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06/27/2012

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T E CHo

Dave,

Many / perhaps most DOTE readers basically agree with everything you've written, including the above, I believe. Some of us reached the same conclusions before finding your blog, but did not have the breadth and depth of understanding / detailed facts you offer to back it up.

An Armageddon IS coming, either of a secular or biblical nature and origin.

Its just good to know the more exact nature of the disasters facing us, I believe.

Good luck to us as the less selfish, long-term thinking minority, and let the remainder, the majority, the rotten me-first-only-and-always basterds et al go to hell. They will deserve the world they created.

Dave Cohen

@T E Cho

Yes, I'm sure that many of my readers already agree with me, which is called preaching to the choir.

But allow me to point out that I always try to write for a general audience, whether I get that audience or not. (Invariably, NOT.)

-- Dave

Wanooski

The whole situation is just fucked. If people aren't scared are they going to do anything? Or just keep following the same disastrous road? The whole "they'll" think of something and we'll be fine(whoever "they" are).
But then they keep telling us that if we scare people with our warnings that they'll just shut off. Well WTF are we supposed to do? There aren't any nifty little fixits that will solve our problems.
I guess we can just watch as everything goes to shit. Not that it's not partly shit already.

John D

Excellent post! Yes, hope is a part of human nature that is impossible to change. Take me for example: I completely understand and agree with what you write. I know logically we are up the creek without a paddle. Yet I still have a dream and a hope that I can cut down my spending, save some money, then combine it with retirement money and buy up some large tract of land at least an hour away from a city. I would love some type of backup plan for my two kids.

Hopeless dreaming? Maybe. The system may collapse before I could pull this off. Maybe I won't have a clue how to live off the land. Maybe I can't (or won't) defend the land from other hungry souls. But I can hope, can't I?

Bill Hicks

Dave, in your comment above you hit on the main reason why I have suspended my blogging. I had actually hoped to branch out beyond preaching to the choir and start reaching a more general audience, but came to the realization that it just isn't going to happen. Sadly, the Internet, while being a great resource for those few of us with open minds, has allowed the vast majority to restrict their exposure to information to only that which they already agree.

In your recent post about the realities of peak oil, you predicted that the world oil production plateau will likely last another 5-15 years, which means it will be at least that long before awareness starts to sink in for the vast majority. Until then, those of us in the "reality based community" will just be howling in the wilderness, and by the time the masses do finally start to catch on it will be far too late for them to do anything about it.

Don Levit

Dave:
Terrific article.
I am glad you focused on the psychology of hope, rather than global warming.
I think the psychology is an area 99% of us can rally around.
My grandfather had a neat saying: "You can live 3 days without water, 5 days without food, but you can live only 5 minutes without hope."

On a more philosophical, theological level, I think the object of one's hope is important.
To place hope in materialism seems to be a waste of time.
To place hope in one's health is a similar waste of time.
I remember as a kid people saying "Well, at least you have your health."
The more effective way to truly live, in my opinion, is to come to terms with our mortality, the best way we can.
It is only when we learn how to truly live and die, that life becomes precious, exciting, and meaningful.
Regarding reality finally happening, here is a statement to think about: For time, being infinite, even the inevitable doesn't happen on its own.
Don Levit

Brian M

Dave, I think this is an excellent observation. I think there's an additional hope-related problem, perhaps simply reflective of your observation that no truly genuine hope is apparent. Even in the area of genuine hope, even if actions were apparent, there is a tendency (perhaps more of an epidemic) to treat hope improperly. Hope, genuine hope, hope engaged with change and effort, is a potentially valuable thing. Hope is, on the other hand, an awful thing to rely upon. Our species, and our (American) culture, seems to have come to the point where we are no long willing to work towards our hopes, but only to rely upon them in expectation that they will somehow be fulfilled (perhaps because they have been in the past, or perhaps because we simply think we deserve it). In our reliance, we effectively convert any potential genuine hope to false hope, for reliance relieves us of the need to change (or even try to change), and, as your essay notes, change is the hallmark of genuine hope.

Simply, genuine hope can be enormously complementary to hard work in difficult times, but hope is not much help if it's only strategy.

eugene

Personally, hope has screwed my life more than anything else. So many things I "hoped" for. After a few yrs, I got real. Do the research, figure out a plan, be willing to adapt the plan as reality changes and get on with it. I sat in a shit marriage for 20 yrs hoping things would change. I'm sure my kids hoped their parents would knock off the craziness and change. Few more stories along that line.

So I am extremely tired of good old American "hope". Waste of time. Hope is about words. My second wife always said pay no attention to what people say, watch what they do. I don't see many "hopeful" people doing much. Markets up today on "hope". Be down tomorrow on reality.

Fran Joseph

Ok, so I'm getting worried about you, Dave. It's a great service you offer through this website. I love what I learn and it helps me to feel supported as well as to have an assist in framing my concerns to family and friends. But, you need to give yourself a break. The world won't solve its problems or collapse one minute faster or slower if you do.
I have two tricks to create some breathing space. One, I teach Laughter Yoga. And two, I think about it all as theatre that I am observing. A farce with bizarre characters. Of yeah, And then I watch scream and yell at the Boston Red Sox.
It is necessary to take time to nurture yourself and relax and play. To enjoy the moment, even if we believe the next moment and many after that, may suck. It is what fuels us to come back to fight the good fight.
I think it's a plan to take the rest of the week off.

PBD

I guess I have a different kind of hope. I hope that I get to live long enough to see the undeniable, irrevocable beginnings of human self-extinction! For me, this is all free entertainment.

Some people ask me how I can sleep at night if I truly believe that the human race will be extinct within a few decades or, at most, centuries. I answer that I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I DIDN'T believe it!

In the end, maybe humans won't be completely extinct (just a major die-off or two) - but they'll certainly DESERVE to be. At least having that perspective keeps me from being pissed off all the time.


chris in chicago

Of course this blog will not become mainstream reading for the masses it would require people to think beyond sports,celebrities,the latest apple gimick and what suv they are going to buy.
Also, most people dont care about anything long term. They will say they would do anything for there kids, but if you really pressed them to modify there lifestyles to help the planet i think there true colors would show

Chris Korda

Hi Dave,

I’ve been following your blog quietly for a long time now. This post has roused me from my dogmatic slumber however. I'd like to introduce some concepts and sources which deserve mention in the context of human hopes for the future.

Antihumanism is a relatively new philosophy, which emerged along with critique of industrialism in the modern era, particularly after WWI. Antihumanism gathered strength from the nihilism of post-1960s counterculture and is now evolving rapidly, so there's already a wide spectrum. At the moderate end are mainstream novelists such as Kurt Vonnegut ("Breakfast of Champions"), Margaret Atwood ("Oryx and Crake"), and Paul Theroux ("O-Zone"). All of these books contain antihuman concepts and observations, though their authors probably wouldn't use the word. There are also many antihuman movies, too many to list, but at a minimum "Eraserhead" by David Lynch, "THX-1138" by George Lucas, and "Soylent Green" should be mentioned. At the extreme end are actual organizations such as The Church of Euthanasia, VHEMT (Voluntary Human Extinction Movement), and GLF (Gaia Liberation Front).

In the sciences antihumanism is usually expressed by paleontologists and biologists, and increasingly by climate scientists. Some current examples are Jeremy Jackson and Kevin Anderson (see links below). Edward O. Wilson is best known for his work on biological diversity, but he was also the first biologist to seriously propose that intelligence snuffs itself out, and that this solves Fermi's paradox: we don't receive messages from the stars because by the time an alien life form has enough power to transmit that far, it's already on the threshold of annihilating itself, and the odds of its brief blaze of glory lining up with ours are infinitesimal. This is closely related to the view that life (particularly human life) creates short-term order at the cost of accelerating the entropy of its environment, in stark contrast to the idealistic Gaia theory. For example paleontologist Peter Ward's "Medea Hypothesis" demolishes the notion that life is self-regulating, and compares life to a drunk stumbling around in a darkened room.

Antihumanism can be usefully contrasted with humanism. Humanism derives from the ancient Greek notion that man is the measure of all things, and that without human existence nothing would have value. Concealed within this is the assumption that only humans experience value. This assumption has no basis in biology, but is nonetheless one of the pillars of modern civilization, because it provides justification for extermination of other species. The denial of intrinsic value to non-human life is the essence of speciesism, and is closely related to the dogma of dominion, i.e. that it's man's destiny to subjugate all other living things (a concept that Edward O. Wilson attacked in his "Consilience").

Beyond humanism is transhumanism, sometimes known as futurism or extropianism. This is the belief that not only is man the measure of all things, but the only part of him that matters is his mind, and the sooner his mind is freed from the limitations of biology the better. The moderate form is life extension and cryogenics, while the extreme form is downloading human intelligence into robots and conquering outer space, like the Daleks on Dr. Who. Famous transhumanists include Ray Kurzweil, and Stephen Hawking who recently stated that humanity's only hope is to escape to other planets before we destroy this one. Antihumanists regard transhumanists as archenemies, due to their flagrant disregard for non-humans. From the antihuman point of view, transhumanism bears a striking resemblance to Christianity. Both are escapist, characterized by unshakable belief that humans belong somewhere else, i.e. Heaven/Outer Space. Both express contempt for biology, e.g. Catholic repression of sexuality, and transhumanist use of derogatory terms such as meatspace. Both are motivated by fear of death, and presumably of life too, since one engenders the other (literally via natural selection). Both reject the limits of existence on earth, and promulgate a fantasy that justifies exceeding those limits. The danger isn't that the fantasy will be realized, but that deluded people will make earth unsuitable for life far sooner than would have otherwise been the case.

Unlike mere misanthropy, antihumanism is distinguished by reverence for non-human life. Biological diversity is considered an axiomatic value, and contrasted with the ugliness and sterility of human monoculture. Earth is described as a "wrecked planet" (Kurt Vonnegut), and various measures are called for to prevent further damage, the most obvious being drastic reduction or elimination of the human population. The pre-human fecundity of earth is idolized, and provides a reference for demonstrating impoverishment of ecosystems. This relates to the shifting baseline syndrome posited by Jeremy Jackson and others, in which each successive generation wrongly assumes the degree of biological diversity they observe was also seen in previous generations.

The central paradox of antihumanism is that humans evolved, and are therefore no more or less natural than any other living thing. Stephen Jay Gould argued convincingly that evolution doesn't converge on anything except fitness for conditions: there are no good or bad organisms, just ones that survive, and mostly ones that don't. Richard Dawkins went even further and described organisms as mere transport for genes, in which case the DNA we share with all other eukaryotes is the winner, regardless of what humans do. One proposed resolution is that humans are malignant life, as argued by A. Kent MacDougall in "Humans As Cancer". This sidesteps the problem however, because cancer is also natural, and closely related to viruses. The higher-order question is ethical: why is malignancy bad, and from what point of view is its badness determined?

The paradox of human naturalness could possibly be resolved by arguing that sentience is not intelligence but the ability to feel pain and pleasure. What distinguishes humans from other primates is the existential suffering that results from self-knowledge, particularly fear of death. Since humans have such capacity for suffering, we should have equally developed empathy, but instead we succumb to corruption, creating hellish conditions for humans and non-humans alike. Thus despite our naturalness, humans can and should be blamed for wrecking the planet, precisely because we're capable of feeling remorse for having done so. If we're unable to reform ourselves, as seems increasingly to be the case, we should have the decency to step aside and give other organisms a chance. Apes might re-evolve back into us, but they might not, and either way it won't be our fault.

Dan Miller: "A REALLY Inconvenient Truth"
http://fora.tv/2009/08/18/A_REALLY_Inconvenient_Truth_Dan_Miller

Peter Ward (The Medea Hypothesis):
http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_ward_on_mass_extinctions.html

Professor Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Research - Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous
http://www.slideshare.net/DFID/professor-kevin-anderson-climate-change-going-beyond-dangerous

Brave New Ocean - Jeremy Jackson
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/7530487

Church of Euthanasia
http://www.churchofeuthanasia.org/

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement
http://www.vhemt.org/

spynetkilla

I have been long-impressed at how prolific you are, Dave. Well-written and really extremely thoughtful, there is always a lot there to digest. I would find it difficult myself to keep up writing on a daily basis.

Go ahead and take a couple of days off. I've found that even with the things I love doing, setting it aside for a day or two creates the mental space for new ideas to emerge on their own. If you feel guilty (what is this, the work ethic mentality again?), you can always repost a relevant "Greatest Hit" from the past.

Humans have a psychological need for hope? We need everything sugar-coated? Huh. Interesting that this tiny nugget of truth was heard on NPR. Eternally cheerful optimism is their specialty, you can hear it in their tone. The medium is the message!

Joy

Agree with PBD, humans are long overdue for a population reduction. They didn't want to do it the easy way (contraception) so nature will do it the hard way (die off).

I bid a final goodbye to any sort of hope in the 1980s. In a short period of time, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez happened. I resolved to go to Vancouver Island and kayak with the Orcas while they were still around. I found the whole area had been clear cut and replanted with monoculture tree farms. Many of the trees were already dying due to the pine borer, an epidemic supercharged by climate change, already blatantly obvious 25 years ago. The big logging company was Fletcher, a New Zealand based multinational, under protection by the mounties.

The inside passage was busy with giant log rafts under tow and cruise ships. On what happened to be the opening day of commercial salmon season, I paddled into the whale sanctuary. The strait was completely bridged, shore to shore, with commercial fishing boats. I was intercepted by mounties in a zodiac. They charged me with trespass and disturbing the whales in my kayak. I asked them, "What about that salmon fleet, strip mining the strait of the whale's food source?". The straight faced answer, "They have permits to be here, you don't".

And so it goes. I am just hoping to live long enough to see diesel become so expensive that commercial fishing is uneconomic. Then I can kayak and sail on the fish depleted, plastic strewn, acidic waters in peace.

Wanooski

@Joy, whoa, that is grim. When crap like that is normal, it's no wonder why we're in a terrible situation.

sharonsj

PBD, you are seeing the undeniable, irrevocable beginnings of human self-extinction right now.

How about the raging wildfires out West? Climate change will increase them and there will be no working firefighting equipment thanks to budget cuts and perhaps peak oil. Instead, thousands of the unemployed, prisoners, those on public assistance (should such a thing still exist under the Republicans), and everyone forced to be born due to the unavailability of abortions will be sent to bodily fight fires because by then life will be pretty damn cheap. Assuming, of course, that there are enough people left standing after famine and environmentally caused diseases kill us off.

As for the extremely rich, I wonder why they think they and their families will be untouched by planetary destruction?

lemmonmc

@Chris Korda:

I don't understand you having Dr.Kevin Anderson described as an anti-humanist climate scientist. From what I gathered having watched and recommended his presentation numerous times, he is stating the actual reality through numbers, what we're up against and what it would take to accomplish a meaningful reduction in carbon emission. A no holds barred analysis of what every frigging environmentalist never considers. So please explain if you can how his presentation is not accurate and something all concerned people should be watching.

@Dave:
My respect for you at this point seems limitless. Please go ahead and take a break if you need it, you most certainly deserve it.

don

There is no hope until we abandon all hope. If there is no apocalypse we are doomed.

Joy

@ Chris Korda
One need not attach any value judegment to human activities, they just are what they are.

I see humans like the cyanobacteria who caused the Great Oxygenation Event, utterly transforming the planet forever (and poisoning to extinction who knows how many species of microbes that could not survive under an oxygen rich atmosphere) The cyanobateria are simply biological automatons, we flatter ourselves when we imagine that collectively we are any different.

matt

Here is something that jumped out at me: "how do you collect it all into some powerful argument that seems to make some difference in people's lives?" Gee, I don't know, how about wondering what will happen when half of Florida is abandoned by climate refugees who will migrate north into an energy-deprived deep-south withering in poverty and drought? That argument does it for me........

Dan Miner

Dave, I too usually follow in silence. But your creativity and eloquence deserve response. I am sure there are more who read your posts than who respond to them. Some of us who agree with your viewpoints and find a benefit in having them so thoughtfully expressed. Even if it is for a very few people, your work is a witnessing and a service. Yes, it is a sad thing that so few follow these discussions. As Fran said above, it would be good for you to take off a few days. With complete respect for your service, there's no need to martyr yourself. As someone reminded me earlier today, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. Thank you again for everything you do. Please take care of yourself.

Regards,

Dan from NYC

Anywhere But Here Is Better

Hello Dave - thinking about what you've said, and reading Bill Hicks comment, I am reminded of something the often misunderstood Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, that both the fate of mankind and most people's behavior is miserable, and that we should treat others as fellow prisoners of this world. Although this sounds bleak, there's room for compassion at our plight. What you and Bill and now Chris Korda are doing is useful in this sense - engendering a kind of camaraderie that does help most of your readers to at least feel that they're not alone on the cold mountain-top.

I greatly value your writings, because there's scant other opportunity to deploy the gray matter. To the contrary, even watching what passes for the 'news' on BBC, I feel my brain contracting and numbing at the sheer idiocy of human conduct played out with unwarranted egoism by empty shells masquerading as important people.

How you write one essay (or more) every day is a wonder to behold. The fact that the 'general audience' is taking 0.1% interest in your blog doesn't dilute the importance of setting down a record (until the electricity fails) that people can find if they try. Who knows, you may be elected the final president of the Disunited States of Purgatory, and it will fall to you the ceremony of kissing goodbye to the last piece of land above sea level.

May your voice continue to ring out in the meantime. The camaraderie I mentioned is worth more than all the yellow stuff stashed in corrupt vaults.

Mike Roberts

Bill, I'm not sure that a 5-15 year plateau will allow 5-15 years of continued slumber. With the world adding 70 million people every year, another 5-15 years of plateau will surely make the underpinnings of global civilisation creak. Won't it? But, sure, for a few more years, some of the optimists will still be able to point to slowly increasing production as they lump more an more (including net energy losers) into the all liquids category and the carbon load goes ballistic.

Dave, quite right, there is no evidence for genuine hope. I think each of us is left with a response. Mine would be to live simply. That's not to say such a response will make any difference but it will make me feel better and, just possibly, give me more resilience to the changes ahead. Whoops, that sounds a bit like hope - sorry.

Planningdown.wordpress.com

Dave, great essay as usual. You have a unique ability to boil subjects down to their core. Having said that, you must remind yourself to accept the world for what it is. Yes the world is being destroyed by human activities. And yes, humans are ignoring and/or purposefully denying such degradation is taking place. But that's the way it is. Take comfort in the fact that it must be this way.

Personally, I find Stoicism comforting in response to the emptiness I feel when I look at the blindness of my peers. Stoicism requires that when you stress, discomfort, fear or sadness that you ask yourself if the object of your discomfort is under your control or not. If it is not, just let it go. Accept it for what it is. If it is under your control, take the steps necessary to change it.

You write this blog because you are interested in - dare I say fascinated by - the ability of humans to destroy their world at the same time as they deny doing so. I too am amazed at this process, but I recognize and try to remind myself constantly that there's nothing I can do about it. My role is simply to marvel at it and actually contribute to the degradation as an unwilling participant, as our culture requires.

I urge you to continue your work with the full knowledge that it will be ignored by those who have the most to gain from it and read vigorously by those of us who are already in the choir.

glaucus
www.planningdown.wordpress.com

NoHype

For the self-extinction proponents, you'll be happy to hear that it's probably a lot closer than you imagine. According to my calculations, we won't need to wait for complete ecosystem collapse -- only economic collapse (which we're undergoing right now).

If the reaction of U.S. population growth rates during the Great Depression is any indication of what to expect in industrialized countries, we are just a few short years from Peak Population in the West. I used Census data going back to 1790, to establish trend lines with as much accuracy as possible.

I've posted the tables I generated from that data here: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-10zDI7awVGI/TRW46w6YydI/AAAAAAAAAX8/73QKGzG-oU8/s704/PopTrend2.jpg

A graph makes it visual here: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-YKoFuMO0W2g/TRW46mOjDGI/AAAAAAAAAX4/S3Mra-Hg8ws/s704/PopTrend1.jpg

Non-industrialized countries have the opposite dynamic, for a host of reasons -- one of which is the dependence on industrialized nations for food (which is usually provided under some sort of "relief" program). It's not much of a leap of logic to suspect that if industrialized nations fall precipitously in population (and, thus "output") there will be far less food to ship to areas that can't produce enough for themselves, and they will suffer Malthusian declines as a result of famine.

All this being said, I must tell you that the CEO of Exxon vehemently disagrees with me, and swats my analysis aside as just so much nuisance: http://news.yahoo.com/exxons-ceo-climate-energy-fears-overblown-164530750--finance.html

Basically, he's saying that we have plenty of energy. Aside from his hubris concerning climate change, pollution, etc., if he is correct, then my analysis is, in fact, erroneous. Energy drives economic growth. As long as we have plenty of energy, we can continue growing and thus, populations will continue along the trajectory of the blue line in the second link.

MarkZero

Mr Cohen,
I am a long time reader, but virtually never comment, and the very few times I have done so, I read over what I wrote the next day and always think "This is why I never comment!"
So anyway I have a request. Could you please channel your inner George Carlin, and write a piece the way he would have about current events. Full of mocking, scathing, witty critisism? God knows I could do with a laugh. Topics for mockery could include: Jamie Dimon, Climate change deniers, European Politicans to name but three of many. So many assholes in powerful positions who don't even realise what foolish morons they are. See if you can come up with some gems, maybe you'll be good at it and make it a weekly thing, perhaps when TSHTF you'll be great at it and end up doing stand-up in Vegas for an ounce a night! (Gold, that is, not Coke!)

John D

No Hype: you are correct, economic collapse will happen before environmental collapse. After spending a day without power in our region (power just came back up) it is obvious that our society is not prepared for the least bit of disruption. We are absolutely incapable of surviving for long without the most complex of supply chains, power grids and networks. People are totally unprepared for any tiny disruption in their complicated lives.

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