Monday, June 29, 2020

A Serious Discussion With The Mound of Sound

In this post, "The Mound of Sound" (AKA: "MOS", AKA "The Disaffected Lib," AKA: "Justin Trudeau-hating OLD MAN" ;)  .... ) adds another page to his catalogue of legitimate doom-and-gloom of most larger life-forms on Earth fryin-up because of global heating:
I've started to think of them as "prescription pieces" and there are plenty of them. These are the articles that pop up daily to repeat warnings of what we must absolutely do right now to avert unspeakably dire consequences in the not too distant future.
I can't criticize those articles. I agree with them. They're usually backed up by reams of scientific research and analysis, a mountain of knowledge that grows every day. Most of those who write these essays are well-credentialed individuals, top drawer men and women. They write with sincerity and passion. They want to even our keel, steer us away from the shoals that lie just ahead.
It would be amazing if we listened to these people, heeded their warnings, embraced their prescriptions and demanded that our leaders stopped skirting these building crises and finally dealt with them. Only that never quite happens.
Imagine if these articles and studies and papers ever got traction, if they ever lasted more than a few days before being flushed down the Memory Hole.  Imagine if our lawmakers strolled into the House of Commons, their minds seized with the awareness that they are, today, passing judgment on our young people and the generations to follow them. Imagine if they knew that the decisions they're taking now will translate into lives and deaths of Canadians in a decade or two. Imagine if they realized there are some options that are still available to us that will be foreclosed in just a few years. Imagine if they knew that we, today's voting public, would hold them accountable for their indifference and neglect.
None of that is happening. No, there is no epiphany among those to whom we entrust the power to safeguard us and  secure this nation's  endangered future. Imagine the dark farce of a Parliament proclaiming a climate state of emergency and then, less than 24 hours later, greenlighting a massive new pipeline to deliver high-carbon, low-value bitumen to world markets.
I still read those prescription pieces as they come in.  My habit is to start right at the end where there'll be listed the authors and their credentials. Then I wade into their essays, top to bottom. I dwell on them for a while but then I hear that Memory Hole beginning to slowly creak open, followed by the thudding sound of heads banging into walls.
I responded with a good faith question:
You are well informed on the danger of global heating.
You have identified the problems of political corruption and/or inertia.
What do you think is needed to change things?
MOS and I had a little back-and-forth .... aw hell, just in case something happens I'll copy and paste the whole thing here! So MOS replied:
If I could wish for one thing, Thwap, it would be a powerful sea change in public attitude on climate breakdown. There are many things that can be done but almost none of them that don't require sacrifice and cutting back what we perceive to be our standard of living. Many Canadians are concerned about climate change and want something done but they're not willing to pay/lose/sacrifice much to achieve it. Without strong public demand there's little political will for taking bold action.
We know what must be done before this decade is out and there's no plan to get there. Now I fear he social and economic impacts of the pandemic will undermine our already weak chance of change in the limited amount of time remaining to us.
My view is that future generations are screwed. Yet that very belief is what keeps me advocating for change, not throwing in the towel. It's really quite helpful to be able to be able to liberate the fight from perceived outcomes. All that's necessary is to accept that we may not be able to spare the next generation or two from a dangerous and less viable future, we still have a role to play in making it less hellish than, at this point, necessary or we can go along as we are and make life harsher for those generations which seems to be the course we're on.
I've been trying to do my part. I've downsized from a large house to a comfortable but modest bungalow. I've made that about as energy efficient as I can manage. I last flew about 10 years ago to attend my father's funeral. I still have to drive but I've gotten my mileage down to just under 4,000 km. per year which means my current little car should outlast me. I haven't been off the island in years. The best part is that I don't feel deprived in any way.
To which I replied:
I'd say we have to construct a positive vision of a political-economic system that reflects ecological reality.
Show people how things can be better. (Especially since it's life-or-death necessary anyway.)
Show how it's possible.
Force politicians to accept that it's all-or-nothing. Show them as well that powerful people aren't powerful anymore if they come up against a democratic state.
So MOS replied, but it seems that (through no fault of his own) he missed my point. And I'd like to use this blog-post to reply to him because I can think of no better use of my time than to seriously discuss what's necessary to radically transform human civilization to try to make it compatible with the ecology (even if it isn't all too late).

And so, like he said the following (to which I shall post my responses within the body of the text):

I don't mean to discourage you, thwap, but I think that horse has already left the barn.
How many electoral cycles do you think it would take to achieve such a tide change in Canadian politics? And, once that had been achieved, how long would it take to implement change of such magnitude across the federal/provincial structure of our confederation?

You're preaching to the converted MOS. I said recently: THERE IS NO LONG GAME. We have to move YESTERDAY. So when I talk about forcing politicians to do things, I mean, whatever politicians happen to be in office. Does everybody understand? Like I said, whether it's Trump or Biden; BOTH of them are a death sentence for humanity. Here in Canada, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have shown themselves to be slaves of the oil industry. (And the BC NDP routinely betrays the environment when in power. I don't know enough about the Manitoba NDP except that they're neo-liberals. And the Notley NDP government in Alberta showed itself incapable of original thinking there.)

So we have some very real decisions to make. We have some difficult realities to grasp. The problem is vast. The crisis is upon us. Mainstream politicians are deluded shills. But Canadian society (and the world's civilization) requires immediate, vast, sweeping, revolutionary change. But the general public is, itself, not up to the needs of the moment. We have no "dual power" institutions in place. We're going to have to use the institutions and mechanisms that are already in place. Those institutions and mechanisms are nominally controlled by the politicians. Who are nominally responsible to we, the people.

If it is naive to imagine that the politicians would ever serve us (even under genuine, really, disciplined, RADICAL pressure) then how naive is it to imagine that something magical, undefined will happen, and that there will be a peaceful revolution that sweeps all the bad stuff aside and etc., etc., ?

So what I mean is, we get the people on board first. Even in the USA, poll after poll shows the US-American people support less military spending, higher taxes on the wealthy, policies to save the environment, a national healthcare system, etc., etc. All around the world people are generally on our side. The problem has been so few activists are proposing anything to harness this energy and these numbers into actually achieving anything. If we do that then it won't be a question of "electoral cycles." It will be the masses of the people putting actual pressure on whatever enemy politicians happen to be in power at the time, to do what is necessary to save the Earth.

Then, if your goal is to create conditions for a "soft landing" on climate breakdown for young and future Canadians, how much time do you think we have remaining to bring such massive change into effect?

I don't know if a "soft landing" is possible or impossible. I do foresee a society based on a political-economy that is far less consumption based which would therefore necessitate less of a need for resources, real and financial. But I think the deadline we have for this is two or three years for a massive bring down of carbon emissions. With five years to begin repairing the damage we did.
I don't think we have nearly enough time remaining to avert global climate breakdown. The Liberals don't have a plan to do that and the Tories are far more doubtful starters. There are some European nations that have already made real progress on slashing emissions but what of Russia or China or the United States?

If you don't think we can avert global climate breakdown, then I assume your continuing to write on the subject is inspired by trying to manage society post-global climate breakdown? Personally, I think you might be right. Maybe it is far too late. Even still, the post-carbon society I'm thinking about would also be a blueprint for handling the chaos that will ensue if an ecological catastrophe devastates the present economic system. Using less resources and sharing the necessities equitably.

What of Russia and China and India? In a zero-growth economy it would already be possible to provide the denizens of these countries with the necessities of life; food, housing, medicine. Look at what was achieved in the Bolivia of Evo Morales. As I said in that post, the astonishing improvements in housing, health, literacy, etc., under Morales surpassed anything attempted by traditional "development" experts, because the latter are wedded to a system that attempts to construct improvements for people at no cost to the wealthy. Squaring the circle. Morales taxed his countries elites and the foreign capitalists who wanted Bolivia's resources, and used the proceeds to build housing, pay teachers, nurses, doctors, and create all the other basic infrastructure needed to improve living standards.

China tried to (and succeeded) to develop (after the massive accomplishments of the socialist revolution) an industrial base to serve the wealthy consumers in the West by undercutting labour costs globally. It built its own millionaire/billionaire class. And from those proceeds it did raise living standards for many. (I would argue that a minority, tens of millions strong, has suffered declines through unemployment, homelessness, and crime.) And China plans on building many new coal plants to continue along these lines.

India has been even worse. India was in on the software revolution than was China. Because India has had greater individual freedoms and that is what is necessary to foster the creativity to develop innovative software. India had greater connections to the West and was able to also provide technical support services through familiarity with English. India did not go through a socialist revolution in the 20th Century and so had a much larger population without the literacy, numeracy, and urban-industrial experience to provide manufacturing services to the West like China did. India's late-20th Century resurgence was the creation of its small, educated middle-class. (But in a country with over one-billion people, "small" is 10,000,000.) The expansion of "market forces" into India has been a net negative for the overall population. It is going to have to burn a lot more coal, natural gas, etc., to achieve even what China has achieved. At least under the present economic paradigm.

But, as we both know MOS, that's not viable. But the world economy is incredibly productive. Our food systems are managed hideously wastefully. A world system run along democratic socialist-ecological principles would help these countries, and all the countries in the world, be able to feed, clothe and house their peoples without the need for belching more carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Canada already has a podium finish for per capita greenhouse gas emissions and, despite our minuscule population, we're well within the Top Ten for overall emissions.
No question. And we're really wasteful. And we're not happy. And it's unsustainable. But, again, what we desire isn't what we need. Canadians (like most of the rest of the world) have had their minds warped by advertising to desire consumer products that they don't need and encouraged to waste and pollute as their birthright. (Or, as compensation for their daily hours of servitude to undemocratic, alienating workplaces.) I believe that it is possible to switch from our present lifestyle to a far more leisurely, less resource-devouring one. I believe that it is the wealthy nations that can, must, should lead the way in the climb-down from excessive consumption to ecological sustainability.
Back in 2013 the climate team at the University of Hawaii released a report warning that catastrophic heating would begin setting in across the tropical latitudes around 2013. It seemed like a radical, even suspect outlook when it came out. Since then, and especially over the past two years, there has been a succession of studies from other agencies that generally corroborate the U. Hawaii paper.
There's a problem, perhaps insurmountable. The Third World experience of climate breakdown is going to be massively different - in rate of onset, in severity, in duration - than our own. I'm sure we'll send them our thoughts and prayers, at the outset at least, but how long before we come to see them as a threat as they migrate under the imperative of survival? In both hemispheres, animals are migrating poleward. We're seeing this marine life exodus out of the south in our own coastal waters. Even plants are migrating (albeit at about 8" annually). Why would we imagine humans won't have to do the same?

The book Merchants of Doubt mentions how a study on global warming (I can't remember by which US federal agency) got hijacked by fossil-fuel shills and one of their stupid conclusions was that if regional ecologies change then people can do what they've always done for thousands of years, which is to migrate. As if the world isn't more densely populated now than it was 5,000 years ago. And we've already seen mini-migrations from war and poverty from the Global South and the Middle East into Europe and North America, and the response from the right-wing is to descend into xenophobic fascism.

We can't do anything to stop the changes that are already in the pipeline. But we can't just give up. Or if we do give up we could stop shrieking about it. But we can construct the outlines of a democratic, socialist society that is based more on shared humanity and increased leisure time than rampant consumerism and stress and lurching from one capitalist economic crisis to the next. There is already plenty of food, plenty of productive capacity, plenty of money, to provide everyone alive today with the necessities of life while we simultaneously SLOW THE FUCK DOWN and live within the planet's means.
The difference in how we experience climate change sabotages prospects for some universal response. The affluent, developed world will be "last and least" impacted. That is bound to be reflected in the public appetite for change that would entail sacrifice and a reduction in "standard" of living as we understand it. With rare exception, every nation has an excuse, every nation points fingers at some other. How do you forge a global consensus out of this?
I think we'll have to sell it to the rich country populations first. Because we have the best chances of constructing something viable. There is almost $30,000,000,000.00 in offshore wealth sloshing around looking for an outlet. This is money that has no possibility of being profitably invested for it's owners, other than in financial bubbles that burst and get bailed-out by the various public sectors around the world. The wealthy have more money than they know what to do with. And it isn't doing any of us any good.

Take that money and tell everyone to slow down. We'll subsidize their unemployment while we freeze mortgages and simply eliminate much of the debts worldwide. These are debts that have been paid off multiple times already by impoverished countries. Debts that have already been written down or written off, but which bottom feeders are still trying to collect. JUBILEE.

We will create democratic workplaces that organically, naturally, shift production to more socially necessary avenues or which shut-down altogether. We can reorient our economies to caring for the elderly, providing advanced educations and technical skills to all who want them. Providing superior medical care. Reforming the food system.

But first we have to get the people onside. So the first job is to find the proposals for zero-growth economies that have already been created and synthesize these down to manageable stories for ordinary people to get behind. SHOW PEOPLE THE WORLD THAT CAN BE CREATED. Then, when you actually have a vision that people can get behind, commit everyone to a realistic plan of action to FORCE the powers that be to provide them or to get the hell out of the way.

And that's going to require thinking about going beyond the afternoon protests and pointless petitions. Threats of massive withdrawals from recalcitrant financial institutions. Boycotts. Strikes. Occupations. Slowdowns. Shutdowns.

The levers of everything are in the hands of the politicians. And the politicians serve the oligarchy. But if the people rise up in large enough numbers and demand changes and make the status-quo unviable, then politicians will be forced to realize that the oligarchs' power is rooted in wealth. But aside from their wealth they're really just a tiny number of (mostly) mediocrities. Ignore their wealth. Ignore their commands. Impose the changes and PRESTO, they're neither wealthy nor powerful now.

I can't articulate this all now. I need to get this posted and move on to elaborate in further posts.

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