Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future, Part 2

As a follow-up from last week’s post, I share with you Part 2 of Michael Dowd’s video series, “Standing for the Future.” You can view Part 1 here.  The text right above the video is just copied and pasted from Dowd’s website.

There are two quotes from this video that I found especially important and meaningful. First on The Importance of Personification.

The words ‘God’ and ‘evolution’ are both pointing to the same divine creative process. Both answer the question ‘How did we get here?’ One uses the mythic language of religion, the other uses the literal language of science.  Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it’s Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year, or like quarreling over whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created the oceans and mountains. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we get and celebrate what I think is the single most important scientific discovery about religion in the last 500 years: personification. – Michael Dowd

The second quote is in support of Michael Dowd’s conviction that Ecology is the new Theology

Every characteristic that we attribute to the divine derives from our experience of Nature. If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. – Michael Dowd

“If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all of our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” – Thomas Berry

Standing for the Future (2/3) — “Reality Is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet”

“We each have experienced times of trouble that threaten to overwhelm our individual lives. In such times, a vision of possibility is essential. The same holds for the punctuations in history when whole societies face troubles of an immense and uncharted variety. Truly, we have arrived at such a time. Humans, unwittingly, have become a planetary force. We are irreversibly changing the very climate of our world. Henceforth, any actions we take as individuals and societies will be done in the new light of climate change.

What vision will carry us forward through such times and inspire us to work together? How shall we frame the need to shed our business-as-usual outlook on life and take on a new vision of possibility that can unite us as a species in joyful self-sacrifice and service? What vision will charge us with a sense of heroic purpose that the future is, indeed, calling us to greatness?”

In the video above, Dowd includes some of the amazing examples of nature personified that have been created by Conservation International in collaboration with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, all available at the Nature is Speaking website, which emphases the point that nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. Here is Kevin Spacey as the Rainforest:

 

 

Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future

Michael Dowd

The former pastor, Rev. Michael Dowd, is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. Dowd is a religious naturalist (“Religious naturalism (RN) combines a naturalist worldview with perceptions and values commonly associated with religions”), an eco-theologian and a pro-science evangelist. His passion for proclaiming a nature-honoring message of inspiration – what he calls “Right Relationship with Reality” – has earned him the title “Rev. Reality.”  Michael and his science writer and climate activist wife, Connie Barlow, have dedicated themselves to an itinerant life of permanent travel across North America, speaking out about our sacred responsibility to future generations.

According to their website, their core message is this: “What matters most now, individually and collectively, is to honor Grace Limits, and be a stand for the future, in word and deed.”

What does it mean to honor Grace Limits? Dowd considers Grace Limits to be “the inescapable, geological, ecological, and thermodynamic constraints to which humanity must rapidly adjust.”  He explains:

Both the nonrenewable (“stock”) resources and the renewable (“flow”) resources upon which we depend I call natural grace. The one-time endowments of stock resources and the sustainable use rates of flow resources are both necessarily constrained on a finite planet. These constraints I call grace limits. These are the limits that ecologists point to when discerning carrying capacity. When we overshoot Earth’s bounty and renewal capacities, we effectively remove ourselves from paradise and put ourselves on the path to hell. To learn to recognize and then scrupulously honor carrying capacity as Reality’s grace limits is a task to which the authors included [on his Grace Limits Audios page] are devoted. I think of these advocates as prophets of sacred realism, or factual faith. Each one, in his or her own way, reveals how the future is calling us to greatness. If we hope to spare our grandchildren from hell and spare ourselves their condemnation, we must now urgently attend to, not just personal piety, but systemic piety. We must immediately begin measuring ‘progress’ and ‘success’ in long-term, life-centered ways, rather than short-term, human-centered ways; nothing is more important than this.

Dowd’s Grace Limits Audios are an amazing resource. He’s spent innumerable hours recording in downloadable audio format the best work of a wide array of the most important sustainability and resilience authors – and all available for free download. Some of the authors represented include William R. Catton, Jr., John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Thomas Berry, JoAnna Macy, Lynn Margulis, Samuel Alexander, Tom Wessells, Erik Lindberg, Walter Youngquist, Theo Kitchener, and more.  In addition to his own audio recordings of these works, he also provides a plethora of links to online information and presentations of others. A wealth of education is available here.

standing-for-the-future

Dowd’s own recent work is perhaps best summarized in a 5 page essay, Evidential Medicine for Our Collective Soul: What’s Inevitable? What’s Redemptive?,” published in “Oneing” (Aug. 2016, Vol 4 No. 2), the quarterly publication put out by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.  A 19 minute audio recording of this essay is also available.

In this essay, Dowd notes that a new “Evidential Reformation” is coming into being, where all forms of evidence are coming to be valued equally and religiously. This includes scientific, historic, cross-cultural, and experiential evidence and includes, as Pope Francis has declared, ecology becoming integral to theology. Faith leaders such as Pope Francis (Roman Catholic), Patriarch Bartholomew (Easter Orthodox), and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhist) are all at the forefront of this reformation that Rev. Dowd is calling “Religion 3.0.”

However, Dowd warns us that “the noble sentiments that spawned care for Creation are no match for the crises now spinning out of control.” He writes that “It is time for a prophetic turbo-charging of our religious traditions. Foremost is the need to expand beyond the self-focus of individual salvation of enlightenment to also include vital community concerns – notably, survival.”

In the section of the essay addressing “What’s Inevitable?,” Dowd outlines a series of predicaments.  Not problems that can be addressed and solved, but predicaments that we must live through and deal with – hence, what is inevitable. He discusses climate chaos, sea level rise, the end of the fossil fuel era, political unrest, toxic legacy, biodiversity catastrophe, cultural loss, and the unraveling of worldviews. He states that to stay relevant, religions will need to foster not only personal wholeness, but also social coherence and ecological integrity. Dowd prophetically calls us as individuals to “voluntarily sacrifice [our] own comfort and security in service of safeguarding cultural treasures through a dark age.” He invites us to embark on legacy projects that are meaningful to us:

“Love something, learn something, let something go, and pass something forward.”

In the next section on “What’s Redemptive?,” he advises that we can’t compensate for the ecological devastation that has already occurred, nor can we fully reverse the ongoing effects of past behavior. He calls us, as a prodigal species, to come home to reality and set a new course.  “If we treat primary reality as anything other than primary, there will be consequences.”

To realign with Reality means that we must redefine “progress,” and learn that the success of any species depends upon learning to thrive within the limits of carrying capacity of the ecological system that we inhabit. He writes:

It is time to integrate carrying capacity into our theologies. Toward this end, I now speak of “grace limits.” The bounds that delimit safe levels of human use of other creatures and their habitats are there by natural grace. By staying within those bounds, we experience the grace of God’s nature. To venture beyond – which we have done, excessively – we suffer “God’s wrath” via storms, drought, floods, wildfires, rising and acidifying oceans, and in a great dying.

The call to action for religious adherents is this: to first learn about, then reflect upon, and finally evolve our worldviews. Henceforth, the unbending grace limits of God’s nature, combined with carrying capacity deficits inflicted by a century of human overpopulation and extravagant consumption (i.e. “overshoot”) will constrain even our noblest aims and thus the bounds of our efforts.

Dowd concludes the essay with his own ‘top ten’ list: “Reality’s Rules: Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction and Redeem Humanity.” These are what he considers to be “the limitations on our behavior essential for human communities to persist over the long term,” or the “constraints that our species must now impose on itself while navigating crises of our own creation.” The first five commandments help to disabuse us of an unreal notion of God, and the last five offer a way back into a right relationship with primary reality. The “commandments” are framed in traditional religious language:

“Thus sayeth the Lord”

  1. Stop thinking of me as anything less than the voice of undeniable and inescapable reality.
  2. Stop thinking of ‘revelation’ or ‘divine instruction’ without including evidence.
  3. Stop thinking of Genesis, or your creation story, apart from the history of the universe.
  4. Stop thinking of theology apart from ecology: the interdisciplinary study of my nature.
  5. Stop defining and measuring ‘progress’ in short-term, human-centered ways.
  6. Stop allowing the free or subsidized polluting of the commons.
  7. Stop using renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
  8. Stop using non-renewable resources in ways that harm or rob future generations.
  9. Stop exploring for coal, oil, and natural gas—keep most of it in the ground.
  10. Stop prioritizing the wants of the wealthy over the needs of the poor.

* * *

 A 17 minute video is available that sums up the message of the above essay: “Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction: Reality’s Rules.”

A full and expanded presentation of the ideas presented in the essay is also available as a 3-part video series.  I highly recommend this. I feel it is well worth the investment of time.  Part 1 is below, and runs for 55 minutes.  Standing for the Future (Part 1 of 3): “Evidential Reformation: Facts as Scripture; Ecology as Theology”

Michael and Connie are currently engaged in a speaking tour in the northwest U.S., with upcoming vists to Edmonds, Whidbey Island, Seattle, Orcas Island, and Bellingham, WA, in January 2017.  Check out their itinerary here. Our Transition Whatcom event listing is here – Jan. 22nd (Sunday morning) and Jan. 23rd (Monday evening), both at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.

 

Toby Hemenway, RIP

Permaculture pioneer Toby Hemenway, passed away earlier this week (Dec. 20, 2016). On the day he passed, it was announced Permaculure News that he had pancreatic cancer and was in hospice care.

We were fortunate to host Toby for a presentation he gave to our community in the fall of 2015 (around the same time he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, apparently). We found him to be warm, kind, humble, intelligent. Best known for his classic “Gaia’s Garden,” he was now promoting a new, arguably as important, book: The Permaculture City.

As David Holmgren said in his tribute to Toby,

His 2015 book The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience applies permaculture thinking and principles to organising everyday life.

In 2005, Su and I were hosted by Toby in Portland, Oregon during our 6-month teaching and study tour of North America. I remember him as earnest and modest as he maintained a passionate commitment to permaculture ideas as he made the transition from rural self-reliant living to applying permaculture in the city. His move back to urban living was emblematic of the learnings of our generation about the limits to rural self-sufficiency.

Here’s a reposting of a blog I wrote last year before Toby’s visit…

The Permaculture City

The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience by Toby Hemenway is a welcome articulation of permaculture applied to cities.

For those of you who’ve read Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway’s first permaculture book (which is the best-selling permaculture book in the world), you know that Hemenway writes in a straight-forward style that is easy to follow and digest, and a pleasure to read. While Gaia’s Garden was a practical permaculture book applied to home-scale gardening, the new book emphasizes from the very beginning that permaculture is not to be understood as a style of organic gardening.

He writes, “Urban permaculture is only slightly about gardening, and mostly about people. The human ecosystem that is the city is rich, and it includes much more than food. To understand, work within, and enhance that ecosystem, we need to understand not just how we feed ourselves in cities and towns but how we meet all our needs. How do we build, move about, use water and energy, feel secure, make decisions, solve problems, sustain ourselves, develop policies, live together?

…We’re not just gardening plants but people, neighborhoods, and even cultures.”

Toby

Hemenway defines permaculture as:

“applied ecology; that is, it is a design approach based on finding and applying to our own creations some of the guiding axioms at work in natural ecosystems.”

And as:
“a set of decision-making tools, based on natural systems, for arriving at regenerative solutions to design challenges of all kinds.”

Contents
Introduction: Looking at Cities through a Permaculture Lens (read online here)
1. The Surprisingly Green City (read online here)
2. Permaculture Design with an Urban Twist
3. Designing the Urban Home Garden
4. Techniques for the Urban Home Garden
5. Strategies for Gardening in Community
6. Water Wisdom: Metropolitan Style
7. Energy Solutions for Homes and Communities
8. Livelihood, Real Wealth, and Becoming Valuable
9. Placemaking and the Empowered Community
10. Tools for Designing Resilient Cities

“Many people who are searching for a more fulfilling life, wanting to reduce their ecological footprint and buld resilience for uncertain futures, grasp that permaculture might be part of the solution but are often unsure how it applies to their particular situation. For residents of towns and cities in the modern affluent world, The Permaculture City shows how permaculture design makes common sense.”
– David Holmgren

If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, come out to hear Toby speak about the new book. 9/9 Eugene, 9/10 Corvallis, 9/11 Portland, 9/12 Portland, 9/13 Olympia, 9/14 here in Bellingham (our Transition Whatcom event listing is here, and on Facebook here), 9/15 Seattle, and 9/16 Ashland.
More info: http://tobyhemenway.com/speaking/

Here is an excellent interview with Toby about his new book, posted at Resilience.org.

Below is another excellent interview from The Permaculture Podcast with Scott Mann.

I echo Mann’s observation after the interview:

“To me this book and the interview you just heard are vital to changing the conversation about permaculture away from just the landscape and growing food, as these are problems that are technically solved. We know how to raise up plants from seed, cutting, or graft. We understand the techniques to use in a wide variety of situations in any climate, even if that means making modifications to the land through ponds or swales, or creating physical structures such as greenhouses or stone walls as thermal mass. Conventional and organic agriculture have a lot of information for us to pull from, as do the rapidly growing fields of agro-forestry and agro-ecology. Where things go sideways is in reaching a larger audience with these ideas, not just in mainstream culture, but also in the permaculture community at large.

…But now, 40 years since the beginning we need to go back and dig through Mollison’s big black book of permaculture and remember Chapter 14: Strategies for an Alternative Nation. We need to learn how to build and work in community with one another. Now that the thorny pioneers have blazed a trail into the depths of the jungles, plains, and cities, and there set down roots, we have flourished in the shade of their experience and the work that came before us long enough. Now the specialists can come in. The growers, the builders, the organizers, and the communicators, to fill in the gaps and expand to reach all aspects of human life. We have the potential for permanent human agriculture, now let’s work on building that permanent human culture, and retain the aspects of civilization that matter to us.”

 

Consciousness and the New World Order

In the previous post on Chaos, Havoc, and the American Abyss, we began a discussion about the work of Peter Pogany, and how it relates to the situation we now find ourselves in with the pending Trump administration here in the U.S.

A recent post in The Guardian by George Monbiot starkly outlines the seriousness of some of the crises we’re currently facing: The 13 Impossible Crises that Humanity Now Faces (hat tip to The Chrysalis). “One of the peculiarities of this complex, multiheaded crisis,” Monbiot writes,  “is that there appears to be no “other side” on to which we might emerge.”

Recall that in our previous post we discussed how deep infrastructure issues such as resource depletion and climate change impose eventual limits to growth, which then disrupt economies built upon heavy environmental resource extraction and financed by debt. And remember Pogany’s statement that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” And also that the coming chaos might eventually, as a chaotic transition, lead to a much healthier organization of society.

What will it take? “It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973).”

And what does that mean?  To unpack this, let’s survey chapter 5 of his book, Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century!

A concise dictionary definition of ‘consciousness’ is “the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.” Consciousness, according to Pogany, is made up of active and passive components, that together contain the information necessary to deal with the issues that the “physical-social-cultural-economic-environment presents for the individual.”

“Consciousness,” Pogany says, “is best visualized as a continuous spectrum that stretches from intensely active components, engaged when dealing with a crisis in the family, at the workplace, or in the environs otherwise dilineated; to the body’s biological processes, which remain passive unless attention is explicitly drawn to them (e.g., in the doctor’s office).”

A point that Pogany is eager to emphasize is that “individual consciousness is inseparable from its socieeconomic substratum.”  This means that we come to common understandings about the “rules of the game” – cultural ideas about ways of living that we tend to take as given, real, and true. “What people living under a stable global system consider ‘true assertions’ about history, society, and the economy presupposes a scaffolding of the conceptual universe  that the mind tends to conflate with the laws and regularities of the natural world.”

“We are complex products of a world order.” Philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Husserl have all spent a lot of time making this clear, not to mention “the psycholinguists, the existentialists, the structuralists and the postmoderns.” And yet mainstream economics does not recognize this fact.

The stable global system, or world order, that we currently live in takes as a given that growth dependent economics is the only possible way forward. Everything is built around this arrangement, and the shared expectation is that we must find ways to keep it going. Margaret Thatcher’s TINA principle is invoked – “There Is No Alternative!” Never mind the fact that numerous heterodox economists have proposed alternatives, and never mind the fact that there are system feedback signals everywhere telling us that the growth dependent economy is exacerbating so many of  the world’s most intractable problems. The feedback signals are not yet strong enough to overcome the current global system’s self-defense mechanisms. In his 2006 book Rethinking the World, Pogany called these signals “A siren that shrieks too late, then causes a brawl at the fire station” (p. 187).

In my 2015 paper, Patterns for Navigating the World in Energy Descent (available here and here), I wrote:

“[Our growth oriented economic arrangement] is one more “myth of the given” that should not be taken for granted. Edgar Morin referred to “development” as:

The master word…upon which all the popular ideologies of the second half of this [20th] century converged…development is a reductionistic conception which holds that economic growth is the necessary and sufficient condition for all social, psychological, and moral developments. This techno-economic conception ignores the human problems of identity, community, solidarity, and culture… In any case, we must reject the underdeveloped concept of development that made techno-industrial growth the panacea of all anthroposocial development and renounce the mythological idea of an irresistible progress extending to infinity (Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millenium, Morin, 1999, pp. 59-63).

Addressing this “myth of the given,” Pogany pokes fun at his own profession:

Historically, geocapital [matter ready to be used to feed cultural evolution] has registered a net increase; additions and expansions more than offset exhaustions and reductions. This long-lasting successful experience led to the culturally ingrained confidence in the possibility of its eternal continuation. Economic growth theory keeps “deriving” the same conclusion over and over again: Optimally maintained economic expansion can continue forever. Translated from evolutionary scales to our own, this is analogous to “Since I wake up every morning I must be immortal” (Rethinking the World, 2006, p. 118).”

The problem is, this “economic growth theory” has become something our entire society is built upon and is dependent upon, and has become ingrained into our collective structure of consciousness.  Pogany believed that the challenge to develop a sustainable world system is so great that it will require a major transformation of individual consciousness structures; and yet, the average individual would be incapable of becoming so transformed as long as current socioeconomic conditions prevail. So, the current system is holding up our personal transformation, and our lack of personal transformation is holding up the transformation of the system. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Pogany introduces the reader to the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, and his outline of five “patterns, structures, or mutations” of consciousness. According to Gebser, we’re currently at the tail end (the deficient stage) of the fourth structure, the mental-rational structure, and are facing the chaotic transition that we hope will lead us to the fifth “integral” structure of consciousness.

We will take a closer look at Gebser’s five structures of consciousness in our next post.  And for a preview of some of the other points we’ll eventually get to, check out The Trump Agenda is a Dead End over at The Chrysalis.

Word of the Year: “Post-Truth”…and Finding “Balance” with Yin and Yang

The Washington Post reports: “It’s official: Truth is dead. Facts are passe.” The Oxford Dictionaries have declared “Post-Truth” as the “word of the year.”
“In this case, the “post-” prefix doesn’t mean “after” so much as it implies an atmosphere in which a notion is irrelevant — but then again, who says you have to take our word for it anymore?”

The term came into common use after the Brexit campaign and the U.S. presidential election. Trump’s “pinochio rating” on how many lies he told in the campaign was higher than any other person to have run for that office, and yet it made no difference to his supporters.

Scott Preston, at The Chrysalis blog, has been following the “post-truth” meme for quite a while, and has numerous posts discussing it in a Gebserian/integral frame. Especially in his flurry of posts since the election. In The End of the End of History, he writes,

“…some may conclude that I’m just whistling past the graveyard in suggesting — following Gebser — that “post-truth” is a simultaneous destruction and restructuration of truth, and consequently of “human nature”, consciousness, humanism, and universality and so on. They may be right. But I hope to give further reasons why we can anticipate “post-truth society” as an essential restructuration including the very meaning and understanding of “truth” itself, and why vox populi, vox dei [“the Voice of the People is the Voice of God”] implies an essential truthfulness despite appearances to the contrary and the weakness of the ego-nature.”

Finding “Balance” with Yin and Yang

This also relates to The Chrysalis blog.  The other day Scott had an insightful post, also related to this “Post-Truth” theme: Our Post-Truth Era and the Coincidentia Oppositorum. Another very good post worth your time.  But it was a comment to that post by Steve Lavendusky that eventually led me to this second subject of Balance and Yin/Yang.
Steve posted the Seven Principles of the Order of the Universe and the Twelve Theorems of the Unifying Principle by George Oshawa, the founder of Macrobiotics. I found that pretty fascinating, and then found another page from that website on the subject  “Misconceptions About Yin and Yang: The Goal is Not Balance But is Imbalance.”

This page offers some key insights into the Polarity pattern, and what it means to “balance” patterns for enduring health. This could be of interest to any PatternDynamics practitioners. We shouldn’t think of “balance” as a static thing, but rather as “balancing” – a process that is fluid, dynamic, and on an ever changing continuum. Stability, rest, and coming back to center are healthy pursuits, but perhaps we should think of it as a process of bringing the ongoing flux into some kind of control. Working towards a centering process that has a polarity swing in a narrow range, rather than wild swings to the extremes. And yet we still need to maintain an openness and resilience in response to the wilder swings life throws our way, taking them as opportunities for needed change. Chaotic transitions can lead to much needed positive change.

The author of the piece (Phiya Kushi) below frames the yin/yang polarity as “seeking imbalance and the creation of dynamic polarity.” This is his way to set up a contrast with our common understanding of “balance.”:

“There is a prevalent and even an a priori like assumption that the stated and desired goal of yin and yang is always to achieve balance and that when they are balanced then everything is stable, is in harmony and all is at peace and flows smoothly. This is a misconception. Let me explain.

Nothing in this universe is ever in perfect balance with the exception of the entire universe itself. In all its manifestations, the goal and direction of yin and yang is actually towards imbalance and the creation of a dynamic polarity. This imbalance and polarity is the source of movement and change itself and gives rise to the continuous creation of all phenomena. The greater the imbalance, the greater the polarity then the greater the movement and dynamic change.”

Read the rest of the article here.

 

 

Chaos, Havoc, and The American Abyss

“If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.” – Thomas Hardy

In the final days before the 2016 American presidential election the pundits were out in force, engaged in collective hand-wringing.  Glancing through lists of commentaries and op-eds, here are some of the titles:

Don’t Trust the Future to President Havoc, America and the Abyss, An Order of Chaos, Please, Venomous 2016 Race Slithers to a Finish, Who Broke Politics?, Democracy’s Majesty and 2016’s Indignity, Final Days – Awful Choice, Europe on Pins and Needles, The First 100 Horrific Days of a Trump Presidency, America’s Descent into Banana Republican-ism, An Election is Not a Suicide Mission, Liberals Cried Wolf about Bush and Romney and We Were Wrong – Fascist Trump is Different, and The Post-Truth Presidency.

How did it come to this? And where are we headed after the election?

Many have speculated on the reasons for the current crisis in American politics, and surely there are many facets that have played a part, and there are many angles to cover.  Richard Heinberg’s recent analysis (An Order of Chaos, Please) covers much of the same ground  I was intending to cover here, and serves as a good introduction.  He begins by disabusing us of the notion that things will return to normal once the election cycle has concluded. He then shares the somewhat conventional wisdom that many Americans these days, formerly of the middle class, do not have things as well as their parents did. The “wage class” has declined in both income and political power, thanks in part to globalization and other forces. Backs are up against the wall, and people are ready for change. The same-old, same-old doesn’t cut it.

collapse

Heinberg then takes it a step further, telling us that “American civilization was destined to unravel anyway.” He mentions Joseph Tainter’s work, “The Collapse of Complex Societies,”  and offers the sobering analysis that “social pressures from unsustainable debt levels, increasing inequality, and rampant corruption” are the new normal, thanks to “deeper infrastructural issues having to do with resource depletion, pollution (in the form of climate change), and the essential unsustainability of economic growth.” The current election cycle is merely the prelude to an unfolding spectacle of America’s fabric coming apart.

Heinberg eloquently sums up the depressing scenario that seems all too likely:

“The government of the United States of America has developed increasing numbers of tics, limps, and embarrassing cognitive lapses during the past ten or 15 years, but it has managed to go on with the show. Yet as dysfunction snowballs, a maintenance crisis becomes inevitable at some point. When the crunch comes (most likely as a result of the next cyclical economic downturn, which is already overdue and could be much worse than that of 2008), we will reap the fruits of a system that is simply no longer capable of acting cooperatively to solve problems.”

“…The nightmare of the election itself will end soon.  But we may not like what we wake up to.”

Indeed. We are now being forced to wake up today to a Trump presidency and a divided country.

There is another writer who had a perspective that I have found to be unique, timely, and insightful. His name is Peter Pogany.  One of his last major papers, written in 2013 (Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order) before he passed in 2014, was about havoc, chaos, and the abyss, and it was turned into a book published in 2015: Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century.

Havoc

As dismal as his short term outlook was, Pogany wasn’t all doom and gloom. Like Michael Dowd, Pogany was a short term pessimist, but a long term optimist (Dowd calls himself an “apocaloptimist,” listen to his interview discussing with Terry Patten The New Ten Commandments and the Coming Apocaloptimism here).

Pogany was an economist who saw that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” Our current world economy is structured so that it requires continued growth at unsustainable rates just to maintain our standard of living.  We’ve hit the wall, and the wage class around the world is responding – Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump are two corresponding results. According to Pogany, the world is in the beginning phase of a “nonlinear macrohistoric episode” – a chaotic transition, which he saw as a necessity to precipitate a crisis of consciousness that would eventually lead to the wide-spread “integral a-rational” consciousness structure, as based on the thinking of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser

“What will it take to go from considering tightened modes of multilateral governance a monstrous dystopia to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary Magna Carta that is more detailed, focused and enforceable than the United Nations Charter of 1945? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973). But a mutation of the implied magnitude amounts to nothing less than a break with centuries of ingrained habits, values, and expectations. It is simply inconceivable without the hard fate of macrohistoric turmoil.”

Darkness must come before a new dawn. It is Pogany’s work that we’ll continue to discuss in more detail in posts to come. An overview of his work can be found on our Peter Pogany page. Many of his older essays are archived at Resilience.org here.

 

The I-732 Carbon Tax: Responding to Critiques

In response to my previous post, in which I voiced my strong support for I-732, I’ve heard back from several friends who echoed and applauded my position.  I’ve also heard from three respected friends who have voted against, or are considering voting against the initiative.

This is the WA state tax swap ballot initiative that Sightline Institute has declared “would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”

It’s an initiative that has the support of over 50 climate scientists at UW, as well as numerous economists.

So why would some of my climate change concerned friends consider voting against this initiative? Allow me to address the concerns my friends raised with me.

Argument # One is that a recent report coming out of British Columbia has shown in the ten years of having implemented a carbon tax, emission have actually gone up in the province.

My Response:

The “recent report” was not referenced to a source, so I performed a quick online search.  I found a December 2015 report by the Carbon Tax Center, British Columbia’s Carbon Tax: By the Numbers.  This report found that “The 12.9% decrease in British Columbia’s per capita emissions in 2008-2013 compared to 2000-2007 was three-and-a-half times as pronounced as the 3.7% per capita decline for the rest of Canada. This suggests that the carbon tax caused emissions in the province to be appreciably less than they would have been, without the carbon tax.

British Columbia's Carbon Tax By the Numbers

British Columbia’s Carbon Tax By the Numbers

Note that the chart above provides not only the change in emissions in BC after the tax went into effect, but puts their numbers in context, comparing to the rest of Canada, and also giving us emissions per capita, AND per GDP.

A caveat in the report tells us that “GHG emissions increased in British Columbia in 2012 and again in 2013, not just in absolute terms but also per capita. This suggests that the carbon tax needs to resume its annual increments (the last increase was in 2012; its bite has since been eroded by inflation) if emissions are to begin again their downward track.”

This means not that emissions were increasing beyond the pre-tax levels, but, as the other chart here makes clear, that the downward trajectory had reversed course and was beginning to creep up again.  Note the reason: The BC tax was frozen at 2012 levels. The proposed initiative for WA state does not have this defect – see below.

After more digging online, I think I found the report my friend was referring to.  The report above was prepared by an organization biased in favor of the carbon tax approach.  This second report, by Food and Water Watch, has a bias against market based solutions to climate change.  You can find their report, “The British Columbia Carbon Tax: A Failed Market Based Solution to Climate Change,” here.  This report skews the numbers a bit by ignoring the dramatic drop in emissions that occurred during the first 6 months of the tax, because it was not a full year, and because they attribute the decline to the recession rather than the carbon tax.  So it comes down to what period of time is measured, as they admit: “It largely depends when the change is measured: The taxed emissions decline was more than 10 percent from the 2004 peak to 2012, but that includes many falling years before the carbon tax was enacted; the decline was 2.2 percent from 2008 to 2014, but the tax was in effect only for the second half of 2008.”

In addition, this second report does not give us the context against the rest of Canada, nor the per capita and per GDP numbers.

I’ll admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time comparing the validity claims of the two contrasting reports, but the links are there for those who want to dive deep.  What does stand out to me is that the first report (“By the Numbers“) gives us a long trend comparison between BC and the other Canadian provinces, and I think this mitigates other factors such as the recession and is a more robust and fairer overall report.

However, there are others much more skilled at analyzing data than I, and they devote much more time and resources – we’re lucky to have the Sightline Institute in the Pacific Northwest for this purpose.

Like the “By the Numbers” report, Sightline agrees that the real weakness of the BC tax is that it was frozen in 2012.  In contrast, according to Sightline, the CarbonWA plan of “setting the price’s rising trajectory all the way to 2059 would vault Washington to the head of the North American pack on climate leadership. Other North American carbon prices are not yet high enough nor sustained enough to achieve climate-stabilizing pollution reductions…I-732 would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”

“…Unlike the British Columbia carbon tax, which froze its price in 2012 pending further legislative action, I-732’s tax would continue increasing by 3.5 percent plus inflation every year until 2059 and by the inflation rate thereafter. This price trajectory sends a clear signal that clean energy is the smart choice in the Evergreen State for the rest of the century.”

The second argument from my friends is in two parts: a) oil and gas companies are supporting this initiative because it would give tax breaks to corporations and instead (b) will put the burden of a carbon tax on the low income working class (and the rest of the public consumers).

My Response:

a) I have found no evidence that oil and gas companies are supporting I-732.  Again, according to Sightline, the tax “covers pollution from burning fossil fuels, including gasoline, diesel, aircraft fuels, refinery and industrial operations, natural gas, and coal or natural gas burned in power plants in-state, and in plants out-of-state when they deliver electricity to Washington homes and businesses.”

b) Will the tax unfairly burden low income Washington residents? No. It actually makes the WA state tax system less regressive and more progressive, and has provisions to benefit those of lower income. It does this by reducing sales tax by 1%, and provides a Working Family Tax Rebate of up to $1500 to low income families. It also lowers the B&O Tax on Manufacturing so that manufacturing jobs will not be lost. Here is yet another quote from Sightline:
“I-732 hews closely to this principle [of mitigating costs to communities with lower incomes], yielding the biggest gain in tax fairness in Washington in nearly four decades, with thousand-dollar net benefits for hundreds of thousands of low-income families. I-732 does nothing procedural to increase the influence of low-income families on decision making. It does, however, put most of them ahead financially. Indeed, has any reform in the last decade, aside from the Affordable Care Act, increased many low-income working families’ annual income in Washington by more than $1,000 apiece in a single stroke?”
If you’re still unsure, read the whole meticulous analysis by Sightline (fyi, they refute the supposed “budget hole” that I-732 would create):
Cliff Mass has a good overview response to many of the other objections raised to I-732, here: Why I-732 is a Win-Win.
Are We Going to Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good?
You might want to check out the conversation Thom Hartman had with Vien Truong, representing opposition to I-732. Hear the perspective of the ‘No’ campaign, along with Hartman’s own reflections, i.e. Does It Have to Be Perfect?.
On that score (does it have to be perfect?), blogger John Michael Greer has a very trenchant critique of climate change activism as a whole, partially attributing it’s failure to gain traction to 4 points he calls 1) piggybacking,  2) the partisan trap, 3) purity politics, and 4) pandering to the priviledged.
1) Piggybacking: “This is the insistence that any movement for social change has to make room on its agenda for all the other currently popular movements for social change, and has to divert some of its time, labor, and resources to each of these other movements.”  The ‘No on I-732’ campaign is guilty of this charge. Many Washington Sate environmentalists actually oppose the measure and want to kill it because it does not include some of their “climate justice” concerns. Greer gives the same-sex marriage campaign as a contrasting success, where they were able to keep their eye on the ball with their single issue and not tie it to every other issue on the left (however important they may be in their own right).
2) The Partisan Trap: “The Democratic Party is the place where environmental causes go to die,” according to Greer. “This isn’t accidental,” he says. “Both US parties have perfected the art of reducing once-independent movements for social change into captive constituencies, which keep on working to elect candidates for one or the other party, while getting essentially nothing in return.” I-732 attempts to avoid this trap by making I-732 revenue neutral and enlisting the support of fiscal conservatives who care about the environment.
3) Purity Politics: “…movements for social change must exclude everyone who fails any of a battery of tests of ideological purity. It’s been pointed out, and truly, that the Right looks for allies to attract while the Left looks for heretics to expel; this is one of the reasons that for the last forty years, the Right has been so much more successful than the Left.” Greer also observes that “capacity to bridge ideological divides and find common ground on a single issue isn’t a guarantee of victory, but refusing to do so is almost always a guarantee of defeat.”  I-732 may not be perfect, but it is a very well crafted, and sincere effort to put together an initiative that bridges ideological divides and has actually gained support from both the left and the right in true bi-partisanship. It is a practical and pragmatic approach that actually has a chance to be implemented.  It will likely be too late if we think we can wait for something better.
4) Pandering to the Privileged: “Since the early 1980s, most activists have framed their appeals and their campaigns as though the only audience that mattered consisted of affluent liberals, and as often as not went out of their way to ignore or even insult the great majority of Americans—you know, the people who would have had to be on their side if their cause was going to achieve any kind of lasting victory.” It is here that the I-732 campaign might have done a better job in engaging with advocates for the poor, minority coalitions, and climate justice folks. But the reality is that I-732 will result in a larger increase of income for low income working families than any other reform of the last decade.
“In summary,  I-732 is a chance for citizens of Washington State to make a meaningful step towards reducing carbon emissions, will make our State tax system fairer and less regressive, will foster business and economic activity, and will serve as a positive example to the nation of environmentally effective bipartisan action.” – Cliff Maas