PLANETARY EMERGENCY: TWO OMINOUS WARNINGS

The first was titled “Insect Armageddon,” [i]A recent study in Germany, carried out in nature preserves, found that “. . . . in just 25 years, the total biomass of these insects declined by an astonishing 76 percent.” Likely causes? The use of pesticides and habitat destruction in surrounding farmland.

Furthermore there is alarming new evidence that insect populations worldwide are in rapid decline. As Prof. Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex, a co-author of a new insect study, put it, we are “on course for ecological Armageddon” because “if we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.” The German study corroborates others. “This isn’t the first study to indicate that insects are in trouble. The Zoological Society of London warned five years ago that many insect populations worldwide were declining, and a 2014 study published in Science magazine also documented a steep drop in insect and other invertebrate life worldwide, warning that such “declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being.” Insects not only pollinate over half of our food, they are also food for many fish, reptiles, birds and others. We are looking at a cascading ecological collapse easily as important as climate deterioration, toxification, and the growing global water shortage.

The second, published in BioScience, a leading scientific journal, was titled “15,000 Scientists From 184 Countries Warn Humanity of Environmental Catastrophe.”[ii] This one urges global leaders to “. . . global leaders to save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Signers include Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, and James Hansen and thousands of others. It was their “second notice.”   The first one, issued in 1992 and signed by “only” 1700 scientists, began: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” They noted the growing hole in the ozone layer, pollution fresh water depletion, “. . . overfishing, deforestation, plummeting wildlife populations, as well as unsustainable rises in greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures and human population levels.” Other than the Ozone Layer, fixed by international cooperation (The Montreal Protocol), things have gotten much worse, including “ . . .a 28.9 percent reduction of vertebrate wildlife, a 62.1 percent increase in CO2 emissions, a 167.6 percent rise in global average annual temperature change and a 35.5 percent increase in the global population.” They are adamant that time is running out and are urging leaders ““take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life.” They warn that “We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.”

 

It is time for humanity to wake up. As individuals and even corporations there is much we can do but it will not be enough. Only policy enacted at the highest international levels will be sufficient. And that means getting involved in politics, electing people who respect and understand science.

 

[i]   New York Times, Oct. 30, 2017.

 

[ii] Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch, Nov. 15, 2017.

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An Open Letter To All The Newspapers In The World

An Open Letter To All The Newspapers In The World

How many readers know that the majority of nations in the world have drafted a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons? I suspect not many, because it’s been underreported. The treaty was opened for signatures last week and there was a line to sign on. The nuclear armed states, save one, declined even to participate in developing the treaty. The State that did participate, but then dropped out because of the boycott by the other nuclear armed states was—ready? North Korea. No one thinks Kim Jong un is rational, and last summer Donald Trump said, “If we have ‘em, why can’t we use ‘em,” and just recently at the UN he called Kim childish names and threatened to utterly destroy North Korea. Now, these two nuclear-armed, emotional infants are hurling insults at each other, escalating the very real danger of a nuclear war.

I don’t exaggerate. The single most destructive act we humans can commit is a nuclear war, “New data suggest that a war involving just 100 nuclear weapons, or less than 1% of the world’s arsenals, would cause abrupt severe climate disruption, worldwide food shortages, hundreds of millions of starvation deaths, and probably a total collapse of civilization.” (“Nations take a step away from the threat of nuclear annihilation,” By Ira Helfand and Matt Bivens, CNN, Updated 7:49 PM ET, Fri July 7, 2017.) And that’s to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of prompt deaths, followed by many more dying from radiation sickness, and ecological destruction on a colossal scale.

The “old line” nuclear powers, The U.S., Russia, France, and Great Britain, long ago promised under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that they would “undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” They never did and now the rest of the world is fed up. It is no wonder that Pakistan, Israel, India and now North Korea went on and developed nuclear weapons, and that Iran has only stopped because of a treaty agreement with the U.S. and European States which we are about to abrogate. In other words, with regard to having nuclear weapons, they feel that what’s fair for one is fair for all, and in this case, it’s insane.

The non-proliferation regime failed and now it’s time for abolition. But first, let’s immediately stop this dangerous, bloviating rhetoric by two men who ought to be in therapy. After all, they’re risking our lives here, and the health of global ecosystems on which civilization depends.

 

A Green and Just Planet Earth

Getting To A Green and Just Future On Planet Earth

If we are to save the earth from the assaults of Hypercivilization, and so save ourselves, we need to change our minds. A number of thinkers have been suggesting what we need to do to get to a green, just and sustainable future for planet earth. Ted Trainer writes: “To save the planet we do not need miraculous technical breakthroughs or vast amounts of capital. Essentially we need a radical change in our thinking.” Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns movement, says: “We need a positive vision of an abundant future: one which is energy lean, time-rich, less stressful, healthier and happier.” It’s what economist David Korten calls “The New Story” and “The Great Turning.” Willis Harmon reminds us: “Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in society have come about not from the dictates of governments and the result of battles, but through vast numbers of people changing their minds, sometimes only a little bit.”

We need a different set of foundational beliefs that don’t repeat the lie that we are all individuals in a zero sum competition with each other to acquire ever more material goods in an ever expanding economy. That’s not the path to the good life; it’s the road to a ruined Earth and a new Dark Age. So what might be the new cultural postulates that could undergird a green and just society? Here are twelve suggestions.

  1. The most first and most fundamental of the ideas that will undergird Ecocivilization is the idea of community, which ought to be so obvious as to be not worth stating, yet it is crucial to do so in this age of radical, narcissistic individualism. There is no such thing as a self-made person. We humans all rely on one another, but even more profoundly on the other members of the geobiotic community—trees, plants, animals, soil organisms, the atmosphere, the oceans, etc. Other foundational concepts flow out of and into this, including the following eleven changes from our present beliefs.
  2. From privatization to preserving the Commons. Water, air, soil, food, atmosphere, parks, peace and security are rights of everyone, not to be sold to profited self-seeking corporations.
  3. From anywhere is everywhere to restoring a deep sense of place. We can’t know who we are until we know intimately where we are.
  4. From treating the earth as a momentary utility to seeing the Earth community as sacred.
  5. From ignoring the limits of nature to respecting its design, knowing what we can and, more importantly, can’t do without long term harm.
  6. Moving from mindless experimentation (nuclear power, genetic engineering, geoengineering, terraforming) to the precautionary principle which says those who want to introduce changes must themselves first prove them harmless.
  7. From design by guess to redesign by biomimicry—nature as teacher.
  8. From never enough to asking how much is enough.
  9. From crude measures of economic growth to determining and measuring true happiness and well-being.
  10. From rigidity to resilience, global dependence to local independence and self-sufficiency.
  11. From our war system to a peace system. [For more, see my book, From War to Peace: a Guide to the Next Hundred Years, McFarland Publishers).
  12. From irresponsibility to responsibility, from letting corporations externalizetheir environmental and social costs to the rest of us to requiring accountability from them.

These 12 should not be considered linearly but systemically in their mutual and ongoing interrelationships. They are all interlocked with each other. All could be derived from any one of them. You really can’t think about one without thinking about all of them.

The good news is that this great post-Enlightenment Rethink is already developing. It can be found in numerous books, articles, magazines, classes and courses and in countless conversations world-wide. David Korten’s “Great Turning” is underway.

The Declaration of Peace

The Declaration of Peace

These are self-evident truths:

That all humans are a single family living on a fragile and endangered planet whose life support systems must remain intact if we are to survive;

That the well-being of the planet and the well-being of humanity are one and the same;

That the well-being of each requires the well-being of all—security is common;

That all war is a crime against humanity and nature;

That any war anywhere degrades the quality of life for all of us everywhere;

That all humans have a natural right to peace and a healthy planet;

That we live at the decisive moment in history when we will choose between break down or breakthrough on a planetary scale;

That we here now dedicate our intellectual, spiritual and material resources to the establishment of permanent peace and the conservation of nature, and,

That we are fully endowed by our Creator with the wisdom and the ability to achieve these ends.

@  @  @  @  @  @  @  @  @  @

17 May, 2017 at Tomidhu Cottage, Crathie, Scotland,  by Kent Drummond Shifferd

& & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & & &

Please distribute freely. E copies may be had by emailing kentshifferd@gmail.com.

 

 

The Final Struggle To Save The Earth

The Final Struggle To Save The Earth

The planetary emergency is upon us. Now begins the final struggle to save the earth. We are at a critical turning point in human and natural history. For two hundred years we have been simplifying the biosphere on which all civilizations must rest. Now the worst extinction crisis in 60 million years is underway. Negative climate change is accelerating. Water shortages, droughts and unprecedented storms are already a reality and getting worse. Soil is being exhausted world-wide. Deserts are advancing. Tens of millions of refugees are displaced and many millions more will come as the conditions for agriculture deteriorate. Two billion more people will have to be fed, housed, clothed, and provided with energy by 2050, and this on top of the 7 billion already here now. In the face of this the forces of reaction have taken control and are plunging ahead; men who put greed above the common good, who think the solution is to drive this destructive machine even faster, to go back to fossil fuels instead of forward to renewables, to further chemicalize our air and water and food, to tinker with the genetic base of all life. They want to privatize the National Parks, drill and mine in the National Forests, blow the tops off of mountains and shove the toxic overburden into the streams, drive leaky oil pipelines under our rivers and drill in the stormy polar seas. This is the time to resist with all our might, and more than resist, it is the time to invent a new civilization compatible with the earth, based on renewables, conservation, reverence for the land and for the unique places in which we live, on revived local economies, and on peace. There is still much to save: many beautiful places, a livable climate only slightly damaged, restored soils, waters cleaned up, healthy local communities. But know this—it’s our last chance. We need to rise up both for ourselves and for future generations. We humans have no right to stupidly despoil the creation. There is still time, but not much. We can still avoid the rise of a new Dark Age, can still deliver to all posterity a restored, healthy planet and a sane civilization. We are the ones who are called by all the children who will ever be, who will stand in judgment of what we did, or did not do, in this critical moment in the history of the planet. Go forth!

The Clementine Community

The Clementine Community

Today I awake at 5 AM in the northern dark, arise and dress in warm clothes to take the little dog out. It is twenty below zero and we are back in the house quickly. I get the coffee started and eat a little orange called a clementine. This is an act of profound community, as well as something of a miracle in January. This small orange came all the way from Spain. The sweet juices it harbors are the rain that fell on the Spanish orchard last spring, or even many springs ago, filling an aquifer below the soil there.

Spanish soil, like soil everywhere, is a living community made up of thousands of insects, worms and micro-organisms, all aerating and turning the leaves of last year’s trees into once-again useable nutrients in the endless cycle that has been going on for millions of years. Soil is a precious community. I say a silent prayer of thanks to these creatures. There is the community of people, of course, the orchardists who carefully nurture these trees for years before they even begin to fruit, and then care for them into old age, each year producing this edible gold. Men, women, and boys who tend and till and pick and pack. I will never know their names, but they are my companions in this act of community. And this community extends far back in time to the first orchardists in China, thousands of years ago, who carefully bred this strain of citrus fruit, using natural methods, over generations, people who spoke a different language and had a different religion than mine.

And, too, there are the transporters: the men or women who drove the fruit to the workers at the washing and packing plant, who loaded it into boxes, and then into larger containers. How did it get here? By ship, with a big crew? On a jumbo jet? And then trucked to a distribution warehouse and somehow, SOMEHOW (!), it got to a little grocery in a small town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, was unpacked and the stock boy put it on the shelf, and the young women at the register rang it up and another packed it in my cloth bag, and here it is. Moist. Delicious. Sweet. Nutritious.

Oh, and don’t forget—we humans only worked with the materials, and within the Nature’s laws. We do not preserve nature—nature preserves us. It is only together that we can live, people with people and people with natural communities, and it is only in peace that we can live together in community.

 

 

The Wisdom Of The Sufis

Wisdom of the Sufis

Sufism is the very old, inner, mystical dimension of Islam, focusing on God as divine love and seeking union with that divine nature in order to reflect it into the world. One of the ways the Sufi mystics seek to attain such a state is through trance achieved by the stately twirling in place (what we in the West have called the ‘whirling dervishes,” but are more properly known by their own name, the Melevli.) The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi said: “The Sufi opens his hand to the universe and gives away each instant, free. Unlike someone who begs on the street for money to survive, a dervish begs to give you his life.” And the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz said, “The sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.” But the text I want to reflect on here is by the modern Sufi, Idries Shah (1924-1996)

“The donkey that brought you to this door must be dismissed if you want to go through it.”

 

The donkey that has brought us to this doorway in history is materialism in its corporate capitalist form with its relentless drive for economic growth. Actually, we face two doorways; one leads down a steep flight of dark steps into the basement of chaos, a world where most of the naturally evolved environment is destroyed and we are living in poverty amidst conflict, what many are now calling the “collapse scenario” for Western Civilization.

I’m am not arguing that the place the old donkey brought us to is all bad—far from it; we have modern medicine, electricity, rapid transport. But the way in which we are doing much of what we do is unsustainable, both because of too much and the wrong technologies, especially for energy, food production, forestry, and transport (not to mention warfare).

The other doorway leads to another place that I will call “Ecocivilization.” Go through that door and we will have abandoned the old attitudes including the world view in which nature is to be “conquered” and isolated individuals compete to maximize their own wealth, believing that doing so will make them happy and the world a better place. This view has not led to the conservation of the natural base on which civilization rests, nor has it led to a just and peaceful society. It has not preserved the commons or the common good. It has not even produced much happiness because there is never enough for all our greed. We need to get off this old donkey and go through the new door where we will build a world based on our realization that we are not separate from nature or from one another but rather all are interdependent. We need the earthworms, the trees, the bees, and on and on. The Buddhists call it “dependent arising.” I could not be without you (two leggeds, four leggeds, winged, finned ones). With a new appreciation for our place in and our dependence on nature and, dare I say it—realizing that the natural world is a sacred and holy place designed by a beneficent God (Allah, Adonai, Great Spirit, etc.), we will have the will to move to renewable practices in energy, transport, housing, city redesign, permaculture, local economies, and so on. So farewell, old donkey. We are heading for the Great Transition to Ecocivilization.

 

Stories We Tell Ourselves: Stories We Could Tell Ourselves

Every people tells its story and, sometimes, distorts the truth. Our American story is about a new start for humanity and tells us of coming to an empty, undeveloped land where we could be free to worship, free to own land, free of class distinctions and an aristocracy, self-governing, and where hard work would bring advancement in life. Every generation would do better than their parents.

There’s a lot of truth to this version, but it’s glaringly incomplete. The land was not empty. Old civilizations had been here for thousands of years before “we” came, some farming, some living intimately with the land as hunter gatherers. We drove them off, based on the view that might makes right and that “we” could make “better” use of the land. You all know this. And you know that “we” did not start out with self-government; only the rich could vote and sit in office. You also know that “we” went to Africa and stole human beings and forced them into servitude to do the much of the work that “built the nation.” Again, might made right. We even burned women alive as witches at Salem.

Now don’t get me wrong—none of you did any of that. It was long ago, but that does not mean that we who live today are not culpable of fixing what wrongs remain from these atrocities, this terrorism, for that is what it was.

Now consider what has become of the original vision that Tom Jefferson put forward. Americans were to be free because they would be beholden to no one but themselves since they would live on small hold farms that would feed and clothe them. Living simple, healthy lives while caring for the land. Self-sufficiency would yield liberty and with it, dignity.

And today? Less than one percent farm—nearly all rest of us are employees, under the power of someone else, often giant corporations that are ruining the land: blowing the tops off of mountains, polluting the groundwater, fouling the air. So how do we go forward to a better America, one that revives the old virtues in new ways? I am not talking about going back to sod houses, toothache, and incest. But let us reason together about how to recapture true liberty, self-government and how to live so as to protect the land, the water, the air—indeed the whole Creation. What is the course correction we will need? What is our new story? What is our new vision?

 

 

Christmas, 2016–Not Bad

 

NOT BAD

Jesus and the disciples lived in a world where there was no electricity and hence no nuclear waste, where there were no nuclear weapons and hence no threat of annihilation; where there were no coal and oil fired industries, no fossil driven automobiles, and hence no major carbon footprint; no air pollution; no light pollution; you could see the stars at night; no two hour commutes with angry drivers on crowded highways; no mass extinction of the other members of Creation; no cell phones and texting or computers with their toxic components; no chemical food additives; no plastic (hence no trashed landscapes or the Pacific gyre); no overharvesting and drastically declining populations of fish, only a few million other humans on the earth; no need for an array of complex kitchen appliances; no chemically polluted water or eutrophic lakes and rivers from farm run-off of agricultural chemicals; no televisions to be discarded when “obsolete”; food was organic and local; No obesity or tooth decay from highly refined sugars and flours; no crowded cities of a million or twenty million; no chemical smog; no impending climate change with more intensive storms. No streams of airliners streaking through the sky burning oxygen and polluting the upper atmosphere. Most people were farmers and herders. Most life was centered in small villages.                 Not bad.

 

The Planetary Emergency

“We may live in the strangest, most thoroughly different moment since human beings took up farming, 10,000 years ago, and time more or less commenced.”[i] Bill McKibben

“In effect, the human race has entered into a great wager. We are, so to speak, betting the planet.” [ii] Charles C. Mann

We are facing a planetary emergency that involves much more than the disastrous effects of unchecked global warming; we are on the brink of a comprehensive environmental and hence a social catastrophe. The history of life on Earth is eons old—probably three billion eight hundred million years. In that long, long time span, the basic building blocks of life, the cell, and then complicated organisms and complex ecosystems developed in response to their surroundings, creating the living planet on which civilizations rests, on which it depends for its life support.   We are now threatening all of that.

In a brief geological moment, the last 200 years, our species has radically altered and simplified these planetary ecosystems by creating Hypercivilization. Hypercivilization is a powerfully destructive way of interacting with nature. It is characterized by an unprecedented overreach in population, energy capture and dispersion, rapid urbanization, and a chemical revolution all leading to the toxification of the biosphere, massive habitat loss, extinctions, desertification, environmental diseases, food shortages and climate change. We have changed the conditions in which life evolved and upon which it is dependent. We are in uncharted waters. Neither we humans nor the Earth has ever been here before.

Hypercivilization is a greatly exaggerated, globalized, and intensified form of civilization. It is without precedent. It represents a radical discontinuity with both the evolutionary and the cultural past. It began to emerge first in the mind with a revolution in beliefs and values around 1600 A.D. and then materialized in a first wave of new institutions and the technologies of industrialization. This revolution was firmly entrenched in Western Europe by 1900 A.D., and by the twentieth century, it spread like a tidal wave over the rest of the Earth. It continues to spread and intensify with the onset of the second wave, the new technologies of nuclear fission and biogenics.

Hypercivilization’s main impact on Earth’s life support system is destructive. In Hypercivilization, the good life is defined as acquiring ever more material things called “goods,” by a process called “economic growth” and measured as Gross National Product. Most negative impacts on humans and nature are externalized from its economic system. They will be assessed against our children for generations to come. Pollution, deforestation, drought, erosion, extinctions, overpopulation, a deteriorating climate, and consequent social ills such as modern war and extreme poverty became normative. Seen in historical perspective, Hypercivilization burst upon the earth and trashed it in a comparatively few moments of evolutionary time.

[i] Bill McKibben, “A Special Moment In History,” Atlantic Monthly, May 1998, p. 55.

[ii] Peter Menzel, Material World: A Global Family Portrait Text by Charles Mann, (San    Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1994), p. 9.