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Our energy future? ‘Too Much Magic & Wishful Thinking’
Robert Magyar, Examiner
There is a new book out this summer called, ‘Too Much Magic, Wishful Thinking, Technology And The Fate Of The Nation’ by James Howard Kunstler. The book deals with American’s core belief technology can solve all our problems and how this is at odds with the future of energy supplies. Kunstler, a believer in Peak Oil and Peak Capital, writes that our industrial society as we know it is about to undergo significant and radical reorganization due to the end of cheap and abundant oil and an upcoming lack of capital needed to maintain our standard of living.
… In his new book, “Too Much Magic”, Kunstler updates his prior writings on Peak Oil stating how Americans long held ill-conceived belief new technologies can always conquer our problems is leading us into a period of great denial and subsequent anger. He covers the current financial crisis of the last several years in the U.S. and Europe as further evidence of capital destruction due to cheap financial credit and reckless complex financial derivatives and shows its relationship to energy supplies.
Kunstler writes this underlying destruction of our financial markets is resulting in serious upcoming capital shortages just at the time we need to be investing in rebuilding our railroad, mass transit and water transportation systems. Such transportation systems he argues are far less oil dependent than trucking or cars and because of this, they will be a key part of our future. Instead of such actions taking place, he believes we are receiving instead a barrage of feel good messages that technology and energy independence will solve all our problems.
He points to rapid changes throughout the European euro financial community including Greece France and Spain as to what the future might be as limits to economic growth increasingly become hard stop realities. He believes much of the civil strife occurring in Europe will soon become a fact of life here in America and for the same reasons.
(27 June 2012)
To pre-order Kunstler’s new book (coming out in July), see the book’s website. -BA
El tercer principio ético de la permacultura
Holger Hieronimi, Tierramor
El tercer principio ético de la permacultura, ha sido expresado de diferentes maneras por diferentes autores, diseñadores y facilitadores de cursos. Aquí intento trazar un poco la historia de los principios éticos en la literatura permacultural, a través de los últimos treinta y cinco años. La idea es articular un entendimiento actualizado del tercer principio:
“Compartir con Equidad”
Veo esta reflexión como parte de un proceso más amplio, que busca profundizar en nuestros valores fundamentales como activistas y entusiastas en torno a la permacultura. Más allá de todo el trabajo práctico, hermoso, importante e inspirador, que estamos realizando en nuestros proyectos, estas cuestiones “teóricas”, quizás “filosóficas”, también tienen su importancia. En tiempos de cambios rápidos y sistémicos, la articulación de nuestros principios y valores, evoluciona respondiendo a las realidades dentro de las cuales vivimos y tenemos que desarrollar nuestros proyectos. Pocas veces nos tomamos el tiempo para revisar este proceso. –
En los primeros dos libros referentes a la permacultura (“Permaculture One”, 1978, de Mollison/ Holmgren, y “Permaculture Two”, 1979, Mollison), no hay mención explícita de principios éticos. En el segundo tomo, Mollison hace referencia a Masanobu Fukuoka y los cuatro principios del cultivo natural (expresados en “La Revolución de una Brizna de Paja”) cuando habla de la base filosófica de la permacultura.
Fue hasta la publicación del “Manual de Diseño de la Permacultura”, en 1988, cuando Bill Mollison hace referencia a principios éticos, con el siguiente texto (traducción provisional HH):
“Al principio, varios de nosotros investigamos éticas comunitarias, buscando principios universales para guiar nuestras propias acciones. Aunque muchas de estas guías incluyen hasta dieciocho principios, la mayoría pueden verse expresados en estos tres que vienen abajo (el segundo y el tercer principio se derivan del primero)
- CUIDADO DE LA TIERRA: Provisión de todos los sistemas vivos para que continúen y se multipliquen
- CUIDADO DE LA GENTE: Provisión para que la gente tenga acceso a los recursos que necesita para su existencia
- PONER LÍMITES A POBLACIÓN Y CONSUMO: Al hacernos responsables de nuestras necesidades, podemos dirigir recursos para cumplir con los dos principios anteriores.”
Muchos consideramos la expresión original del tercer principio ético un tanto desafortunada. Puede mal-interpretarse, cuando no queda claro el marco de acción que propone la permacultura: “De abajo hacia arriba”-
Aplicamos los principios primero al nivel personal, en la familia, con los vecinos y en las comunidades donde vivimos, de la misma manera como también lo sugiere el concepto de las zonas.
Como directiva para la propia vida, creo que es muy positivo y ético, cuestionarse por ejemplo: ¿Cuántos hijos voy a traer al mundo? ¿Cuántos puedo sostener con mis medios y sin comprometer aun más los ecosistemas?, ¿Cómo será la base de recursos para mis hijos, una vez que sean mayores? ¿Pueden vivir una vida plena y prospera, considerando los escenarios futuros marcados por cambio climático y descenso energético?
Un cuestionamiento similar se hace relacionado con nuestros hábitos de consumo: ¿Cuanto necesito realmente para vivir? ¿Como puedo diseñar mi vida para contribuir a la regeneración en vez de la degradacion de los ecosistemas? ¿Realmente necesito todo lo que creo que necesito? ¿Cual es el impacto real de todas las decisiones que tomo al nivel personal cada día a la hora para cubrir mis necesidades reales y/o sentidas?
… Esta realidad es un choque cultural para el supuesto que sostiene el “progreso sinfín” predominante en el discurso corriente de la sociedad, y en la experiencia real de mucha gente. Estamos tan acostumbrados al crecimiento continuo en todos los niveles: En la tecnología, la economía, la población, en el transporte, en los avances de la ciencia, en la sofisticación y complejidad de las sociedades… crecer fue una realidad (por lo menos en el occidente) durante más de 500 años, acelerándose a partir de la revolución industrial hace 300 años, y entrando a un estado de hiper- aceleración durante las últimas décadas. Es natural que nos cueste mucho aceptar los limites. Por momentos, parece que no los hay. Y muchas personas todavía nos prometen la singularidad, energía libre para todos, o la conquista de otros planetas.
English translation of the cartoon:
1st Panel: Who wants to live in a better and more harmonious world? – (everyone raises their hands enthusiastically)
2nd Panel: Who is willing to abandon the model of unbounded consumerism to achieve it? – (everyone looks down at the ground sheepishly) ]
Holger Hieronimi is a contributor to Energy Bulletin. He lives in Mexico where he teaches permaculture-related courses. His website Terramor is a great resource for Spanish-language material.
The Spiritual Crisis of Capitalism
What would the Buddha do?
Stuart Smithers, Adnusters
When the Dalai Lama announced his Marxist leanings last summer in Minneapolis, the only surprise was how surprising it was. The blogosphere was once again stirred up by this non-revelation. Tsering Namgyal, an Indian-born Tibetan journalist who lives and studies in the US, was tagging along when the Dalai Lama met with 150 Chinese students for a three-hour conference in Minneapolis in June 2011. Writing for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Namgyal posted that the Dalai Lama surprised the students when he volunteered, “as far as socio-political beliefs are concerned, I consider myself a Marxist.” And he went on to clarify that he was “not a Leninist.” Namgyal’s post reported that a student asked about the apparent contradiction in the Dalai Lama’s economic philosophy and Marx’s critique of religion. The Dalai Lama’s understanding was more nuanced than most of the bloggers who jumped on the story: he suggested that Marx was not actually against religion or religious philosophy per se, but “against religious institutions that were allied, during Marx’s time, with the European ruling class.” (That would be the capitalist class.) The three-hour exchange was probably not designed for political sound-bites.
So what’s all the fuss? Marx might still be an inspirational hero for the odd revolutionary in Peru or Nepal, but communism is generally summarized as a failed system that crashed and burned. So why this repeated hysteria about Marx? And why now?
While Joe McCarthy was holding Senate hearings in 1954 and fueling fear of a threatening and subversive communist underground that never really materialized, the Dalai Lama was studying Marx with Mao. Before actually studying Marx, the Dalai Lama was also taught to fear “communists” and representations of communism, with little knowledge of Marx or how China’s communist movement related to Marx’s theories. In the 1999 TIME interview, the Dalai Lama reflects on these nuanced differences and possibilities of a “genuine communist movement” in Tibet:
I was very young when I first heard the word communist. The 13th Dalai Lama (1876–1933) had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954–55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member. Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self-creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Marx, communism, or capitalism (and sometimes a strong opinion), but whenever I have been able to have a sustained conversation about Marxism with friends or students they usually admit how little they know about Marx’s thought, while falling back on the view that Marx was an advocate of communism (true), and Marxism – understood as “communism” – represents a discredited and disgraced economic paradigm (sort of not quite true). In the unlikely event that a friend or student had actually read Marx, it was usually Marx and Engels’ very slim thirty-page treatise, The Communist Manifesto. Buddhists in this late stage of global capital might want to get up to speed on Marx.
Marx’s most important contribution was not a revolutionary labor movement, but his monumental 18-year study of the capitalist economic system eventually published in three volumes as Capital (Das Kapital). Anyone interested in working through the text should start young – the three volumes weigh in at about 2,500 pages. Most people know the ending anyway: Marx was less than optimistic about capitalism’s long-term prospects, but how he gets there is why scholars and writers of all stripes have continually returned to his dense, difficult, logical, detached analysis of the world’s dominant economic system. What is perhaps most surprising in the text is the discovery that Marx’s cool and methodical deconstruction of capitalism is almost entirely void of moral argumentation or appeals to conscience. And readers hoping to understand or critique the communist mode that will finally appear when capitalism reaches its conclusion will also find a remarkable absence of detailed discussion about our future world beyond capitalism.
There have been few silver linings to the Great Recession and America’s own “jobless” recovery, but Marx’s return is certainly one of them. Marxists are stepping out of the academic closet in greater numbers, and new life is being breathed into his ideas. Capital is a dish best served cold.
(29 June 2012)
Suggest by EB contributor Mary Logan.
The Emerging Left in the ‘Emerging’ World
(New openness to smaller scale, democracy and nature)
Jayati Ghosh, Economic and Political Weekly (India)
There is much more dynamism within the global left, especially in the South, than is often perceived. The rejection of capitalism in many of left movements in the South tends to be accompanied not only by imagining alternatives, but also by shifting views about what constitutes the desirable alternative. This, in turn, has meant an interrogation of some previously standard tenets of socialist understanding. This essay reviews several features of emerging left movements in Latin America, Africa and developing Asia that suggest a move away from some traditional ideas associated with socialist theory and practice even as there are two important areas of continuity with the leftist thinking of the past.
Jayati Ghosh is with the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
This is a slightly modified version of the text of the “Ralph Miliband Lecture on the Future of the Left” that was delivered in the London School of Economics, London in May 2012.
… even as resistance to global capitalism builds up in both the South and the North, it tends to be accompanied by gloomy perceptions that grand socialist visions of the future are no longer possible. Indeed, much of the popular protest that is evident today in various places is still essentially about “resistance” rather than “transformation”, and involves rearguard action to stem the tide of brutal fiscal austerity measures that deny the social and economic rights of citizens within the existing economic system, rather than conceiving and putting in place alternative systems. A basic lack of confidence in anything other than capitalism as a way of organising economic life still permeates popular protests in Europe and the United States, such that the purpose of the left is seen to be to somehow exert a restraining influence on the worst excesses of current capitalism – the left as a civilising and moderating force, not so much a transformative (much less revolutionary) force.
But elsewhere, in Asia, Latin America and Africa, the discourse is becoming quite different. There is much more dynamism within the global left than is often perceived, and there are variegated moves away from tired ideas of all kinds. So the rejection of capitalism also tends to be accompanied not only by imagining alternatives, but also by shifting views about what constitutes the desirable alternative. This, in turn, has meant interrogation of some previously standard tenets of socialist understanding. There are several features of emerging left movements in different parts of the world – in Latin America for sure, where they are also associated in several countries with state power to some extent, but also in other areas of Africa and developing Asia – that suggest a move away from some traditional ideas associated with socialist theory and practice.
… On Largeness and Scale
The second relatively “new” feature is the rejection of over-centralisation. The centralising, homogenising state was a central element of “actually existing socialism” throughout much of the 20th century, and even today it remains embedded somewhere in the consciousness of many of those who see themselves as socialists. Indeed, in the classical Marxist view, scale itself, and the tendency of capitalist production to generate larger and larger scales, were seen as paradoxically positive features, since they enabled the combination of large groups of workers who could be mobilised to alter production relations, and allowed for more rapid and effective transformation of such relations to the benefit of all the people.
… This recognition necessarily means that even in the emerging left, there cannot be a blind or simplistic celebration of everything “small”. Nonetheless, most tendencies in this newer left praxis typically foreground the need to generate or enhance the viability of small-scale production. There is a clear reaction against past attempts at centralised control over all aspects of material life, which have been experienced as rigid, inflexible, hierarchical and lacking in accountability, thereby rendering them into the opposite of what was intended.
It is also true that material conditions have changed to make largeness less desirable or necessary in some respects. First, there is the recent experience of the downsides of largeness (such as banks that are too big to fail, multinational corporations (MNCs) that become so big that they are unaccountable and cannot be taxed, and so on). Second, technology – especially the convergence of information, communication and energy technologies – is opening up new possibilities of productivity growth in decentralised settings, which increase the possibilities for a locally managed, decentralised, but globally connected post-carbon economy.
So the emerging left movements and states in which they dominate do not require or expect centralised ownership and control over all economic activities. Smallholder cultivation and small-scale providers of services as well as of manufactured goods are recognised as worthy of direct state support and of being provided sufficient enabling conditions for their activities. This is quite different from the celebration of informality and of strategies like microfinance, which are beloved of the international development industry. Where economies of scale are known to be significant, there is renewed exploration within the left of forms like cooperatives and other combinations in different manifestations. The aim is to find a balance between large and small, which will obviously differ according to context.
On Private Property
It is already evident that this point of view requires a more complex approach to property rights. This constitutes the third major difference of the emerging left from earlier models of socialism that did away with all private property and only recognised personal property. New leftist thinking is generally vague or ambivalent about private property – disliking it when it is seen as monopolising or highly concentrated (for example in the form of MNCs) but otherwise not just accepting of it, but even (in the case of small producers, for example) actively encouraging it. Increasingly there has been explicit recognition or incorporation of other forms of property rights, particularly communal property associated with traditional, indigenous or autochthonous “communities” who in turn are no longer derided as premodern relics that have to be done away with.
… On the Environment Question
Finally, the relationship of human societies with nature is undergoing much more comprehensive interrogation than ever before. Traditional Marxists tended to be technology fans, glorying in the development of productive forces as expression of the forward movement of society and objecting to relations of production that thwarted or prevented such development. Of course this need not require an exploitative and aggressive attitude to nature and to the use of natural wealth, but in actual practice this was only too often the case. The requirements of an organic and sustainable attitude to nature were rarely factored into discussions about accumulation and productive expansion. All this has changed quite dramatically in the recent past. Among the primary contradictions of contemporary capitalism are the ecological limits that are increasingly evidenced not just by climate change but by the pollution, degradation, over-extraction and other destruction shown in nature. These have created undeniably unsustainable patterns of production, consumption and accumulation that are generating open conflicts over resources and forcing societies to change, often in undesired ways. And calls for more humane and just societies therefore have to incorporate these critical concerns.
Today many of those who call themselves socialists see environmental conservation, the protection of ecosystems, biodiversity and the integrity of a country’s genetic assets, the prevention of environmental damage, and the recovery of degraded natural spaces as matters of public interest and strategy. Consider this passage from the new constitution of Ecuador, which (like Bolivia) grants rights to nature independent of people:
Nature,… where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature… Nature has the right to be restored…, apart from the obligation of the State and natural persons or legal entities to compensate individuals and communities that depend on affected natural systems.
Jayati Ghosh is Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Executive Secretary of International Development Economics Associates.
(June 16, 2012)
I was interested to see the phrase “Post-carbon economy” in the article. Has Dr. Ghosh been reading Energy Bulletin?
Collapse Fatigue: Prevention And Treatment
Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
Someone who lives not far from me inBoulder,Coloradorecently said, “I’m really tired of waiting and preparing for collapse. I keep hoping that something really big will push us over the cliff, but nothing happens, and I keep preparing, and all my friends keep calling me crazy. It’s really draining. I just want us to pass the tipping point.”
Two months later, the state ofColoradois in flames—and as I write these words, at least 12 wildfires here are uncontained. The worst (so far), theHighParkfire west ofFt.Collinsis only 55% contained, has burned nearly 100,000 acres, and will probably burn until the end of July. Meanwhile, a wildfire which exploded this past Sunday inColorado Springshas caused the partial evacuation of the U.S. Air Force Academy and is charring many historical landmarks, and quite ironically, the mountain from which Catherine Lee Bates penned “America The Beautiful.”
For years, climate research has been pouring out of this state, particularly Boulder, where I live, which along with the University of Colorado, has produced a number of renowned climate experts. Yesterday, a smaller fire broke out in Boulder, caused by a lightning strike, and again ironically, the National Center For Atmospheric Research was partially evacuated—the venue of some of the most pivotal climate research on the planet.
The climate-related pine beetle infestation has produced millions of dead trees inColorado, and nothing has been done to remove them or to clearcut forests to alleviate the problem. Years ago, fireworks and fires of all kinds should have been banned statewide and recreational wilderness shooting prohibited. Meanwhile, the energy and tourist industries have been carrying on business as usual, ignoring the tinder box which this state has become, especially in recent weeks with record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures and scorching winds, atypical forColoradobut showing no signs of going away anytime soon.
As a result of the current fire devastation in this state, which may have only begun since it is only the end of June, the tourist industry will suffer a huge blow, not to mention the overall economy of the state.
Yes, just when some of us in Coloradowere experiencing “collapse fatigue,” climate change kicked us in the butt, and we are now experiencing “wildfire fatigue.” This just after another failed UN conference inRio on sustainability and environmental protection.
The reason many people experience collapse fatigue is that they are waiting for a dramatic, off-the-cliff event that will “prove” to themselves and their detractors that collapse is actually happening—and thereby bring civilization to its knees. Moreover, let’s be honest: Anyone who has researched collapse and is preparing for it has some last vestige of doubt, however miniscule, that the way of life we have known since birth will actually vanish. Why else do hundreds of people tell me that they feel schizophrenic about collapse as they continue knowing what they know, but interact with countless others who are clueless? Why else do some people confess that some part of them thinks they may be crazy for preparing?