I have had the most useful engagement with a book recently, and I thought I would bring it to your attention. For those concerned with the global warming/climate change issue, the biggest challenge is to realize that this issue is perennial, and that its underlying attitudes have been fought over for ages. The clash between outlooks will never be resolved, I suspect, because it is religious in nature. By religious I do not mean having to do with God, or Gaia, but with basic human propensities towards hope or fatalism.
Let me give you the biologist’s view in a simple picture and quote:
In a nutshell, that is the ‘limits to growth’ ideology in two sentences. At the heart of it lies the enemy known as capitalism: relentless, restless, seeking, appetitive, knowing neither piety towards the gods nor despair of the future. Bad dog! Bad man! Bad male! By contrast, the depletionist view holds that we are all just bacteria in a closed petri dish. We will expand until we come up against the limits of the carrying capacity of the planet, as which point we will experience a catastrophic die-off . The metaphor is of fixed limits. It is the product of the epistemic bias of the science of biology.
Then there is the view of the Rational Optimist, which is the view of Pierre Desrochers and Joanna Szurmak, and others whose thinking they expose one to. One such is Adam Frank, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, and I quote him:
“It’s not the earth that needs saving. Instead it’s us and our project of civilization that need a new direction. If we fail to make it across the difficult terrain we face, the planet will just move on without us, generating new species in the novel climate it evolves. The ‘we suck’ narrative makes us villains in a story that, ultimately, has none. What the story does have are experiments – the ones that failed the ones that succeeded.” – cited from page 173 of “Population Bombed”
As Adam Frank told Joe Rogan, “we are what the biosphere is making right now”.
More importantly, Population Bombed shows that there was a straight-line relationship among three catastrophist visions: soil depletion in the 1950s, global cooling in the 1970 caused by polluting aerosols, and global warming of the present day. It was pushed by the same people, and funded by the same sources. Doomists changed their particular cause of doom without breaking stride.
Desrochers and Szurmak conclude:
“Trade, the division of labour, more people and more carbon fuels are what allowed humanity to simultaneously bake and enjoy an ever larger number of economic and environmental cakes, while in the process making human societies ever more resilient against extreme weather events and any climate change they may be confronted with”.
Eventually Desrochers and Szurmak seek an understanding of the doomists/limits-to-growthists in the epistemic prejudice of biology, which is set forth above in the quote from Ursula Le Guin. If your governing metaphor is that humans are like bacteria in a petri dish, and hydrocarbons are the sugar that has been added to the mix, then human population will explode until we suffer a catastrophic die-off. In the depletionist mind-set, humans suck, and you do not have to go far before you discover that many eco-catastrophists are very close to exterminationist in their beliefs.
If, by contrast, your view is the humans are constantly adapting , then one is not surprized to find that one of the first adaptations humans have made to prosperity is to reduce their birthrates in all societies across the planet. The education of women – caused by the advances that energy, technology and prosperity have allowed – has led to plunging birthrates, even in societies that have not industrialized. This was the subject of Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, by Bricker and Ibbotson. Empty Planet is worthwhile but much narrower in scope than Population Bombed, since the former confines itself to a discussion of what world population will do until about 2100.
My point is that the optimists – in reality the hopefuls – are right to emphasize that humans adapt. Resources are not fixed. Indeed, the term “resources” is like the word “weed”, or “kosher” or “haram”; it denotes belonging to a class whose nature has been previously determined on other grounds. The iron age has not yet run out of iron, nor did the stone age run out of stones. What is a “resource” depends on a prior idea of science, technology, or art. Resources are not fixed; they expand or contract as human vision and opinions change.
The optimists are aware of this. The eco-catastrophists are fixated on the metaphors of depletion, finite resources, carrying capacity of the planet, and spaceship earth. The optimists are saying, in essence, that we are the things that dreams are made of. that though we are part of the natural order, we are in the most significant ways not a part of the natural order. Using our curiosity, imaginations, our willingness to learn and trade, and to make, the human species has risen to great heights. If we remain flexible and adaptive, we may survive yet.
Finally, in order to explain better that catastrophist mindset, Desrochers and Szurmak refer to an old favourite of mine, Jane Jacob’s Systems of Survival, one of the most important books ever written. Yes, I know that is a large claim. Jacobs discusses the contrasting moral outlooks of the “guardian” and “commercial” syndromes. It is a book of amazing and concise explanatory power, and doubtless it offends those who cherish confusion, nuance and messiness over clarity and precision. However, Jacobs’ two moral syndromes is a heuristic, a rule of thumb, not an exclusive or exhaustive discussion of all things human.
I leave you to look it up. The interest for me was the linkage that Desrochers and Szurmak forge between the guardian mentality and the eco-doomist catastrophist outlook, which for me was akin to finding that piece of the jigsaw puzzle linking large collections of previously separate areas of thought. Population Bombed situates a contemporary debate in a larger and older clash of ideas and beliefs, and I admire it for grounding me in that age-old discussion, as well as ably advancing the cause of the hopefuls.
“Stick with the optimists. It’s going to be tough enough even if they’re right.” ― James Barrett Reston
I would like you to direct your attention to the speech of Steve Bannon, given a few weeks ago. He is one of the very few who see the relationship among several events and forces: the colossal failure of the financial system in 2008, shipping jobs to China, low interest rates, the party of Davos, and what Trump is doing or expected to be doing.
Bannon constantly tells us to sift the noise from the signal. The Russian collusion nonsense is the noise. Dealing with a mercantilist dictatorship like China is the signal. Controlling immigration is the signal, because without it the wages of the US working classes are continually driven downwards. And because of the economic crash and the flood of money used to bail out the rich, no one can save money.
He says China is exporting deflation and de-industrialization of the United States. A multi-decade project is required to turn back the growing power of the administrative state, and that will take a Supreme Court able and willing to comprehend the issue.
This edition below of one of Bannon’s recent speeches is even better, though its production values are worse.
He predicts that information war, cyber war and economic war with the Chinese mercantilist dictatorship is beginning, indeed it is underway. He finds it absurd to assume that free trade can possibly work with such an entity. For the Chinese, foreign relations are in essence the management of barbarians. The US can export swine, canola, wheat and ore to China, but aircraft and smart-phones, never. China wants tributaries, and the idea of equality between nations, or a rules based order, is absurd, un-Chinese, and contrary to nature.
At an earlier stage of life, I had an ethnic Chinese Canadian brother in law. His first words to me of any seriousness were that “The Chinese idea of democracy is ‘you do as I say'”. I have never forgotten what he said, because Chinese state behaviour has exemplified the insight throughout the years.
“The whole object is to shift the world’s supply chain back to the industrial democracies of the West” (including Japan and Korea). Getting a trade deal with Mexico and Canada is key to this, as well as special deals with Japan and Korea. “You must be a manufacturing juggernaut if you want to be a serious power”.
You can question the premises of his position, and I am certain many think he is drumming up war. What you cannot assert is that Bannon lacks strategic vision.
“The deplorables are mad because they are rational human beings.” Amen.
Wait for a moment and allow yourself the pleasure of realizing that you were right all along. Before politics returns to its usual hysterical mode, contemplate for a moment the discomfiture of the fanatics who cannot find the crime that Trump has not committed. As Scott Adams points out, this is a time when psychologists should be on television talking to the newspeople about mass delusions, group think, and cognitive dissonance. What we do not need is more political analysts pretending they will not be satisfied until they get to the bottom of the Mueller report. The last thing the fanatics want is more information exonerating Trump. We know it, and they know it.
It matters not. To the satisfaction of many, and the consternation of the Left, Trump has had his entrails investigated, and he has been found not guilty of illegal collusion with Russia or its agents.
Taibbi writes: ” As a purely journalistic failure, however, WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess. Worse, it’s led to most journalists accepting a radical change in mission. We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.”
A lot of institutions are in trouble these days: The Roman Church, the American left wing news-engines, the Canadian federal Liberal Party, to name some that come to mind. They richly deserve it.
“crashing out will be almost completely painless and imperceptible, and May will either take the hint that she has a serious confidence-problem and go, or fumble along until November and be handed a bus ticket.”
What if they decided to have a catastrophe and no one showed up? In the meantime Theresa May demonstrates a level of incompetence and irresolution that betokens yet another seriously over-promoted woman with a profound faith in herself.
Robert Mueller has submitted his report on the Russian collusion story. “Story” is the operative word here. I cite from the report this morning (hyperlink not available) in the National Post (page A2) from reporters of the New York Times: “While the inquiry, started months earlier by the FBI, unearthed a far-ranging Russian influence operation, no evidence has emerged that the president or his aides illegally assisted it.”
I am with Tucker Carlson on this. Those who propagated this false narrative should face social and political obloquy. They will not, of course. They will swiftly move on to the next Big Lie, and be richly rewarded for their shameful behaviour.
It took a few centuries for the political passions to settle and for the bones to be found. He then received a proper burial ceremony. A proper and fitting ceremony for a dead king.
For a good commentary on his successor, Henry VII Tudor, father of Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I, see this.
Some of the kings of England have been weasels, main-chancers, weak, unscrupulous murderers, and traitors, even. Although Charles 1st thought that it was impossible for him to have committed treason, Parliament demonstrated to him otherwise by lopping off his head in 1647. With the passage of political leadership to the institution of Prime Minister, it is their assistants rather than kings’ minions who shove a knife into their enemies these days. The Wars of the Roses makes the resignations of the Gerald Butts and the Clerk of Privy Council seem like small stuff.