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ASPO 6. In Praise of…#6. Nate Hagens.

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
I very much enjoyed the presentation by Nate Hagens called “A Supply and Demand Framework for a Full Planet”. Nate, among other things, is one of the editors of the Oil Drum. What was so good about his talk was that it came at the peak oil question from a completely different angle, and delved into areas not usually considered at peak oil conferences, in particular cognitive neuroscience. He began his talk using the analogy of the Irish Elk, which, prior to its extinction, had antlers that were 12 feet across. The male Irish Elk had come to depend on the size of his horns for his sexual desirability, and in the end it needed so much phosphorous to sustain these horns, that the entire species died out. Nate’s point was that conspicuous consumption has similarly become our way of demonstrating our sexual desirability, and likewise it could well end up being the end of us.

Human beings, he said, have evolved in such a way that we place short term gains of food and sex over long term thinking. Cheap oil and other fossil fuels have allowed us to grow, but still with the same underlying evolutionary urges. We have evolved as a part of natural selection. The scale of the peak oil crisis though, means that we need to start applying some lateral thinking, and trying to get beyond our evolutionary ‘programming’. He talked about discount rates, about the desire for pleasure now rather than in the future. Lottery winners apparently have ten times the rates of depression of non-Lottery winners.

The Aspiration Gap, the difference between what we have and what we think will make us happy and what actually does, continues however much we have. The amount we think will bring satisfaction is not absolute but is relative to where we are. As with any addiction, we continually need more in order to be able to get the same ‘high’. Key to a successful transition through peak oil will be our ability to replace the need for financial capital with social capital, and learn to base social prowess on how few things we have rather than how many things we have. The concept of ’small is beautiful’ will need to become the driver for our sense of who we are.

It was all credit to the organisers of ASPO 6 that the conference began to open out into exploring new areas such as this, rather than just focusing on depletion. To begin to delve into the area of the psychology that got us into this mess in the first place, and how we’ll need to re-wire it in order to survive out the other side was important, and will become increasingly so.
(1 October 2007)

How to Address Humanity’s Global Crises? Challenge Corporate Power, Embrace True Democracy

Vandana Shiva, AlterNet
The physicist, activist and author outlines the scope of the “triple threat” represented by the end of cheap oil, human-induced climate change, and resource scarcity.

Alternet Editor’s note: the following remarks were made this September at a conference on “Confronting the Global Triple Crisis — Climate Change, Peak Oil, Global Resource Depletion & Extinction,” in Washington DC. For more information, visit the International Forum on Globalization’s website.

…We have to begin with solutions where we are, while we defend our democratic rights. I work primarily on agriculture. The globalized, industrialized agriculture is a very big part of the pollution that we are dealing with, a very big part of the crisis we are facing. But ecological, bio-diverse, local agriculture is part of the solution. Both in reducing emissions, in increasing absorption of carbon, and most importantly, providing the adaptive capacity to deal with climate chaos. This year in Navdanya, the movement I started for seed saving, we started saving seeds that can deal with the drought, that can deal with the floods. We’ve been saving seeds that can deal with the cyclones and hurricanes and distributed those seeds after the tsunami. Those seeds are available, they merely have to be saved and distributed rapidly enough before Monsanto comes up with yet another false solution; that without genetic engineering and seed patents we will not be able to respond to climate change …

I just want to end by saying that we have basically two options. We have the option of letting the remaining resources of the planet be fought over viciously through militarized power or we can move rapidly to the ability to rebuild our ecosystems, share the limited resources the planet can provide us, and create good lives while doing it. But to do that, we’ll have to get out of many reductionisms.

The first reductionism being the reductionism of energy. We’ve suddenly moved to thinking of energy as something we can consume, not as something we generate. And I think that generative concept of energy — we call it shakti in India — is something we have to reclaim, because the solution to pollution and wasted people is bringing people back — deep into the equation of how we produce things, how we work the land, how we shape community, and how we exercise our democratic rights and rebuild our freedoms.

And of course, we’ll have to get out of the mindsets that treat the laws manufactured by the market as immutable and unchanging. And the three concepts that are constantly referred to as something that can’t be touched are: economic growth. You can’t make any change that will touch the nine percent growth in India, the ten percent growth in China. You cannot interfere in the unregulated market — even though every step of trade liberalization is an interference in the market, every step of creating an opportunity for Cargill and Monsanto, is an interference in the market. And the third false sacred, is unbridled consumerism …

The problem of climate chaos to me and the problem of appropriating the resources of those who need those resources for ecological security and economic security, is ultimately a question of ethics and justice. And that issue of ethics and justice can only be addressed if we recognize some very basic facts and reorient our practices of what we eat, what we do on our farms, our homes, our towns, our planet.

We need to reinvent our eating and drinking, our moving and working, in our local ecosystems and local cultures. Enriching our lives by lowering our consumption, without impoverishing others. And above all, we need to subject the laws that govern production and consumption to the laws of Gaia; the laws of the planet. The laws of a planet that can give forever in abundance for our needs if we do not allow the narrow minded, mechanistic, reductionist, greed based system of industrialism, capitalism, globalization to make us imagine that to be inhuman is the definition of being human.

Activist and physicist Vandana Shiva is founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. She is author of more than three hundred papers in leading journals and numerous books, including “Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology, and the Third World and Earth Democracy.” Shiva is a founding director of International Forum on Globalization.
(1 October 2007)
Contributor Rick Dworsky writes:
The monster we’ve been keeping in the closet — the dark side of our fossil driven existence — is banging on the door.

Collateral Damage

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
Roel sent me this open letter to Ken Burns this morning [criticizing his recent documentary on World War II], and I thought it was worth posting here.

…I do not agree with the writer’s claim that war is a particularly male perversion, nor do I think that none of what Burns so lovingly portrays about heroics is true – say rather that the two are simultaneously, horrifyingly, the truth, and that that is what history is – the juxtaposition of all the truths. But I do think that we must open our eyes to “collateral” damage and recognize that it is not accidental, or unintentional. For example, the collateral damage we in the rich world do to the poor world is not merely an expression of unintentional harm, but is avoidable, and operates to show our power and our wealth.

I worry about women’s future after peak oil and climate change. As all over the world we get hungrier and poorer, and wars break out over food and water and fossil fuels, women will pay the price in ways that men won’t. Women are always poorer than men. Hunger drives women to prostitution, war legitimizes rape, poverty make the protection of the weak a low priority. Climate change will play itself out in laboratories and in news stories about drought. It will only rarely appear as news stories about young girls sold into sexual slavery because their families can’t feed them. Peak oil will appear in the news as war in the middle east and stories of gas shortages – but only rarely in the form of women raped by soldiers. When food starts going short, we will speak loudly of how awful overpopulation is, but only rarely of how often women are powerless to control their own bodies. But the truth is that the sheer numbers of scientists holding press conferences will be vastly smaller than the number of girls weeping after the first man rapes them.
(1 October 2007)

’11th Hour’ offers solutions to inconvenient truths

Chris Honoré, Ashland Daily Tidings
“The 11th Hour” is as stirring and effective a documentary as was the Al Gore environmental epistle, “An Inconvenient Truth.” In fact, “Hour” devotes a good third of its footage to exploring possible solutions. And yet it has not captured the attention of audiences in nearly the same way. It’s possible that the issue of the week or month has morphed (likely several times since “Truth” was released) into something else, and the notoriously short attention span of the public has shifted to a new issue du jour. Or, the audience for such films is suffering from catastrophe fatigue.

There is also the possibility that this is an issue – degradation of our biosphere – which is impossible to think about without concluding that the changes required are so revolutionary that they will not be forthcoming. As a species we simply can’t make the necessary adjustments in time. Hence, films such as “Truth” and “Hour” are, in essence, eloquent eulogies for our species and our planet.

Nevertheless, both films are hopeful, insisting that the window of opportunity is closing but isn’t closed.
(30 September 2007)