Monday, July 6, 2015

The Audacity of Hopelessness

Is it time to give up on the human race?
Michael Dewar, former Canadian Green Party youth leader and candidate, says that he has given up caring about the environment, and taken a lucrative position working in the tar sands of northern Alberta.

In an interview on the Srsly Wrong podcast back in August 2014, Dewar spoke about his conversion to Libertarian Capitalism, and a thoroughly self-interested ideology, saying that “You might think you are helping out by putting your energy to the cause of helping other people, but in fact you are just wasting your time.”

Dewar became exhausted as his political efforts seemed to yield no effect, and expressed his belief that catastrophic climate change was now unavoidable. He said he has adopted a lifestyle dubbed ‘Partyboat Nihilism,’ which holds that human beings face inevitable extinction, and we must adopt a hedonistic, selfish lifestyle to make the best of it....

In a more recent interview, while still expressing a fondness for Ayn Rand and Libertarian Capitalism, Dewar admitted that he did still care about the future of humanity. Dewar continues to stand firm in his belief that political participation is most likely pointless, and expressed interest in growing his own food, and “loafing around like a dirty hippy.”
Green Party Youth Leader ‘Gives Up’ and Goes to Work for an Oil Company (Disinfo)
In 2008 [Shell] released a fresh pair of scenarios for how the world might respond to climate change over the coming decades. Both were predicated on what the company called “three hard truths”: that global energy demand is rising, that the supply of conventional energy will not be able to keep up, and that climate change is both real and dangerous.

One scenario, called “Blueprints,” envisioned an increasingly urgent and systematic global effort to cut emissions and develop cleaner technologies. Change would come from the bottom up, as individuals, corporations, and cities laid a foundation for national and international policies. The results would include carbon taxes, cap-and-trade schemes, electric cars, solar panels, and carbon-capture technology for power plants. Those actions wouldn’t stop climate change. The seas would rise, hurricanes would wreck cities, and so on. But the results wouldn’t be catastrophic.

A second scenario, called “Scramble,” envisioned the world continuing to balk at real action, because “curbing the growth of energy demand—and hence economic growth—is simply too unpopular for politicians to undertake,” as Shell’s scenario planners put it in an interview with Funk. Coal and biofuels would drive the growth of developing countries, choking the air and driving up food prices. While Indonesia and Brazil were mowing down rainforests to grown palm oil and sugarcane, Canada and the United States would turn their attention toward “unconventional oil projects” like Canada’s tar sands.

As Funk puts it, “The hardest truth about climate change is that it is not equally bad for everyone.”

Climate activists would grow increasingly shrill, but the general public would suffer “alarm fatigue.” Rich and poor nations would deadlock over who should do what as emissions spiraled past 550 parts per million. (In 2013 they reached 400 ppm for the first time—a frightening milestone.) At that point the impacts of climate change would be too great to ignore—but it would be too late to do much about it. In the final stage of the Scramble scenario, the planners wrote, “An increasing fraction of economic activity and innovation is ultimately directed towards preparing for the impact of climate change.” 

Shell typically does not take a stand on which of its scenarios it would prefer to see realized. It simply hedges its bets so it will be ready to profit, or at least survive, no matter what...Still, it raises an awkward question: How does a company that once called for urgent action on climate change justify capitalizing on its own emissions by plumbing the Arctic for yet more crude oil? Funk’s book suggests a troubling answer. Since Shell’s 2008 report, governments have failed to pass serious climate policies, global emissions have continued to soar, investment in clean energy remains mocked by the mainstream media, and there’s little sign of progress in sight. By 2012 Funk asked Shell’s top scenario planner if the future was looking more like Scramble than Blueprints. “Yeah,” he replied bluntly. “That’s the view.”

From Shell’s perspective, then, thoughtful climate regulation would have been preferable to a free-market free-for-all. But now that we as a society seem to be opting for the latter, Shell will be damned if it doesn’t join in and grab whatever it can. By 2012 a company executive was telling a crowd of conference-goers, “I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska.”
Windfall: McKenzie Funk Describes the Business of Climate Change (Slate)
I see the intense and overheated focus on misbegotten tweets and malformed public utterances as displaced energy, reflecting the fact that the official political system is completely paralyzed and meaningful social and economic change seems unachievable. As I said earlier, this isn’t limited to the left: It’s easy to mock right-wing hysteria over the modest market-based reforms of Obamacare (essentially a conservative scheme in origin) or the Tea Party’s conviction that a president whose economic policies are slightly to the right of Richard Nixon is secretly a combination of Patrice Lumumba and Pol Pot. But it’s more interesting to ask why these delusions persist: Because the symbolic politics of Obama’s presidency has driven many white conservatives nuts, and because the radical downsizing of the federal government they claim to want cannot be achieved.

Beltway politics are dominated by passionate and often outrageous partisan rhetoric, which cannot quite conceal the fact that Congress has become a useless, paralytic institution that can’t get anything done. Power lies elsewhere, and remains inaccessible. In a similar fashion, angry wars of words between and among self-styled progressives on the Internet do not entirely camouflage the relative powerlessness of everyone involved. Getting into a comments-thread battle or a Twitter-lather about Colbert’s bad joke or Lena Dunham’s fashion-magazine shoot or whatever other outrage du jour conveys a temporary feeling of pseudo-power, much as watching MSNBC (or Fox News) crow about the idiocy of the other side is pseudo-participation in a pseudo-democracy.

...We can’t do anything about worsening inequality or the poisoned planet or the total defeat of the labor movement or the broken immigration system or the incarceration of young black men. Our country is too “divided,” we can’t make up our minds about anything. The power to change those things, supposedly vouchsafed to us in the Constitution, has migrated somewhere else. But we can drive Gilbert Gottfried off Twitter for being such an enormous asshole. Change we can believe in.
Why we fight about Colbert and Lena Dunham: Twitter politics are all we have left (Salon)
The American Association for the Advancement of Science came as close as such a respectable institution can to screaming an alarm last week. "As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do," it said as it began one of those sentences that you know will build to a "but". "But human-caused climate risks abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes."

In other words, the most distinguished scientists from the country with the world's pre-eminent educational institutions were trying to shake humanity out of its complacency. Why weren't their warnings leading the news?

Tempting though it is to blame cowardly politicians, the abuse comes too easily. The question remains: what turned them into cowards? Rightwing billionaires in the United States and the oil companies have spent fortunes on blocking action on climate change. A part of the answer may therefore be that conservative politicians in London, Washington and Canberra are doing their richest supporters' bidding. There's truth in the bribery hypothesis. In my own little world of journalism, I have seen rightwing hacks realise the financial potential of denial and turn from reasonable men and women into beetle-browed conspiracy theorists.

I am no better than them. I could write about the environment every week. No editor would stop me. But the task feels as hopeless as arguing against growing old. Whatever you do or say, it is going to happen. How can you persuade countries to accept huge reductions in their living standards to limit (not stop) the rise in temperatures? How can you persuade the human race to put the future ahead of the present?

The American historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Eril M Conway quoted a researcher, who was asked in the 1970s what his country's leaders said when he warned them that C02 levels would double in 50 years. "They tell me to come back in 49 years," he replied.
The climate change deniers have won (Guardian)
Have you ever felt yourself slip into an existential funk in which ask, “Why the fuck should I even care? Why the fuck should I try?” I mean what’s the point? Many of us have been long disenchanted with Religion, Politics, Love and pretty much every other institution of this mad consensus reality that we call life.

Take for instance the viewpoint of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a Spiritual teacher in the Advaita Vedanta tradition in his exchange with an interviewer:

Q: There is suffering and bloodshed in East Pakistan at the present moment. How do you look at it? How does it appear to you, how do you react to it?

M: In pure consciousness nothing ever happens.

Q: Please come down from these metaphysical heights! Of what use is it to a suffering man to be told that nobody is aware of his suffering but himself? To relegate everything to illusion is insult added to injury. The Bengali of East Pakistan is a fact and his suffering is a fact. Please, do not analyse them out of existence! You are reading newspapers, you hear people talking about it. You cannot plead ignorance. Now, what is your attitude to what is happening?

M: No attitude. Nothing is happening.

Q: Any day there may be a riot right in front of you, perhaps people killing each other. Surely you cannot say: nothing is happening and remain aloof.

M: I never talked of remaining aloof. You could as well see me jumping into the fray to save somebody and getting killed. Yet to me nothing happened. Imagine a big building collapsing. Some rooms are in ruins, some are intact. But can you speak of the space as ruined or intact? It is only the structure that suffered and the people who happened to live in it. Nothing happened to space itself. Similarly, nothing happens to life when forms break down and names are wiped out. The goldsmith melts down old ornaments to make new. Sometimes a good piece goes with the bad. He takes it in his stride, for he knows that no gold is lost.

Q: It is not death that I rebel against. It is the manner of dying.

M: Death is natural, the manner of dying is man-made. Separateness causes fear and aggression, which again cause violence. Do away with man-made separations and all this horror of people killing each other will surely end. But in reality there is no killing and no dying. The real does not die, the unreal never lived. Set your mind right and all will be right. When you know that the world is one, that humanity is one, you will act accordingly. But first of all you must attend to the way you feel, think and live. Unless there is order in yourself, there can be no order in the world.

I bring this up because Maharaj is saying there is nothing to be done because there is nothing.  ”Set your mind right and all will be right” he says as the interviewer poses the images of death and catastrophe.

So what are we to make of this idea?  IF this were true, then our daily activities and cares about what present to buy x, or the immediate bill due to y mean absolutely nothing.  We would be better off using our time, ‘setting our mind right’.  Who wants to join a monastery with me?
Why should we try? (Disinfo)


  1. If it wasn't climate change, it would be something else eventually. There are always disasters awaiting us. At some point, a giant asteroid will hit and kill all the large life forms, or perhaps blast the whole planet to smithereens. The universe is and always has been a giant shooting gallery. The sun will die out someday. The hard fact is, humans are humans and we don't do things until the last minute.

    Look at your own life, getting a degree in architecture, a bad idea for decades unless your father owns a successful architecture and engineering company or you have some other way to get moved to the inside track. Now you're middle aged and stuck. You didn't look ahead in your own life, why do you expect humanity as a whole to look ahead? Actually you did look ahead where it counts, as did I. Namely, you didn't have children. Those who do have children are afraid to face the truth of the future, another reason for humanity's delay in acting.

    When the going gets tough, by which I mean billions of people dying, humanity will start to act. There are plenty of ideas to clean up the mess we've made, so extinction of all of humanity is very unlikely. At least a billion will survive and there will be plenty of talent in that billion to build the necessary geoengineering projects to clean up the mess we've made. Still plenty of resources out there, including huge potential from thorium nuclear energy, and energy is the ultimate resource.

  2. Homo sapiens is not only the last hominin that is still around it isn’t even the longest-lived one, historically. Paranthropus boisei lived for over a million years before vanishing. H sapiens has only been around a couple hundred thousand, and behaviorally modern ones much less than that. One is reminded of the Medea Hypothesis – extinction is built in.

    I was loathe to admit this, but honestly I don’t care a whit about the future or human extinction. My entire family is extinct, I don’t have children, and I myself will probably be extinct long before things get really bad for the human species. I study this stuff for the same reason I study Roman history – because it’s interesting and fun. I can’t really do anything about a social collapse today any more than I can stop the Roman empire from falling. Most people I know who work themselves to death no matter how miserable they are, are doing it for the sake of their kids (to give them a life where they will surely end up doing the same – I don’t get it). If they don’t care, why should I?

    That’s why I don’t take all these extreme steps like starting doomsteads, growing all my own food (I do garden – but for fun and flavor, not for fear), or stockpile gold, or any sort of nonsense like that. The Archdruid’s entreaties to preserve knowledge for future generations (invoking Lord of the Rings, no less) leave me rolling my eyes. Way too messianic from my standpoint. I’m not into activism. I’m sorry, I’m just too unimportant for any of that. I’m just a bit of floatsam in the universe. Read John Gray’s books.

    Less to do with a lack of foresight - It seems like any profession is ultimately a trap due nowadays to the extreme specialization our society demands, while the demand for various professions inevitably waxes and wanes. Thus you can blame “skills mismatch” for any unemployment, and claim that the people making money are just more “skilled” rather than just lucky or well-connected. It also assumes the job market is a pure meritocracy based on “skills” rather social connections, circumstances of birth, family relations, class distinctions, etc., as you mentioned. That’s part of why I keep claiming that the “science” of economics is primarily a political/propaganda project.

    It’s doubtful humans will go extinct in the near term, which was the point of that Planet of Weeds essay I posted a few posts ago. If the population drops significantly, geoengineering will probably not be required; the planet will most likely heal itself while humans adapt in place, and energy will probably come from renewable/biomass rather than thorium. Those solutions are only needed in a growth paradigm.

    1. The missing links from above:

    2. I wouldn't care about human extinction either, if I didn't have children. I feel guilty for having children, for fear of the kind of world they might grow up in. Now, my worldview is one of nihilistic hedonism like the guy in the Disinfo piece, while still making a token effort to steer us away from inevitably hitting the proverbial iceberg. Specifically: voting liberal, though not even the liberals will really care about the environment until the masses start to care even a lick about it. And of course, it's already too late, so why do I bother.

  3. Living lightly on the earth has its own rewards. I live fine and save money on about ten grand a year. I too am middle aged and stuck, I chose tech which is a huge shit sandwich. I originally wanted to study music, which was my strong interest at entering college age. Now I am middle age and stuck and working in tech, but living low on the hog enough that I can afford to work part time and..... Study music! My per hour earnings playing trumpet on the street are getting very close to what I make doing the tech shit, and will soon surpass that.

    The shitty tech job comes with a free place to live albeit with electricity but no running water, such are the living standards of almost all of the world's tech workers. So I need to stick with the tech shitfest until I'm good enough on the horn to afford to rent a room or a small office to stealth live in. I estimate that point will come in a couple of years. I hasten to note that in tech raises are not a thing, while in trumpet the public treats me to steady raises and many heartfelt thanks.

    The important thing is, I'm FREE. More free than even the very very few techies who make big salaries but have to work literally killer hours, endless office politics, and becoming a has been at age 40.

    Almost no one can buy their way into being as free as I am. You have to be willing to do without the mountain of stuff we're brainwashed into thinking we need, right up to and including the baby's hand holding an apple.

    I'm perfectly happy to throw what possessions and papers I have into a storage unit and spend life camping out with a bivvy bag and my bike. And I'll do it in a flash once that looks like a better life. But in truth, if I do my part on the horn, I'll have tribe, musical tribe. That's yet another thing techies don't have, they have zero tribe. Competition and backstabbing are a way of life in the tech world. They are as atomized as the Iks.

    This is all possible by having the smallest footprint on the earth possible. Sure, I get around by bike to save the earth, but mainly I do it to save myself.

    1. Are you telling me there is no tech worker shortage? Surely you jest! A friend of mine managed to work his way up pretty high in the tech world without a college degree. He was super gung-ho. Now he’s just counting the days until he can pay off his house and get the hell out. It helps that his wife has a decent job as a vet and they have no kids. It seems every occupation is viper pit in Sociopath Nation.

      The way society is going, it seems like you’re better off just working a service job and living cheaply with no debt if you don’t have parents paying for school or a free education for throwing a ball well enough. Beats chasing the cheese at the end of the rat race. I wish I could find another paying gig. Unfortunately, I don’t have any music to fall back on – my only talents are writing and theater.

      Your story reminds me of this guy:

      And this guy:

  4. When there is little or no food to eat due to unfavourable environmental conditions, how will one billion people be fed?
    We are dependent on the fully functioning web of life. Not the other way round.

    1. We currently have food for some seven billion. Thus, even a degraded ecosystem with a disrupted climate might be able to support one-seventh that population. Maybe. It’s difficult to say. Keep in mind also that we currently throw away almost forty percent of our food in North America. And what we eat has a big impact on that. Also, current assumptions about food are based on growing economies and incomes:

  5. Escape from Wisconsin... That's what I would advise now, because almost all tech jobs pay the same or less than service jobs do, and at least in service you get to polish your social skills.

    No crippling college debt, I think for at least half of college grads, college sets them back for life.

    Pretty much my philosophy now is to simply do what you like and assume your pay will be shit. If it turns out to not be shit, it will be a pleasant surprise.

    I swear college is pushed to white kids of modest means harder than basketball is pushed in the ghetto.

    1. "I swear college is pushed to white kids of modest means harder than basketball is pushed in the ghetto."

      Ha! You’re more right than you know! Ironically, what should cross my desk today but this:

      Subject: D.E.B. (D.R.E.A.M. Builders) Intern. We have another great opportunity to positively influence a young individual interested in architecture and engineering. At the end of the month for six mornings we will be hosting [XXX], a senior at [XXX] High School, through a program called Lead2Change. The program helps prepare students for college and the professional world. See this link for more information: I would like to have Javier shadow several people during his time in our office to gain multiple perspectives and experience the variety.

      Not just white kids, then. Check out the link for amusement. They parade these kids through our office on almost daily to show them the wonderful world of being a professional cubicle serf, er, architect. I'm guessing they omit the lack of jobs, hypercompetitiveness, office politics and student loan debt.

      Do you read Michael O. Church's blog?


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