Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Welcome to Sustainable or Bust!  This collection of rants and reviews explores facets of genuine, ecological sustainability.  In the old-fashioned sense of the word, sustainability has to do with living in a way that doesn’t diminish the ecosystem over the passage of thousands of years.  The ravens, deer, and salmon have mastered a way of life that has no need for soil mining, water mining, fish mining, forest mining.  Only humans have figured out how to break the laws of nature, and nature is not amused.
Good old-fashioned fundamentalist sustainability is largely ignored these days, because it is the opposite of our ferociously wasteful consumer society.  Genuine sustainability generates no corporate profits.  It stimulates no economic growth.  It cannot be manufactured in Bangladesh factories and sold in trendy suburban malls.  It’s a far simpler way of living, and it doesn’t piss off Big Mama Nature (an important fact to remember).
Meanwhile, mainstream society has invented a marketing gimmick that might be called sustainable everything — sustainable growth, sustainable development, sustainable cities, sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and so on.  I call it ersatz sustainability, because it has nothing whatsoever to do with genuine sustainability.  It’s a fascinating experiment in magical thinking — if we call something “sustainable” enough times, then it is!  Repeat the words “clean coal” enough times, and coal burning becomes as wholesome as breast milk.
In the coming decades, intensifying climate change, combined with the end of cheap energy, and other assorted surprises, seem likely to pull the plug on the consumer way of life, as we know it.  This will force a lot of beneficial change that we refuse to pursue voluntarily, like the yucky business of sharply reducing our population, and learning to live without cars, electronic gadgets, and millions of other unessential things.
It’s impossible to return to a sustainable way of life anytime soon, because there are way too many people living way too hard.  But the cool thing about collapse is that it may give birth to a new situation in which a return to sustainability once again becomes possible — far fewer humans, and far more everything else.  By definition, all unsustainable modes of living can only be temporary, so a sustainable future is guaranteed, at some point.  Hopefully there will be more species at the victory party than just heat tolerant bacteria.
The odds that there will be human faces at the party can be improved if more people today develop a sound understanding of genuine sustainability, and share this knowledge with others.  We are less likely to repeat practices that we have learned to be fatal mistakes.  These errors are better known now than ever before, but not by the masses, yet.
If the entire global economy suddenly died today, all the lights went out, and all money became worthless, the future would be in the hands the survivors, most of whom are clueless about genuine sustainability.  They would likely regroup and resume the same fatal mistakes that we excel at today, simply because they suffer from a shortage of intelligent ideas.  Ignorance is stupid — but curable.
Nothing can change until ideas change.  At the moment, we have access to an amazing global communication system, a powerful tool for sharing ideas.  It’s actually useful for things beyond bombarding us with cat videos, tweets, and pornography.  How long will this system continue to operate, as Peak Cheap Energy keeps pressing harder on the brakes?  It would be wise to make good use of it, before it slips beneath the waves forever.
You will not find “the solution” in this book.  Only problems have solutions (i.e., a flat tire).  We’re in a predicament, a perplexing mess that can only be outgrown over time (i.e., industrial civilization).  Freeing ourselves from the madness will likely take generations.  The good news is that this may not be impossible.  History informs us that human societies are capable of making sharp turns, for better or worse.  It’s worth a try.  We have nothing to lose, right?
What you will find in this book is a gallery important thinkers, and reviews of their important writings — writers that usually fly beneath the radar of mainstream journalism and education.  They explore realms of knowledge far beyond the center ring circus of sex, sports, stock markets, and sex.  My devious plan is that by the time you make it to the far end of the gallery, you will have picked up a fair number of new and stimulating ideas along the way.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been studying the Earth Crisis.  I’ve read hundreds of books.  The ones that I’ve reviewed here are among my favorites.  Of course, a brief review is never a substitute for experiencing the entire work.  If you have the time and the desire, I recommend that you read them all.  You will see the world in a new way.  Most of these authors have written more than one book, and many of their other books are also fascinating and mind expanding.
Sustainable or Bust is a companion to my first book, What Is Sustainable, which discussed the basics of genuine sustainability.  Sustainable or Bust is a supplement, and it devotes more attention to exploring the core essence of human beings.  The earlier book does not need to be read first, but folks who like one will like both.  Genuine sustainability is an enormous subject, and it is my intent to provide useful guidebooks for those who wish to expand their understanding.
We are blessed to inhabit a fascinating era, a powerful turning point, when our famous big brains will have a splendid opportunity to demonstrate their legendary power — sink or swim.  Humankind has moved beyond Peak Cheap Energy, Peak Wooly Mammoths, and Peak Neanderthals.  We’re zipping along towards Peak Food, Peak Humans, Peak Cell Phones, and Peak Ersatz Sustainability.  Then what?
The spirits of our wild ancestors strongly recommend a hasty return to genuine sustainability, wildness and freedom, and our sacred home in the family of life.  They’re standing on the sidelines, jumping up and down, waving their arms, and shouting, “Holy <bleeping> hominids!  Watch out!  Turn on yer brains, dudes!  Snap out of it!”
Well-fed minds and clear thinking are our only hope for survival.  Clear thinking is a beautiful power that we acquire after we have liberated ourselves from the mental straightjacket of beliefs.
[Sustainable or Bust will be released, in paperback and Kindle versions, in June 2013.]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Searching For Identity and Purpose

Once upon a time, Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become.”  He understood his calling, the special role that was unique to his existence.  He consciously pursued it, and he spent his life on a path of powerful healing.

James Hillman was one of Jung’s apprentices.  Hillman did not believe that newborns came into this world as blank slates.  He saw infants as unique acorns, ready to spend their lives growing into unique oaks.  Every oak tree had a different form.  No two were identical.  The form of the tree was influenced by the information stored in the acorn from which it sprouted.

Hillman believed that every human acorn had unique characteristics, and a unique calling, purpose, or destiny.  Every person had a sacred obligation to understand that calling and live it.  This was why nature-based societies encouraged people to discover their calling via vision quest ceremonies.  When they found their vision, they knew their path and purpose.  This helped them avoid wasting their lives in aimless wandering.

Basil Johnston described how vision quests worked in Ojibway culture.  Once a person discovered his or her vision, they tried hard to live in accordance with it.  It was not uncommon for folks to periodically stray from their vision, or betray it, and “such a state was tantamount to non-living in which acts and conduct had no quality.”  Every year, men and women would go on a retreat, to verify that they were still living in synch with their vision, and make any needed adjustments.

Hillman believed that modern society was a train wreck because most people were clueless about their calling, and were wandering aimlessly.  Society fed the sacred acorns into a machine that crushed them, shredded them, and converted them into standard issue industrial robots and recreational shoppers — lost souls.

On a larger scale, it’s not hard to imagine that entire communities were once guided by a collective tribal vision, before agriculture arrived.  Each wild community inhabited a unique ecosystem, and its custom-tailored vision enabled it to live in balance with the land.  This vision was passed from generation to generation, across vast spans of time, and helped to keep the life of the tribe stable and secure.  The vision guiding the human community was in harmony with the vision of the community of life — they were the same.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with sincere regret that I must inform you that industrial civilization has no sacred vision to guide it; it has a terminal illness.  In ages past, as civilization obliterated countless wild tribes, the visions of those tribes were forgotten.  Because of this, our society has descended into “a non-living state, and our acts have no quality.”  We are no longer like happy tadpoles or maggots, the beautiful offspring of a healthy wild ecosystem.  We have been reduced to lonely stressed-out cogs in a global economy.

What can we do?  Is it possible to remember what was lost?  Native Americans have told me yes, it is.  If you forget your instructions, just look back toward the Creator’s fire, and you’ll remember them.  But each tribe was given different instructions by the Creator.

White folks are not like tribal Indians.  We’re mongrels, having ancestors from numerous tribes, all now disintegrated or extinct.  If I have ancestors from 476 tribes, who am I?  What are my instructions?  Where is my home?  Who are my people?

If my wild ancestors were buried in 476 different lands, and all of those ecosystems have been obliterated by centuries of civilization, what good are the ancient instructions?  The aurochs are gone, the lions are gone, the forests are gone, and the salmon have been herded into concentration camps. 

The stories, songs, and ceremonies of my wild ancestors have all been lost.  Indians disagree.  They insist that all ancient wisdom is always “accessible,” and just wink when I ask how.  This is most perplexing!  I’m hoping that contemplating a sustainable future will open new doors of perception, or old ones.

I’ve lived in nine states, and my extended family is scattered everywhere.  We have become wandering homeless people.  This year, I’m living in the Willamette Valley, on land violently stolen from the Kalapuya.  As a people, the Kalapuya had never forgotten their vision.  They celebrated their lives in a paradise of abundant life, and they knew how to live in balance with it.  It was easy.  All they had to do was to carefully follow the path of the ancestors, the ancient time-proven vision of the community.

The Kalapuya were forced out of their home by the white invaders, who had strayed far from their ancestral home, and had no vision for living in harmony.  The invaders built the city that I live in, which is insane, and is in the process of committing suicide.  It has no spiritual connection to the land, or to life.  Indeed, the entire nation is lost and insane.  This is not encouraging.

Today, the invaders’ culture is a childlike fantasy world of gadget worshippers — robot-driven electric cars, smart highways, smart grids, high-speed trains, Internet everything, windmills and solar panels, and on and on — nothing sustainable, and nothing that is necessary for a healthy and enjoyable life.

The purpose of existence is to make lots of money, by any means necessary, and spend it in a manner that continuously increases your display of personal status, as defined by the ever-changing fads of consumer society.  Stan Rowe perceived that consumers were raging narcissists, spellbound by their own image, imprisoned in an introspective cage — too much time spent before the mirror, and far too little outdoors with the family of life.

Countless millions devote their entire lives to acquiring and discarding unnecessary stuff.  Consumers have a deep longing to experience inner peace and happiness in their lives, and they believe that shopping is the sacred path.  They are trying to fill the vacuum created by their loss of wildness and freedom.  But, no matter how skillfully they shop, or how much they spend, it never works, except for fleeting post-purchase consumer orgasms, soon followed by a return to gnawing hollowness.  Trainloads of Prozac numb the pain.

I can’t get off the bus and live like a Kalapuya.  The deer, elk, and salmon are mostly gone now, replaced by endless herds of automobiles and cell phone zombies.  The land has been chopped up into thousands of parcels of private property, where my presence is not welcome.  In this reality, a sustainable way of life is impossible.

John Trudell says that we cannot have a spiritual connection to the future if we have lost the connection to our past.  It’s essential that we remember that everyone has ancestors who were tribal people — admirable folks who were solidly connected to the circle of life, and lived in harmony with it. 

We are, at root, tribal people who have been colonized.  Colonization is a component of the spiritual disease that gave birth to domestication.  It’s a mindset devoted to a mining way of life, eating up tomorrow, for no honorable purpose.  At the core of our healing process is decolonizing our minds, remembering that we are wild tribal people — human beings — not miners.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Near Term Extinction

The majority of modern society is clustered together in the hope and optimism pavilion, taking deep tokes on the bong of pleasure-filled fantasies (cough!).  At the other end of the spectrum are the Near Term Extinction (NTE) folks.  They profess absolute certainty that climate change will be the final chapter in the human story.  Our current mode of living will disintegrate by 2030, and a few scientists, like Malcolm Light, predict that all life on Earth will be extinct by 2050.  Ecology professor Guy McPherson is a primary spokesperson for NTE.
The NTE thinkers point to many genuine problems that are intensifying every day.  They describe a number of “positive feedbacks,” where one problem stimulates the worsening of other problems, accelerating the overall pace of destruction more and more.  A small disturbance can trigger a large avalanche.  They chastise the big name climate activism celebrities for failing to realize the actual risks these feedbacks, and, consequently, for preaching sermons tainted with false hope.
Rapid heating will destroy agriculture, release fabulous amounts of methane, and blindside every ecosystem on the planet.  The bright white polar ice caps are quite reflective, and bounce away a lot of incoming solar heat, but they are melting and shrinking.  Oceans may become so acidic that only jellyfish remain.
The burning of fossil fuels will fade with the demise of industry, so less incoming solar energy will be blocked by layers of pollution, speeding the warming process even more.  When the power grid dies, the pumps will quit at 440+ nuclear power plants.  So, the cooling ponds for spent fuel rods will evaporate, the rods will burn, and ionized radiation will poison the planet.  And so on.
Acknowledging these sobering ideas is necessary for those who wish to be present in reality.  It is well within the realm of possibility that their predictions will turn out to be correct — but not 100 percent certain, with a double your money back guarantee.  We’ve never destroyed a planet before, so our understanding of this sad process remains primitive.
Many members of the NTE community are highly intelligent, very well informed, and ruthlessly skeptical of every mainstream idea.  This combination of attributes does not result in a merry band of giggly bliss ninnies.  They comprehend the existence of enormous problems.  At the same time, they also comprehend that humankind is largely ignoring these problems.  It’s a heartbreaking disconnect.  The great majority of people simply fail to perceive the presence of great danger, because their lives still seem normal, today.
Extinction would neatly solve every single one of our problems, and would be a great relief for the family of life.  We were certain to go extinct at some point in the future anyway.  Uff!  But what if there are still some humans alive 100 years from now?  Humans, insects, and bacteria are exceptionally adaptable, and a portion of them may have an extended future.  Because of that possibility, I do this work.  The NTE folks shrug and label me normal (still asleep).  So be it.
I’m very happy that I’m not going to live to see the end of the collapse (I hope).  What the survivors, if any, choose to do is entirely beyond my control.  I am not responsible for the decisions they make, but I am responsible for doing what I can to help them understand their history, predicament, and options.  Nothing can change until ideas change.  So, one of the most essential occupations for those living now is to become idea mongers.  This is a path of great power, and there are Help Wanted signs all over the place.
Before we call it a day, let’s jump in our Hummer and take a quick tour of the NTE neighborhood.  Their mosque is called Nature Bats Last, Guy McPherson’s blog.  Click on the Climate Change Summary link.  You’ll learn a lot about a wide variety of subjects.  (The links below are just a tiny sample of the information available on the following issues.)
Global Warming.  Climate scientists have been doing a good job of underestimating the rate at which carbon is accumulating in the atmosphere, and raising the planet’s temperature.  New and improved models generated by the UN in 2010 predicted a rise of 5° C by 2050.  Some believe that warming of 4° to 6° C results in a dead planet, and that this could happen in a decade.
Melting Permafrost.  Melting permafrost will release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases.  There is also underwater permafrost, and it too is melting and off gassing methane.
Tundra fires.  Arctic summers are getting warmer and dryer, and the carbon-rich tundra soils readily burn when dry.  Fire actually burns up the soil, exposing the permafrost below to warmer temperatures.  On the surface of the burned land, dark ash absorbs more solar heat, melting the permafrost faster.
Peat Fires.  Warmer, dryer weather is drying out peat lands, which contain one third of the world’s soil carbon.  Peat fires are often ignited by lightning or passing wildfires, and they are difficult or impossible to extinguish.  Some burn for years, or even centuries.  In 2010 there were huge peat fires in Russia.
Ocean Acidification.  One third of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the oceans, which is increasing their levels of acidity.  Plankton in the ocean provides 50 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere.  This oceanic oxygen production is now six percent less than it was 30 years ago.  Growing acidity is harmful to marine life and coral reefs.
Ionized Radiation.  There are about 440 nuclear power plants in the world, and they generate lots of radioactive waste that will be extremely toxic for a very long time.  These wastes are stored in cooling ponds, a short-term solution.  There is no long-term solution.  Extended power outages will allow the cooling ponds to evaporate, at which point the fuel rods will burn, and spew radiation to the four winds.
Oceanic Deoxygenation.  Climate change is stratifying oceanic waters, and warming the upper layers.  This will reduce the dissolved oxygen in the water, leading to the expansion of dead zones.  Some regions have experienced significant deoxygenation over the last 50 years, and many expect this problem to worsen, possibly for the next thousand years.
Atmospheric Deoxygenation.  Levels of oxygen in the atmosphere are declining.  Three hundred million years ago, the air was 30 percent oxygen.  Ancient dragonflies had four-foot wingspans.  Today it’s between 19 and 21 percent, and 12 to 17 percent in urban areas.  When it gets to 6 or 7 percent, we cannot survive.  Oxygen is consumed when carbon is burned.
Methane Catastrophe.  This report, written by Malcolm Light, is not intended for the general reader.  The first paragraph includes this jarring sentence: “This process of methane release will accelerate exponentially, release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere and lead to the demise of all life on earth before the middle of this century.”