Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Theodore Parker's Sermon on what is Transient and what is Permanent in Christianity

The full text is available here, and an excellent tome that includes this, two other sermons, and a 1960s commentary on the three and their influence on Unitarian Universalism, can be found here. Below are some of the points I found most interesting personally.
  • "more attention is commonly paid to the particular phenomena than to the general law"
  • the divine life of the soul requires two things: 1. Love God. 2. Love your fellow man. Jesus said so, and it's pretty consistent.
  • Parker is cool and acknowledges how Christianity has consistently adopted pagan rituals.
  • "The Stream of Christianity, as men receive it, has caught a stain for every soil it has filtered through.' That is, it's less and less pure every time it is derived or put through someone else's interpretation. It's not "pure water from the well of life."
  • "Why need we accept the commandment of men, as the doctrine of God?"
  • "the living spirit could not be had without the killing letter" in old Christianities
  • I believe the Bible is not literal but I question Parker. Is it not equally circular for him to use the Bible as a tool to prove that the Bible isn't infallible? Why believe any of it? 
  • Parker says to believe what Jesus said and not worry about how he was the authority.
  • "there is a reverence for man's nature, a sublime trust in God, and a depth of piety rarely felt in these cold northern hearts of ours" in the truest Christianities
  • Do what Jesus said. Go back to the second point - love God and love man.
  • Today we create idols of nitpickery.
  • "make all men one with God as Christ was one with him" - that is the purpose of this faith
  • Parker's sermon embraces the diversity of belief and lifestyle so long as they are rooted in piety (whatever that means).
  • Even the Scriptures say we can't get it all now. Jesus said there is stuff we just wouldn't understand yet.
  • "Real Christianity [...] makes us outgrow any form, or any system of doctrines we have devised, and approach still closer to the truth."
  • "For it is not so much by the Christ who lived so blameless and beautiful eighteen centuries ago, that we are saved directly, but by the Christ we form in our hearts and live out in our daily life, that we save ourselves, God working with us, both to will and to do."
  • "It seems the whole race of man is needed to do justice to the whole of truth."
  • What Parker says at the very end of his sermon is interesting. This is yet another of the many sermons of its time that was given at the ordination of another minister. Parker tells the audience that if the minister ordained this day doesn't know the truth, don't judge him. Look for truth where you can find it. But if he knows the truth and lies about it, that's not cool.
  • "The hearer affects the speaker," he also says. Don't yell at your minister just because you don't like what he says politically. "You may hire your servants to preach as you bid; to spare your vices and flatter your follies; to prophecy smooth things.... Yet in doing so you weaken and enthrall yourselves."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The College Station Address

Eleven score and seventeen years ago our fathers and mothers, but mostly father brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty after stealing the liberty of those who already existed on this continent, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, except for brown and black and red men. And women.

Now we are again engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1838 Divinity Address

I'm taking a seminar at my church on the three 'prophets' of religious liberalism as chosen by the Unitarian Universalist faith. William Ellery Channing was pretty awesome as the first one, and he argued that the Bible, which was still the primary source of God's revelation, had to be read via Reason, a god-given faculty. The Bible read through the lens of reason, he thought, showed that God is good, that Jesus was a man and not God and just a really awesome prophet, that Jesus's words and not just his miracles were important, and that there are certain virtues, which include loving God (with quiet, real zeal), loving Christ, and being benevolent and charitable to all humanity. I took some decent notes on that sermon for my own edification and am now using this blog to process my notes and highlights from the Emerson sermon. Emerson was a student of Channing's and takes things a step more to the religiously liberal. Fragments and my opinions and insights follow:

  • "corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures" - I just love the way he says this the first time, that all men are given the truth within them
  • the truth of the human is that "his being is without bound; that, to the good, to the perfect, he is born, low as he now lies in evil and weakness"
  • Bad isn't just bad because someone says it's bad but because it makes you bad; "he who does a mean deed, is by the action itself contracted.... If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being." I call this idea instant karma, and I don't see it playing out for a lot of people. Emerson seems very libertarian his ideas of cause and effect and not just personal responsibility but personal agency and capacity.
  • "Evil is merely privative, not absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat." Heat, or good, is the being, the essence, the given, and cold and evil are what happens when you take it away.
  • These sentiments are "deifying." Emerson goes so far as some of my favorite mystics have to say that we are godlike when we are in deepest touch with our truest, goodest selves. How far is that from modesty or the idea of original sin? What use is original sin to us except as a tool to keep us down... or is it needed in moderation to keep us somewhat humble, to beware our own boundaries. We are amazing, capable beings, says my understanding of humanism; but we are not superior to all others. Rather, just because we will something selfishly does not mean we are correct. How do we separate these ideas?
  • Jesus wasn't the sole truthgiver, just the one who resonated with us in the West. "Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets." but "Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man."
  • Intuition is from our divinity. "The absence of this primary faith is the presence of degredation." This is a toughie for me. It pushes too much into the "if you don't believe you're good, it's sort of your own fault" idea. 
  • What's wrong with churches?: "churches are not built on his principles but on his tropes" (5 on my copy; will not correspond with y'all's)
  • "Having seen that the law in us is commanding, he would not suffer it to be commanded." i.e. Jesus doesn't need to make laws enforced by fear or governance; they come from within.
  • Christianity is now a monarchy based on fear ""
  • This subordinance we have means that we are not responsible for the world.
  • "To aim to convert a man by miracles, is a profanation of the soul." Instead, it's made by 'beautiful sentiments,' or, less sloppily, by resonating with the soul (6).
  • Again with the American and libertarian ideas: "It is a low benefit to give me something; it is a high benefit to enable me to do somewhat of myself."
  • Do not degrade the life and dialogues of Christ out of the circle by this charm, by insulation and peculiarity. Let them lie as they befel, alive and warm..." Jesus was a worthy messenger of the truth without miracles.
  • Emerson says that Christianity focuses too much on the person of Jesus instead of the message and that the revelation of God is ancient and no longer alive, "as if God were dead."
  • Emerson liked preachers; he was talking to them, after all. But he sort of claimed that the spirit works through you. If you are making art or sermons or books or anything without the spirit of God/truth/self behind it - if you're not being honest, then art is artifice indeed.
  • "Preaching is the expression of the moral sentiment in application to the duties of life" (7) But this moral sentiment has to be real, sincere passion. Emerson demands it.
  • Bad sermons make us feel alone (8). "The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral," he felt when he heard a cold, insincere sermon.
  • The role of the preacher is "to convert life into truth" (8).
  • A bad preacher tells not of himself but shares only empty platitudes, which do not inspire ore RESONATE but only comfort folks. 
  • Sometimes, bad sermons have the power to do good, as everybody can be resonated by something a little difference. Emerson seems to say that it's not the congregation's fault if they're bored or unmoved, though ;-)
  • What's wrong with the church? "The preaching of this country... comes out of the memory, and not out of the soul; that it aims at what is usual, and not at what is necessary and eternal;... historical Christianity destroys the power of preaching, by withdrawing it from the exploration of the moral nature of man, where the sublime is, where are the resources of astonishment and power.... The soul of the community is sick and faithless. It wants nothing so much as a stern, high, stoical, Christian discipline... Man is ashamed of himself. Scarcely does any man dare to be wise and good," because he believes he is not (9).
  • Emerson found that some in his day thought it wicked to go to church, presumably because that's where all the other, nonpious, bad people go (10). 
  • When worship goes down, genius flees for *gasp* "the senate, or the market." This just made me laugh and laugh.
  • "We have contrasted the Church with the Soul," the manmade with the eternal yet present with/in us divine. "The stationariness of religion; the assumption that the age of inspiration is past, that the Bible is closed; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus by representing him as a man; indicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. IT IS THE OFFICE OF A TRUE TEACHER TO SHOW US THAT GOD IS, NOT WAS."
  • More libertarianism: "They think society wiser than their soul, and know not that one soul, and their soul, is wiser than the whole world."
  • Taking other men's ideas and revelations as your own is simply derivative.
  • Emerson was like another Protestant revolutionary: "refuse the good models" and "dare to love God without mediator or veil"
  • "Thank God for these good men, but say, "I also am a man'" (11).
  • "Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost"
  • "By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men."
  • "All men have sublime thoughts," and it's the preacher's job, if any, to help them find themselves.These are the souls that made our souls wiser.
  • Near the end of this sermon, Emerson said, less earthshatteringly but still interestingly on him as a person, that society's praise can be cheaply secured and he warns preachers, I think, not to seek praise or worldly fame. Real people don't have to be so flashy. After all, "you would not praise an angel" for being itself. I see no problem personally in sharing real gratitude and delight when I see other people living out their light.
  • Emerson says, finally, don't bother building a new church. Just do better with the churches you have. "The remedy to their deformity is, first, soul, and second, soul, and evermore, soul" (12). Cue Billy Joel ;-)
  • So what good is Christianity to the world in 1838? Emerson says Christianity is good for giving us the Sabbath and thus (not sure how it works yet) the dignity of spiritual being. I guess as a time to delight in it? And Christianity is good for the institution of preaching (funny a preacher would say that), "the speech of man to man" (12). I choose to believe he meant our ability to communicate in general.
  • Emerson looked forward to the day when the words and revelations of the past would not be necessary and when the spirit would move through each of us in the eternal now (my words, not his).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Blue Revolution.3

Today I read most of the book's fourth chapter, which tells the story of Duke Energy in the Carolinas. The following quotes say a lot to me:

  • "[E]nergy production now requires more water than any other sector..." in the United States, including agriculture (63). 
  • "By 1930, Americans consumed more electricity than anyone else on the planet combined" (68). I didn't realize this had happened so early.
  • "At this point, every single alternative fuel source being considered for large scale power generation is projected to further hike fresh water demand" (73; originally cited in the 2009 issue of Ground Water). This does not include individual photovoltaic cells, which are fairly efficient, but it does include multiple PV cells used together to create steam power. It also doesn't include wind power, which is also pretty low on water use but isn't a huge part of the market in the U.S. at all.
  • Saul Griffith [check him out on wikipedia and youtube/TED] has a doctorate in engineering from MIT and received a MacArthur "genius grant" a few years ago. He "has come to believe the most urgent environmental need 'is not for some miraculous-seeming scientific breakthrough but for a vast, unprecedented transformation of human behavior'" (74). 
Please opine in the comments or by bugging me directly. <3 div="">

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Almost Church

I recently finished reading a slim volume recommended by my minister. The book is called The Almost Church by Michael Durall. I'll make this easier on myself by transcribing the bullet points I took while reading and then summarize and/or synthesize it all later.
  • What we need is a compelling vision of a way of life that is worth living (9, via Misoslav Volf).
  • What should be a religion of love and justice has been superseded by personal spirituality.
  • A specific tactic: maybe stop posting the sermon topic but actually expect people to show up, not pick and choose.
  • "churches should help people of all generations lead lives that cut across the grain of the consumer-oriented society" (14)
  • encourage an increase in charity [to church/es], not to pay the bills but to give; redefining the good life "as one that goes beyond acquiring ever more consumer goods"
  • "we shall never find the fullness and wonder and the glory of life until we are ready to share it" (15 via A. Powell Davies)
  • What brings people to churches now?
    • How can I lead a deeper spiritual life?
    • engage in something beyond the day-to-day
    • purpose/meaningful community
  • Durall recommends churches give 10% of their budgets to outreach (21).
  • "The primary purpose of the church is to create a community of compassion" (33). All else must flow from this.
  • "Does your church have clear glass windows, through which the congregation looks out onto a world in which sorrow and unhappiness are all too evident? Or are those windows more like mirrors, reflecting only the comfort, convenience, and needs of parishioners inside?" (34)
  • Errors in the way we do things:
    • "foster small-church policies that do not serve large congregations" (38)
    • fail to realize that theological diversity and a large number of worshippers are incompatible goals
  • There is a 'third way.' Religious liberalism does not mean the opposite of fundamentalism. Religious liberalism should be an anti-secularism (42).
  • Do our religion's leaders see themselves as Caretakers of an existing system or as actual Leaders to make the system better? (53)
  • Page 66 of this book describes family-size churches and describes my UU church to a T.
  • Luke 12:48: "to whom much has been given, much is expected."
  • [My thoughts here:] It's about expecting more from yourself, from your church, from your parishioners, in money and in soul. But how do you stake your claim and/or exude authority? Where's the moral or religious gravity?
  • The vision is "not to provide the autonomy of the individual and to seek truth." Instead, the vision is deeper spirituality through service (84).
That's it, isn't it? Deeper spirituality, a better life in and out of church, through serving others. Through not seeing the Other as separate from oneSelf. To stop navel-gazing (as I do with this blog) and actually get out and do something. Sounds like one of the next books I should read is Ron Hopkins' The Power of Just Doing Stuff or, better, going to see him in a couple of weeks in Houston. Or better yet, to up and do. Right now I'm doing for me - eating better, exercising, reading more, spending time reaching out to people I love. And I'm living in a friend's house, which reduces my carbon footprint, reduces her financial burden, and improves a sense of community [we walk together several mornings a week]. I should do more gardening. I should do more with people. So it goes. Not out of pity but out of true compassion. It is only by sympathizing or empathizing with people that we care about them and are willing to change the world for the better.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blue Revolution.2

From chapter two of this book, here are the things I pulled out:

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." ~ Aldo Leopold

There's a lot in this book, obviously, about respecting natural systems. The book definitely shares plenty of stories about how when humans try to mitigate and control nature, we often wind up hurting ecosystems and ultimately ourselves. It's hard to see how everything connects, and especially in the cog-in-the-machine post-modern world, we barely try..

Politics and economics depend on the health of the geography and climate of a place, plain and simple (35).

Specific to the resource mentioned in this book, "There isn't enough water for all interest groups to have all they want, all the time" (42). But we don't like to believe it.

Chapter 3 is the story of how the Netherlands dealt with an unexpected and huge storm/flood in 1953 and how their feats of engineering destroyed the local ecosystem. After a few decades, the Dutch met in participatory democratic groups to work on a better solution which, though it hasn't reversed all of the damage done by the first tech fix, is certainly better than the way they'd done it before. I'm thinking about turning it into a sermon, or at least an article for mass publication. At my church, I could tie it to the principles:
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; and
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Monday, September 02, 2013

MLK Revisited

I went back this Labor Day in search of my notes on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted quotations from his speeches on Vietnam and his speeches to Unitarian Universalists. And then I realized I'd blogged about them all on a separate site, which has now shut down. Let me again post the heresy that convinced the powers that be in the United States to assassinate MLK:

"Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest."

"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [...] we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God."

"Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must [...] rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just."

"A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood."

"All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions."

"It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”"

Of course MLK speaks against communism. He doesn't want to be killed. But let us remember now that democracy and capitalism are NOT the same system. Oligarchy is not the same as democracy.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies."

"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day."

"We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.”"

"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. [...] Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”"

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blue Revolution

Today I started reading Cynthia Barnett's Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis. I'm part of what may be a new book group associated with my church about issues of sustainability. As usual, I'm developing a growing sense that I do should do less reading and more doing, but it's/I'm a work in progress.

So far, the book is quite easy to read. The first chapter talks (almost too gently for my taste) about water usage and its growing scarcity in the United States. Barnett talks about specific problems in specific communities, uses good numbers and statistics, and alludes to possible solutions that she will cover in future chapters.

She does an excellent job not just giving the facts but distilling (no pun intended) the problem to a problem of ethics. Our understanding of water in Western civilization has changed from "essence of life to emblem of luxury" (1). It has become a symbol of power and even control, and so many of us flaunt it, showing how we subdue nature (21).

How did this happen? Well, we've lost our water ethic. What does that mean? It means we don't respect it (or much of anything) as a finite resource. Barnett hasn't talked yet about how of course water isn't created or destroyed but it is permuted into something that takes a lot more energy (from other not-quickly-enough-renewable sources) to make potable or transport from places where it is more abundant to places that "need" it for manufacturing, irrigation, sanitation, and ingestion. But I think she will as the book progresses. In the meantime, it's evident that water scarcity - through waste and mismanagement - is a problem.

The average person in the United States uses 150 gallons of water per day. That's 3 times more than in many European nations. We do it, I think (and Barnett thinks), because we're entirely disconnected from the understanding of where safe water comes from and we're divorced from the consequences of our actions. We're not like little Laura Ingalls who had to go fetch her own water from the well. We don't know about water usage because we don't pay attention, whether out of willful ignorance or a cultural numbing and increased urbanization, suburbanization, and specialization.

How do we fix it? Barnett is much bolder in this statement than she seems in some of her platitudes in the first chapter, and I hope the book will push this harsher, more radical [meaning to the root] idea:

"At its most basic, the blue revolution means no one uses more [water] than they really need" (19). 

What this means is wide open to interpretation. What is this pesky "need"? But even that statement represents a paradigm shift from the last 50-100 years of industrial civilization. And it's a beautiful start.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Awesome Post!

Please read this compelling article about climate change, life on earth, and resistance. It's so powerful I'm afraid to post it on my Facebook wall (because I work in essence for Big Oil).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.10

I finished it! The last few chapters of the book talked about terrorism and militarization. I don't think at this point that most people need more information and stories of true conspiracy theories to be recounted here. At some point, Nafeez finished his exposition and began to outline the Key Structural Problems plaguing [Western/Northern/industrial/corporate] civilization. He doesn't go into huge detail about the specific strategies to fix them, but he does brush broad strokes about some paradigms we can shift and some hard work we'll have to reenvision and engage in to survive the continuing crises. Here's what I took from it all; some goals from Ahmed's own words:
  • increase access to, and ownership of, productive resources for the majority (249)
  • redistribute the wealth (yes, really; if you look at how capitalism systematically funnels all the wealth to the top, this will become more and more obvious and not just a Soviet dream)
  • increase regulation and oversight in banking, government, et al
  • use renewable energy
  • stop the "money as debt" MO (253)
  • cease/desist/abolish/prohibit computational finance and such transactions as do not produce anything of value and, in fact, hurt the people in the world
  • return to participatory democracy; build systems from the bottom up; empower people; recognize others as subjects and respect all life on earth (255); hierarchies may happen; just make sure to keep accountable and do what's best in individual communities
  • MATERIALISM (the idea that we're self-serving, consuming beings at heart) IS BULLSHIT; self-fulfillment is instead realized through ethical activity (undefined here; have fun with it); we're INTERCONNECTED, not purely selfish profit-seekers
My takeaways:
- be compassionate
- respect the interconnected web of all existence
- engage in your world; respect yourself and others enough to be involved

What's missing?
- The only thing I feel Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed missed in this book, or at least explicitly in the last chapter, was a push for us to use fewer resources. Yes, we should be using cleaner energy; but we also have to use a lot less of it. Myself most certainly included.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Dick Cheney on geopolitics, 1999

quoted from 1999, Dick Cheney talking to the London Institute of Petroleum:

"From the standpoint of the oil industry obviously - and I'll talk a little later on about gas - for over a hundred years we as an industry have had to deal with the pesky problem that once you find oil and pump it out of the ground you've got to turn around and find more or go out of business. Producing oil is obviously a self-depleting activity. Every year you've got to find and develop reserves equal to your output just to stand still, just to stay even. This is as true for companies as well in the broader economic sense it is for the world. A new merged company like Exxon-Mobil will have to secure over a billion and a half barrels of new oil equivalent reserves every year just to replace existing production. It's like making one hundred per cent interest; discovering another major field of some five hundred million barrels equivalent every four months or finding two Hibernias a year. For the world as a whole, oil companies are expected to keep finding and developing enough oil to offset our seventy one million plus barrel a day of oil depletion, but also to meet new demand. By some estimates there will be an average of 2% annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a 3% natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional 50,000,000 barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously in control of about 90% of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies, even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow... Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature. We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world's economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality."

I read this from Nafeez Ahmed's amazing A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, which I've been nursing for months now, eating ten or so pages at a time over my lunch break.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

John Michael Greer and the Future of Humanity

I read a lot of blogs about climate change, peak energy, sustainability, and humanistic religion. Here's an excerpt from a good piece I'm reading this morning:

"Cheap, easily accessible deposits of the resources on which industrial civilization depends have been exhausted, and replaced with increasing difficulty by more expensive substitutes, at steadily rising costs in money, labor, energy, and other resources; the national infrastructure and the natural environment have both been drawn into an accelerating spiral of malign neglect; standards of living for most of the population have been sliding steadily, along with most measures of public health and meaningful education; constitutional rights and the rule of law have taken a beating, administered with equal enthusiasm by both major parties, who seem incapable of agreeing on anything else even when the welfare of the nation is obviously at stake."

After spelling it out, Greer talks about how as humans, our response has been split:
1. we believe that technology or Jesus will save us and/or ignore the problems and continue to focus on how awesome civilization and humanity are, or
2. we believe that the apocalypse is upon us and we're all going to die, if not in a fiery blaze than in a world of pestilence and war

Greer doesn't like either of these. He challenges us instead to question the narratives that frame our culture - both messianic and apocalyptic - and be aware of our biases. He asks us to look at empirical evidence, patterns, cause and effect. I personally think that being aware of how things work and being respectful of life and natural limits is the way to go and is the foundation of how we should live. Maybe I'm becoming a bit druidic myself ;-)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obama on Climate Change

Good start, Obama, but not nearly enough. I know I don't think the way much of America does, but I think you spent too much time apologizing for the need to do anything about climate change and were too weak on the solutions.

You do spend the first nine minutes on climate change and how it's real and dangerous. At 10:45, you start talking about "carbon pollution," but it's clear to me that you are talking about carbon dioxide and ignoring methane. At minute 14, I think you do mention methane, but you ignore the methane that is leaked into the air through the extraction of natural gas. It may burn cleaner than coal, but it's not cheaper, cleaner, or safer to extract and produce.

At minute 20, you tell us that we don't "have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy. The old rules may say we can't protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time but [technology will save us]." You say that by using more renewable energy and wasting less, we can continue and our economy can grow. I think you're wrong.

At around 23:45 you say that "allowing the Keystone Pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so" will not "significantly exacerbate" the health of the climate. I don't trust that our definitions of "significantly exacerbate" are in the same ballpark. You say again that you want to "make sure we're not seeing methane emissions" around minute 25. Again, I don't believe you'll pay attention to that science. I want to believe it, but I am pretty damn skeptical.

You promise that our "federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable resources" in the near future around 28:45. That does sound pretty great. It's a strong part of your three point plan to:
1. use less dirty energy
2. transition to cleaner energy
3. waste less

But it's not enough. 20% of an unnamed and increasingly growing number (or amount of total energy) is not sustainable. It barely puts a dent. You want the economy to grow, which with current models requires our energy consumption to grow... and which encourages our consumption to grow as we promote a hedonistic, wasteful, sinful, arrogant, immoral Western way of life (which I live and enjoy myself every single day).

Around minute 33, you do talk about the unavoidable climate change we're already facing and that we have to mitigate. You talk about the threat to security we'll face with more floods and weird weather occurrences. I think you know, Mr. President, that these things are happening. I hope that you face an internal struggle between a) telling it like it is and injecting a little hope and b) lying blatantly and paying just enough lip service to keep some of the environmentalist wackos at bay. I think you're leaning toward the latter but I'm hoping that you, a lame duck, have the courage to do the former. I don't trust the government to lead me this way, but a lot of the country still loves you, sir. A lot of the country still believes in this corporate capitalist conspiracy we pretend to call a representative democracy. We largely avoid direct democracy as much as possible. It's what we were born into. It's hard to get out of. And do we even want to.

That's no longer the question, or it won't be soon. I think the economy will continue to get worse. And if for some reason it doesn't I think that climate change will just happen faster and faster. We can't have both. And my guess is that we probably can't have either.

I still love my life and I think it's very good. But, as Derrick Jensen has said, we're pretty fucked.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.9

Here's what I've been reading today:

  • "Al-Qaeda-affiliated networks remain useful as mercenary proxies for Anglo-American regional geostrategy in the Middle East" (157). As in - we're paying for so-called terrorism (though we can't completely control it - that's how double- and triple-agency works) to justify the government's having such a huge military, which we use to protect our interests of controlling all of the world's natural resources so we can continue to live the cushiest lives for as long as we can. 
  • "These crises [global ecological, energy, and economic] are recognized not as evidence that the global imperial system is fundamentally unsustainable and therefore requiring urgent transformation, but as vindicating the necessity for Western states to radicalize the exertion of their military-political capacities to maintain the existing power structures" (161-162). This is similar to what I wrote above. I agree with much of it but disagree with the implication that the people in power think that global imperial system is fundamentally unsustainable. There is a difference, I suppose, between thinking and knowing something and recognizing it publicly. I firmly believe that the people in power know that the house of cards is about to fall and just want to ride the wave (on the backs of the "have nots" of the world) as long as they can and live as well as they can before dying a fiery fiery death. They know it can't last but they don't want to be the ones to suffer. 
  • "While, internally, capitalist markets are designed to work without government interference, the actual creation of such markets in new territories requires a violent transformation of their social relations to take control of productive resources, dispossess large numbers from the land to create wage labourers, and open markets to foreign capital. If such efforts are resisted by local populations, then counter-insurgency measures are required to forcibly establish the 'liberal' conditions of the market - that is, a regulatory private property framework supported by appropriate political, legal and ideological institutions.Hence, military doctrines come hand-in-glove with a potent vision of 'liberal' imperialism, advocating 'the forceful extension of free markets, electoral democracies and human rights,' all of which are essential ingredients in the maintenance of 'legitimate states and capitalist markets to secure the expanded reproduction of a liberal world order'" (165, with author citing Alejandro Colas's 2007 Empire). - If this part isn't abundantly clear, what I interpret is that capitalism as we know it is bullshit. I was going to start writing about how in individual communities, doing work for profit makes sense, but then my brain started thinking about the psychological studies that refute the idea that people are best motivated extrinsically. The bottom line, I believe, is that turning land, plant and animal life, and even HUMAN life into "capital" and "resources" is wrong. It's the fundamental idea I've been wrestling with for about 12 years now - there is no "self" and "other." We MUST respect everything else as being part of what we are. Separating ourselves through the many means we use is wrong and it's going to kill life on this planet. [Future blog ideas about deifying separating institutions like language, religion, government, etc.]
  • "The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our culture assault" (166, quoted from Ralph Peters's 'Constant Conflict' from Parameters 1997; Peters is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel).
These quotations and the barely explained thoughts of mine derived from them are the reason I abbreviated the lunch break I took to make time to read them; there was too much here to add on to and too much I wanted to put into words to draw on in future arguments. Input is most welcome.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the News

Texas A&M and cheap, safe water

Rising sea level in Texas

These are some of the headlines of the maybe-weekly email that comes to all TAMU faculty, staff, and students.

I finished reading Carolyn Baker's "Sacred Demise," which was pretty good. Lots of food for thought. Now that it's summer I'm ready for a Barbara Kingsolver binge. And I'm still reading Nafeez Ahmed's "A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization." I just started the chapter on terrorism and foreign policy. I haven't encountered too many new concepts in this chapter yet, but Nafeez documents his sources well and I'm sure I'll have points to share as the chapter continues.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Western Way of Life

This really isn't news to most people I talk to who choose to think about such things or can stomach the truth, but it bears repeating. Preach it, brother Nafeez!

This summer's foray into sustainability involves me pet-sitting, walking to work more, and making more soup and eating out less. Also composting a bit :-)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Hour of Power

If you have time while you're washing dishes or doing tasks at work that don't require heavy reading or writing, consider this: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-05-21/warrior-writers
It's a 75-minute discussion among climate journalists and activists about some of the possible ways to mitigate climate change, mostly from a policy perspective. I don't buy into it all, not by a long shot, but these are the kinds of conversations that are good to have.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Here's the newest video/lecture I've found that has inspired me today.

I'm still reading Sacred Demise, even as I read other compelling posts about how failing to resist is immoral. As I wrote on my other blog this morning, I think I can hold the two tense opposing philosophies in my mind at the same time, try to make intellectual and spiritual sense of them, and live in a way that meets my moral and physical needs. I want to resist as much as I can and still be "sane" (a loaded word, but I mean more personally healthy than 'abiding by the societal rules other people set for me') but also accept the very likely demise of life on earth and not let that knowledge paralyze my action. Make sense?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sacred Demise

Last week's film screening and its attendees inspired me to consider spending less time and energy reading the doomsday scenarios. After all, I'm already convinced of the imminent eventuality of the demise of Western Civilization. What am I gonna do about it?

Right now I'm reading Dr. Carolyn Baker's Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. People who see me reading it think I'm crazy. So be it. Here's what has struck me so far:

I'm a sucker for etymology. Turns out the word "apocalypse" means unveiling or revealing.

Baker, via What a Way to Go, recommends we do some of these things to change our lives:

  1. Fully acknowledge and internalize that the culture of Empire is destroying the support systems on which the community of life depends, and robbing us of our essential humanity.
  2. Talk about your concerns with everyone you know. Make Peak Oil, climate change, mass extinction and population overshoot household words.
  3. Find your work in the world to preserve life, change this culture and/or create restorative ways for individuals and communities to live in harmony with each other and the non-human world.
  4. Assess what you actually need during this transition in order to live and do your work. Only buy what you need and buy from local sources in order to support the creation of local economies.
  5. Find or deepen your spiritual connection to that which is greater than you. Ask and then listen for guidance about how to live joyfully and creatively in the face of these unprecedented times (xliii).
I feel like I'm doing pretty well in many of those areas. Most of the time I let myself understand and be aware of the problem of Empire. I talk more and more about what I know, to the point of starting to alienate some of them. Finding my work in the world is a constant struggle. I feel like I'm making meaningful choices all the time, though. I've been working on number 4 for a while. It's how I was raised, to a point. It's what true conservatism means, or so I thought. And the fifth one is something I love to pursue. It's where my heart lies.

Baker then borrows from Daniel Quinn and claims that there are four myths we civilized humans tell ourselves. The ones that get to me are #3, that the "economic growth and technological 'advancement' of the 'civilized' world creates a 'better' life." The truth is that this better life "requires the degradation and annihilation of natural systems for the benefit of a few, self-selected humans" (lii). And the answer to it all is endless growth without limits. But even if there are limits, technology will save us, right? (Not right.)

Despite the certainty that these things are going to happen, Baker is a happy person. She's not optimistic that things will change and civilization will be redeemed. She is optimistic and thankful, it seems, that she can choose to live life more appropriately in the meantime. 

I'm not done reading Ahmed's Crisis of Civilization. Baker's book came from a different library and is due back much sooner than CoC. I'll continue posting my musings on this and other subjects in this venue.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Week in Transition

It's been a long week. I had an early conference call at work Monday morning, and I was so involved in that and some sponsorship opportunities and conversations with colleagues that I forgot to attend this lecture about Global Food Policy and Trade until it was too late to start walking across campus and even hope to make it in time. It may be just as well, though, because I imagine I would have wanted to argue (out loud) with the underlying assumption that people should not worry about becoming food independent but try to make money off of the commodities their nations can export in the global economy.

It's really weird, because in theory I love the idea of globalization. We are the world, we have so much in common, we want to raise everybody to a high standard of living. But in doing this, we ignore that niggling little fact that we live on a finite planet. We don't have the resources to burn to bring everybody to where we are; AND the toxic outputs of our industrialized civilization are going to kill the entire biosphere before we get anywhere close. Our idea of economics came into being and is dependent upon the idea of cheap, abundant oil (fossil fuels in general). The fact is that this fuel source will not last forever. Even if there's more in the ground than all the many scientists theorize, it's still finite and it's getting harder (more expensive and more destructive to human and non-human life) to harvest it. Prices will go up. People who depend most on cheap oil to make ends meet (and think about how much oil is involved in our food system, how cheap and subsidized food is in the United States, and how the U.S. poor have enough trouble already buying groceries, just as one tiny and local example of this pervasive global problem) are going to find it harder and harder to get by.

I screened the film GrowthBusters at my church Tuesday evening. Afterwards, the eight of us present had a really lively discussion about the problems we face. Unlike at the previous two film screenings, though, this time we reined it in a little bit, did less bemoaning of the state of the world, and talked instead about solutions. What can we do in our individual lives to get by on less, to avoid working in a broken system? Top-down changes are nice (and may eventually be necessary), but what do the people who are struggling to make ends meet do now? And what do folks like me that still live cushy lives but see the decline of The System in sight do to prepare and mitigate?

Well, we start Transition groups. We do more local gardening. What about the 80-year-old woman whose back hurts too much to weed and pick veggies and has trouble chopping and chewing all that real food? She makes friends with people - covenants in community - who have skills and resources she needs. Sybil has social work skills and she has her own home. I have a young back and don't mind stooping and sweating for a few hours. Other friends have seeds. Other friends have tools. Other friends have skills in carpentry, electricianship, etc. It's crazy and utopian, right? The thought that we can get together at small, local levels and take care of ourselves? Doesn't this go against the idea that we should all strive to be the best of our brand of specialized cog in a huge and highly oiled (in all senses) machine? That we can count on going to the grocery store as being the cheapest and most efficient way to get our food? That big box stores can give us everything we need by the most convenient methods?

This system is shutting down. It's based on growth, our favorite new religion/dogma/creed, and growth is based on the idea of cheap, abundant fossil fuels. And that idea was once a myth and is now a bold-faced lie. So what's the solution?

I'm not going to be an ecoterrorist and tell you to topple your system. I am going to encourage you to detach, whenever and wherever you can, from the system. Stop being dependent (as much as you can - this is an individual thing based on what you can do and what you feel comfortable doing) on the system that is so big it cannot possibly care about you. Go instead to your neighbors - the people who make up your community and live on your land base - and make connections. This is where some of the more fringe groups of the Tea Party and other seemingly right-wing movements get it right, I think. Big government is going to fail, one way or another. I still personally prefer the branch of big government that gives rights to my gay and black and Latino and poor and differently abled members of my society to the branch of big government that would prefer to demonize and cleanse the things it thinks are different and icky, but my Truth is that both branches of the U.S. political system are in it for their own power and they are owned by the energy-sucking companies that make civilization work. And I don't trust them anymore.

So part of me is becoming politically radical. But another part of me is seeing with every new day how this is a moral issue. This is the issue that I believe can be tackled head-on with my faith, Unitarian Universalism, a faith that doesn't have a dogma or creed but has many sources and seven principles, my favorite and most radical of which are the first and last:
- the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and
- respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

These are profoundly challenging principles when you think about them. Are starving people in Africa and the oppressed people in Afghanistan deserving of the same respect and dignity that I am? Then why do I allow the government that represents me to forcibly take their natural resources and turn their people into desperate, angry scared slaves to neoliberal capitalism? If I believe in the web of existence, then why do I allow frackers in Montana to repeatedly decrease and pollute the water supply of the peoples and other species that live there? Why do I allow my brothers and sisters to kill off 200 species a day through overfishing and chemical pollution and countless other acts of xenocide?

I allow these things because I am afraid. I allow them because the problems are huge and I don't know how to start. And the answer is to form beloved communities and to respect limits and life and love. To overcome fear. To be willing to be different. To be willing to work hard. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

All My Favorite People

This documentary starts a little bit slowly, but it's worth dipping into, especially if you're new to the idea and want a primer on the crisis of civilization and how we can and should (and will, eventually) be living differently. I've put it on my list as something to show at my church, either as a full documentary screening or possibly in smaller segments in sermons between ministers.

Oh yeah, the favorite people bit. The documentary includes interviews with Richard Heinberg and Derrick Jensen (my favorite "ecoterrorist" and Daniel Quinn and Ren Prieur (a new favorite) and the incredibly adorable Wendell Berry. Lots of other interviews with other people I'll have to look into.


I hope you'll give it a shot.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.8

Today I finished reading Nafeez's section on Energy Scarcity and started the chapter on Food Insecurity. So far, I haven't learned much of anything new, though it's nice to see that my man Nafeez references my man Lester Brown. Notes:

  • In the US, "the share accrued by the farmer of every consumer dollar spent on food has declined from over 40 cents before 1950 to about 7 cents today" (95).
  • Agricultural economists in the US like to say that food self-sufficiency does not equal food security. With rising energy prices, though, I think they're wrong. (Not to mention violent and exploitative methods of securing those trade agreements.) Colombia produces 62% of all the cute flowers imported by the US, but 13% of its population is malnourished (95).
  • Modern industrial farming is bad for a lot of reasons (97):
    • it takes 500 years to renew a lost inch of topsoil
    • over the last 100 years, the US has lost half its topsoil
    • topsoil in the US is eroding 30 times faster than natural rates
    • 2 million acres of cropland are lost per year in the US through erosion, desalinization, and waterogging
    • 1 million acres of cropland are lost per year in the US through urbanization, roads, and industry
  • Agriculture consumes 86% of US freshwater resources.
I don't have a particular thesis or message today. Not much hope except for the advice that keeps popping up among thinkers, poets, researchers, activists, scholars, etc: live in community and work from the ground up, learn new skills, and respect your land base.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Food Justice

I listen to Radio Ecoshock on a fairly regular basis while I'm doing less writing-intensive tasks at work. Today I'm listening to this wonderful interview with activist-turned-author Nick Saul, who founded Stop, a radically revisioned food bank in Toronto. 

Here's the quotation about 20-25 minutes into the interview that encouraged me to blog about it:

"How do we move from a consumer-led revolution to one that is about building food citizens?" 

If food is supposed to be sustainable, does this mean that food is a right? Who is responsible for making sure human beings are adequately fed? Where's the justice, and how should and do we effect it? Can we grow food closer to home? Distribution and income inequality are complicated, sticky things. How do we engage in conversation about them?

I look forward to reading Saul and his wife/co-author's book The Stop soon. Saul recognizes his own privilege. He's always lived in privilege, from his childhood in Tanzania as the son of academic parents through his success as an adult. He doesn't make too many huge sweeping statements that I find particularly controversial, but he does tell about how he's seen that people want to be more involved in food. They don't want to just get food stamps or go to the food pantry; they want to participate in it and live in dignity. 

Other books I've read that come to my mind as semi-related to this:
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (and her daughter and husband)
- Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Food justice is fascinating, and it's one of those universal things that will eventually affect everyone. It's so tied into my general passion lately about the scarcity of resources (and the way we're destroying the biosphere by exploiting those resources in faster, flagrant, and more brutal ways). I'm excited to attend a free lecture on campus next week about food policy. I intend to take notes and probably write a scathing review and reflection about it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Guy McPherson explains it all

Check it out!

"The series of solutions [put forth by Al Gore, for example] is completely mismatched to the crisis."

"Changing your light bulbs is not going to save the day with respect to climate change. The only thing that can save us from climate change is termination of the industrial economy."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.7

Today I read pages 73-87. In it, Ahmed did the following:

  • put the final nail in the coffin of oil. Peak Oil has happened. Now we get to deal with decreased supply. This will eventually mean lower demand and/or higher prices. And we'll look for other fuel sources, as we have already begun to do. These include:
  • (talked about) coal, which is growing more expensive. It is dangerous. Even the "clean" stuff emits CO2 in its mining. Assuming that demand stays what it is (and it won't - as we run out of oil, we may rely more on coal; and world demand is increasing as the economy expands, albeit more slowly), we're looking at no more than 120 years of coal. Real estimates are far lower;
  • (talked about coal) natural gas - same deal. This one is especially inefficient. The oil inputs to produce natural gas are pretty steep. It's inefficient. And it's unsustainable. We're looking at about 100 years' worth of this stuff, too - maximum. And, like I said, demand is likely to increase one way or another;
  • (explored the question) what about nonconventional sources like tar sands (super inefficient and really tiny dividends - p. 82)
  • (explored) or shale - same thing, not to mention incredibly water intensive and natural gas intensive.
  • (declared) In short, "unconventional oil sources are simply irrelevant" (82).
  • (inquired) Well, what about nuclear? It has several problemsL
    • waste reprocessing costs are in the billions
    • the waste can be easily used for weapons
    • reprocessing is unsafe and inefficient in practice (84). This is based on reproduction in the US, UK, and other countries so far. It's empirical stuff.
    • Nuclear isn't carbon free. Carbon dioxide is emitted at all points in the cycle (extraction, processing) EXCEPT the actual fission.
    • sources - the US Army Corps of Engineers says we'll run out uranium in 20 years at current levels of demand. Yes, that's only the new stuff. We can reuse once-spent uranium, but then it becomes a lot more expensive to extract energy from and less energy is produced. Diminishing returns and all that.
Next up: "Renewable Energy: A Primer" (still in Ahmed's book)
As alarming as this news is, I'm still pretty excited!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New York Times Blogarticle on Being Busy

This article is ridiculously awesome.

Favorite quotations (for those too busy to read the whole thing):

"Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work."

"Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration - it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done." 


I'll let you know when I start taking this advice ... ;-)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crisis of Civilizaton.6

I put on a reasonably successful screening of the Crisis of Civilization film/documentary last week. Afterwards, despite my notes, the conversation went everywhere. People were very passionate but it was hard to stay focused on a given crisis for very long. Eventually, I started asking the question: despite all the issues, which we should explore, what kind of life do we WANT to live? I tried to turn it from a negative question to a positive question. I'll need to follow up by email and with another event soon.

Now I'm in the heart of the oil and gas headquarters of the world as my job brings me to Doha, Qatar. It's a beautiful city, but it breaks my heart to realize the people and the resources exploited to make my 10 days here almost magical.

To the book:
Nafeez says that the U.S. meets up to 70% of its oil needs through imports. Mexico has provided about 14% to date, but they're going to stop exporting soon. China's gonna start importing more soon, too as their demand increases. Where is our oil independence supposed to come from again? Without reducing consumption in one way or another (or, more realistically, in a dozen ways), we're gonna run out really fast. High oil producing country after country are reaching their peaks, and even with the economic crises, demand continues to rise worldwide. What's next?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.5 Energy Scarcity

"Over-dependence on hydrocarbon energy exploitation is a defining features of modern industrial civilization" (61). Eventually, we'll turn to other, more truly efficient means of acquiring and spending energy, but at this rate, we won't do it until it's economically in our best interest, and even the other options already discovered aren't as renewable as we think, according to Physics Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin (the last link is to a radio interview with Laughlin about powering the future). Or socially (which includes military or other coercion-based intervention). Some (tough, broad) ways to bring the economy around a little faster (this list compiled by friends, other sources, and personal research and logic) include:

  • eliminate oil and food subsidies in the U.S.
  • include externalities in pricing structures
  • think long term
Cool people like former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach suggest some ways to supplement our dependency on the traditional U.S. economy with a more community-based economy. He can feel which way the wind is blowing in terms of the big picture, but he's not willing to give up yet.

So, it is possible we'll find other ways to live, but with climate change happening as drastically and rapidly as it is, it's more likely civilization will die first. This chapter's about energy scarcity, though. Let's dig into that.

By 1995, there were 40,000 transnational corporations (TNC), which Ahmed argues exist to concentrate technologies and pour resources into the Northern (Western) core countries so we can manufacture and produce and grow wealth and economies, all the while pulling our raw materials (organic agricultural-based and inorganic minerals-based) from the 'Southern periphery,' or traditionally 'third world' countries (62-63).

TNCs don't have to be inherently evil, but if you look at the history of monopolies and the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and if you've looked at history at all, you might see how this trend is something to pay attention to. "Today, 51 of the largest 100 economies belong to TNCs - the other 49 are countries. TNCs [which elude national laws because of the free trade agreements out there right now] hold 90 per cent of all technology and patents worldwide and monopolize 70 percent of world trade" (63).

The Hirsch report says basically that peak oil has probably already happened, and because we didn't plan for it ahead of time, the fall is gonna suck (67). Cheap oil is a thing of the past, and the foundations of civilization are going to be pretty badly shaken.

That not enough for you? Even the Army Corps of Engineers says we're running out of oil, and fast. What about other sources of energy? According to their and many others' (including Laughlin above) calculations, nuclear (from relatively cheap uranium) will be spent in roughly 20 years, and natural gas and coal will be caput in less than 100 years (68). What other energy sources do we got? Again, even the Army Corps of Engineers says that we have to look at the consumption, the demand side of things, and not just supply. 

Politically, even suggesting that we consume less energy is anathema. It's bad for growth. And economic growth is the only thing that matters. But growth is not sustainable. Not if we look at the limits imposed by reality, nature, and the laws of physics. I dare you (or anybody) to come up with truly renewable sources of energy that will not contribute to climate change and the otherwise impending end of all life on this planet. There is still hope. Becoming more efficient is a good thing, but it's not sufficient. We have to choose to live differently. And yes, I believe that a great number of us choosing to do so is the best and possibly the only way. This is why I do the research and I talk with friends and I make embarrassingly small and slow changes in the way I live my life. This is why I try to find the balance between exposing what is wrong with the way we live while at the same time promoting a Positive Alternative. Not just a way out of the crisis but a way into a better world.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.4 - Fun Facts about Climate Change

  • About 1400 gigatons of carbon is trapped as methane under the arctic permafrost. When the permafrost melts, kaboom (48-49)
  • We usually think of trees as carbon sinks, but with increasing warming and droughts, there is more tree mortality. Woods Hole Research Centre says that "the [Amazon] rainforest cannot sustain three consecutive years of drought without breaking down" (49). The Amazon rainforest contains 90 billion tons of carbon, enough in itself to increase the rate of global warming by 50% (50).
  • One MIT study published in the Journal of Climate projected that by 2100 the global average temperature will rise by over 5 degrees Celsius. Some say we'll hit more than a 3 degree jump by 2060 (51).
  • Many of these estimates are reasonable - conservative, even. It's important to look at how systems affect each other and warming breeds more warming.
From my friend Kat's Facebook page: “My Prime Minister regards the economy as our highest priority and forgets that economics and ecology are derived from the same Greek word, oikos, meaning household or domain. Ecology is the study of home, while economics is its management. Ecologists try to define the conditions and principles that enable a species to survive and flourish. Yet in elevating the economy above those principles, we seem to think we are immune to the laws of nature. We have to put the ‘eco’ back into economics.”
-David Suzuki

"The problem is that by accepting neoliberal capitalist markets as a given, carbon trading [which in practice is simply pushing the blame around, making money for financiers, and doing nothing (if not worse) for carbon emissions] overlooks the systemic origins of climate change" (55).

"Western government attitudes toward climate change [...] are premised on a remarkable self-deception: that we can continue with hydrocarbon exploitation, and the pursuit of economic growth, while simultaneously saving the climate" (56). Put another way, "[i]gnoring the instrumental role of the 'growth imperative' as a systemic pressure rooted in the structure of the global political economy guarantees the continuation of global warming" (59). As long as we keep thinking economic growth is the supreme goal in our lives, we will continue to strengthen and hasten the death sentence of life on earth.

"While offering no meaningful curtailment of our trajectory toward climate catastrophe, current policies [based on Kyoto and other environmental summits that are not binding and have focused on economic options] do provide a way of piling huge costs on the public, drastically increasing state revenues, and facilitating corporate profiteering - without actually solving the causes of the problem" (56). Indeed, many Western governments have all but resigned themselves to the probability that we can't stop the warming train and all we can do now is mitigate the impending disaster.

So, where's the silver lining? We could save ourselves by cutting our consumption and cutting emissions by a good 90%. We'd have to drastically transform "the system" of Western civilization as we know it, "starting with the extent to which vested financial interests are tied to the global hydrocarbon energy system: a hierarchical structure of geopolitical domination by core Northern states over a network of peripheral states in regions like the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa containing the bulk of the world's strategic oil and gas reserves" (60).

Good luck to us. This concludes the chapter on Climate Catastrophe. Next time I start the chapter on Energy Scarcity.