their invisible hand. I at least remain unconvinced. To say I’ve more company than usual on this score after the recent derivatives induced financial disaster is an understatement Twain would appreciate.

    This is a classic strawman. Since when are “unrepentant Marxists” on par with “free market”theorists by submitting to the guidance of their invisible hand. If anything Marxists has laid the theoretical basis of the contradictions of the Capitalist system. In other words Marxism is anathema to Capitalist rhetoric.

    Also Marxists do not believe that “utopia” is right around the corner. Marxists encourage and articulates that if you want to break the chains of Capitalism it is only WON via revolutionary struggle.

    Also the current crisis is a crisis of labor power not a “derivative induced financial disaster”. The basis for this crisis was laid 35 years ago when Capitalist class decided to jettison the unions and to attack wages and labor overall. Over these years policies have been skewed towards the rich leading to speculative bubbles. Debt was used to mask stagnant wages and to maintain living standards. The chickens have now come home to roost. The problem unfortunately is too LITTLE Marxist analysis.

    The sad truth it would seem is that we are trapped in a labyrinth of our own devising and there are minotaurs around every corner. As Robert Newman put it in The History of Oil — his exceptional and extraordinarily funny one man show — “There is no way out.”

    Why is the author so defeatist? Perhaps it lies in HIS OWN narrow analysis. That is clear by his pathetic reference to Marxism.

    Instead the last thirty years have been led by those who denied the available evidence and derided as “unrealistic” those who advocated conservation and green energy.

    YAWN! Green energy. Without challenging the Capitalist system you’ll never have “Green enery”. It’ll be GREEN energy when Capitalists can PROFIT from it. Reading this article clearly the author seems to deny the available evidence regarding the rollbacks to labor that occurred and how that has led to current conditions. All of the environmental problems is due to Capitalist production, control and power and the one thing he does in his article is to misrepresent and disparage Marxism. The answers are there if the author chooses to LOOK and RESEARCH.

  12. Hue Longer said on March 5th, 2010 at 8:31pm #

    kalidas, please join your buddy above in a logic 101 class…

    I hope this sounds completely patronizing but you have a lot of valuable information to add to your pet gripes that could better be expressed were you to educate yourself on managing your thoughts

  13. kalidas said on March 5th, 2010 at 8:46pm #

    Mr. Longer, please try to not let your education get in the way of your learning.

  14. Deadbeat said on March 5th, 2010 at 8:58pm #

    kalidas, please join your buddy above in a logic 101 class…

    Hue, don’t bring me into your argument with kalidas. I’ve already shown how little you know about logic.

  15. Hue Longer said on March 5th, 2010 at 9:00pm #

    cheers for the compliment but until we can agree on definitions of science, theory and education, I think I’ll have to admire only some of your research.

    And for the love of voodoo, what did Darwin have to do with the author’s words? I think his words should be bigger than humans coming from “apes”, no?

    (seriously mate, I’d love to drink a round or three with you; Deadbeat and Kalidas would make for an interesting time)

  16. Hue Longer said on March 5th, 2010 at 9:04pm #

    Sorry DB, it was just convenient…Funny is that when the comment on Marx (which I think you misunderstood) was made, I knew the your baby would be down the bath drain.

    Great article though…no?

  17. kalidas said on March 5th, 2010 at 10:26pm #

    Hue, it would most likely be lots more fun talking about Alfred Wallace.
    (I think he got devolved)

  18. Jeff Berg said on March 6th, 2010 at 2:42am #

    Re “unrepentant Marxists”

    I do appreciate that Marx was one of the most brilliant economic minds of the modern era. (I.e. The fossil fuel era) I hope that you also appreciate that the difference between his theories and “really occurring” Marxism were as profound as the differences between the theories of Adam Smith and really occurring capitalism. To pick just two of the many extreme examples available to illustrate what I mean.

    1) In the U.S. the most dynamic sector of the economy at pretty much every point in the last fifty years has been the state sector. Whether we are talking about semi-conductors, transistors, satellites, pharmaceuticals or the internet the state sector has been where action is. Moreover every study of the matter shows that well over half of the fortune five hundred would long ago been yanked offstage by the “invisible hand” were it not for massive state intervention on their behalf.

    No one knows for sure what the economic and social landscape would look like today without Obama’s multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth to the financial institutions and Wall Street. But it does not take a great deal of prescience to see that the “free market” and the “invisible hand” are subject to very strict government control when “creative destruction” threatens to become a much too close to home truth for the elite sectors of society.

    Capitalism as it is really practiced is a system where risks are socialized and profit is privatized. This can only occur in a society that has a state sector with access to significant capital, its hands on the levers that control the judicial and the legislative branches of government, and the political and propaganda power to ensure these branches serve their interests primarily.

    2) Communism in theory is designed to be a highly democratic means of social organization. The workers own the means of production and have meaningful input as to the nature of the work they do as well as the conditions under which they do this work. In practice of course what one saw instead in Russia, China, the FSU, was forced, menial and often mindless labour. Not to mention a corrupt and tiny elite that ruled with a depressing and bloody minded level of dogmatism that resembled nothing so much as Orwell’s nightmare vision of a boot smashing humanities face over and over again for all eternity.

    On the environmental front what we saw in East Germany, Russia and throughout the communist world was ghastly rapaciousness and a maniacal devotion to heavy industry and economic growth no less slavish than the most recondite capitalist, no matter the environmental consequences. The level of destruction that took place as a result of this myopia – both to the ecosphere and the economies of these peoples – beggars the imagination of we who’ve never been forced to witness such smash and grab operations up close.

    Paul Hawken’s rightly said that “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology”. There is quite simply no arguing that without a vital and fecund natural world that there is no possibility of comfort and leisure much less affluence. Ask the Haitians.

    Now I of course understand that this was not what Marx intended. It is equally obvious that neither Stalin or Mao was much interested in being faithful to Marx’s ideas so much as they were interested in co-opting his ideals for their propaganda value. The very same could be said about Adam Smith however. Smith was a deeply moral man who had the common good very much in mind every step of the way in the development of his theories. “The road to hell” and all that. Mind you, if you haven’t already, I recommend that you read about Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’. Smith himself believed it to be the far superior of his two major works. (Wealth of Nations of course being the other)

    As for the “yawn” about green energy. In a funny sort of way this is as pure a proof in the pudding I could hope for when I served this musing about exits and strategies. For whether one is talking about capitalists or Marxists, free market ideologues or socialists, today’s “commentariat” invariably misses the boat by a country mile. This happens with a frequency sufficient to give me night terrors because they fail to understand that the zeitgeist of our age is energy – emissions and country . By this last term I mean the open country of our imagination and wanderlust, and farming country, fecund and bountiful and calling to the man inside boy to stay a while an put down some roots.

    The old verities are falling by the wayside. Class war and the battle over who owns the means of production is being replaced by a “deep green” understanding that the real war is the war by man on nature. At the turn of last century all was optimism. The U.S. was the largest and the fastest growing economy in the world. The sun never set on the British empire. The French, the Germans, the Dutch the Belgians, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Russians, all had colonies. Each vying to be an empire in a day when this word was as benign and positive to most native sons as “Own the podium” is to most Canadians.

    RIDDLE: “What’s the difference between nationalism and militarism?”
    ANSWER: “They’re spelt differently.”

    It seemed to all intents and purposes that the “utopia for the masters” had been reached. Spindletop had just been discovered in Texas and oil was 1/4 cent a gallon. Energy for all our mechanical systems was pretty much free and the energy return on investment was orders of magnitude larger than anything we can generate today. Every ten years or so the economy and population of one state or province for that matter doubled. A truth nicely detailed in U of T Professor Jim Lemon’s classic history of the development of N.A.’s great cities, ‘Liberal Dreams and Nature’s Limits’. All seemed possible back in those halcyon days. Fast forward a couple of years and the world was rocked by the sights, sounds, and wounds, physical and psychic, caused by the horrors and oceans of blood spilled into the mud during the first world war.

    The elites, only a few short years earlier, had seemed to have achieved a level of social control that was unbreakable. Smith, Clausewitz, and Darwin guided their thinking and infused even the anti-intellectual warrior class with pretensions to intellectual heft and justification for their right to rule and their right to leave others to a fate of unending squalor. For they, like Brutus, saw the fault not with the stars but with the men who could not make it like they to the top of society’s heap. These men were inferior specimens and so were not fit and so would not, even should not, survive. The fall of the Romanovs soon followed.

    The masters hold however was nowhere near as firm as they had thought. Not only had their arrogance led to the unleashing of weapons of mass destruction so powerful that they crippled the economies and even the societies of the “winners”. The level of loss also served to radicalize and empowered their population’s in ways deeply antithetical to the elite’s that had unleashed them interests.

    Soon a second great war followed. This second massive failure by the elites, in addition to the existential threat of “ultimate doom” posed by nuclear weapons, and the counterweight posed by the FSU’s rapid conversion of feudal Russia into a powerful industrial nation in just one generation, all served to put all thoughts of a “utopia for the masters” far out of sight for a time. At least to the casual observer which means most people most of the time. Most people’s idea of politics does after all consist of wanting to be left alone.

    In the post-WWII era, where growth was much slower and restrained by comparison to the previous century, the dreams were of electric power so cheap it would be unmetered. And a ‘Jetson’s’ future was a vision most saw as perfectly reasonable if not necessarily inevitable.

    Today the veils are beginning to slip from our eyes. We are beginning to understand that our dreams of trekking to the stars are very far away indeed. And all the fanfare about “progress” and its promises come out of our corporation’s “the future is friendly” dream shops. We are now beginning to understand that the seeming inevitability of progress bears no more relation to reality than did the paintings we used to draw in cave’s so as to improve our chances at the hunt. We are starting to see instead that our relentless extraction of resources, our relentless drive to liquidate as quickly as possible our natural capital is undercutting our ability to maintain ourselves in the “manner to which we are accustomed”.

    Today we are, as ever, faced with the possibility of a “utopia for the masters” as powerful as any that have come before. Fortunately as powerful as our elites have become much of their power – as it was in both world wars – is useless to them. Even counterproductive to their goals. Iraq, like Vietnam, showed that small weapons proliferation has made modern armies worse than useless. They are also grotesquely expensive to boot. Notwithstanding this small bit of good news, the limits to growth are now becoming apparent everywhere. We are in a race against time and we are not necessarily sufficiently well equipped for the journey we are about to take.

    So be it. Yaweh ain’t the only one who can boast of knowing that “it is what it is”.

    Newton changed our world by giving us calculus. An achievement that Einstein called the single greatest contribution ever made by an individual to the evolution of human thought. Democritus and Lucipus gave us the idea of the atom. The world has gone from flat to round. The oceans from table top to hemispheric. The holes in the sky to the stars that make life as we know it possible. We have more than once revolutionized our thinking. That we can transcend Marx and Smith cannot be doubted. Anymore than it can be doubted that none could more fervently wish that we do so than they themselves. They were both men seeking the greater good. The same cannot be said of those who led the societies that described themselves as acolytes of “the great men”. Despite the very many protestations of good intent that we heard from both sides. The rhetoric of our leaders today is very little different. I.e. One must always look past the rhetoric of elites and follow the money to understand their actual intentions and the really occurring effects of these intentions as they are practiced out here in the real world where all of us live.

    Nature bat’s last is a phrase that haunts anyone with a full understanding of the limits that are now pressing down upon us all. Am I as a result pessimistic? Yes of course I am. Only the most callow of youths could be anything but. This does not mean that I cannot follow Gramsci’s prescription to practice “pessimism of the intellect ” even as I excercise my “optimism of the will.”

    Be well my friends. Be good to each other as well. You are more alike than you might imagine and the fact that you are on a site like this is proof that if nothing else you are willing to entertain the great questions of our time. Questions that hang in the air like the coal infused fogs of yore. Coal being at the very centre of likely the most pressing of all of those questions: For when it comes to climate, “Are ya feeling lucky punk?” seems to be the order of the day. I guess we’re going to show that “real men” ain’t afraid and like the FSU, Iraq and Iran problem too can be ‘faced down’ as long as we remain steadfast enough. And if Copenhagen is any indication luck is very much going to be needed if we hope to escape the 21st century in anywhere near anything resembling the shape we escaped the 20th.

    In our own country the recent federal budget was particularly revelatory. $1.5 billion for airport security over the next few years and nothing for public transit. Similarly nothing for green jobs and generation while the military grows ever more bloated and potent as an economic, political and lobbying force. Serving its ultimate purpose: the transfer of wealth from the working class to the owners of the high tech sector.

    As to what the future holds and what I’m hoping for: My litmus test is as follows. If we emerge from this century with the information age intact and a longevity rate around today’s, I will consider the century a success. If not, then not.

    Ton confrere,

    Jeff Berg
    Post Carbon Toronto

    P.S. For those of you in Toronto. Trinity St. Paul Church. 427 Bloore, Spadina subway, 7 pm. Richard Heinberg will be speaking on our groups behalf. Author of 9 books, former electric guitar player in Toronto, and the man I call the poet laureate of the peak energy thesis. He’s well worth your two hour time investment. A la proxima y suerte como no dices en Espana:-)

  19. kalidas said on March 6th, 2010 at 9:04am #

    Mr. Berg, when you refer to “our world,” surely you mean the Western world.
    A common misconception.
    “Calculus created in India 250 years before Newton”

    Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/08/14/calculus070814.html#ixzz0hPjaK22B
    The Crest of the Peacock: the Non-European Roots of Mathematics.

    Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/08/14/calculus070814.html#ixzz0hPkO4xmi
    Einstein: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”

    P. Johnstone: “Gravitation was known to the Hindus (Indians) before the birth of Newton. The system of blood circulation was discovered by them centuries before Harvey was heard of.”

    Emmelin Plunret: “They were very advanced Hindu astronomers in 6000 BC. Vedas contain an account of the dimension of Earth, Sun, Moon, Planets and Galaxies.” (‘Calendars and Constellations’)

    Lancelot Hogben: “There has been no more revolutionary contribution than the one which the Hindus (Indians) made when they invented ZERO.” (‘Mathematics for the Millions’)
    “Democritus and Lucipus gave us the idea of the atom”

    “This Indian concept of the atom was developed independently and prior to the development of the idea in the Greco-Roman world. The first Indian philosopher who formulated ideas about the atom in a systematic manner was Kanada who lived in the 6th century B.C. Another Indian philosopher, Pakudha Katyayana who also lived in the 6th century B.C. and was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, had also propounded ideas about the atomic constitution of the material world.”
    Baudhayana (Pythagoras) Theorem…

    Referring the Sulbha Sutra, circa 800 BC, we get the following verse:

    “A rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together.”

    This is the earliest explanation to what we familiarly refer to as the Pythagoras theorem. Though this discovery was made at least 500 years before Pythagoras, the world still refers to this important mathematical axiom as the “Pythagorean” theorem rather than Baudhayana’s theorem.

    Baudhayana made several other important discoveries, some of which we use regularly, while others are used in higher level maths.
    Last but certainly not least..

    When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi responded, “I think it would be a good idea.” ..

  20. bozh said on March 6th, 2010 at 9:21am #

    Building socialism is not theoretical socialism. Building asocialism was easy in US, because asocialists there had always comprised 99% of the pop. And, furthermore, asocialism in US was built on the back of existing world asocialism.
    It was and still is an easy job for asocialists to persuade 98% of americans that americanism is the best ever shape of governance.

    Socialists in USSR had to cope with at least 90% of asocialists. And they had or thought they had a limited time to enlighten their people ab socialism.

    But surrounded by oceans of asocialism intent on destroying it, it had to acquire weaponry and that cld be done only via industrializion.
    But the mortal blow to USSR socialism building was delivered by US missiles pointing at USSR. It cldn’t retaliate in kind and being more human withdrew their misslies pointing at US.

    But china had learned from that. It is not surrounded yet by US missiles. Thus has lotsof time to create a more humane society.
    There must be reasons why US is not, or seems not to be, placing missiles at china’s borders.
    It isn’t because US doesn’t want to destroy this good example. So, what’s up?
    China can retaliate, i think; look US in the eye and not blink first.
    I wld do just that if i led china, cuba, vietnam, korea, venezuella.
    Btw, it may be true that directors, generals, et al in socialistlands have earned more than a worker. But never by more than three times more than what some USans earn: as much as thousand times more than a worker. tnx

  21. kalidas said on March 6th, 2010 at 10:18am #

    bozh, it seems the empire is more of a threat to China than ever.
    Not totally surrounded but the “neighborhood” ain’t what it used to be..

    “Air force colonel Dai Xu, a renowned military strategist, wrote in an article released this month (Feb. 2010) that “China is in a crescent-shaped ring of encirclement. The ring begins in Japan, stretches through nations in the South China Sea to India, and ends in Afghanistan. Washington’s deployment of anti-missile systems around China’s periphery forms a crescent-shaped encirclement.
    Ni Lexiong, an expert on military affairs with the Shanghai Institute of Political Science and Law, told the Guanghzou Daily yesterday, “The US anti-missile system in China’s neighborhood is a replica of its strategy in Eastern Europe against Russia. The Obama administration began to plan for such a system around China after its project in Eastern Europe got suspended”.


  22. bozh said on March 6th, 2010 at 10:42am #

    kalidas, thanks for information,
    Is china doing anything ab it? Is china not pointing missiles at s.korea or even japan; in case there are missiles in japan pointing at china?
    Wldn’t also russia be alarmed if US is now installing missiles anywhere in afgh’n?
    There was not much, if any, reporting on this aspect of socialism-asocialism conflict.
    Encyrclement of china is real, tho. I have noted that long time ago! tnx

  23. Jeff Berg said on March 6th, 2010 at 11:34am #


    You make valid points. At this juncture however I do not feel amiss in pointing out that my piece is not about socialism or imperialism for that matter. In fact the one and only line in my piece that even remotely mentions socialism has quite literally zero to do with that venerable subject matter. It is instead a dig at the utopian naivete of free market ideologues.

    The discourse concerning the relative merits and drawbacks of capitalism and socialism – the dialectic if you will – is not without merit of course. Neither would a synthesis be out of place thank you very much if you’ve got one. It is not however what I was writing about.

    What I was writing about was the natural limits to growth. The fact that nature always bats last. That population blooms that exceed the carrying capacity of the natural environment end similarly; and that on the whole it would be better if we human animals collectively understood that we are not exempt to these rules no matter what God we pray to or which books we choose to follow.

    What I was writing about was the fact that the problem lies with fossil fuel based industrialized economies dedicated to exponential growth. No matter their ideological, philosophical or ethical underpinnings.

    Most of all what I am interested in discussing is the duality of fossil fuel energy and how we might finesse this duality. For on the one hand hydrocarbon energy has given us an unparalleled capacity for increasing our quality of life; on the other hand however at this point in human history it threatens to wreak havoc with the very thing that sustains us – our ecology.

    For about a hundred thousand years we lived on the avails of sunlight alone. Sunlight made possible the fruits and nuts and grubs and fish. Sunlight made possible the fields of wheat, the beasts of burden, the Appian Way, and spring eternal. (Other things were involved of course but let us not digress again, literature needs license, especially mine:-)

    Then along came Mary and Harry has never quite been the same. Top down, doing 150 km/h along a black- snaking-long and winding ashphaltene road. Flying down the 17 mile drive to Monterey, 450 hp at your beck and call, demanding only a few ounces of foot pressure and the skill to handle the result. Blackberry in hand, iPod blaring, connected to New York and your broker in real time exhorting them to “buy-buy-buy” and/or “sell-sell-sell”. She sits beside you as close to the summit of human perfection as anything you can imagine. Flawless teeth, perfect skin, five feet ten, great bones and bone structure, and eyes as clear and sparkling as her PTSD free personality. There is something to be said for a nurturing and tragedy free upbringing. She and you both are a testament to the benefits of leisure time, pharmaceuticals, and the boundless calories that fossil fuel energy has made possible. What’s not to like? Really, what’s not to like?

    Well what’s not to like is the conversation that I think we should be having. Because until know the conversation has been about why everyone should live like Harry and Mary. About the best way forward to a Jetson’s future for all. This conversation has led everyone, and I mean everyone on the left and the right to conclude that there’s nothing not to like other than not being there yourself. Or being there and having too little company.

    The conversation that I think we need to be having instead has to do with energy security, and how to achieve it while bringing our ecological footprint in keeping with the unalterable rules that physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, agronomy, and oceanography make clear.

    That’s just me though. Far be it for me to tell anyone what they can or cannot write and talk about. Lord knows I’ve read my fair share of Sartre, Plato, Hume, Shakespeare, Austen, Vonnegut, Herbert, Zinn, Johnson, Kolko, Lemon, Chomsky, Marx, Smith, Goff, Roy, Sen, Stiglitz, Palast, Goodman, Whitney, Baker, Roberts, et al., over the last thirty years. I just think that we’ve reached a brand spanking new inflection point in human history, and a much stricter reliance on the physical sciences as they relate to ecology will be necessary for the next hundred years to escape the mistakes of the last hundred. No easy task

    To quote from Kolko’s ‘A Century of War’: “It is much easier to say that information should trump dogmatism and error than it is to make it so.”

    ton confrere,

    Jf Berg
    Post Carbon Toronto

  24. bozh said on March 6th, 2010 at 4:55pm #

    Nither capitalism nor socialism is imperialitic- people are. Usually, what i call hell-on-earth people comprising clergy and ‘nobility’.
    Imperialism denotes theft of land, oppression, killings,exploitation, etc.
    Socialism is solely ab changing the structure of society from an much inegalitarian structure to less unequal one.

    It shld leave economy alone; letting people produce and sell. In any economy, there wld be ‘menial’ and ‘mindless’ labor. Is there no miners, forest workers, pavers, construction workers, janitors, et al everywhere?

    If one works in san fransisco for s’mone in new work, such work cld be called mindless, However, if worker works for self and others [as he did inUSSR] that labor is not mindless.

    If u talk ab marx, mao, stalin u cannot separate socialist ideas from them. They were communist and working for the final stage of socialism which is obtaining an idyllic society and incipient socialism being the first stage of it.
    Commuists have used the word communism for the end of structural developement of society- i use the word idyllic structure of society as the end product.

    Besides capitalism appears meaningful-meaningless term. A much better term wld be to call all we do simply the economy.
    It is iniquitous structure of society that is cause of ills that befall humans on interpersonal and int’l levels and not any kind of labor.
    Labor is honorable- any labor. But once, people are ashamed of selves for being laborers because ‘educators’ such as clergy and ‘nobility’ have taught them to feel ashamed of labor and their imposed-on-them lower values.

    In fact, the superrich people in US had always been very strongly socialistic and no just as of late. ‘Nobility’ had always been interdependent; crushing in fierce anger and indignity in much blood many peasant rebellions thruout europe.

    Try a rebellion now in US and see what happens! U’d see quckly how quickly the’d circle the wagons in selfdefence and their god given right to impose serfdom on the less-valued people.
    In conclusion, one can compare cuban economy with german economy. One can compare structure of society in n.korea with that of china or japan. There is nothing wrong with this.
    But once one starts to compare capitalism [in whatever meaning] with socialism, then one is comparing an apple with an ugli.
    This artifice is used assiduously by all clergy, msm collumnists, ‘eduactors’, editors, generals, pols, et al.
    And propaganda has been working well. 98% of americans are asocialistic; i.e. fascist! That’s also called the greatness of america!