Category Archives: Environment/Ecology

Liminal Worlds: World Building

Hello again folks!

Have you checked out my recent book, Liminal Worlds? It’s available on Amazon, $2.99 for Kindle, or 14.99 for paperback. Now, if you excuse the plug, it is the world I have built for this book that I want to talk about today.

Call it a little peek into my writing process. When I started writing this book, I knew I wanted to create a “near future” book, with both cyberpunk and solarpunk elements. Some parts of the world would be very gritty, and run by big corporations, and other parts would green, bright, and sustainable.  I also wanted to build a world that would be recognizable to us today, but also far enough in the future that I could take some liberties.

I settled for about the year 2070, and a world that was in transition from a corporate ruled capitalist system, to one a little more sustainable and democratic. So if you don’t mind, I want to talk more about the elements that went into that.

Technology

Obviously, as with any science fiction novel, technology is front and center. There were a lot of technologies I really wanted to play with and explore the implications for a late century world. Renewable Energy is front and center in the world, and makes up about 80% of the total energy demand of the planet. This comes in the forms of wind and solar primarily, but also other forms such as hydro and geothermal power. Each city and country on the planet has the mix that best meets it’s own needs. Some of those needs are even supplied by space based solar power, which is then beamed down to planet.

Other forms of the power on the planet are things like Generation IV nuclear fission, and even nuclear fusion power. These forms of power make up the rest of the power in Liminal Worlds, for load balancing as well as certain high energy projects, such as the Berlin Space Launch.

While I have not explored it in too much depth, outer space is a big part of the world. In order to make outer space accessible, my world is home to a couple of space elevators, and items such as the Berlin Space Launch, which is a modified version of the StarTram concept. It’s basically a ten mile high magnetic lift system, that gives rockets and cargo a boost before they leave the planet.

Electromagnetic technology such as MagLev Trains also make up a big part of my world. Not only are most cars, trucks, and ships some form of electric vehicles, but also high speed trains and aircraft. There is in fact a world circling MagLev train, though this has not been touched on in the book. (Not yet anyways. ) Another concept I deploy is the EMLAR, ElectroMagnetic Launch Assist Rail; which is basically a catapult for short distance aircraft takeoff. The Berlin Space Launch is a much larger version of this.

Beyond energy and transportation, information technology plays a large part in the book too. The ‘Net is a massive information network built up from current forms of cellular and broadband tech, but also nanotechnology as well. The latter is central to the plotline (no spoilers) of the book, and makes the ‘Net of the book vastly more advanced than the internet of today.

Environment

I write a lot about climate change and environmentalism here at this blog, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that those issues are also front and center in my book. As the recent IPCC report states, we have about 12 years to mitigate the worst of climate change.

Yet, my book takes place about 50 years in the future, so where does that leave us? Well, in my world, we as a planet have mitigated the worst of climate change, though it definitely is still a factor in the background. My book is not utopian, and there is plenty of ‘ugly’ still in the background. Some cities adapted well to climate change, others didn’t. Same with regions and countries. Some simply adapted and mitigated better than others.

That doesn’t change the fact that the world has changed in five decades. Globally, humanity has continued to have to deal with the loss of species, pollution, and climate migrations. While on the whole, it is a ‘best case’ scenario, there is still a lot that was messed up, or that still needs attention.

I hope to flesh more of those details out over the coming months with short story writing.

Social/Economic/Politic Systems

What would a future world be without speculation on changes on social, political and economic systems? Liminal Worlds gave me a lot of options to play with some world building. In short, fifty years in the future, I build the world around two big trends.

First, the trend towards the breakdown of hierarchy. This played out in two ways, first there are more Nation-States in the world, though the tend to be smaller and more dependent on others. Also, it ‘broke down’ a lot of larger international organizations, such as the UN, the EU, and the US federal government.

At the same time, there has been a trend towards greater integrations, and more networked relationships between cities, regions and non-state organizations. This has created new alliances and partnerships where old ones have broken down, the most prominent of these in my book is the UN Global Council. The UNGC is basically a union of former countries, states, regions and cities. It creates a quasi-global area of integration.

Creating a future ex-US.

I am still working on a deeper project of mapping out my world, but I wanted to explore some of the ideas I used for the (former) United States.

First, I looked at the map from here;

Which helped me work out the diversity of the US, and identify some possible “fault lines” that might create enough tension to result in breakdown. The 11 US cultures was one was to identify those areas, and what a more broken down US might look like. (Even our current political climate is basically the red areas vs the blue areas on this map.)

I also looked at these two maps from here;

These two maps helped me to even subdivide the US into smaller units, centered around cities as the center of economic activities. As such, this left me with a world with ‘fuzzier’ borders, and less relevant Nation-States as the centers of power.

Another map I drew upon was this one of major US megaregions, which helped to even further refine my ‘core’ areas of narrative. For example, much of the Liminal Worlds takes place in the Great Lakes megaregion, and primarily in Toronto.

I know that was a lot to throw at you all at once, but it is my hope that you enjoyed this exploration of my creative process. Naturally, I invite you to pick up my book, Liminal Worlds, which is available on Amazon. That way, you can see more of the research and work that went into creating that world.

And more importantly, I hope you enjoy the story!

Thanks for reading!

 

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Climate Change & Animism

“There should be no shortage of motivation. Solving climate change presents humanity with the opportunity to save civilization from collapse and create aspects of what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.” The work would endow our lives with some of the oldest and most numinous aspirations of humankind: leading a good life; treating our neighbors well; imbuing our short existence with timeless ideas like grace, dignity, respect, tolerance and love. The climate struggle embodies the essence of what it means to be human, which is that we strive for the divine.” – From Here

(Artist Nick Pederson)

Hello again folks!

I have a lot of projects in the pipeline for this coming winter. I’m going to be switching gears soon and going to start writing fiction again. No long novels or anything, but short stories. There are some things I want to flesh out in my Liminal Worlds universe, but they aren’t suitable for novel length stories. So there will be lots of little ones, and I may well share some of them here. I’m also going to be doing some spiritual writings, mythos and folklore type stuff, and I may share some of that here too. So there are some much less serious writings coming your way!

But all that aside for now, I want to talk a bit about that big IPCC report that came out a couple of weeks ago. As I am sure all of you are aware, environmental issues are high on my radar. So is doing everything we can to create a more sustainable world, for both humans and non-humans.

In fact, human rights and ecological issues are central my understanding of animism. In short, both humans and non-human (which is, nature) have the right to exist with dignity and respect. Which means, if we are going to build a better future, then all the peoples of the planet need to be included in that future.

The original report is here.

I’ve read the report all the way through now (it’s like 700 pages), and so the fatalism and nihilism in the headlines was a bit unnerving. The Guardian was fairly benign by saying We Have 12 Years to Limit Climate Catastrophe.  Others, were way more problematic, as NPR said Climate Report Warns of Extreme Weather, Displacement of Millions without Action. 

But, having read the report, I can say that the news is a little more optimistic than problematic headlines let on. Even digging into the articles themselves, we find some reasons for optimism.

First off, we have twelve years, until 2040, to mitigate the worst climate change has to offer. I have said before we probably have a decade or two, and that is pretty consistent with the scientific literature (of which the IPCC scientists reviewed some 6,000 articles.) In short, we’re not done yet. But it is also noteworthy, that I said mitigate. The climate is changing, that cannot be denied. We cannot stop that process, but we can cushion the landing. And we still have time to do that. That’s important.

In fact, in many ways, the next twelve years or so, will determine “how bad” climate change is going to be. How bad will storms, droughts, and fires be? How high will the sea rise? How many will be displaced; thousands, million, billions? We are making those choices right now. If you want a great illustration of what that looks like, may I recommend this articleIt has a great visualization of the differences between 1.5 degree Celsius and two degrees. (Which is central to the IPCC report, that 1.5 degrees helps to mitigate a lot of the bad things.)

We have twelve years, but what do we need to do? Well basically, we need to reduce emissions by 40-50% by 2030, and be near net zero by 2050. Sounds easy right?

Well, it won’t be. It will be an unprecedented challenge, and there is no guarantee we are going to pull this off. It is an existential crisis, of the kind we are deciding if we have a future on this planet at all. We are literally making the choices between sustainability, slow die offs, and extinction.

What Can We Do?

In short, we need to decarbonize, and fast. There are a lot of solutions, many of which can be found in Drawdown and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The report itself highlight four major areas; cities, energy, industry, and land use. The image below lays out each of the pathways, and some major factors on what we have to do for each.

(From the IPCC report.)

As I hope you can see, each of the pathways involves major decarbonization, but also major expansions in renewable energy (70 – 80% total primary energy), and zeroing out fossil fuels. So what can you do? One of our most impactful scenarios is in renewable energy, but also land us and our food system.

Find ways to organize, first and foremost. There may well be already be groups in your area doing the work. Maybe they are installing solar panels, investing in windfarms, or crowdsourcing urban gardens. Every little bit helps. Find a way to make your own life more energy efficient, that will help too.

Maybe you don’t have a group near you. Do you have 20 friends? Make your own group! Figure out what your own sphere of influence needs, and find a way to make it happen. Maybe that means helping a friend put a garden in, or fundraising to invest in a renewable energy project. We have a lot of options, and there is a lot we can do in groups.

But we also have to admit that individual actions will not be enough. They are good, but not enough. We need collective action, so the more work we do as communities, networks, cities, and nations, the better. But, I think that the bulk of this work needs to come from the bottom up, grass roots style.  If you are like me, and live in the US, there are serious doubts in the Federal government will help in this work at all… And that is going to have an effect, definitely.

Still, it is also important to remember that almost 90 cities in the US have already committed to 100% renewable energy, as well as the states of California and Hawaii. This is something we can do at the local and regional level, with great global impacts. It would be super great to have the Fed onboard too, but most of this work we have to do ourselves.

Our communities, and our cities, and states can take the lead on this. We need all the resources and help we can get. As Gandalf said, it is the everyday deeds of everyday folks that keep the darkness at bay. Those every day people are you and me.

Thanks for reading!

  • If you want more information, my recent post exploring more aspects of this is here.

Towards an Animistic World

Hello again folks!

This is going to be the last post in my most recent series. We have come to the end, at least for the time being. It is time for me to move on to other projects, which you will certainly get to read about here!

This has been a big project, but the question becomes what does it leave us with? In no small words, we are definiately now in a time of transition, where all of our choices matter. We are up against the existential challenge of climate change, and up against a system that seems hell bent on making things so much worse for the sake of a buck. Not only do things need to change, but they have to. We have a few choices open to us, but it is vital we make the right ones, right now.

I have heard some call this a bottleneck, a transition, even an evolutionary precipice. The planet is warming, and a big part of that is our creation of a global energy intensive civilization. That part wasn’t entirely our fault, and might be a bottleneck any energy intensive civilization has to go through. However, doing nothing about it is our choice, and that choice may well be between decline, sustainability, and extinction. Without serious work on our part right now, we could go the way of the Dodo. That is truly an evolutionary precipice, and we are now finding out if we, as Homo sapiens, have what it takes to navigate this crucial time.

But that’s been the point of this whole series. What tools do we have at our disposal? What would it take to create a more sustainable, networked, democraticand planetary civilization?

Well, after all my explorations throughout this series, I can start to shape for you a vision of what that future might look like. The work I have done here is a synthesis of a lot of different sources, in order to create a vision, a speculation, of what our future could be. I can create a time line now, as a kind of road map. I probably will get it wrong in the long run, but it’s a start. After all, civilization is hardly the work of one man.

Near Future; 2020-2030’s

I think that the next couple of decades are going to be vital to mitigation. We have a lot of work to do across the board. This includes heavy deployment of renewable energy, creating sustainable cities, and creating democratic networks to share resources and work together. We also need to work towards the elimination of fossil fuels in our transportation and energy mix.

One of the big tools at our disposal are the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These are expansive goals that allow us to reduce global carbon emissions, as well as create a more just and sustainable world. They cover everything from universal contraception coverage to universal healthcare, to renewable energy, and conservation of land and water resources.

But in a way, the SDGs are not enough, and do not go far enough. Those targets should definitely be met by the 2030s, but there is an aspect of the SDGs that is very “business as usual”. In that the SDGs do not tackle one of the biggest obstacles to creating a sustainable world; capitalism.

We will have to undermine and rebuild our current way of doing business. I don’t think this means we have to get rid of markets, trade, or industry. However, we definitely need to redistribute resources and wealth, and move towards more democratic and cooperative forms of economics. The Nordic Model of social democracy would be a good start for sure, but that’s still capitalism. We can go even further, and build networks of worker and community owned cooperatives. Over a billion people already belong to at least one co-op, so we are off to good start.

Our future could look more like this

The fact is, we are going to have to work together to face the challenges ahead. Competition might have some perks, sure, but if we have to build wind turbines, community resilience, and shelter climate refugees… It is better that we do these things together.

Mid Century; 2030-2050’s

While the SDGs have the 2030’s as their timeline, Drawdown bases it predictions on mid century. Drawdown gives us 100 solutions to combat climate change. Those solutions are everything from renewable energy, to forest conservation, to food systems, to women’s and indigenous peoples rights. We should deploy them to the greatest extent we can by 2050. Drawdown gives us three major trajectories;

Plausible Scenario: the case in which solutions on the Drawdown list are adopted at a realistically vigorous rate over the time period under investigation, adjusting for estimated economic and population growth.

Drawdown Scenario: the case in which the adoption of solutions is optimized to achieve drawdown by 2050.

Optimum Scenario: the case in which solutions achieve their maximum potential, fully replacing conventional technologies and practices within a limited, competitive market.

Drawdown is the point where our carbon emissions actually start to decrease. Being the optimist, I say shoot for the Optimum scenario. But even if we don’t make that, plausible solutions are better than none at all.

Aside from Drawdown, we also need to recreate our political, social, and economic systems. Technology alone will never be enough without other changes. Also, individual actions are necessary, but not sufficient without systemic and cultural change as well. A change in spirit, of who we are as a species.

Because the truth of the matter is, that our current systems cannot do what we need them to do. There is a good possibility that Nations will become less relevant. Our system of Nations is likely one of the least efficient ways to manage a planet, and that networks of cities, regions, and other organizations might be able to do this better.

The US system especially is ungovernable, and hierarchy overall is likely to breakdown and give rise to more networked and distributed means of governance. Ideally, these are cooperative and democratic networks, that give us the flexibility we need to adapt to a changing climate and world.

Renewable energy, Drawdown, SDGs, all give us means to create a less hierarchical, distributed and cooperative world. Local and regional powers can take the lead, and eventually build a new global system and planetary civilization.

Late Century; 2050’s – 2100

Alright, at this point I have to state that I will be in my mid 60’s by 2050, so anything too much beyond that is in all likelihood beyond my lifetime. But it will be in the lifetime of the next generation, and the one after that. It is definitely important to think beyond ourselves, and at least a couple of generations down the road.

Provided we have done what we must, and lain the foundations for a sustainable future, mitigated climate change as best we are able, and not blown ourselves up, the coming century could be really exciting for the future of our species.

It bears repeating that we are in a very crucial time right now. How that future looks depends on what we do right now. We don’t know the future. Whether we succeed or fail through the coming transition all hinges on what we do (and don’t do) in the next decade or two. But provided we manage to get through all that, we could be looking at a fully networked, democratic, and planetary civilization.

A world where there is fusion power, space elevators, and our growth as a space faring civilization. I find that really exciting, even if I won’t see it. To me, that is the foundation of a a truly animistic world.

An Animistic Vision

Because in all honesty, that is what we are facing right now. Not only an ecological crisis, but a spiritual one as well. My vision, my ideas for the future, are animistic at the core. As I’ve said so many times, my animism is a worldview as much a spiritual practice. It is how I relate to the world, to other humans, to nature, to civilization, and the planet.

The world I envision takes on the aspects of mutually beneficial relationships, of sharing, cooperation, and reciprocity. Democratic and cooperative economics are the outflow of this, as well as renewable energy and sustainability. We need to do the best we can for all peoples on Earth, human or non-human.

My vision is a world powered by wind turbines and solar panels; with little shrines to the Sun and winds at their base. Tiny little spirit houses at the entrances to great forests and mighty trees. Cities that look and function more like real jungles, not concrete ones. A world where worker-owned shops build our star ships. Small little altars could sit on those control panels, while astronauts pray that the Void doesn’t eat them.

The interaction of Science and Story, Matter and Meaning. That is my animistic world.

Thanks for reading!


Towards a Democratic World

*Not talking about the political party here, but actual democracy.

“Do you believe in democracy and self-rule as the fundamental values that government ought to encourage?…

Very well. If democracy and self-rule are the fundamentals, then why should people give up these rights when they enter their workplace? In politics, we fight like tigers for freedom, for the right to elect our leaders, for freedom of movement, choice of residence, choice of what work to pursue – control of our lives, in short. ” -Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hello again folks!

This is another post in my ongoing series, as there is certainly more that needs exploring. It should come as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog that I am a leftist. Yup, I am well to the left of the political center, as I think cooperative and ecological economic and social systems would probably be a lot better than what we have now.

More specifically, in terms of the political spectrum, I am probably best described as a democratic ecosocialist, with strong left-libertarian tendencies. I’m not quite an anarchist, but there is a great deal of overlap there. In terms of US politics, I am some sort of a combination between the Democratic Socialist of America, and the Green Party.

(Probably, Mostly, Me)

Overall, I’m probably a center-leftist (give or take), which makes me pretty boring as far as leftists go. Still, I think it is important that we break that all down a little bit more. My political views are reinforced and informed by how I understand animism. As I’ve said so many time before, my animism is the basic worldview that the world is full of people (human and non-human), and that life is lived in relation to others.

This comes with a strong commitment to human and ecological rights, and the inherent worth and dignity of all beings on this planet. It follows that any civilization and its social, political, cultural, and economic systems should be as equitable, sustainable, democratic, and just as possible. Humanity civilizations should be ecologically sustainable, and be self-regulated and self-organized. In short, civilization should look more like an ecosystem, and be integrated seamlessly into the environment.

In other words, I have red (socialist), green (ecological), and blue (democratic, labor) in the mix. That is why I want to talk about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy today. I saw a lot of the world I want to build in those pages. But first, let’s explore some of the components in this world.

Democratic Socialism (Red/Blue)

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production with an emphasis on self-management and democratic management of economic institutions within a market socialist, participatory or decentralized planned economy. Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with what they hold to be the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society.” (Wikipedia, Democratic Socialism)

This is a good part of my basic philosophy. I think capitalism as a economic system is exploitative of workers and the environment, and mostly just concentrates wealth (and political power) in fewer and fewer hands. Capitalism is one big factor in the rise of oligarchy and plutocracy in the US.

I have made no secret of my like of Nordic Model. It goes a long ways towards what a democratic socialism might look like, but it falls short. That is because the Nordic Model is social democracy, not democratic socialism. Social democracy is still capitalism. Suffice to say, I think it is a good start, but doesn’t go far enough. Another point along the transition, but not the end of the journey.

I would like to see it go farther, with greater democratic control given over to workplaces and community owned organizations. I would like to see much less State power, and a greater number of worker and community owned cooperatives. The Nordic Model has a lot of good points with egalitarianism, and ecological sustainability. But more needs to be done.

Ecosocialism (Green/Red)

Eco-socialism is an ideology merging aspects of socialism with that of green politics, ecology and alter-globalization… Eco-socialists generally believe that the expansion of the capitalist system is the cause of social exclusion, poverty, war and environmental degradation through globalization and imperialism, under the supervision of repressive states and transnational structures.

Eco-socialists advocate dismantling capitalism, focusing on common ownership of the means of production by freely associated producers, and restoring the commons.” (Wikipedia, Ecosocialism)

I think that capitalism is as exploitative of environments. It extracts natural resources for profit, and leaves barren and polluted wastelands in its wake. We can do better than that, and while there will still be a need for resources, there are far better ways to manage those resources in a sustainable way.

Alter-globalization is an important aspect here. I’m not opposed to global economic integration, but it MUST be done with a respect to human dignity, labor rights, environmental protection, and indigenous cultures. It is quite contrary to the neoliberal globalization we see in the world right now. It’s capitalism, stupid.

Along the lines of democratic socialism, I support the creation of worker and community owned spaces, and a more sustainable economic system.

Green Politics (Green/Blue)

Green politics is a political ideology that aims to create an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice and grassroots democracy.” (Wikipedia, Green Politics)

Democracy, sustainability, equality, solidarity. There is not much I can harp on here except the “non-violent” part. On the whole, I’m no warrior. Violent or militant actions aren’t really my cup of tea. I’m more of a builder than anything. That said, I think these things may have limited strategic uses.

However, that doesn’t mean being passive in the face of oppressive systems. Protest, direct action, and civil disobedience are all tactics for fighting unjust and exploitative systems.

Libertarian-socialism/Libertarian-Municipalism (Red/Green/Blue)

Libertarian socialists advocate for decentralized structures based on direct democracy and federal or confederal associations such as libertarian municipalism, citizens’ assemblies, trade unions, and workers’ councils.” (Wikipedia, Libertarian-Socialism)

Okay, so I don’t really like using the word “libertarian” anything due to how this idea has taken form in US political circles. To explain briefly, there are two versions of this idea, left-libertarianism, and right-libertarianism. While there is some amount of overlap between both schools of thought, as both of don’t really like centralized regulation/the State. The difference of course is one argues for cooperative economic systems, the other for unregulated and non-State capitalism.

With my general disdain for capitalism, I am a left-libertarian, in that I don’t think the Nation-State is necessary, especially versions that are far away and centralized. I like bottom up, democratic and decentralized solutions to problems. Not only is the Nation-State, and I’ve discussed in my End of Nations post, it’s probably not the best way to govern a planet. 

Short version, on the whole, I prefer distributed, networked, and democratic systems over centralized ones. Cities are the real heart of our civilizations, and I think a global network of cities might be a better global system than the Nation-State.

Mars Trilogy

You are probably wondering how all of this relates to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. You would be right to ask that question, as I have spent a lot more time talking about political ideology than I have about the fiction books in question. Robinson is generally considered to be and ecosocialist, and many of the ideas I have discussed translate directly into his books.

The short version being, that the fiction can serve as a vision of what the reality might look like. The Mars Trilogy, as it’s name implies, follows the stories of colonists and terraformers of Mars as they build a new society over about a century.

As the society of Mars develops, they run into all kinds of social and political problems. There are the nativist Reds, that want to keep the planet as natural as possible. They are in many ways opposed by the Greens, that want to terraform the planet. The first couple of books cover this struggle, and even result in the first aspects of a democratic and decentralized Martian society.

There is even multiple attempts at a global constitution, which finally culminates in the final book. By the time we reach Blue Mars, a kind of libertarian ecosocialism has taken root, and is embodied in the constitution of Mars. The entire organization of the planet is a kind of global-localism, in which there is both a global government, as well as the rights of individual cities. In short, there are no Nation-States. Mars is an experiment in Democratic Ecosocialism.

Because, on top of democratic structures of government (based on the constitutions of Earth, especially the Swiss), there are the rights of nature and the ecocourts. Here is an excerpt from KSR’s own site on the structure of the Martian government;

The Martian government was created following the Second Martian Revolution which insured Mars’s independence from Terra’s rule. Its form was established in the Martian constitution created in the Pavonis Mons Congress in 2128.

The global government was a confederation led by a seven-member executive council (inspired by the Swiss system), which was elected by two legislative branches:

  • the duma, consisting of drafted citizens
  • the senate, consisting of elected representatives from every town

Legislature was mostly left to towns. The judicial branch presented three courts:

  • a criminal court
  • a constitutional court (including an economic commission for eco-economics)
  • an environmental court (including a land commission for no private property), the Global Environmental Court (GEC):”

I could go on and on of course, as this has become one of my favorite book series. But for the sake of brevity, I want to leave this topic to talk even more broadly. When this is considered along with my first Synthesis of my recent work, a vision of the future starts to form.

It is a vision only, a speculation if you want to frame it that way. All the same, it gives me something to work towards. It gives us something to work towards, if you are of a similar mind as me. We could build an animistic, democratic, and ecosocialistic world.

The Mars trilogy gives us an idea of what that could look like, though of course such a world would vary in the details. Still, I think it is possible. We could build a world that is ecological and sustainable. We could build a world that is democratic, and not built on capitalism. Nation-States may not be the best way to govern a planet, and they will be less relevant in the future. Whether through collapse or deliberate integration, I think the future will be post-national.

We are already seeing what that might look like, and it is up to all of us to work towards a common vision of a global-localism. Think globally, act locally; in a very real way.

Our future awaits.

Thanks for reading!


We’re Not Doomed, Yet

Or at very least, why I think we still have other alternatives open to us, as a species, and as a planet.

There has been no shortage of bad news recently, and some of it certainly has a “the sky is falling” dystopian feel to it. One recent example in the pagan sphere is this article over at Gods & Radicals. I’m not saying that articles such as this one are wrong in whole, but that they are part of a trend.

A trend towards pessimism, nihilism, and fatalism when facing the future challenges that are before us. Not just in some future, but also in the here and now. We are already facing the onset of climate change, and it is an open question whether or not we can do enough to mitigate that.

It’s true, we need to be realistic. We can’t be naive about the challenges we face. They may be catastrophic, or even existential in scope. Still, I think there are reasons to hope, and on the whole I don’t think this the end of the world as we know it. It might be the end of this current system, sure, but it also the birthing of another. I think we are in a time of transition, and whether we succeed or fail is up to us.

I’ve written more about this recently, especially here and here

Multiple Options

“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

The point is, I don’t think the future is set in stone. We won’t know the future until it has become the present, and that means that multiple possible futures are still open to us. Not just dystopian apocashitstorms, but some that could be a little more optimistic. We are at a unique bottleneck in our history, where our actions right now are determine whether we navigate towards ruin or towards something sustainable.

(From Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars)

All our choices matter right now. Will we fall into a long descent scenario like scenario A, or something more sustainable like scenario B? Or, are extinction events like C and D what await us, whether we switch to renewable sources or not? We are figuring that out right now.

End of an Era, but probably not civilization

 “Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.”  – Source

I write about these topics a lot; from renewable energy, to the social, economic, cultural, and political actions we need to change in order to have any chance of navigating the future. That’s the point though, we can still mitigate the worst of this. Our window is closing, and fast. We are certainly on a deadline.

That said, I think a whole lot of people are aware of that, and working towards something better. Billions of people, in many countries across the world. I point to a lot of ideas in my writing, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown, or The Solutions Project. None of these solutions are perfect, and we need to throw that idea right out the window. There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and there is no free lunch. There are “lower impact” ideas, but each has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is possible we will make compromises all along the way.

Renewable energy can be intermittent, and is less efficient than fossil fuels. I’d still rather deploy it as much as we can than go without. It means we might have to work with less energy, or at least work harder for the same amount. I’d rather not have to rely on nuclear to keep the lights on, but it’s probably still a lower carbon (and expensive) option than coal plants.

Most of the sources cited above run on 2030 or 2050 timelines, and that is generally what I think of as our “window.” The question is “how bad”, and the sooner we act, the “less” bad the future looks. If we can’t get our shit together as a species by 2050, I’d say we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. There are a lot of ways to do that, and in many ways that work is already being done.

There are a lot of ways that we could mitigate the worst of what the future has to offer, but it’s huge Work. It means everything from rebuilding our energy infrastructures to changing our cultural values, methods of governance, and economic systems. Can we accomplish this work in the next couple of decades? That remains to be seen.

While I do think the American Empire is on the downslide, I don’t think our civilization (as a global system) is on the extinction curve. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here.

The cities of Athens and Argos have been continually inhabited for almost 7000 years. That said, they didn’t have capitalism, and it’s drive to burn up the planet for the sake of profit.

It’s capitalism, stupid 

“Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system.” – Source

Capitalism and neoliberalism are one of the big factors in our current unsustainable world. As the article sourced above points out, we can trace inequality, climate change, and mass extinctions to our economic systems and our reliance on fossils fuels. If we are going to have any chance of building a sustainable civilization, capitalism and fossil fuels have to go. We need a new energy and economic system. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Period

There is a great post on that here and the associated paper here.

In a way, I’m talking about a revolution in values, relationships, and the structure of our entire civilization. This is the end of an era, and one type of civilization is giving way to another. The old capitalistic world built on fossil fuels is on it’s way out.

That’s where I think the real risk comes in. We could just get stuck with a dying type of civilization, and never transition to another. We could succumb to the same habits that brought us here, and as Einstein said, that is a special kind of insanity. We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.

We may well be at an evolutionary precipice, with the survival of our species on the line. Our future depends on transitioning to new forms of energy, economics, and society as a whole. A revolution, of sorts.

A Transition

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

What does that all look like? Well, like I have already said, this is already happening in a multitude of ways. 193 countries signed onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and more work is certainly needed there. The Paris Climate Accords has 195 signatories (maybe without the US thanks to current government). China is well ahead of it’s 2020 climate goals. Sweden is ahead of the curve too.

California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is ready to commit to 100% renewable energy. Over 70 cities and the state of Hawaii have committed to 100% renewable energy too.  The Dutch are working towards banning gasoline and diesel cars, as well as building a renewably powered train system. Norway and France are phasing out oil fueled transport too.

The long and short of it is, we are already in that transition. There are reasons to hope, to be sure. There is also still a lot of work to be done, and also a real chance of failure. In a way, the technical solutions are the easy part. Building alternatives to capitalism, changing our values and culture, ending the grip of oil on our societies, those are the hard parts. Still, I think we have to continue the work. It will take more than my lifetime, and I won’t see the end of this. That will be my children, and their children…

But I think it still has to happen, and that is is happening. I for one, and not ready to give up on that work just yet.

It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

— Fredric Jameson

Thanks for reading!


Towards Synthesis, Part 1

(Image from here.)

Hello folks,

Over the past few posts, I have set up some ideas that really need to be strung together. I know it has been a lot, and there is still more to cover. There is at least one more post that will come out in the near future, probably more, but for the moment I wanted to stop here and start bringing this all together. This is always a work in process, so all I can do this time around is start to point the way.

There have been several threads that have woven through the previous posts, and now I want to start tying those together. What is the end goal of all of this? It is an exercise in speculation, on just what the future might look like. It’s as much speculation as it is a vision. It could be very wrong, sure, but it could also help to point the way. With a vision, a plan, we can start setting goals. Like all speculation, it might be fruitless, but it gives me some idea of what to work towards.

I want to take a stab at it. How do I think the future might look? How would that future relate to my values and ideals? How, ultimately, might we create a world that is a bit better and more sustainable than we have now?

Let’s dig more deeply into that. First, let’s recap each of the posts so far.

Michio Kaku

“The transition between our current Type 0 civilization and a future Type 1 is perhaps the greatest transition in history. It will determine whether we will continue to thrive and flourish, or perish due to our own folly.” Michio Kaku, Physics of the Future.

The first post I wrote in this series concerned Michio Kaku’s book The Physics of the Future. In the book, he presented his version of the future. It was a progressive version; that with science and technology we could move towards a very Star Trek-esque future. We could move out to into the solar system, and continue to thrive as a species.

Kaku thinks we will move from a Type 0 to a Type 1 civilization on the Kardashev scale in the next century or two. A Type 1 is a truly planetary civilization, built on science, multiculturalism, pluralism, and greater global intregration. Nation-States will be less relevant, because they will likely give way to larger unions such as the US or the EU.

He also points out, like the quote above, that we are in a very crucial transition right now. We may succeed, or we may fail. Whether we survive or perish, that power is in our hands right now.

Y. Bar-Yam

“Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries (Nations). But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.” End of Nations

In the next post, Y. Bar-Yam put forward several important ideas that are important to focus on here. First, Bar-Yam also thinks that Nation-States will become less relevant, but perhaps not in the same way that Kaku does.

Bar-Yam thinks that the hierarchies that were built up during the Industrial Revolution will start to break down, and that includes Nation-States. As we move from a hierarchical social system, through a hybrid system, and towards a networked world… Nation-States won’t be as relevant.

Between Kaku and Bar-Yam, we have two clear paths that the future might take. On one hand, Nation-States may deliberately and intentionally integrate into more networked arrangements. On the other, Nation-States and other forms of hierarchy may break down and collapse, freeing up the opportunity for new systems of organization.

We are already in that transition, and again, how that plays out is up to us.

Adam Frank

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

You can find a lot of detail in my post about Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars. It is a wonderful book that covers a lot of territory, and I have done my best to lay out the parts that were really great.

Frank takes some of the ideas in Kaku’s work, and goes a step farther with them. He ties together energy use on the Kardashev Scale, and the idea that any energy intensive civilization will trigger a Climate Change type process. As an emerging planetary civilization, of course our energy use has affected the planet. That is to be expected.

However, in agreement with Kaku and Bar-Yam, Frank thinks too that we are in a very crucial transition in our cosmic journey from adolescence to maturity. We have to deal with the crises that is Climate Change, and part of that is integrating our civilization as another part of the planet. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and regardless what we do, we will have an impact on the planet.

We may never reach a Type 1 civilization, but as Frank rightly points out, we are making those decisions right now. We need to enter into a cooperative relationship with our planets biosphere, and become just another part of Earth’s evolutionary processes. The planet is waking up, and now we need to bring it a vision and a plan.

According to Frank, a Class 5 planet is a truly awakened world.

Towards the Future

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

With all this in mind, it’s time to weave it all together. What does the tapestry laid out by these three authors look like? What does “growing up” really entail?

First, I would say that a networked, Type 1, Class 5 planet are all different versions of the same thing. A grown up planetary civilization would be networked, integrated, and sustainable. It will have most of the energy of a Type 1 civilization at it’s disposal, and it would utilize this energy in a sustainable way that had minimum impacts on the environment.

It would be a Class 5 awakened world, where human civilization becomes the agency of the planet. We can bring the Earth a plan, a plan that is cooperative and sustainable. We can live in balance with the biosphere, as well as build a sustainable civilization. We can reach for the stars, and still respect the earth.

That civilization would be post-national, either through deliberate integration and networking, or through building alternatives as old systems collapse. One way or the other (the the former is more preferable), we would have a truly global civilization built on networks of cities, regional governments, and other organizations.

This civilization would be scientific, multicultural, tolerant, and pluralistic. It would also be democratic, equitable, and sustainable. It would be cooperative and networked. It would respect human rights as well as ecological ones. It would be high energy and high tech, but in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet.

In no small sense, it would be an animistic world. A world and a civilization where humans and non-humans can thrive in ecological balance. All our relatives would be part of the same planetary system, and the Earth would be one big cybernetic organism.

A Type 1, Networked, Class 5 planet would be the awakening of a Cybernetic Gaia.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Towards a Planetary Civilization

Towards a Networked World

Towards a Sustainable World

End of Nations


Towards a Sustainable World

As children of the Earth, we are also children of the stars…. Through the light of the stars, through what they teach us about other worlds and the possibilities of other civilizations, we can learn what path through adolescence we must take. And in that way, we can reach our maturity. We can reach our full promise and possibility.

We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars

I have had the book The Light of the Stars on preorder for months, authored by astrophysicist Adam Frank. I tore through this book in less than three days, and it has left my head spinning. I wanted to discuss my impressions. I really enjoyed this book!

More than that, it has been really relevant to the work I have been doing right now. I know it might not seem like it just yet, but I am working towards a synthesis of a lot of different ideas right now. These ideas cut across huge categories, and spin out from my understanding of animism. What I am working on now cuts across cosmology, ecology, science generally, as well as anthropology and animism. I am exploring many questions that cover our place in the Cosmos, the future of our civilization, and how science and animism are two complimentary ways to understand these topics.

Adam Frank’s book lands solidly across all of these ideas. If the quote at the top of this page is any indication, the scientific and animistic aspects of this book are very present. Even though this book is about science and not animism, there are plenty of implications for the latter. As I have written about many times before, my animism is scientific, and has implications for almost every discipline. While science tell me about the world, animism is how I relate to that world.

Which is why I was so struck by Frank’s book. I would recommend you pick up a copy, because I will not be able to cover even a portion of it here for length reasons. If you want a short version, there is a great Youtube video that outlines the basic ideas, and plenty of news articles are at the bottom of this post. Yet, in brief, the bulk of the book is about astrobiology, exo-civilizations (alien civilizations), and what we can learn from the fate of other worlds, and the possible civilizations that might dwell there.

A good portion of the book is about how an high-tech, high energy civilization would change the climate of the planet. In short, this book is about the Anthropocene, and the fate of our civilization when faced with realities such as Climate Change, and what, if anything, we can do about that?

Different Scenarios

But we should recognize that creating climate change wasn’t done with malevolence. We are not a plague on the planet. Instead, we are the planet. We are, at least, what the planet is doing right now. But that is no guarantee that we’ll still be what the planet is doing one thousand or ten thousand years from now.

…that Carl Sagan already understood, is that humanity and its project of civilization represents a kind of “cosmic teenager.”.. But like a teenager, we lack the maturity to take full responsibility for ourselves and our future.” – Light of the Stars

(Graphic from Here)

One of the great parts about this book, is that Frank and others have just started modeling the various trajectories our civilization could take. I have included a graphic that plots out each of these trajectories pretty clearly.

The first is the die off, which is in many ways similar to Greer’s Long Descent. It means that climate change starts to take a serious toll on our populations, and basically humans start dying off. It’s disturbing that Frank identified this as one of the most common scenarios. But that is not a pleasant future, nor one to be hoped for. It is hard for me to imagine 7 out of 10 people I know and love have perished. That I think is a future that is best avoided, if we have any control over the matter. Which, of course, I think we do in some measure.

The second scenario is my preferred trajectory, the sustainability curve. It means we have acted with enough forethought and wisdom to prevent either slow, or catastrophic collapse. I think we as a civilization and as a species still have the ability to carve out this future for ourselves. We have the technology today, what we need is the will, and as Frank points out, a better narrative on what we want that future to look like.

The last two scenarios are the full extinction scenarios. That means we so overshoot the capacities of the planet, that regardless if we change to renewables or not, that the collapse of our civilization and probably the extinction of our species is our fate. That is a grim future indeed, and one that also serves best as a warning.

Kardashev Scale

If we take the astrobiological view and start thinking like a planet, we see there’s no such thing as “no impact.” Civilizations are built by harvesting energy and using that energy to do work. That work can be anything from building buildings to transporting materials to harvesting more energy.” – Light of the Stars

I have talked a lot about the Kardashev Scale quite a bit on this blog before, and something Michio Kaku has explored in some depth. I’m not going to go into any real depth about that here, but Frank certainly uses it to build his central themes. For example, a Type 1 civilization can access all the energy resources of their home planet. Civilization as a project turns energy into the capacity to work, whether that work is building, farming, or exploring space.

Our civilization is not yet a Type 1, as we are about a type 0.7, with 100-200 years to go until we are Type 1. That means we have a fair bit of energy at the disposal of our civilization, but Frank makes a very important point about the Kardashev Scale. Energy use of a civilization must obey the second law of thermodynamics. There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the use of energy creates feedback, primarily in the form of waste, and especially heat.

As we know from the science of climate change, that waste heat can be trapped in the atmosphere by carbon and other greenhouse gases. Obviously, the carbon and the heat are both products of our fossil fuel driven civilization. As Frank points out, the greater the energy use of a civilization, the greater its entropy; mostly in the form of waste heat.

This does not mean we cannot, or should not, chart out a course towards a Type 1 Civilization. Only that, as Kaku and Frank seem to agree upon, is that we are navigating a very crucial bottleneck right now. How we chart that course has massive implications for our future.

That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku

There are nor guarantees about our future, but if we are to have a future at all, we must look a little beyond the Kardashev Scale. As Frank rightly points out, we need to consider our civilization against the capacities and limits of the planet. As such, Frank proposes another way of looking at our planet.

Planet Classifications

Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems. But what does that look like?”

What Frank proposes, is another way to classify our civilization as part of the whole planetary system. We need to consider more than just the energy usage, but also how the feedback of energy use on our planetary system. We need another kind of map to a Type 1 civilization, a more long-term and sustainable vision.

Frank proposes a different means to classify planets and their energy use. He uses five Classes of planets, 1 through 5.

A Class 1 planet is similar in many ways to Mercury. The energy systems of the planet are fairly simple, so the planet as a whole limits work (energy use) and system complexity. It’s pretty much a dead planet. A Class 2 is a world with an atmosphere, but no life. Venus and Mars are great examples of a Class 2 planet. Sunlight and atmosphere allows for gas and water flows, and more work to be done in the energy system.

Class 3 planets have a thin biosphere. Life has gotten a start on these worlds, and life has an effect on the planetary systems of energy flow. But life does not dominate the planet. Earth during the early Archean was approximately a Class 3 planet. Frank also points out if life was present on early Mars, that too would be an example of a Class 3.

Frank describes a Class 4 planet as a planet that has been “hijacked by life”, with a thick biosphere. These are deep ecological networks that all feed into one another, and feedback into one another. Earth, up until the appearance of human civilization, has long been a Class 4 planet.

Across the first four classes, we see an increase in complexity and energy flow as Frank rightly points out. A Class 1 planet doesn’t do much work with the energy it received from the sun. By contrast, a Class 4 takes all that solar energy and puts it to use in the networks of life; growing, eating, dying, and back again. This relationship between complexity, work, and energy flows granted Frank and his collaborators the vision to speculate on what a Class 5 planet might look like.

Just as a Class 4 world channels more energy into work and complexity than a Class 3, a Class 5 would go beyond the energy capacities of a Class 4. A Class 5 planet is a world with a planetary civilization, that not only has more energy at its disposal, but also has the agency of a complex civilization. Frank calls a Class 5 world an “agency dominated” planet, a planet that has intelligence. A Class 5 is where the biosphere has become part a noosphere, an area of networked intelligence. It is the where a world starts to “wake up”, and becomes more like a single organism.

Class 5 Planets might be seen as worlds that have evolved a noosphere. The pervasive wireless mesh of connections that constitute today’s internet has already been held up as an initial version of a noosphere for Earth. Thus, we might already make out the contours of what a sustainable world will look like.”

An Awakened Planet, Towards a Class 5

So, we cannot bring the world to heel. Instead, we must bring it a plan. Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….

Science has given us a new perspective, a new vision, and a new story to help us find a way forward as we face the challenge of the Anthropocene. But this can only happen if we listen carefully and truly make this new story our own.

It is time to grow up.”

If a Class 5 is an “awakened planet” Frank goes on to ask the question, where do we stand right now? Well, just like on the Kardashev scale, we are between a Type 0 and a Type 1 (Type 0.7), on Frank’s on classification system, we are between a Class 4 and a Class 5, a hybrid planet.

The planet has not fully “awoken” just yet, and that it contains a civilization that is not yet sustainable. We are a hybrid planet, clearly leaving a Class 4 as we move into the Anthropocene, but our civilization is not yet a fully integrated and sustainable part of the planetary system. It might never be, as failure is certainly an option. We not ever make it to a Class 5 Planet, just as Kaku said there is no guarantees of ever seeing a Type 1 civilization.

Our cybernetic (of life and machine) Gaia is stirring, but it is not yet out of the birth canal. The transition from Type 0 to Type 1, and from Class 4 to Class 5, is not yet assured, and we are still in the weeds as a species. Energy flow, complexity, and the work we do as part of the planet must be sustainable. A Type 1 civilization must be sustainable, a integrated, networked, extension of the planetary system. As Frank so eloquently puts it;

To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.”

It is time for our species to mature, as part of our planet. We are still in our adolescence, but we can see young adulthood in the distance. That is the next step in our planetary evolution, if we have the wisdom to make it through this transition.

In my next post for this series, I want to start filling in the details. I want to synthesize the ideas of Kaku, Bar-Yam, and Frank in a more unified way. From there, I want to continue refining this vision down to more specifics…

What does a cooperative, sustainable relationship with Earth actually look like?

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/opinion/earth-will-survive-we-may-not.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/how-do-aliens-solve-climate-change/561479/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoISn18qP_E

http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/astrobiology-alien-apocalypse-can-any-civilization-make-it-through-climate-change-322232/