Tag Archives: sustainability

Random Roundup, 7/1/19

 

(My milkshake brings all the views to the blog…)

Hello again folks!

It’s been a while since my last update. Work has been crazy busy, and the weather is finally starting to get nice, so I have been spending more time outside than over the past few months. That means the writing has slowed down a bit. Also, if I’m being really honest, I have not known what to write about recently. Writing has been… hard. I’m starting to ease back into it, and I hope to have something soon. I’ll probably be returning to the recent folklore posts I have been working on. Still plenty of ground to cover there.

That said, today I just wanted to do a random roundup for you all, as basically an update/place holder. There has been a lot of great articles lately, and I think a few of them deserve some attention.

First, Animism Does Not Conflict with Science

This should come to a surprise to almost non-one that is a regular reader of this blog. I am a huge supporter of the fusion of animism as a worldview, and Western science. This is a practical, observation based approach that can firmly ground us in the here and now. Both are a way of knowing and relating to the world, and together, they could be something wonderful.

Another example of how animism and science can be remarkably effective together is in the area of climate change and environmental protection. Science has been telling us that the way we treat our planet is a huge problem for a long time, and they’re right. But an emotional and personal experience of the natural world and our relationship to it is so much more compelling than a graph or statistic; when you can experience how interdependent you are with your land and natural world, the concerns about sustainability become unforced; not just intellectual exercises.”

Second, The Price of Renewable Energy is Plummeting

Again, no surprise, that I am a huge proponent of converting our energy systems to renewable energy. I have actually been thinking a lot about energy lately, and what this means for our future. I don’t think we can have infinite growth on an finite planet, and we must do everything in our power to reduce our impact on the planet. Using less energy (efficiency), and moving to renewable sources are two important steps in that direction.

“Renewable power is the backbone of any development that aims to be sustainable… We must do everything we can to accelerate renewables if we are to meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

Thirdly; We can design healthier cities

Cities are the heart of our civilization, and by consequence, they are also where we use the most energy and materials. Our consumption, production, and living habits are among many factors contributing to the climate crisis, and taking a fresh look at how we live, especially in cities, can go a long way towards a more sustainable future.

By some estimates, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions: a figure sure to increase as the global migration from rural to urban areas continues. In the pursuit of exploring new models for how healthy cities could more effectively sustain these demands, Dutch design and research studio FABRICations has investigated how cities of the Netherlands can reduce carbon emissions through new design-led approaches.”

Last, but certainly not least, we need sustainable visions of the future

Imagination is a wonderful tool, and it takes big visions to change the world. Those visions can be turned into strategies, and those strategies into goals. By using visions to create goals, we can then start building a better future for all; one step, one checkbox at a time. The linked article is another vision in a growing collection of visions for a sustainable future, and I for one believe the more the better. No one vision will accurately predict the future, but that’s not the point. The point is to a give us a range of options, tools in the toolbox, so that every community can find out what works best for themselves. That way, a more ecological and sustainable future has the rich soil it needs to evolve and grow organically.

In three years of research and interviews, what emerged were solutions that improve health, income inequality, security and communities with the bonus of drastically reducing emissions and regenerating ecosystems. These solutions include decentralised solar micro-grids in remote villages that allow the buying and selling of energy between homes and keep money in the local economy. They include regenerative agriculture practices which takes carbon from the atmosphere and returns it to the soil with the cascading benefits of water retention and nutrient-dense food…

But perhaps the most poignant solution I came across was the wide-reaching impact the education and empowerment of girls and women would have.

It is clear we have everything we need right now to create a better 2040.”

The last line is worth repeating; we have everything we need right now. The trick is making it work for everyone.

As always, thanks for reading! I hope to have something new for you in the next couple of weeks!


Built Resilience (Week 11)

(Image from Here)

This is my last post in the Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie, at least for the time being.

Today I want to jump right into it, and explore the question posed for this week’s (okay, I’m several weeks behind) prompt;

How do we engage with the built and cultivated environments (e.g., urban areas, domesticated plants, gardens) as we address climate change and build resilience?

Like so many of the questions in this project, this one is a big one that requires a great deal of nuance to tease out. As an individual, I won’t be able to cover everything, as there have been volumes written about this very topic. Even the briefest summary of the body of work would be well outside of this one blog post.

At the core of this question is the question of civilization. Ten thousand years ago humans started to build the first cities, as agriculture allow the creation of permanent settlements. This was a big change from the hunter-gatherer existence that preceded it. Agriculture and civilization brought about changes in diet, in culture, and even in the human physique. Some of those cities succeeded, such as Athens and Damascus, which have been continually occupied for thousands of years, even to the current day. Others failed, overtaxing their environments and eventually turning to dust.

This gets to the heart of the fact that our built environments, our cities, are complex creations. The ability of people to congregate into urban environments brought with it an increase in complexity, for good and for ill. Complexity allowed for more human energy to be channeled into the creation of great monumental works, and also allowed for specialization. As not every person had to be directly involved in food production, it opened up tasks like priest work, astronomy, and the invention of writing. It also allowed for a class of crafters and artisans as well as merchants. People that could focus full time on creating art, as long as they were able to trade their own goods for food from farmers.

But this specialization came with a dark side, in the form of stratification. Some specializations were considered to be ‘better’ that others, and so the creation of civilization also brought with it hierarchy, stratification, and inequality. In many ways, civilization brought with it the creation of a cultural elite, an entire class of people that set themselves apart from the rest and considered themselves ‘better’ than the average folk. Sedentary existence, in a way that hadn’t existed before, also allowed these elites to hoard huge surpluses of food and wealth. Inequality was almost a feature of civilization, not a side effect.

More than this, even in modern times, cities are huge pits for resources and energy. Almost half of the world population now lives in cities, and this requires importations of material as well as energy. Urban centers often are far away from required minerals and ores, and often don’t have the land space to create their own food, which urban areas then have to rely on rural areas for.

This has lead some thinkers to suggest that civilization is by it’s nature inherently unsustainable. If a city has to rely on the import of outside materials, it cannot be sustained, at least that is how the argument goes. But I don’t think that is true. If cities like Athens and Damascus have been around for thousands of years, through wars, famines, the rise and fall of empires, then I have to question what such arguments mean by ‘sustainable’. If thousands of years worth of continuous existence through the worst calamities nature and humanity has to offer isn’t sustainable, then I want to know what the hell is?

But this is not to deny the fact that urban living has a large environmental impact and ecological footprint. As much as we have examples such as Athens and Damascus, we also have examples such as Sumer and Easter Island. Civilizations that exceeding the carrying capacity of their environments.

What makes the difference? Why does one civilization manage to survive thousands of years, while another collapses into dust? That is another big question, which probably doesn’t have an easy answer. Still, it goes without saying that I think some measure of resilience is at the heart of it. Cities that have the ability to weather and adapt to rapidly changing conditions, such as war, drought, or famine, are probably off to a good start.

In many ways, I think cities are at the heart for the mitigating the climate crisis. Unlike Nations, which can frequently get paralyzed on climate issues (looking at you, United States), cities can respond on the ground with ideas and projects that directly affect the resilience of the communities around them.

(Image from Here)

For example, cities can pursue renewable energy and community microgrids. This can eliminate to constant need to import coal, natural gas, or uranium for power plants. Cities can also create policies that encourage energy conservation and efficiency. Also, cities can pursue methods for self reliance, such as building with renewable materials such as wood, bamboo, or even hemp. Cities by their nature can effect everything from transportation to energy.

In addition, with the introduction of urban agriculture, and massive green spaces cities can start to produce more of what they need locally. Add in things like walkable cities, public transportation, and many other things cities can directly effect; and it is clear cities can be at the heart of the creation of an ecological and sustainable existence for our species.

I just recently joined my local city’s environmental commission, which is tasked with making policy recommendations to the city council. We have already started to work on reviewing other townships and cities environmental plans, in order to find models that could possibly work for our own city and community. There are countless examples of what sustainability and resilience could look like in cities, and all of this creates feedbacks. In the ‘social laboratory’, if one community has a good idea that works well, other communities can copy it and make it their own. One sustainable city can snowball into thousands. Individually, one city can’t mitigate the worst of the climate crises. But as one part in a network of thousands, the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.

There is no shortage of thing we can do in our built environments to improve resilience and sustainability. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, the ideas well exceed this one single post. There are ideas at the global level, national ideas, and especially local/municipal ideas. Just look at some examples such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Singapore.

Everything we do, from living to building cities has an impact on the environment. There is no such thing as a free lunch. That said, we can select for policies in our cities and communities that have the lowest impact we can come up with. We can select for materials that are less carbon-intensive, and the same is true for energy, resource, and even food systems. We can start to bring nature and the ‘rural’ back into our cities. Our cities should look at act more like natural ecosystems, powered by the sun, wind, and water, and producing and consuming materials in a circle with as little waste as possible. In other words, we need to realize that human cities are ecosystems in their own right, and are not removed from the greater biosphere of the planet. We, as humans and as a civilization building species, are part of the planet, not separate from it.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky dream or a flight of fantasy, but something that is happening right now. Another world is possible, and I think we have the means and ability to make that ecological and sustainable world a reality. A built environment that is almost indistinguishable from its natural environment, and a world created to last the next thousand years.

As always, thanks for reading.


What are we Afraid of? (Week 3)

Hello again everyone!

First thing, I want to to give a solidarity shout out to the growing Global Climate Strike (and Fridays for Future)  that is protesting across the world on Friday. All the youth, adults, and everyone else that is striking and protesting tomorrow, you have my full support! Give them hell, and move us towards action to tackle climate change!

With that said, today it is time to explore the next question posed by the Deepening Resilience project.

What are your fears about climate change? What barriers to preparedness do you face?

I have been writing about climate change and environmentalism for a long time, and it is never far from my mind. I’ve been in the thick of the the most recent reports, and so many doom and gloom inspired hit pieces and media commentary. To say that I have not been affected by that would be a bold faced lie. I have, and my emotional and mental reactions to the ongoing (and accelerating) environmental news has spanned the full spectrum.

I have felt grief and sadness at the growing loss of biodiversity, anger and betrayal at the inaction of governments and the greed of corporations, and definitely a fair amount of fear about the future. Because, let’s put this in context for a moment. I’m a millennial, and I’m 32 years old at the moment. The years of 2030 and 2050 are at least within my possible lifetime.*

2030 is the 12 year date of the IPCC report, where the window for mitigation starts rapidly closing. 2050 is the make or break moment, and all of our projections circle around this date. The date fossil fuel use needs to be zero, and renewable energy needs to be expanded to a large scale. If I am alive, I will be in my mid sixties come 2050. That means, I will see this process play out in real time. I will be witness to the the changes in our climate, and all the social, economic, and political dramas that play out as a result.

I will have a front row seat to a world in rapid transition, and perhaps even, to the end of the world.** I’m terrified of that. I’m scared that all our best efforts (if they happen) might be in vain. I’m afraid that there is no other future than an incinerated world. I’m afraid, for all the lives (human and non), including my own, that may well be lost as the world climate crises advances.

I’ve written about this before, and I think it is worth sharing again. The below chart is part of astrophysicist Adam Frank’s work, and I think it clearly lays out what possible futures we may be looking at.

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

I don’t want either of the extinction futures (C, D), and I’d really rather not have scenario A, where estimates range as high as a 70% die off of the human population. Seven out of ten people you know, dead, gone. That could be me, or my wife, or many of my close friends.

That fucking terrifies me.

And suffice to say, that’s not the future I want. Scenario B would be my ideal, but we all know that reality isn’t ideal. It may well be somewhere between A and B. That is another part of my fear, that creeping existential dread. Because, not only could we possibly be facing the extinction of our species, but we are also facing an unknown future. That uncertainty, that unknown, that scares me too. I write a lot about a sustainable future, and the huge we would have to make even in a best case scenario (such as B). The status quo isn’t an option, nor is ‘business as usual.’ We are in a time of transition, but the truth is that I don’t know what the end result will be. Given the nature of the process, it’s likely I won’t see the end of it, even if I get a long relatively healthy life. (Which is not guaranteed,)

All my hope towards a sustainable future, that could be misplaced. I could be wrong, in all I think and believe. We could be on a one way trip to hell, and there is nothing we can do about it. I don’t believe that is the case, but I could be wrong. I’m human, I make mistakes, I’m fallible, and the future will not be the work of one blogger. That blogger could be mistaken.

And that fucking terrifies me.

More than that, my wife and I have recently been talking about children. To say that this terrifies me would be an understatement. This is because ultimately it is not just about me, but future generations (human and non-human). What will future will they have? Will they look back on my generation, and place the blame for failure on our heads? It brings with it all kinds of thoughts about ethics and morals. What kind of future will my child have? Is it morally acceptable to even bring a child into this kind of world? What if that too, is a mistake?

That’s coupled with fears about long term stable employment, and the ability to provide food and shelter for my family. What if climate change displaces my day job? What if I can’t pay my mortgage? What if I can’t put food on the table? There is a huge amount of fear that goes with that, and that unknown sense of stability.

Which brings us to the second part of the prompt, what barriers stand in the way of preparing for that kind of uncertainty in a changing world? To be honest, I could probably write a book or two on this question. Because the barriers we face are immense, and systemic in a way that I individually have no control over them.

At the largest scales, some barriers to preparing for climate change are baked into the political reality. Not having to worry about food, shelter, or health care would be a great start. The idea of basic income, health care for all, child care and education; these would all go a long way towards sustainability. It at least means that some future family wouldn’t go without if their day job goes under from labor or resource shortages.

That same idea comes down to smaller scales too. I’d love to be able to build a more resilient household for myself, for my neighbors, and for my local community. But there are huge financial, resource, and time constrains on all of that. There are barriers imposed by the lack of distributed renewable energy, the lack of common land for gardens and food, and the constraints on my time and energy from having to work forty plus hours a week just to survive.

Honestly, something that would go a long way would be a foundation of some kind of solidarity/mutual aid networks, where most of our local (and regional) needs can be met if things should really go pear-shaped. I’m not sure governments in their current form are going to be effective in meeting the challenges of climate change. How do we survive if that is the case? Mutual aid networks within our local communities would be a good start.

A network of cooperatives would be another, especially at the local and municipal level. That way, we can organize our work democratically, and make sure basic needs such as parts, tools, and food are met in efficient ways. Food cooperatives, and tool and equipment sharing would be nice. This could also extend to housing, medicine, health care, energy, and manufacturing. That way we could cover the basics; keep people alive and keep the lights on.

I think that would be a good start, at least.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*That is exempting terrible accidents, famine, war, plague, lack of health care, and many other terrible things that are associated with human actively, and the growing threats of climate change.

** It goes without saying that a dystopian apocalypse is not the future I want.


A Green New Deal

(From Wikipedia)

Hello again folks,

If the title wasn’t a dead give away, today I want to talk about the prospect of a Green New Deal. I have made no secret on this blog that climate change, renewable energy, and various forms of democratic eco-socialism are kind of my bag. I spend a ridiculous amount of time writing and researching these topics, and am an unashamed solarpunk, and animist. I believe firmly that a kind of sustainable civilization is possible, and is something we should actively work towards.

As such, now a Green New Deal is a mainstream topic. I’m excited to see this, and I am curious to see how this might pan out. I have my reservations as well of course, as I worry that some things might not make it into the Democratic version that should really be there. There has already been a fair bit of criticism not only what made it in, but what has been left out as well.

Yet, if the 2018 IPCC report is clear about anything, it is clear about the fact that we have to work hard and move fast to have a chance to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We have a window, but a small one that is closing fast. Add in the fact that the changes we have to make are unprecedented, and this can seem like an impossible task. But I haven’t given up, and neither should you. We are going to need people willing to roll up their sleeves, and do the hard and messy work. Even if we fail in the end, I’d rather shoot for the stars and miss.

The IPCC report is clear also that we have to reduce emissions by half by 2030 (12 years), and drastically decommission fossils fuels, such as coal and oil. We have have to drastically build up renewable energy, and other solutions to lower our carbon impact. That is where any kind of Green New Deal comes in, as a set of policy goals to help steer the US down the path laid out by the IPCC , and the Paris Accords.

There was an article by The Intercept recently that I absolutely love, because it starts out with a story that seems like it might be science fiction. But that’s the point science fiction, to imagine the future, and the Intercept’s article paints a vision of the future inspired by a Green New Deal. Go read it, if you have the time.

Me, I will only highlight one small section;

On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”

I like that these ideas are being discussed in public, and there are a lot of ways this could pan out. The point I think is that we have to think BIG to tackle this crisis, and we have to be able imagine what the next world looks like, so that we can make goals and plans, and get to work meeting those goals. That is what Kim Stanley Robinson points out in his article here

“Imagine a remade world founded upon health and prosperity. Imagine transportation of every kind propelled by clean energy—electric cars and scooters, for sure, but also container ships pulled by kite sails, then battery powered when navigating close to port. Imagine every lightbulb and internet download powered by the sun and the wind. Imagine engineers and technicians and heavy-equipment operators finding meaningful work building out a global clean energy infrastructure. All these technologies are off-the-shelf and shovel-ready; the only thing we haven’t invented yet is the economics to pay for them.” – KSR

But any kind of Green New Deal has to be more encompassing than just the technological, as tackling climate change effectively will involve making large scale changes to our cultural, social, and economic systems. I have been very clear about my support for the 100 Drawdown solutions. Any kind of Green New Deal would range from job guarantees, to universal healthcare and education, to dismantling fossil fuels, building renewable energy and low carbon infrastructure, and also finding a workable alternative to capitalism.

Because, in order to tackle climate change, we have to tackle our underlying cultural beliefs and social systems. Several papers such as the Hothouse Paper , and a report to the UN make very clear that the US economic system, that is capitalism, has to change. We cannot continue focus on infinite growth on a finite planet. It is quite literally killing our planet as well as ourselves.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and people should come before profits.

A Green New Deal

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Green New Deal, what they are proposing, and what they are not. It’s true that there are all kinds of things I would love to see in a Green New Deal. Universal education and healthcare, less working hours, livable wages, renewable energy, the end of fossils fuels, greater distribution of wealth… I could go on and on, and I’ll admit, the story The Intercept spins is not a bad one. Hurray for cooperative economics!

Yet, we have to be pragmatic here, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In order to meet any of the benchmarks laid out by the IPCC, we need resources, and a lot of them. While the Green New Deal won’t be an end all be all, it could be an important first step to unlocking much needed financial and material resources. We also need to keep in mind this in only an outline, not any kind of final draft legislation. As such, here is what NPR states is in the Green New Deal, with a link to the full document;

“Among the most prominent, the deal calls for “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” The ultimate goal is to stop using fossil fuels entirely…. as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.”

Yes! Renewable energy is high on my priority list, so that is a good proposal. If 100% renewable is technical feasible, we should do that. That means huge investment in time and labor into building that infrastructure, and supporting grid and energy storage systems. Federal legislation will certainly help that cause. It’s very clear from the IPCC report and others that ending fossil fuels and developing renewable energy are important steps forward.

Yet, there is also the fossil fuel and nuclear questions that linger here. I don’t know at the current time that 100% percent renewable energy is possible. It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a world I’d love to see. That said, I would like more details on how fast fossil fuels are phased out, and what, if any, role nuclear should play. Nuclear has a lot of baggage, and most functioning reactors today are from the 70’s and 80’s. We should be cautious there.

* “upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency;

Alright, that’s necessary and good. Reduction of energy demand will go a long ways towards reducing our footprint. Buildings will also need retrofitting for both mitigation and adaption to changing conditions. No problems there.

* working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible” (while supporting family farms and promoting “universal access to healthy food”);

Another set of good points. In order to mitigate the worst of climate change, our food systems are in for a full overhaul. Localization, permaculture and organic farming, regenerative agriculture… There is a long list of ideas here, and many will have to be adopted. I can’t give space to them all, but it’s a good start.

“Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary”;

Transportation accounts for over half of our oil usage across the world. As such, investment in clean and electric transportation is also a must. Electric personal cars, sure, but also public buses and high speed rail. The US lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to high speed rail, and this too is an important part of the puzzle.

A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American;

The amount of work we are talking about is immense, and there will be plenty of opportunities for laborers to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Living wages, and benefits need to go along with that. I for one think that we should create a system of support more like that in Europe and especially the Nordic countries. The US is poor at providing proper welfare, healthcare, and parental and child care to it’s citizens. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement here.

What is Left Out?

It’s true that a Green New Deal is not a new idea. The NPR article above has plenty of links to the history of the concept. Another big advocate of a Green New Deal is the US Green Party. I am sympathetic to many of their views, so I want to give them some space as a point of comparison.

The Green Party  New Deal is quite a bit more ambitious with their goals, and spells them out more plainly then the Democratic Party proposal. They are much more upfront about ending fossil fuels and making the energy transition as aggressive as possible.

They also give space to the same economic promises, such as the creations of new jobs and the scale of the work that needs to be done. That is all well and good, and as long as there are workers I will support their rights for a livable wage, and equitable working conditions. Yet, there are aspects to the GP platform that just don’t show up much in the Democratic Green New Deal proposal.

Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right….

The Green New Deal is not only a major step towards ending unemployment for good, but also a tool to fight the corporate takeover of our democracy and exploitation of the poor and people of color. Our transition to 100% clean energy will be based on community, worker and public ownership and democratic control of our energy system, rather than maximizing profits for energy corporations, banks and hedge funds.“ – Green Party

Those ideas tend to circle around the problems of capitalism, and cooperative/democratic economic structures. I’ve made it quite clear throughout this piece, and throughout my own work, that I believe fully that capitalism is in fact part of the problem. The Greens address this problem a bit, whereas the Democratic proposal leaves this entirely by the wayside.

The assumption made is that the basis of our economic system need not be challenged, and that if we just we ‘develop’ more stuff, all will be well, and we can even have that golden ‘economic growth’ thing. This is part of the problem, and is where I diverge from otherwise good ideas such as the Green New Deal, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and yes, even Drawdown. (Paul Hawken is a well known eco-capitalist.)

We cannot build a truly sustainable civilization by just giving a capitalism a green coat of paint. That’s stopping short in my opinion, even if the other ideas are good ones. A train headed towards a cliff will still careen off the edge whether it is Red, Blue, or even Green. That’s why climate change is a lot bigger than technical solutions, and needs scalable support and resources to mitigate it. Capitalism has to be tackled as part of those solutions.

It’s also fair to ask if that is even possible, just like it is fair to question whether something like a Green New Deal will ever be a political reality. I wish I could say for certain the answer is “yes” in both cases. But I can’t, not for certain anyways.

But I can tell you I think it is possible. The changes that need to be made are monumental, and there is a definitely a chance that we could fail. Yet, the window of opportunity is still open, though it is closing fast. We still have time to act, and we need to go big or put our home planet at serious risk. I think we can do it, and we have a moral obligation to try. A Green New Deal could be a part of that, even if it not the ideal destination. At very least, it’s a start.

I firmly believe it is time we get building Another World. It is Possible, if we want it.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.drawdown.org

https://theintercept.com/2018/12/05/green-new-deal-proposal-impacts/

https://bios.fi/bios-governance_of_economic_transition.pdf

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/43pek3/scientists-warn-the-un-of-capitalisms-imminent-demise

https://www.ipcc.ch/

https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252

https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline

https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal

https://abeautifulresistance.org/site/2019/2/9/new-deal-who-dis

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-1-january-february/feature/there-no-planet-b-kim-stanley-robinson


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!


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/


A Solarpunk Paganism?

(Image Source: Zearz on Deviantart)

Hello folks!

This is an update blog and a bit of stream of conciousness, so bear with me if this doesn’t seem fully fleshed out. I am really just checking in and telling you I have not forgotten about you, but that I have been really, really busy.

Right now, I am working away on an animism manuscript, which is my first real foyer into non-fiction writing. There has been at least one other attempt as a manuscript, but we don’t talk about that project anymore. It has really been a fun ride so far, and a very spiritual exercise. Some of the topics I am writing about have left me light headed and inspired. I am hoping the book when it is finished does the same for my readers.

I am also working my latest project towards publication, and am in the artwork stage right now; getting cover art (and hopefully more) done to really bring the project to life. I am really excited about this project, as it combines element of animism, shamanism, cyberpunk, and solarpunk.

Which brings us to what I really want to talk about it today. What is that whole solarpunk thing? If you know me at all, you know I have been kind of obsessing over it lately. It is a relatively new literary genre. It got it’s start on Tumblr in 2014, and has really took off in 2017. The moment I started to read about it my eyes went wide, and I knew I had found something amazing.

I’ve made no secret on this blog about where I stand on environmental issues as well as humanitarian ones. As an animist, environmentalism and humanitarianism are part and parcel of my spiritual belief. I have written a fair bit about renewable energy and sustainable cities.

So the moment I heard about solarpunk, I had to know more.

I have written recently over at Pagan Bloggers a little about this already, but I wanted to expand on it more. As I said, maybe, sorta, mostly, kinda obsessed at this point.

What is Solarpunk?

I recently finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 novel, and have just now started on the Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) Some have called New York 2140 solarpunk, with it’s renewable energy, airships, sky villages, even within a world that has been flooded by climate change.

One source describes solarpunk as;

Solarpunk is the first creative movement consciously and positively responding to the Anthropocene. When no place on Earth is free from humanity’s hedonism, Solarpunk proposes that humans can learn to live in harmony with the planet once again.

Solarpunk is a literary movement, a hashtag, a flag, and a statement of intent about the future we hope to create. It is an imagining wherein all humans live in balance with our finite environment, where local communities thrive, diversity is embraced, and the world is a beautiful green utopia.”

It is so much more than this too. It is an optimistic look at the future that doesn’t fall into our current cultural obsession with apocalypse and dystopia. More than this, I think it might contain ideas that a lot of pagans like me might embrace. As Adam Flynn points out here

In short, solarpunk is a reaction to climate change, inequality, and our cultural obsession with dystopian futures. Its followers… want a world where people thrive through energy independence, local resilience, and sound infrastructure.

The vision is not about back-to-the-earth survivalism, Flynn says, because solarpunks embrace the responsible use of new technologies like synthetic biology and sensor networks. And it’s not utopian, he says, because the solarpunk future is one that is both high-tech and gritty, and — more importantly — one that we can actually achieve.”

Most of you know me here as a cautiously optimistic sort. I also have a fair bit of pragmatism in my mix. I think we face a lot of challenges in the days ahead, but I think that if we work together we can find a way through. As both an animist and a science fiction writer, I think it is possible for the future to be both sustainable as well as technological. I think we can build a renewable civilization and weave nature and culture back together.

A Pagan Statement on the Environment, A solarpunk paganism?

More than this, I think paganism is tailor-made to be a great fit with solarpunk. Folks, this is what we were made for. Solarpunk is about building a radically new world, from the ground up. This may well be part of our pagan frontier, and with the depth of our creative energies, maybe this is something we should embrace.

When it first came out in 2015, I signed onto A Pagan Statement on the environment, which can be found here. If you want to be specific, I am signee #2148. That’s me, the animist.

Just looking at A Pagan Statement on the Environment, it is solarpunk as hell;

There are certain actions we can take now. It is important for each individual, community, and nation to take stock of what that means for the betterment of the whole. Technical solutions can never move forward without political will, and the necessary political will requires a shift in our most deeply held values, in our very definitions of what it means to be human, and in how humanity relates to the world. We recognize this shift as a spiritual imperative.”

We need change, and we need change bad. In order to build a truly sustainable world, it is all hands on deck. We need investment, and we need to be to keep the pressure on our leaders. If they can’t cut it, then we need new ones. This is part and parcel of my spirituality.

Rather, building a truly sustainable culture means transforming the systems of domination and exploitation that threaten our future into systems of symbiotic partnership that support our ecosystem. We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.”

Local economies, reformed foods systems, equality and sustainability. More than that, is it the idea of local resilience and renewable energy.

Any economic or political system which encourages the exploitation of Earth and people must be dismantled or substantially reformed. This includes any system based on endless growth. We should be operating in a closed loop system, not a linear one. This means moving away from disposable development and culture, and moving toward renewable development and culture wherein all products are intended for longevity, repairability, and easy recycling or composting at the end of their use. The sustainable economy of the future will be one with the shortest distances between production, consumption and recycling of byproducts.”

This is exactly what I think solarpunk is talking about. We need changes, big changes, from the roots up. Radical changes, in infrastructure and in economics. Capitalism is dangerously exploitative to humans as well as the environment, all in the search of greater profit. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not sustainable. We need a better vision and better stories than that.

A Practical, Possible World.

I have written a great deal about Drawdown, renewable energyand sustainable cities.

I want to build a sustainable world in accordance with my spiritual beliefs, and I want to do that in a way that doesn’t involve given up or “running into the forest”. I want to see humanity spread to other planets, and I want to see technology used with wisdom and in a sustainable way.

It should come as no surprise that I may be taking to solarpunk like a fish to water. It combines all these things in a way that is both radical, practical, and future looking.

Three of the top ten solutions to climate change from Drawdown are forms of solar or wind power; Onshore Wind TurbinesSolar Farms, and Rooftop Solar.

This isn’t just the realm of fantasy or fiction either. As Drawdown clearly lays out, this is a future we could build. This could be a reality. National Geographic and The Solutions Project also have detailed plans for a renewable, sustainable, and carbon free future.

Solarpunk in this sense is not just speculation, but a possible future we could actually create. We can take solutions from Drawdown and other places, and create a solarpunk world. Building a green infrastructure from the ground up is one of the most radical things we can do. It is also good for both humanity and the environment, and as an animist this pleases me to no end.

As pagans, I think it is well past time we start telling stories about what that future might look like. I am pretty excited that my new novel falls into this genre. I didn’t even do it on purpose, and that’s even more fantastic!

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

http://paganbloggers.com/wolftracks/2018/02/19/what-world-shall-we-create/

http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/sci-fi-doesnt-have-to-be-depressing-welcome-to-solarpunk/82586

http://theconversation.com/explainer-solarpunk-or-how-to-be-an-optimistic-radical-80275

https://solarpunkanarchists.com/2016/05/27/what-is-solarpunk/

http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/life/215749-solarpunk

http://www.drawdown.org/

https://grist.org/business-technology/this-sci-fi-enthusiast-wants-to-make-solarpunk-happen/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/shaping-a-living-world-part-11/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/shaping-a-living-world/