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Deep thought - Dec 20

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It Begins: Dogs and cats use public transport to commute to food

Greg Ross, Futility Closet
Moscow’s stray dogs have begun using the city’s subway system. Zoologist Andrey Poyarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, who has been studying the city’s 35,000 strays for 30 years, says some dogs scavenge downtown during the day and board trains in the evening to travel to industrial complexes in the suburbs, where they sleep.

“Because the best scavenging for food is in the city center,” Poyarkov told the Sun, “the dogs had to learn how to travel on the subway — to get to the center in the morning, then back home in the evening, just like people.”

This seems to be a sinister trend:

* In 2006 a Jack Russell terrier named Ratty began taking the Number 10 bus from his farm in Dunnington, North Yorkshire, to a pub five miles away, where regulars would feed him sausages. When barred from one pub he switched to another nearby.
(18 December 2011)
Suggested by EB contributor Amanda Kovattana.
UPDATE: more on commuting canines from The Sun: Wild dogs take Chewbilee Line

Avoiding bad news is not going to solve the world's problems

Craig & Marc Kielburger, Vancouver Sun
Recent research shows the less Canadians know about an issue, the less willing they are to discover any new information about it
... If the Earth were in distress, say, heating up to dangerous temperatures, the public would band together. We'd all scrutinize the problem to help climate scientists and environment ministers find a solution ... wouldn't we?

Many people wouldn't. In fact, when the issues are really complicated, some would avoid the crisis altogether.

New research has found that the less Canadians know about complex issues: the economy, energy, and the environment, the more they avoid becoming well informed about them.

This wilful ignorance is associated with a "chain reaction" of dependence on governments to solve the problem, especially if it is urgent.

The American Psychological Association surveyed 511 adults in Canada and the U.S. in a series of five studies to discover more about the "'ignorance is bliss' approach to social issues."

In one study, those who felt most at risk in the face of a recession were more likely to avoid literature that challenged the government's ability to manage the economy.

Staying ill-informed "is an ideal way to protect the psychologically comfortable [even if inaccurate] belief that the government is taking care of the problem," state the authors, who cited Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

... The authors of the study note that this tendency to avoid threatening information about complex issues is called "motivated avoidance."

Imagine the consequences for someone worried about an energy crisis. They'll gloss over headlines heralding peak oil instead of reading more.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. The goal of the organization is to free children from poverty and exploitation through education.
(19 December 2011)

Transition And Transformation: The Joy Of Preparation
Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker, Vimeo via "Speaking Truth to Power"
A upbeat conversation about emotional and spiritual preparation for unprecedented changeswith Carolyn Baker and Andrew Harvey. Harvey is the author of "The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism." Recorded in the offices of Transition Colorado.

Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker 11.12.11 from Michael Brownlee on Vimeo.

Vimeo address:
(18 December 2011)
For more from Carolyn Baker, see her website Speaking Truth to Power.

Capitalism and the Accumulation of Catastrophe

John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review
Over the next few decades we are facing the possibility, indeed the probability, of global catastrophe on a level unprecedented in human history. The message of science is clear. As James Hansen, the foremost climate scientist in the United States, has warned, this may be “our last chance to save humanity.”1 In order to understand the full nature of this threat and how it needs to be addressed, it is essential to get a historical perspective on how we got where we are, and how this is related to the current socioeconomic system, namely capitalism.

Fundamental to the ecological critique of capitalism, I believe, is what world-historian William McNeill called the law of “the conservation of catastrophe.” For McNeill, who applied his “law” to environmental crisis in particular, “catastrophe is the underside of the human condition—a price we pay for being able to alter natural balances and to transform the face of the earth through collective effort and the use of tools.” The better we become at altering and supposedly controlling nature, he wrote, the more vulnerable human society becomes to catastrophes that “recur perpetually on an ever-increasing scale as our skills and knowledge grow.”2 The potential for catastrophe is thus not only conserved, but it can be said to be cumulative, and reappears in an evermore colossal form in response to our growing transformation of the world around us.

In the age of climate change and other global planetary threats McNeill’s thesis on the conservation of catastrophe deserves close consideration. Rather than treating it as a universal aspect of the human condition, however, this dynamic needs to be understood in historically specific terms, focusing on the tendency toward the conservation of catastrophe under historical capitalism.

... In analyzing the causes of the conservation of catastrophe, McNeill explained: “Human purposes are extraordinarily fragile because they never take full account of the circumstances on which they impinge, and every so often act as triggers, provoking results that were not imagined by those who precipitated them. It follows…that the more skillful human beings become at making over natural balances to suit themselves, the greater the potential for catastrophe.”4

... Marx’s most direct contribution to the critique of ecological destruction of course was his theory of metabolic rift, which I have examined extensively elsewhere. This was derived from what Marx called “Liebig’s soil exhaustion theory,” whereby industrialized agriculture by removing the nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) from the soil and shipping them to the cities, sometimes hundreds and thousands of miles, undermined the recirculation of these nutrients back to the soil. Marx employed the concept of metabolism to explain the necessary relation of human beings to the earth through production, and argued that a rift or break had developed in the metabolic cycle. Hence, this “eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil” demanded its “systematic restoration.”

Nevertheless, the metabolic rift was “irreparable” for capitalist society. Driven by its accumulation motive, capital was unable to limit its destructiveness or to follow the precepts of natural science. Indeed, “the more a country proceeds from large-scale industry as the background of its development,” Marx argued, “the more rapid is the process of destruction.” The problems created by this rift in the human-natural metabolism would therefore accumulate, even if they were shifted around—creating a growing imperative of ecological restoration. Indeed, it was here that Marx stressed that it was “one of Liebig’s immortal merits” to have developed “from the point of view of natural science the negative, i.e. destructive side of modern agriculture” (emphasis added).17

... In the twenty-first century it is customary to view the rise of planetary ecological problems as a surprising development scarcely conceivable prior to the last few decades. It is here, however, that we have the most to learn from the analysis of nineteenth-century thinkers who played a role in the development of ecology, including both early ecological scientists and classical historical materialists. Science has long warned of the negative, destructive side of the human transformation of the earth—a warning which the system, driven by its own imperatives, has continually sought to downplay.

Indeed, what distinguishes our time from earlier centuries is not so much the conservation of catastrophe, which has long been recognized, but rather the accelerated pace at which such destruction is now manifesting itself, i.e., what I am calling the accumulation of catastrophe. The desertification arising in pre-capitalist times, partly through human action, manifested itself over centuries, even millennia. Today changes in the land, the atmosphere, the oceans, indeed the entire life-support system of the earth, are the product of mere decades.

... Many environmentalists, including some who perceive themselves as being on the left, persist in believing that we can address our immense and growing ecological problems without altering our fundamental social-production relationships. All that is necessary in this view is the combined magic of green technology and green markets. Short-term fixes are presumed to be adequate solutions, while society remains on the same essential course as before.

Indeed, the dominant perspective on ecology can be characterized, I believe, as consisting of three successive stages of denial: (1) the denial altogether of the planetary ecological crisis (or its human cause); (2) the denial that the ecological crisis is fundamentally due to the system of production in which we live, namely capitalism; and (3) the denial that capitalism is constitutionally incapable of overcoming this global ecological threat—with capital now being presented instead as the savior of the environment.

(December 2011 issue)
Long essay. -BA

Ted Trainer: The problem is consumer-capitalism

Jonathon Rutherford, Green Left
Green Left Weekly’s Jonathon Rutherford spoke to Australian environmentalist and author Ted Trainer about capitalism, affluence, the limits to growth and how we can move to a better society.
Q: Today most environmentalists, including most on the left, think that the main barrier preventing a smooth transition to renewables is political, not technical. Against this powerful belief you have argued that consumer-capitalist society cannot be sustained by renewables alone. Can you briefly explain why?

Trainer: One has to distinguish between what is technically possible and economically feasible. Of course the technical potential of renewable is enormous, but we have to ask what will this cost, and what other problems might arise?

In my book I set out a numerical case that to supply 2050 world energy demand via renewables would require investment totals that are perhaps 10 to 15 times the present
proportion of gross domestic product that goes into energy.

Relying on renewables alone also creates major problems associated with intermittency and energy redundancy. These problems would not exist if electricity could be stored in very large quantities but I have argued this can’t be done and is not foreseen.

... Q: Many on the left would share your concern for sustainability but would question your focus on “consumerism” and “affluence”. Most working class people have little choice about housing, transport, car usages or buying product that have been produced in harmful ways. Your response?

Trainer: Yes it’s true that most people are locked into consumer society due to faulty systems and structures that, for example, force people to drive to work. But I do insist that the demand for affluence is a key driver of today’s major global problems.

As such, the main target, the main problem group is not the corporations or the capitalist class. They have their power because people in general grant it to them. The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.

If they came to see how extremely unacceptable consumer-capitalist society is, and to see that The Simpler Way is the path to liberation then the present system would be quickly abandoned. The battle is therefore one of ideology or awareness. We have to help people to see that radical change is necessary and attractive, so that they enthusiastically set about building new local economies on mostly collective principles.

Q: What then is the most effective transition strategy for those radicals who see the need to replace capitalism with some kind of simpler way?

Trainer: Chapter 13 of my book argues that most strategies, including green and red-left as well as conventional strategies, are mistaken. The essential aim is not to fight against consumer-capitalist society, but to build the alternative to it.

This revolution cannot be achieved from the top, either by governments, green parties or proletarian revolutions. This can only be a grass-roots transition led by ordinary people working out how they can cooperatively make their local communities viable as the global economy increasingly fails to provide.

The eco-village and Transition Towns movements have begun the general shift, but Local
self-sufficiency initiatives such as community gardens and Permaculture must be informed by the awareness that reforms to consumer-capitalist society cannot achieve a sustainable and just society.

A: Many leftist would argue that such a strategy has been tried in the past, for example with the hippies, and failed. These kinds of movements, they argue, pose no fundamental threat to capitalism. Worse, they distract people from confronting the system, particularly the big fossil fuel companies driving global warming. Your response?

Trainer: I totally agree that this is a problem. Nothing of lasting significance will be achieved unless it is clearly understood that our efforts in these local initiatives are the first steps to the eventual replacement of the present society by one which is not driven by market forces, profit, competition, growth or affluence. This awareness is far from sufficiently evident in present green initiatives.

So lefties, do you want to get rid of capitalism? Then the most subversive thing you can do is join trans towns movements … and work to widen their presently very narrow and thoroughly reformist vision to include getting rid of capitalism … and growth and the market and all/any interest in affluence or gain.
(8 November 2011)

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