Monday, April 22, 2024

Wild Free and Happy Sample 62

 [Note: This is a new section from the rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy. It’s finally getting into the home stretch, maybe four more to go (or fewer).  These samples start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE (if you happen to have some free time). 

Electric Supply and Demand

There are two flavors of electricity.  Power plants generate alternating current (AC) electricity and feed it into the grid.  AC is impossible to store — use it or lose it.  But if AC is converted to direct current (DC) electricity, it can be stored in battery systems.  Then, when demand increases, the stored DC power can be converted to AC, and fed back into the grid. 

In a conventional power system, centralized plants generate the electricity and feed it into the grid for distribution — a hub and spoke design.  Throughout every day, demand for power rises and falls.  When demand rises, more power must quickly be fed to the grid.  To do this, secondary generators are kept running on standby, providing a “spinning reserve.”

Renewable energy systems are quite different.  There is no central production plant with a spinning reserve backup.  Generation is provided by a scattered network of solar panels and/or wind turbines.  They are installed at sites likely to generate the most power, and these are often not located close to existing grids and energy consumers.

In addition to the normal daily ups and downs of end-user demand, power generation cannot be carefully managed.  The challenge here is intermittency.  Solar panels do nothing at night, or when heavy clouds move in, or when their collectors are covered with snow, dust, bird droppings, etc.  Wind turbines take a nap when the breeze fades away, or when their blades are coated with ice.  The strength of sunbeams and breezes is variable, uncontrollable, and often unpredictable.

Mitch Rolling noted, “In Minnesota, wind farms produced electricity only 34.67 percent of the time in 2016.”  Vaclav Smil wrote, “The best offshore wind turbines produce electricity 45% of the time, and photovoltaic panels 25% in ideal locations — while Germany’s solar panels produce electricity only 12% of the time.”

Wind and solar systems don’t have a spinning reserve generator for backup.  So, to reliably respond to shifts in demand, surplus generation can be stored in batteries.  When demand increases, stored power can be released to the grid.

Imagine living on the 60th floor of a skyscraper when the region’s renewable energy production has been hobbled by intermittency for days or weeks, and the batteries are drained.  No power, water, lights, elevators, etc.  This challenge will increase as the grid transitions from fossil energy to renewable.

Vaclav Smil noted that existing energy storage systems have far less capacity than needed to maintain reliable power delivery.  “It is still impossible to store electricity affordably in quantities sufficient to meet the demand of a medium-sized city (500,000) for only a week or two, or to supply a megacity (more than 10 million people) for just half a day.”


As mentioned earlier, many fundamental components of industrial civilization can only be produced with the high temperatures made possible by fossil energy (steel, concrete, solar panels, wind turbines etc.).  Thus, current technology does not allow us to actually decarbonize the global economy, or even come close.

A number of U.S. counties and localities are creating rules to prohibit the construction of wind and/or solar installations.  In 2023, 411 U.S. counties had established some restrictions on renewable energy installations.  Rural folks don’t want their countrysides blemished with unsightly power towers and access roads.  Leave us alone!

In 2024, USA Today reported, “Local governments are banning new utility-scale wind and solar power faster than they’re building it.”  New wind turbine projects have been banned in 23 counties of North Carolina, in all 120 counties of Kentucky, in all 8 counties of Connecticut, in all 14 counties of Vermont, and in 91 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Poor nations can’t afford to make costly investments in renewable energy, and wealthy nations are not eager to generously provide them with enormous financial assistance.  Folks in wealthy nations aren’t interested in radically simplifying their lives.

There are 193 nations in the world.  At international meetings, they proudly announce their optimistic goals for transitioning to renewable energy within several decades.  Given that extended timeframe, it’s tempting to assume that technological miracles, yet to be invented, will somehow save the day.  Optimistic goals are easy to announce.  Fulfilling them is another story.

Vaclav Smil noted that China and India are still expanding coal extraction and coal-fired power generation plants.  In other regions, there is strong opposition to new rules that restrict the expansion of natural gas infrastructure.  Coal mining communities don’t want to shut down the mines.  The petroleum industry remains hard at work.

In Iowa, the term “climate change” can sound like an obscene demonic hoax.  Chris Gloninger, a TV weather forecaster, foolishly spoke those two words during a live broadcast.  Viewers exploded with rage.  He got death threats, quit his job, and moved out of the state. 


And now, dear reader, the plot of this word dance makes a sudden swerve into a dangerous lane.  The soundtrack gets speedy screechy loud and scary.  A vicious monster steps out of the shadows and into the spotlight.  The audience screams.  Alas, the actual planet smashing boogeyman is far more horrifying and powerful than climate change.  Its name is overshoot, and it cannot be easily swept away with clever gizmos, delusional optimism, or clueless indifference.

In an earlier chapter, I mentioned William Catton, the author of Overshoot.  He defined carrying capacity as “the maximum population of a given species which a particular habitat can support indefinitely.”  Overshoot is “the condition of having exceeded for the time being the permanent carrying capacity of the habitat.”  Today, humankind’s tremendous impacts on the entire planet far exceed the limits.  Way too many critters are living way too hard, we don’t understand what we’re doing, and we have no interest in stopping.

In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond wrote about the Viking colonization of Iceland, which is now “the most heavily damaged country in Europe.”  Since settlement in A.D. 870, most of the original trees and vegetation have been destroyed.  Half of its soil has been moved into the ocean.  Large areas that were green when the Vikings first landed are now “a lifeless brown desert without buildings, roads, or any current signs of people.”  The Vikings were low-tech amateurs, and climate was not a primary factor in this disaster.

Today, the rapidly growing mob of 8+ billion hungry horny primates is mindlessly beating the living crap out of the planet in countless ways.  It’s very important to understand that climate change is merely one component of overshoot, the huge whoop-ass monster we have conjured into existence. 

William Rees explained that the impacts of overshoot include climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater depletion, mass extinctions, deforestation, plunging biodiversity, soil/land degradation, falling sperm counts, pollution of everything, etc.  “Climate change is the best-known symptom of overshoot, but mainstream ‘solutions’ will actually accelerate climate disruption and worsen overshoot.  The global economy will inevitably contract, and humanity will suffer a major population ‘correction’ in this century.” 

Seibert & Rees wrote, “Overshoot is a genuine existential threat.  Climate change alone is capable of making large patches of Earth irreversibly uninhabitable for humans in this century and ultimately jeopardizing global civilization.”

The safe and effective cure for overshoot is obvious, but the medicine is bitter.  “We argue that the only viable response to overshoot is a managed contraction of the human enterprise until we arrive within the safely stable territory defined by ecological limits.  This will entail many fewer people consuming far less energy and material resources than at present.”

Meanwhile, many talking heads are telling us exactly what we want to hear.  We can relax and comfortably continue working and shopping.  We just need to buy an electric car, become vegans, have one child or none, and enjoy a wonderful life.  The magic verb that speeds our pilgrimage to eco-utopia is “decarbonize.”  Clean green renewable energy will save the Earth.

William Rees disagrees.  The last thing we need to do is shift the mining industry into high gear, and produce 1.39 billion batteries for the world’s transport fleet.  We’ll also need a huge number of batteries to provide backup power for the electric grids around the world.  Producing huge numbers of solar panels and wind turbines will require even more mining, smelting, and manufacturing.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Wild Free and Happy Sample 61


[Note: This is a new section from the rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy. It’s finally getting into the home stretch, maybe four more to go (or fewer).  These samples start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE (if you happen to have some free time).

Great Acceleration

Readers with gray hair are acutely aware that they have spent their entire lives in a hurricane of explosive change.  I was born in Michigan, and spent my first 18 years in West Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit.  In 1950, it was home to 8,720 people.  In 2020, there were 65,888! 

When my grandparents were born in the late 1800s, there were 1.3 billion people on Earth.  When I was born in 1952, there were 2.6 billion humans.  Today, just during my lifetime, the mob has more than tripled, zooming past eight billion.  We continue growing like a voracious planet eating swarm.

In 2000, J. R. McNeill published Something New Under the Sun, a fascinating (and shocking) book on the environmental history of the twentieth century, when cultures blind drunk on gushers of cheap oil spurred a population explosion.  In his 2014 book, The Great Acceleration, McNeill narrowed his focus to the catastrophic changes that have occurred since 1945 — perhaps the most destructive era since the Chicxulub asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

This explosion was propelled by a fossil fuel bonfire that enabled industrial civilization to sharply increase food production.  Look at this mind-blowing graph [Here].  The curve of energy consumption closely corresponds with the curve of population growth. 

William E. Rees, writing in 2023, noted a daunting factoid: “Half the fossil fuels ever consumed have been burned in just the past 30-35 years.”  (As much as 90% of it has been burned since the early 1940s). 

Fossil energy is not renewable, and the remaining reserves are shrinking every day.  Currently, this bonfire has propelled a turbulent joyride of titillating decadence.  Humankind has far exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity in countless ways.

Bill McGuire is a professor emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London.  He wrote Hothouse Earth, and was a contributor to the 2012 IPCC report.  McGuire warned that “there is now no chance of dodging a grim future of perilous, all-pervasive, climate breakdown.”  In today’s snowy regions, winters will be brief or go extinct, and summers will get toasty.  We’re gliding toward a world “that would be utterly alien to our grandparents.”

The other night was a full moon.  It stirred some powerful feelings.  Once upon a time, that same moon shined down on the woolly mammoths.  It made Neanderthals smile.  It glowed upon our ancient tree-dwelling ancestors, and on the age of dinosaurs.  It lit the night when there was no life on Earth.  The moon remembers so much.

Global Energy

It’s vital to comprehend the major limitations of renewable energy.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an organization that focuses on global energy consumption.  Their 524-page World Energy Outlook 2022 report revealed some daunting statistics.

First, a vocabulary lesson.  Primary energy consumption” measures total energy demand.  Final energy consumption” is a subset of primary — it’s just the amount of energy consumed by end users, such as households, industry, and agriculture.  It is the energy which reaches the final consumer’s door and excludes that which is used by the energy sector itself.

With regard to global final energy consumption, 80% of it is provided by fossil energy, and 20% is provided by electricity — and about 95% of this electricity is currently generated with nonrenewable fossil energy.  In addition to this, the GND plan also requires that the global fleet of cars, trucks, trains, etc., must be switched to “clean, green, carbon-free power.”  It can’t.

Vaclav Smil warned us.  “We are a fossil-fueled civilization whose technical and scientific advances, quality of life, and prosperity rest on the combustion of huge quantities of fossil carbon, and we cannot simply walk away from this critical determinant of our fortunes in a few decades, never mind years.”

It’s absolutely impossible to radically decarbonize our current way of life because electricity can’t provide the power needed for many processes that are fundamental to life as we know it.  The concrete, steel, and other essential components of solar panels, wind turbines, hydro dams, and electric vehicles cannot be made with electricity.

Alice Friedemann discussed critical shortcomings of the renewable energy fantasy.  “All contraptions that produce electricity need high heat in their construction.  They all need cement made at 2600°F (1426°C).”  There is no known way to make cement with electricity.

Making steel for wind turbines requires 3100°F (1700°C).  “Solar panels require 2700° to 3600°F (1500° to 2000°C) of heat to transform silicon dioxide into metallurgical grade silicon.”  Nuke plants still on the drawing board, in theory, might be able to generate 1562°F (850°C), but this is not hot enough for making cement, steel, glass, and lots of other stuff.

Vaclav Smil agreed.  Sharply cutting back, or ending, the use of fossil energy, would blindside our party.  For example, he mentioned cement, steel, plastic, and ammonia.  He calls them “the four material pillars of modern civilization.”  The GND does not explain how the four could be produced solely with renewable electricity.  They also don’t explain how trucking, shipping, rail transport, and flying could largely be carbon-free in a decade or so, if ever.

Smil reminded us that the large-scale production of highly potent synthetic ammonia fertilizer led to a dramatic increase in agricultural yields.  More food could feed more mouths.  Of the eight billion people alive in 2022, he estimated that the existence of 40 to 50 percent of them was only made possible by the bigger harvests enabled by ammonia fertilizer, a product made from natural gas (fossil energy).

The steel industry is dependent on coking coal and natural gas, and its emissions contribute substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.  Smil wrote, “But steel is not the only major material responsible for a significant share of CO2 emissions: cement is much less energy-intensive, but because its global output is nearly three times that of steel, its production is responsible for a very similar share of emitted carbon.”

Cement is made of limestone and clay.  Concrete is made of cement, water, sand, and rock.  Andrew Logan wrote, “After water, concrete is the most consumed material on Earth.”  Making high-performance concrete requires heating calcium carbonate, a process that releases CO2.  Additional CO2 is released by the kiln, which burns fossil fuel to generate a temperature of 2,700°F (1,482°C).  This intense heat cannot be generated by using electricity. 

Jonathan Watts noted that the four biggest causes of CO2 emissions are coal, oil, gas, and concrete.  He called concrete “the most destructive material on Earth.”  Its global production has increased 25-fold since 1950. 

Smil’s bottom line: “With current technologies, and for the foreseeable future, you simply cannot make cement, steel, plastic, or ammonia absent fossil fuels.”  Fossil energy is essential for making potent fertilizer, manufacturing farm equipment, and operating the machines.  It enables the processing, packaging, refrigeration, and distribution of the nutrients that keep countless folks on life support. 

Nonrenewable Mining

Fossil energy is essential for manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, pavement, power transmission grids, and on and on.  All of them are made of materials extracted from the Earth.  The mining, crushing, hauling, and smelting of mineral resources are extremely dependent on fossil powered technology.

Walter Youngquist mentioned an old geologist saying, “If it can’t be grown, it must be mined.”  The GND dream seems to assume that the planet’s reserves of strategic minerals are essentially limitless — a cookie jar that never empties, no matter how fast we eat them, century after century. 

The dream involves an extensive redesign, replacement, and expansion of most of the global infrastructure used for power generation, distribution, and consumption.  The dream envisions that every nation on Earth, from the richest to poorest, will eagerly cooperate to complete the transition within 20 or 30 years.  Seriously?

Frik Els was thrilled by the GND optimism.  He is the editor of, a news source for the mining industry.  He praised the efforts of frontline GND proponents Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg, calling them “mining’s unlikely heroines.”  Why?  Because the GND would be a multi-trillion-dollar godsend for mining and manufacturing corporations, and their lucky stockholders.

Vaclav Smil provided an illuminating example.  A typical lithium car battery weighs about 990 pounds (450 kg), and contains lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, graphite, steel, aluminum, and plastics.  To make just one battery, extracting those ingredients would require crushing and refining 40 tons of specific ores.  To access and fetch those 40 tons of ore-bearing rock, 225 tons of worthless rock would first have to be moved out of the way.  Folks, that’s one battery for one car! 

In 2021, Simon Michaux wrote a 1,000-page report for the Geological Survey of Finland, a government bureaucracy.  It documented the results of a study done to determine if it was possible to replace fossil energy with electricity generated by renewable methods, on a global scale. 

In 2019, the global transport fleet included about 1.41 billion cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, of which 1.39 billion used Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) technology.  To shift the fleet to Electric Vehicle (EV) technology would require 1.39 billion batteries to store their electricity.  Also, the world’s gas stations would need to be replaced with charging stations that can deliver renewable energy. 

As mentioned, making batteries requires enormous amounts of mineral resources.  The Geological Survey of Finland wondered if there were adequate mineral resources on Earth to make 1.39 billion batteries for vehicles (282.6 million tons of batteries).  Their study concluded: “No, not even close.” 

Batteries typically have a working lifespan of only 5 to 15 years.  Michaux warns that current mining production, and existing mineral reserves, are insufficient to manufacture even the first generation of renewable technology.  “What are the theoretical options for running industrial systems on renewable energy?  The geologists can’t think of any.”

Christopher Ketchum noted that a full-scale U.S. transition to renewable energy technology would require a massive surge in the production of critical metals.  Estimates predict that this could increase demand for them by 700% to 4,000%.

Alice Friedemann noted the heavy impacts associated with renewable energy.  “Mining consumes 10% of world energy.  Wind, solar, and all other electrical generating machines rely on fossil-fueled mining, manufacturing, and transportation every step of their life cycle.”

Jon Hurdle wrote about recycling solar panels.  “Today, roughly 90 percent of panels in the U.S. that have lost their efficiency due to age, or that are defective, end up in landfills because that option costs a fraction of recycling them.” 

Seibert & Rees noted that renewable energy devices have limited lifespans.  Solar panels and wind turbines last an average of 15 to 30 years, DC inverters last 5 to 8 years, batteries last 5 to 15 years.  Unfortunately, the materials used to create the highly complex physical infrastructure for the entire system are not made of magic fairy dust.  Nor are the bodies, motors, and batteries of electric vehicles.  They have their roots in strip mines, smelters, chemical plants, toxic waste dumps, oil refineries, and on and on. 

Many tons of steel and concrete are needed to manufacture and install each wind turbine.  To make a solar panel, you need stuff like cobalt, gallium, germanium, indium, manganese, tellu­rium, titanium, and zinc.  To create the computer hardware needed to operate the grids, you need to fetch stuff like platinum, rhenium, selenium, gold, strontium, tantalum, gallium, germanium, beryllium, yttrium, and pure silicon.

Another essential component of modern living in a world of eight billion is extensive networks of well-maintained roads.  Walter Youngquist noted that in the U.S., there are more than 2 million miles of paved roads and highways.  About 94% of these miles are asphalt — a material that is 90% crushed rock, and 10% bitumen (a sticky black byproduct of petroleum refining).  “Asphalt is easy to put in place, and far less expensive in terms of energy expended and cost of materials than concrete.” 

In 2007, the American Concrete Pavement Association reported that about 500 million tons of asphalt are placed in the U.S. each year.  Doing this consumed 1.45 billion gallons of diesel fuel (5.488 billion liters).  Asphalt typically needs resurfacing every 8 to 10 years. 

Concrete can last 30 to 40 years before resurfacing, and it’s strong enough to better carry the weight of heavy loads.  About 60% of U.S. interstate highway system pavement is concrete.  Fossil energy is absolutely required for the production of asphalt and concrete.  This energy is nonrenewable, and so is our way of life.

Wild Free and Happy Sample 60

 [Note: This is a new section from the rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy. It’s finally getting into the home stretch, maybe four more to go (or fewer).  These samples start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE (if you happen to have some free time).

Climate Confusion

Climate change is an idea that makes many people sweat and squirm.  Poorly informed folks say it’s a hoax spread by lunatics.  Religious folks might have faith that climate change is God’s will.  Other folks, who pay close attention to the news, perceive that climate trends have obviously swerved into spooky new patterns that potentially endanger the status quo for everyone everywhere. 

Folks who believe that climate change is real and important tend to be divided into two groups.  (1) Techno-optimists feel confident that the threat of climate change can and will be resolved via human brilliance.  (2) Techno-skeptics perceive that the danger is powerful, intensifying, overwhelming, and destined to destabilize life as we know it.

On the center stage of mainstream discussion, the spotlights are usually kept shining on the optimists.  They celebrate the miracles of new technology that will eliminate climate change, and steer us into the fast lane to utopia.  Everything is under control.  Our prosperous way of life is safe and sound.

Samuel Alexander added that the “techno-fix” approach is politically and socially palatable.  “It provides governments, businesses, and individuals with a means of responding to environmental problems (or appearing to) without actually confronting the underlying issues.”

Wackernagel & Rees neatly summed up the clumsy predicament: “The politically acceptable is ecologically disastrous while the ecologically necessary is politically impossible.”

Big Mama Nature is not amused.  She doesn’t care what we believe.  This is her circus, we are her monkeys, and Mama is pissed!  We’re monkeying around with extremely destructive games, while screeching and chattering.  Life is but a dream!

Secret Weapons

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, brilliantly convinced war weary Germans that they’d soon be saved by an amazing technological miracle.  The human mind has a spooky ability to develop a powerful blind faith in almost any idea, no matter how goofy.  Literally, nothing is unbelievable.

Albert Speer was in Hitler’s inner circle.  In March 1945, German defeat was inevitable.  In the final weeks, Hitler revealed his brilliant plan to the German people.  What seemed to be a rapidly approaching brutal defeat was actually a cunning trap!  He was luring the enemy armies into an ambush where they would soon be obliterated by a new and terribly powerful secret weapon!

Just days before the fall of Berlin, Speer made a visit to the western front.  While German cities were smoldering heaps of rubble, rural folks enjoyed a hopeful blind faith in the secret weapon nonsense, and were eagerly awaiting a glorious victory.  Speer was surprised that many top-level Nazis also believed this. 

Ghost Dance

By 1889, the once vast herds of bison on the U.S. plains had nearly been driven to extinction.  To the native people, this monstrous tragedy felt like the end of the world.  Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man, described the Ghost Dance movement, a desperate effort to conjure a powerful act of spiritual healing.

Dancing would roll up the all the crud of the white man’s world, like a dirty carpet.  This would uncover once again “the flowering prairie, unspoiled, with its herds of buffalo and antelope, its clouds of birds, belonging to everyone, enjoyed by all.”

The Ghost Dance movement spread from tribe to tribe.  Dancers were not allowed to have things from the white world: liquor, guns, knives, kettles, or metal ornaments.  They would dance for four days.  Whites feared an armed uprising, so they attacked the dancers.  During the Wounded Knee massacre, 153 Lakota people were exterminated.

Electric Car Dance

Today, drivers concerned about climate change are being persuaded to abandon their old-fashioned petroleum powered machines, and acquire one of the new and luxurious electric powered wheelchairs.  Marketing wizards assure us that the batteries in these wheelchairs will someday be charged with “clean green” electricity produced by solar panels, wind turbines, and other cool gizmos.  Currently, the primary source of energy used to generate electricity for charging stations is fossil fuel, often natural gas. 

The motorized wheelchair fad began a few years before my father was born in 1913.  Ford was an early leader.  In the previous 300,000 years, humans primarily got around on foot — a cheap, healthy, practical, and climate friendly mode of transportation. 

Newborn infants squirt out of the womb with two astonishing miracles at the ends of their legs.  These happy feet allow us to wander through forests, prairies, deserts, wetlands, and mountains.  They propel us while swimming and dancing, and they’re quite useful for kicking and stomping troublesome annoyances. 

Happy Thoughts

In the Peter Pan story, Tinker Bell is the fluttering fairy of magical thinking: “Just think a happy thought and you can fly!”  We’re so lucky to live in a golden age of happy news!  Scroll your phone.  Read the paper.  Turn on the radio or TV.  It’s not hard to find soothing climate change news.

The core message assures us that we have a plan, and we’re making significant advances on important goals.  Some issues are more challenging, and will take additional time.  Climate change is a complicated rascal, but we know what we’re doing.  Everything is under control.  It’s not too late.  Relax!

For example, Wikipedia’s 100% Renewable Energy page reported: “Recent studies show that a global transition to 100% renewable energy across all sectors – power, heat, transport, and desalination well before 2050 is feasible… worldwide at low cost.”  Elsewhere, eco-warrior Bill McKibben wrote that “we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.”

On the other hand, many educators deliberately limit what they tell their students, to avoid souring their precious innocence (don’t scare the children!).  News organizations often limit coverage of unpleasant stories that could disturb their audience and/or advertisers.  Politicians who promise quick and easy solutions win more votes.

Rupert Read wrote, “Environmentalists are often accused of being doom-mongers… I think that almost all environmentalists incline in fact to a Polyanna-ish stance of undue optimism.”

Kevin Anderson noted that this undue optimism was the product of something like a conspiracy theory.  Half of global emissions come from just ten percent of the population.  The top one percent are responsible for twice the amount of carbon as the bottom half of the world’s population.  The inequality in in who is causing emissions is obscene.”  “We’re heading for collapse of modern society, and the collapse of most of our emblematic ecosystems.”

At the same time, this elite one percent is primarily responsible for framing the global discussion on climate change.  They are especially interested in perpetual economic growth, boosting their personal wealth, and keeping business as usual in the fast lane for as long as possible, by any means necessary. 

Sharply reducing emissions would sharply disrupt business as usual.  So would doing nothing, disregarding climate impacts, partying like there’s no tomorrow, and letting nature clean up the bloody mess.

Green New Deal

Anyway, climate change sucks.  It’s largely caused by a mob of eight billion critters generating way too many carbon emissions.  A primary source of carbon-rich pollution is the combustion of staggering amounts of fossil fuel. 

Shazam!  The quick and easy solution is perfectly obvious!  We just abandon our naughty addiction to dirty energy, and replace it with clean green renewable energy.  Hooray!  State of the art technology will allow us to painlessly glide into a beautiful green utopia that requires no significant lifestyle sacrifices. 

In this great healing, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and electric motors play starring roles.  The climate-saving magic word here is decarbonize.  In a number of nations, this crusade has gradually been growing since 2018 or so.  The main U.S. version of this movement is called the Green New Deal (GND).

The GND vision is to make radical, gargantuan, and super expensive changes around the entire world over the next 20 to 30 years.  Ideally, every nation would eagerly cooperate, and this would allow humankind to gradually reduce the brutality of the beatings that Big Mama Nature receives every day.  Then, miracles happen, and future generations maybe enjoy a smoother journey into the future.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as noted earlier, ongoing CO2 emissions are increasing, and they are accumulating in the atmosphere, where they will persist for thousands of years.  John Gowdy concluded, “The effects of fossil fuel burning are irreversible on a time scale relevant to humans.”  We’ve started something we cannot stop.

In 2021, Megan Seibert and William E. Rees released a free report that provided a vigorous critique of the GND’s shortcomings and fantasies.  It’s a competent intro, and it’s fairly easy to read — “GND proponents are appallingly tolerant of the inexplicable.”

Vaclav Smil is an energy theorist, the author of How the World Really Works, and 40 other books.  He’s a sharp critic of the GND’s pipe dream of a full-scale transition from fossil energy to clean green renewable energy.  He calls it science fiction.  “Heavy doses of wishful thinking are commingled with a few solid facts.”

Smil smirked at the GND’s juicy promises.  “Who could be against solutions that are both cheap and nearly instantly effective, that will create countless well-paying jobs, and ensure care-free futures for coming generations?”  Many others agree with Smil’s skepticism.

We talk about two categories of energy: nonrenewable (fossil), and renewable (wind, solar, etc.).  Nate Hagens clarified this subject.  Geese and oak trees are “renewable.”  Solar collectors and wind turbines are “rebuildable.”  They have a working lifespan of up to 20-30 years, at which point they must be periodically replaced, until the time when civilization rusts in peace.  Their components are not designed to be recycled in an affordable and eco-friendly way.  Many go to landfills.  Some are considered to be toxic waste.

William Rees explained how our dreams of “solving” global warming have deep roots in magical thinking.  Proposed “solutions” are compatible with perpetual economic growth and business as usual.  We can pretend to save the world while mindlessly enjoying our cool toys until the lights go out.  Yippee!

During its evolution, the GND mindset has been an intoxicating cornucopia of heartwarming utopian fantasies.  We’d have 100% renewable energy by 2030.  Decent jobs for everyone.  Free college education.  Single-payer healthcare.  Adequate housing.  Healthy affordable food.  Public transportation and high-speed rail.  Perpetual economic growth.  And so on.  (See Wikipedia’s Green New Deal section.)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Wild New World


Dan Flores is a historian who has been studying the stormy relationship between humans and the family of life for many years.  He calls this subject Big History.  Wild New World is a fascinating and disturbing masterpiece.  It’s a thick book loaded with ideas gathered over a long career.  The core focus is on North America, which was once an Eden-like paradise of abundant wildlife.  What happened?

Our species emerged in beautiful Mother Africa maybe 300,000 years ago.  Maybe 60,000 years ago, adventurous folks began wandering off into the outer world.  Our exploration of the planet was underway.  Folks went east to Asia, and north to Europe.  By maybe 45,000 years ago, folks were in Siberia and northern Asia.  So far, the earliest evidence of humans in America dates to maybe 25,000 years ago.

Flores described two important discoveries in New Mexico.  At Folsom (1908), the bones of 32 extinct giant bison, 12,450 years old.  At Clovis (1914) the bones of extinct mammoths, 13,000 years old.  At both sites, flaked flint points were found with the bones, smoking gun evidence of human hunting.  A huge surprise!

Humans were team hunters skilled at killing delicious wild animals, preferably jumbo sized megafauna.  As bands of pioneers migrated into new frontiers, a number of megafauna species gradually went extinct, in one region after another, a sequence corresponding to the timeline of human arrival. 

Today, our culture celebrates human brilliance.  We’re simply too smart to disrupt the planet’s climate — global warming is a hoax!  We deny responsibility — not our fault.  Similarly, we’re too smart to cause mass extinctions — not our fault. 

It’s much more comfortable to blame prehistoric climate change.  But the wiped-out species in America had survived for millions of years, including numerous eras of unusual heat and cold.  They weren’t dainty weaklings.  Why did this killer climate shift only exterminate large animals, not small?  Why did it just affect America, but not other continents at the same time?  Hmmm…

In the 1960s, Paul Martin began using a new technology, radiocarbon dating, a better tool for dating prehistoric artifacts.  This enabled him to compare the dates of human presence in North America with the dates of extinctions.  He learned that human arrival came first, and extinctions came later — during a process that took maybe a thousand years. 

Stunned, he referred to this process as “blitzkrieg overkill,” because of its unusual speed.  To Native Americans, this implied that their venerable ancestors foolishly hunted too hard.  They’ve never been fond of the paleface settlers who foolishly obliterated their ancient homeland, and they especially disliked Martin.

We’ve now learned that as the human diaspora advanced around the world, the same pattern followed: arrival first, then extinction.  By 2006, Martin had learned more.  He wrote, “I argue that virtually all extinctions of wild animals in the last 50,000 years were anthropogenic.”  Yikes!  The indigenous white folks of Europe had done it too!

Evolution had fine-tuned us for living in tropical climates.  Many of the new lands we wandered into had uncomfortably chilly non-tropical climates.  We were forced to develop innovative solutions, like needles, awls, sewn clothing, and protective shelters. 

When we arrived in new regions, the wildlife was clueless.  Mysterious bipedal primates did not trigger danger alarms, because we didn’t fit the standard predator template.  “We were a brilliant new predator with sophisticated weapons, dogs, and fire.”  For a while, hunters enjoyed the pursuit of fearless prey, many of whom became victims of fatal tameness, like dodos.  During the Lewis & Clark expedition, Clark once bayoneted a wolf that calmly walked past.

Hunting focused on jumbo sized animals that didn’t breed like bunnies, or zoom like gazelles.  Small groups of humans roamed across vast roadless wilderness on foot, armed with Stone Age weapons.  Game was depleted over the course of centuries, and the process of decline could have been imperceptible to living generations.  As game got scarce, the diaspora advanced into new regions.

Everywhere we migrated, the megafauna had evolved large strong bodies, a traditional defense against fierce predators, like sabertooth cats.  Unfortunately, when the predators were bloodthirsty primates from outer space, jumbo size was a vulnerability, and high speed escape was not an option.  The big guys could be killed with primitive spears.

America was the last major stop of the human diaspora, which had begun maybe 35,000 years earlier.  During this long process, pioneers had become highly skilled survivalists.  When the Beringia land bridge emerged from the sea, they advanced from Siberia into the “American Serengeti.”

I was shocked to realize the very long time spans of evolutionary history prior to human arrival.  The camel family in North America blinked out 10,000 years ago, ending a 40 million year residence.  Horses went extinct 9,000 years ago, after enjoying four million years here.  Mammoths wandered in from the Old World 1.5 million years ago.  It’s heartbreaking to comprehend the impact of the blitzkrieg.

IMPORTANT!  So, a number of species blinked out.  When the American megafauna extinction surge wound down, what came next was 10,000 years (100 centuries) of relative stability, according to Flores.  The human pioneers remained, and eventually coevolved with the species that survived.  This preserved the continent’s downsized wildlife community.  Humans learned ecosystem limits, established wise taboos to avoid overhunting, and nurtured a culture of profound respect and reverence for the entire family of life. 

Species that survived extinction now had less competition.  With the giant bison gone forever, the much smaller bison we know today exploded in number.  They reached reproductive age faster, and successfully coevolved with the remaining survivors.  

Sadly, the 100 centuries of stability zoomed off a cliff 500 years ago, when visitors from the Old World began washing up on the Atlantic coast — something like a bloody asteroid strike.  The aliens brought with them an assortment of deadly infectious diseases for which natives had zero immunity.  There were maybe four million natives in 1492.  Epidemics rapidly spread westward, killing about 90 percent of them within 100 years. 

This die-off sharply reduced hunting pressure on the wildlife, which was free to grow explosively.  In 1585, Thomas Hariot was astonished by the fantastic abundance of animals he saw in Virginia.  It was an Eden created by disease.  Settlers were free to hunt like crazy in a wilderness where there were no rules or regulations. 

In addition to diseases, colonists also imported their infectious worldview.  Their religion had roots in a herding society that treasured enslaved livestock, and detested predators.  Their Old World culture was built on a foundation of human supremacy, domestication, civilization, manufacturing, fanaticism, patriarchy, environmental devastation, and pathological self-interest. 

From time to time, Flores stopped to take a long hard piss on the notion of self-interest, a demonic quirk in the settler’s worldview.  I suspect it emerged with the rise of farming, herding, personal property, and individual salvation.  Its one all-consuming question has been “how can I get what I want?”  We suffer from an insatiable lifelong pursuit of social status, to the fullest extent possible, by any means necessary.  Nothing else matters.  Sorry kids!  Sorry wolves!

The traditional worldview of most tribal cultures majored in cooperation instead.  It nurtured mindfulness, and profound reverence for the family of life, the mother of their existence.  They were something like the folks who made the passionate cave paintings at Chauvet.  With few exceptions, the named gods of Native Americans were animals — coyote, raven, rabbit, etc. 

In the Old World religion, humans were very special critters, the other animals were not.  By and by, settlers from the Old World flooded into America.  They had domesticated animals and religions and economic ideas wherein “animals were not kin but resources.”  Their lives had no sacred significance.  So, the more hides, pelts, and furs you could take to market, the more cool stuff you could get.  Yippee!

Native folks thoroughly detested the monstrous colonists, but were fascinated by the unusual stuff they had.  Fifty deerskins could be traded for a metal pot.  Hatchets, axes, and knives were more expensive.  Whiskey was intoxicating.  The desire for this stuff was powerful, but it wasn’t free.

It was in the self-interest of the market, and the colonies, to leave nothing of monetary value unmolested.  Wild animals were pests that stood in the path of progress, and their extermination would continue until it was no longer profitable.  For natives, all options sucked.  They struggled to do their best.

In 1972, I was a roller coaster operator.  Riders slowly went up the steep hill, and then rapidly zoomed downhill screaming their brains out.  Flores provides readers a similar experience.  Most of his book describes the terrifying mass insanity that ravaged America in the last 500 years.  Readers will scream their brains out as they plunge deep into the cesspool of Big History, our horrifying monster closet.

Flores wrote that the invaders forced “a transformation of a hundred centuries of Native America into a re-creation of Old World civilization on a new continent.”  Five centuries ago, Old World folks and animals arrived, “and then, like some new contagion spreading inland from the coasts, proceeded to effect a widespread demolition of almost all that was here.”

In one year, 1743, the port at La Rochelle, France “took in 127,000 beaver pelts, 30,300 marten furs, 12,400 river otter furs, 110,000 raccoon pelts, along with its big haul for that year, the stripped skins of 16,500 American black bears.”

“In 1874 Bozeman market hunters were hip-deep in the big bonanza.  That year they shipped out 48 tons of elk skins, 42 tons of deerskins, 17 tons of pronghorn skins, and 760 pounds of bighorn skins.”

“Governments at all levels paid money for the heads or ears or scalps of a suite of animals — wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, grizzly and black bears, jaguars, bobcats, lynx — for the single purpose of promoting agricultural economies.”  Dead animals (or meat chunks) injected with strychnine were put everywhere to poison scavengers — wolves, coyotes, eagles, vultures, ravens, magpies, foxes, skunks.  It was sold in bulk in every store.

To delight ranchers, Montana put out 3,567,000 poison baits to kill predators.  Between 1883 and 1928 Montana shelled out payments on 111,545 wolves and 886,367 coyotes.  In one year, a wolf killer earned enough to buy a ranch and livestock.

Passenger pigeons, had been in America for 15 million years.  My father was in diapers when the last one died in 1914.  “The largest nesting site ever reported, near Sparta, Wisconsin, in 1871, spread across 850 square miles (2,200 km2).”  One flock was estimated to have 3.7 billion birds. 

Life on Earth is powered by energy.  Sunbeams feed the plants, and plants feed the critters.  Agriculture and herding amplified the energy flow for humans.  More recently, the flow has been explosively accelerated by burning fossil hydrocarbons, which are not limitless or harmless.  We can now temporarily feed more than eight billion.  We’re heating the planet into a toasty concentration camp crematory.  The machine’s guiding force is insanely clever childish self-interest, which is dumber than dog shit, but far more powerful than foresight, wisdom, cooperation, and mindful self-control.  SCREAM!!!

Flores, Dan, Wild New World: The Epic Story of Animals & People in America, W. W. Norton, New York, 2022.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Wild Free and Happy sample 84: Wild Free Isolation

[Note: The following is some new and updated material from my rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy.  It is primarily expansion or revision of subjects related to samples 52, 53, and 54.  The other samples of this rough draft can be accessed HERE.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd has been reading and recording my book HERE.]

 We live in interesting times.  Bunnies aren’t acidifying the oceans.  Salmon aren’t blindsiding the climate.  Geese aren’t nuking rainforests.  Even our closest relatives, the chimps and bonobos, remain absolute champions at sustainable living.  The human mob, on the other hand, has been making quite a mess.

During my years of studying and writing, I have enjoyed learning about wild cultures that preserved elegant low impact simplicity.  They hold up a mirror so we can fully appreciate the incoherence of modernity.  Let’s take a quick peek at a few of those cultures. 


The Andaman group of islands is located in the Bay of Bengal, and belongs to India.  North Sentinel Island is inhabited by the Sentineli, a society of negrito pygmies.  Outsiders can sometimes view them from offshore boats, or from helicopters, but the natives want nothing to do with outsiders.  Intruders who get too close are showered with arrows, rocks, and rude comments.  Some have been killed.  India has outlawed all visitors.  Today the Sentineli enjoy a complete separation from the modern world. 

Their island is 14,700 acres (5,949 ha), a bit smaller than Manhattan.  The interior is forest, surrounded by sandy beaches, surrounded by reefs.  Treacherous currents make landing on the island impossible for ten months of the year, and extremely dangerous for the other two.  The island has nothing that is attractive to greedy parasites from elsewhere.  For these reasons, the Sentineli remain wild and free in the twenty-first century.

Flyovers have noted the existence of several villages with clusters of small huts.  No evidence of agriculture has been observed.  There may be 50 Sentineli, or 500, nobody knows.  They survive by foraging, fishing, and gathering shellfish.  They may also hunt for turtles, birds, and invertebrates.  Their small canoes are used in the lagoons, but not for open-sea travel.  They fish with spears and nets.

Long ago, two expeditions were able to land on North Sentinel.  They brought along folks from a nearby island to serve as translators.  In the brief and hostile meetings, the Sentineli spoke a language that the translators did not understand.  Obviously, they have been living in isolation for a long time.  They may be descendants of the folks who first settled in the Andaman Islands 60,000 years ago.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a society that was not at war with the planet and the future — a genuinely sustainable way of life, a tropical culture with a year round supply of food, where your wardrobe consisted of a g-string, headband, and a couple leaves.  Imagine a life without money, clocks, calendars, automobiles, airplanes, sirens, internet, locks, fences, bosses, salesman, presidents, police, classrooms, guns, dogs, nuclear weapons, taxes, racism, billionaires, and religions.  Imagine a paradise where the diseases of civilization were unknown.

Contemplate the enormous load of information stored in your brain, accumulated during a lifetime of existing in a highly complex society, and your constant struggle to keep pace with competitors in the endless quest for status, wealth, and power.  Now, imagine being blissfully unaware of absolutely everything happening in the outside world — and the entire outside world knowing almost nothing about your society.  Imagine having a healthy, simple, sane life.

Imagine living on an island where there were no strangers, where the soundtrack was waves, birds, breezes, and the voices of your friends and family.  We weren’t meant to live like consumers.  There are better paths.

New Guinea Highlands

New Guinea is a land base much larger than Oregon and California combined.  Around 1930, white folks from elsewhere began wandering into the highlands, in search of mineral treasure.  At that time, the highlands were home to a million uncivilized folks unknown to the outer world.

Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson wrote that native groups spoke maybe 800 languages, of which several hundred were unique, having absolutely nothing in common with any other language in the world.  Communication between tribes was limited or impossible.  It wasn’t easy for innovative ideas to spread from group to group.  This helped tribes preserve traditional cultures. 

Long distance travel (10+ miles) was also difficult or impossible because of the rugged mountain landscape, warlike enemies, and deadly fevers.  There were no roads, wheels, or beasts of burden.  One group might be completely unaware that other groups resided just a few miles away. 

So, many groups may have existed in complete isolation, living as they had always lived, in their ancient time proven manner.  Nobody in the highlands knew that they lived on an island, or that the Pacific Ocean existed.  There may still be uncontacted groups that remain wild, free, and unknown to the outer world. 

As mentioned earlier, when interaction between groups creates regional webs, and more and more webs share more and more ideas with a widening circle of other webs, shit happens.  Over the passage of centuries, accumulations of cleverness can trigger explosive snowballing chain reactions, creating situations like the world outside your window.  How clever was that?


I was especially fascinated to learn about the Pirahã (pee-da-ha) people of the Amazon rainforest.  They are hunter-gatherers who live in a few jungle villages along the Maici River in northwestern Brazil.  Estimates of their population range up to 800.  They hunt, fish, and forage.  Fish provide about 70 percent of their diet. 

Over the years, I’ve read about many wild cultures.  The Pirahã are among the simplest and lowest impact of all.  We know a lot about their culture, largely because of Daniel Everett, a missionary sent to save them.  Over time, it became painfully clear to him that they didn’t need to be saved.  He was the one who was lost.  He concluded, “I would go so far as to suggest that the Pirahãs are happier, fitter, and better adjusted to their environment than any Christian or other religious person I have ever known.”

The Pirahã knew the usefulness and location of all important plants in their area.  They understood the behavior of local animals, and how to take them, or avoid them.  They could walk into the jungle naked, with no tools or weapons, and walk out three days later with baskets of fruit, nuts, and small game.  By the age of nine, all of them were capable of surviving in the jungle on their own, feeding themselves and making shelter.

The Pirahã were able to effectively communicate via speaking, singing, humming, and whistling.  When hunting, whistles were less likely to spook monkeys and other game.  Whistled words allowed conversations between folks who were not close together.  Their language has nothing in common with any other language in the world.

The Pirahã had no leaders or social hierarchy, all were equal.  It was taboo to tell someone to do something.  They were amazingly content, tolerant, and patient.  Children were never spanked or given orders.  They were free to play with sharp knives.  Adults spoke to them as equals, no baby talk.

In the tribe, memories of ancestors or historic events were not preserved, they evaporated.  Their realm of reality was limited to stuff that they could personally see or hear, or things seen or heard by their living parents, grandparents, friends, and kinfolk.  History was strictly limited to living memory.  If a missionary had not actually met Jesus, then jabber about Jesus was meaningless.

The Pirahã people were remarkably easygoing and infectiously happy.  They wore bright smiles, and laughed about everything.  Folks didn’t worry about what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow.  They had no word for worry.  They lived entirely in the here and now.  They had no cultural folklore, legends, fables, or worship.  He wonders if they might be the only group in the world that has no numbers, and no creation myth.

Everett wrote, “Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions.”  (“Abstract” is the opposite of concrete.  Abstractions only exist as ideas or thoughts.)  They have no concept of heaven, hell, sin, god, creation, apocalypse, devils, angels, guilt, punishment, salvation, damnation, sustainable, rich, poor, overshoot, democracy, capitalism, and on and on.  

Modern folks spend their entire lives with their heads constantly buzzing with swarms of abstractions.  The Pirahã spend every day of their lives being highly attuned to the incredible living paradise that they are so lucky to inhabit.  They enjoy living in a stable, low impact, time-proven culture where everyone shares the same belief system. 

Everett was amazed by them.  “This is a culture that’s invisible to the naked eye, but that is incredibly powerful, the most powerful culture of the Amazon.  Nobody has resisted change like this in the history of the Amazon, and maybe of the world.”

They were lucky to have enjoyed centuries of isolation in a vast tropical rainforest.  They had very little contact with clever outsiders who had bad habits, odd tools, dark impulses, and heads slithering with brainworms.  Unfortunately, the outer world has found them, and wants to “help” them enjoy the wonders of modern living.

Every morning, I listen to news reports describing a world that is out of its mind.  I think about the Pirahã, who are also getting up, smiling and laughing, down by the river, welcoming the beginning of a new day.  Same species, same morning, same planet.  They have not forgotten who they are, or how to live.

If you are curious about the Pirahã, and have a couple hours to invest, I recommend that you listen to the 52 minute The Humanist Hour #183 podcast (2015), and watch the 2012 documentary, The Grammar of Happiness.   


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Wild Free and Happy sample 83 Update: Human Web

[Note: The following is some new and updated material from my rough draft of Wild, Free, & Happy.  It will be included in the revised Human Web section, which was originally released as samples 52 and 53.  The other samples of this rough draft can be accessed HERE.  If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd has been reading and recording my book HERE.]

Magical Thinking

Imagine living in an era when bubonic plague epidemics were common and horrific.  Geoffrey Marks noted that the Black Death arrived in England in 1348, and was followed by epidemics in 1349, 1361, 1363, 1365, 1369, 1371, 1373, 1375, 1378-1382, 1390, 1399-1400 …and on and on… until the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666.  Over the course of several months, the Great Plague killed about 100,000, almost a quarter of London’s population. 

In 1772, Daniel Defoe (author of “Robinson Crusoe”) published “A Journal of the Plague Year.”  He was a young boy during the Great Plague, and had a front row seat on the horror show.  As an adult, he interviewed a number of survivors.  His uncle kept diaries during the nightmare.

The city was a fantastically filthy nightmare.  Sewage was dumped in ditches along the streets.  Horseshit and garbage everywhere.  Everyone had lice, bathing was rare, and great mobs of rats enjoyed a wonderful life. 

When folks heard news of an approaching contagion, anyone who had options (nobility, clergy, physicians, officers, etc.) fled London in a great stampede.  Poor folks were left behind to experience what the fates would deliver.

Efforts were made to slow the spread of disease.  When someone was known to be infected (or so suspected), a red cross was painted on the door, and the dwelling was guarded day and night by a watchman, to prevent escapes, and to provide necessities.  Thus, the entire family was condemned to die.  Folks were infuriated, and there were riots. 

Bell ringers moved through the streets, shouting “bring out your dead.”  They were followed by buriers or bearers who loaded the dead carts.  Large pits were dug in which to dump the corpses.  Defoe wrote, “It is impossible to describe the most horrible cries and noise that the poor people would make at their bringing the dead bodies of their children and friends out of the cart.”

Doctors had no cures, and prayers got no response.  Johannes Nohl reported that during plague years, a number of communities in Europe engaged in ceremonial dances, hoping to drive away the evil spirits.  Hundreds danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.  Folks were overwhelmed with despair.  People rolled in filth, begging others to beat them.  “Otherwise modest maidens and matrons lost all sense of shame, sighed, howled, made indecent gestures, and uncovered obscene parts of their bodies.”

It was obvious to everyone that the plague was killing the clergy at especially high rates (it was their job to visit the dying).  Why did God have no interest in protecting his own special agents?  Many priests lived with concubines, an abominable sin.  Did this mean that the baptisms they performed were worthless?  Many lost their faith.  While large crowds danced, the churches sat empty.   A furious mob of Germans went to Liège, determined to massacre all clergy.

One tradition noted that in 1424, a lad named Maccaber arrived in Paris, and took residence in an ancient tower next to a cemetery.  Folks believed he had supernatural powers.  He initiated an ecclesiastic procession.  Every day, for months, crowds of men and women danced in the cemetery.  Folks wore scary masks to drive away the evil spirits. 

Over time, in many places, during many plagues, folks experimented with a wide variety of rituals.  Despite good intentions, their efforts failed.  The rats and fleas remained alive and well, and the grim reaper worked overtime.  Blind faith in rituals is called magical thinking.  Unfortunately, beautiful wishes don’t always come true. 

Today, of course, global telecommunication systems and the internet allow magical beliefs and assorted conspiracy theories to spread through large populations at astonishing speeds.  Societies become fiercely polarized, echo chambers roar, intolerance punches, courtesy vaporizes, bullets fly, and daily life becomes a surreal tragicomedy.  Elections no longer have losers — every candidate claims victory!


Many humans imagine that our species enjoys a superior status in the family of life.  Indeed, many hiss and snarl at the notion that humans are animals (!!).  We are obviously smarter, stronger, and greater in every way!  A number of religious traditions assert that humans are something like the glorious crown of creation, the managers of the world.  Earth is our playground.

These beliefs typically emerged in cultures that became addicted to the exploitation of domesticated plants and/or animals — turbulent societies that cleared forests, planted fields, raised birds and herds, and radically altered (and damaged) the ecosystems they inhabited.

Our wild ancestors were far more humble.  They were hunters and foragers, not planet smashing thunder beings.  Peter Ungar wrote that when an anthropologist in Tanzania asked some Hazda hunters how humans were different from other animals, they were completely baffled.  There is no difference.  What a stupid question!  We all eat, drink, breathe, excrete, wander, and reproduce.  Many carnivores think we’re absolutely delicious, and they eagerly enjoy every opportunity for having us for lunch.

Richard Nelson spent time (1976-77) with the Koyukon people of Alaska.  Their often quoted proverb is: “Every animal knows way more than you do.”  They believe that animals can understand everything we say, regardless of distance.  The Koyukon were not a culture of motor vehicles and glowing screens.  They were a hunting culture that had an amazingly deep understanding of nature, and absolute respect for it.  Modern folks have lost this intimate wild connection to home.  Nelson wrote, “We live alone in an uncaring world of our own creation.” 

David Ehrenfeld wrote The Arrogance of Humanism.  It was an aggressive critique of the widespread belief in human supremacy.  He wrote that humanism was “the dominant religion of our time.”  It’s essentially the air we breathe.  Humans are absolute geniuses, and our technology is amazing.  There is no problem we cannot solve.  We have no limits.  As resources become depleted, we’ll readily develop excellent alternatives.  Our children will enjoy even better lives than our own, and the best is yet to come.  Yippee!

Ehrenfeld wrote back in 1978, when pollution controls, if any, were weak, and the air and waters were heavily contaminated with noxious substances.  The entire city of Gary Indiana was hidden in a stinky orange fog of steel mill filth.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire.

In the ’70s, numerous eco-disasters were occurring around the world, but the general mob paid little attention to stuff happening elsewhere — out of sight, out of mind.  Network television avoided the yucky stuff, and hypnotized folks with generous servings of sports, entertainment, and happy news.  School systems tirelessly preached the holy gospel of humanism, and celebrated the age of miracles that students were so lucky to enjoy.

While the thundering human juggernaut was beating the living shit out of the planet, the mob barely noticed.  They were busy polishing their new cars.  Most remained zombie-like cheerleaders of the wonders of modernity, and the beautiful future that laid ahead.

This baffled Ehrenfeld.  Nobody <bleeping> cares!  The poor lad apparently suffered from a devastating incurable mental disorder known as critical thinking.  He was a sick pariah.  Humanist culture has zero respect for hopeless nutjobs, defeatists, misanthropes, oddballs, and doom perverts.

Ehrenfeld shrugged.  “Evidence is growing that the religion of humanity is self-destructive and foolish.  But the more it fails, the greater our faith in it.  We imagine that what we want to happen is actually happening.” 

He was not a misanthrope.  He didn’t hate, distrust, and avoid humans.  Actually, he was an “anti-humanist.”  He detested the ridiculous mass hallucinations — the enthusiastic celebrations of human genius, and the wondrous technological utopia that we have brilliantly created.  We are so lucky to live in the spectacular gushing orgasm of the entire human experience!

Ehrenfeld noted that pure anti-humanists were rare.  Most folks who know how to read have spent their entire lives in fanatical humanist cultures.  We’ve been constantly absorbing humanist ideas for years.  They have deep roots in our minds, and a strong influence on how we think.  It’s sort of pleasant to imagine that we’re on the path to a better tomorrow.  Progress will wash away the pain.

On the other hand, having read a pile of anthropology books, it’s clear that wild folks who lived undisturbed in their traditional way, in their ancestral land, tended to be enthusiastic and shameless anti-humanists.  They seemed to be nearly unanimous in perceiving civilized folks as being absolutely batshit crazy!  How could people be so stupid?  How can they have no respect and reverence for the natural world?  Why are they so aggressive and selfish?

Ehrenfeld wrote that a general rejection of humanism is now long overdue.  It won’t be easy.  Blind faith in humanist hopes and dreams remains strong, and the insanely furious war on the family of life rages on, and on, and on.