(I wanted to talk about the absence of allies, the fact that there is nothing to lean on, and nobody to protect us at the most fundamental levels. This is not an easy or reassuring post, and I may move it to my personal blog later.)
People talk about the 1%, the rule by the rich, as a The Fundamental Problem. But it's not, and we know it's not. The fundamental problem is that we're eating the earth. Our resource distribution issues, the 99% and the 1%, exist within a wider framework of a "net ecological bankruptcy" where our species is at many times its sustainable footprint on the planet, and is killing the biosphere by degrees, sometimes faster and sometimes slower. We're out of resources, and we're drowning the poor, those closest to the water line, as we attempt to maintain our high consumption lifestyles.
People use terms like "rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" but it's not until you consider the plight of the people of Haiti that you really understand that this metaphor is surprisingly literal. They had a crisis: an enormous earthquake which killed 300,000 people, about 3% of their population. Then the international community stepped in, raised billions of dollars to help, and nearly two years after the earthquake, around 800,000 people are still homeless. There is a pile of money, and yet the people sit on the streets or in cholera-ridden encampments, wondering why nobody helped them. Thousands of dollars per family sit in relief bank accounts, unspent. They have protests, asking for the money, but it was raised on their behalf by agencies which hold it in trust, and have no effective way to spend it. The crisis continues. What went wrong?
George Monbiot once said "nobody ever rioted for austerity!" and he was right, but right now, we're in a cleft stick, trapped between two crises, and we're not talking about rioting for austerity, but fighting for survival. The same set of forces which left the people of Haiti homeless and bereft, while funds raised to help them sit unspent repeats at many other levels of complexity, creating the global paralysis we are all trapped in. Once you understand, in your bones, that what is happening in Haiti is real, and much the same kinds of actors (governments, charities, the international community, the UN, the military) are attempting to solve the financial crisis and the environmental crisis, with about the same degree of success, the whole thing becomes much, much clearer.
What they have done, in failing the people of Haiti, is what they are doing to all of us on climate. Once you understand that it is much the same actors, in a much, much more complex and higher-stakes game, the full weight and presence of the situation can land. There are only two choices: face the situation, that our global governance systems are failing to safeguard our futures, and try to solve the real problem, or fail to face the situation, and risk standing on the deck with a rag in your hand polishing the brass on a handrail, the other end of which is plunging into the vasty deep as Spaceship Earth sinks below the waves. Does what you're doing matter?
I'm 40. I'm not sure that I'm not going to see the end of the world: more likely to be bio or nano than climate alone, or just possibly those old devils, nukes, but the escalating cycles of ignorant destruction increase, oscillations on a pendulum. One thing I took from Jamais Cascio's talk on climate geoengineering at Hub Westminster was very simple: "desperate people do desperate things" and a scenario that he described which involved warming, then fixes, then fixes for the problems or failure of the fixes and total nonlinear chaos as everybody scrambled to fix the climate seemed entirely plausible. Why is this even remotely plausible?
Because the alternative is that we cut carbon emissions, and then the rest of our footprint, enough to stop the process. And that ain't gonna happen while our primary energy generation technology is coal and oil. Our alternatives, solar and wind, get trivial amounts of government investment, and aren't profitable on huge scales in the marketplace without government subsidy because BLUNTLY it's a whole lot easier to burn oil than to capture the sun. That's just how it is, right now, until we fix the technology and it's been "two years out" for quite a few years. The miracle may be just around the corner, but it's as tough as ever to do the research, and the sheer capital requirements of transforming the global energy economy, even with the panel technology, never mind the political ructions caused by the abrupt end of the age of oil leave us looking at a hard path, even with the miracle in the bag, and it's not there yet. Energy efficiency has been just-a-bit more profitable than energy waste for decades, and getting people to move even a centimetre in that direction works about as well as stamping out AIDS with only condoms. Without a technology breakthrough like protease inhibitors, a theoretically perfectly-effective policy measure does almost nothing. We don't have a sledgehammer yet, and history shows us that in general we need one.
Worse, we just don’t have the governance capacity to do it. The same muppets which left 800,000 Haitians on the street with billions in the bank to help them and told us that everything possible had been done are exactly the same class of muppets that we’re counting on to save us from climate change and oncoming nanobiotechnology risk. What’s happening in Kyoto, Cancun, Copenhagen and Durban is just the same thing that happened in Haiti: the responsible parties from the international level have completely dropped the ball, and reported it as the best possible outcome. And the tragedy is that it is.
Still they sit, on the streets, 800,000 afeared and hungry, the evidence of utter failure so much more tangible than the few dozen extra parts-per-million of CO2 etching its mark on our future. But it’s the same failure, by the same class of actors offering the same type of solutions.
They were not lying: everything the international community etc. were capable of doing had been done. They had money, they had a clear problem, and they were not able to act. Climate is just like that, but dozens of times more complicated, and with vastly more at stake. The worse case in Haiti is perhaps another thirty or fifty thousand people die, and millions live in poverty when they could have been cared for. The worst case globally is an unprecedented collapse in our global systems or, worse, a technological mishap trying to repair them, with even worse consequences.
This show brought to you by the international community, by government, by the NGOs, by well-intentioned individuals, by the UN, and all the rest of it. The same cast of clowns that screwed up Haiti.
Get it yet? Is it landing?
We are screwed. We don't need to speculate on how or why, but we have an absolutely clear and rational expectation that there will be no sudden, effective, global and complete transformation in our global governance systems resulting in an effective resolution to our climate crisis.
We did not do it for poverty.
We do not do it for natural disasters.
We will not do it for climate.
Everything rests on us getting a technological fix for climate, and we're massively, dramatically underfunding research into those breakthrough technologies in favour of continuing to subsidize oil. These are the facts.
Now, let me stamp on the last piece of hope, and then pose a question to you.
Do you think Occupy, or any political group, Left, Right, Green, Libertarian or other, has any hope of doing so much better than our existing system that we actually manage climate?
I thought not.
You read about them in the papers. You might have even gone to your party conferences. Clowns, right? Bickering clowns, arguing back and forth over tiny points of doctrine. Given power, they make all the same mistakes that people make under the circumstances, and however much the policy changes, the politics, the process itself, is unchanged.
We've tried it all kinds of ways. It doesn't work. It's even worse at times, and there are moments of brilliance, moments of hope, but it doesn't work. We keep screwing the poor. We keep screwing the environment. We keep starting absolutely absurdist wars over imaginary sky faeries, royal bloodlines and other such triva.
We live in a dream world called history. History is in danger of turning into a nightmare.
Life has gone seriously wrong. You can point the finger at the assassination of Gandhi, or Kennedy, or Parsons. You can suggest it was The Bible, The Communist Manifesto or Left Behind. Gore vs. Bush in 2001 is another key turning point in history. Some weirdos blame the invention of agriculture. I, personally, think that a wave of assassinations and dirty tricks campaigns starting with Gandhi and ending with… well, perhaps still going, is substantial part of the problem. But even if none of that had happened, how can you expect the world to work as one, to work as a whole, if we are divided into these arbitrary political units called “countries” each one of which has the complete right to ignore everything happening outside of its borders at whim. From the divisions have come wars, but again, not without the consent of the people.
Now we have a truly global governance problem: how to tell people they are not allowed to burn coal and oil any more, at anything like these levels. But having seen the horrors unleashed by continental governments in the Former Soviet Union, and watching the with abject helplessness as America becomes a criminal enterprise, eating its own Constitution after ten years of horrific wars against populations entirely unrelated to the events of 9/11/2001… with this as a background, how could we ever trust a world government?
Gandhi’s last card was this: with enough discipline, we could govern ourselves and our own affairs so that the State had little or nothing to do. Everyone perfect in their duty to their family. Everyone perfect in their duty to their neighbour. Every village perfect in its duty to its poorer neighbours: a global wave of responsibility displacing coercive models at every point.
That’s not happening either.
And now the question: do you know what to do?
So here we are, face to face, at the end of our tethers. If you're not aware of this situation, I guarantee you it's because you're not paying attention, alas. The more people know about these issues, the more worried they get. The best of us are chronically depressed and grasping at straws, fighting our own minor battles in full expectation of futility, while awaiting results that seem to take forever to come.
This is the failure that the Dark Mountain
project seeks to address in a new way, if I understand Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth correctly. Not to fix it, but to tell the story of it, and to find new ways to live with the reality of it, impossible as it is.
Perhaps our grandparents felt this way when people invented the nuclear bomb and then announced Mutually Assured Destruction
. Our most recent ancestors lived under a much, much darker shadow, but it was one that relatively small numbers of extremely skilled and knowledgeable humans controlled, however much we may have doubted their sanity.
I am among the most capable of my generation. I do not have any cards left to play. I do not have any master plan. I do not know what to do to make this better.
All I can do is tell you the story, honestly, and hope that you understand.
And if you have any God-Kings, send them.
(I wanted to talk about the absence of allies, the fact that there is nothing to lean on, and nobody to protect us at the most fundamental levels. This is not an easy or reassuring post, and I may move it to my personal blog later. But if you made it this far, please sign up and leave a comment