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Oh, Global Warming
In a time when people build their self-image around what they believe, in order to "morally" justify their modes of living, any issue of importance is immediately polarized between the identifications of opposing camps, and thus debate moves from the issue itself to the reasons for its condemnation or approval. Such is the case with global warming, an issue that one might think would receive direct attention, but instead is a source of ongoing verbal combat and, not surprisingly, no resolution to action.
There are plenty of reasons to believe "global warming," as a phenomenon, does not exist, at least in the sense of the earth being heated by human-produced carbon emissions. Although it would be hard to come up with any definitive proof either way, there's a lack of evidence for a direct causal link between human activity and the heating of the earth. Further, there's a smattering of clues that provide the suggestion that the observable increase in temperatures worldwide is a naturally-occurring, predetermined tendency.
The debate over proof for global warming almost overshadows the finger-pointing and name-calling between two opposing "sides," which we'll call left and right following the nomenclature of our modern politics, with the left believing global warming is real, and thinking we should put insignificant caps on industry to limit pollution, and the right denying that global warming exists and thus mandating business as usual. In the midst of this busy and resultless activity, a fundamental factor of the argument has been lost: global warming is one symptom of many of human overconsumption of our environment.
Suppose we, "scientific"- and linear-minded moderns that we are, were to formulate an equation for human takeover of the earth. It might look like this:
n = n - (x + y)
Where n is the amount of space and resources on earth, x is the amount of space used so far, and y is the amount used in a given time interval, for example, this year. When we look at this equation for one year only, its significance is lost; after all, it's a foregone assumption that humans will use resources this year. However, if we are able to see this equation on a graph, or over time, it becomes clear that every year x gets bigger, and thus n gets smaller.
In this light, the thought that n is of a huge size, almost inconceivable to our individual viewpoints, is eroded, because no matter how big n is, after enough years x will consume it, since x keeps growing where n stays the same. Therefore, eventually, humanity will consume earth unless there are limiting forces put into place, and with our industrial society having conquered disease and premature death to the point where only very few of us die each year outside of the parameters of our natural lifespan, it is certain that eventually n will approach zero.
This gives us pause on the global warming debate. Setting aside for a moment the question of "proof" for global warming, we have to think that no matter whether or not global warming is real, something will screw up if this equation reflects reality, because nature is composed of ecosystems, which are complex machines of interlocking species and climatic cycles such that a balance is maintained. Earth is a self-sustaining mechanism, or at least is without human intervention. Yet this mechanism requires a certain amount of land and resources, part of n, with which to operate, and n is decreasing yearly.
On this front global warming seems plausible if we assume that for each decrement of n, z, or the amount of carbon waste produced by the growth that occupies the space and resources consumed by x, increases. It's not my goal here to get into preaching about global warming, however. You could prove to me tomorrow that it's a "natural" effect, and suggest I don't worry, to which I'll reply: I'm not worried about global warming specifically as much as I am concerned about the inexorable decrease of n, which in turn results in an inevitable decline in natural ecosystems, eventually culminated in species extinction, the death of ecosystems and destruction of things that took aeons to evolve.
The very fact that we debate global warming endlessly while ignoring this ongoing process of decline shows that we, as a species, are in denial about our effects on our natural world. As products of our modern era, we're accustomed to using a process:
Despite its effectiveness for producing internal combustion engines and digital computers, this process is useless for understanding architectonic systems, or systems where the parts interact to form a self-supporting whole, meaning that no part functions as a pivot but all parts are in some way pivotal. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, and bluejays eat dragonflies; bluejay excretory waste feeds yeast, which grows enough yeast to break down organic products and attract more advanced creatures, and these return nutrients to the earth to grow plants which in turn feed male and immature mosquitoes. It's a giant cycle composed of many counter-dependent internal cycles.
However, to get too far into why our logical systems don't perceive these realities is to escape laying the responsibility at our own feet for noticing, outside of whatever logical systems are in vogue this ten thousand years, that we are steadily consuming our environment and its resources and, unlike mosquitoes, we're not returning diddly-squat in return, unless you count mountains of plastic and paper landfill waste. As reasonably perceptive creatures we should be noticing this overconsumption, and we're not; in fact, it doesn't even require a genius-level intelligence to see this. Why, then, is it an unmentioned secret in our society like child molestation?
Definitely it has its proponents. There are some who speak loudly and clearly about this destruction, first and foremost being Pentti Linkola and Ted Kaczynski. Their voices however are a whisper in the roar of a crowd watching a baseball game, or political rally, or a race to assemble machines. It's not that they don't get their information out there; it's that the audience is unreceptive. How can a species of so many intelligent people be so blind?
Philosophers, despite their lengthy and complex explanations of simple phenomena, have a saying among them that often, but not always, the simplest route to the truth is the answer to any given question. Some call it Occam's razor; others call it common sense. But if we set aside all the Wittgenstein-esque theories about how we cannot be sure of knowledge, thus do not act, and the Hegel-esque theories about how progress will eventually overcome fundamental paradoxes like having consumed the system that sustains us, it becomes clear that we're in denial because our values are elsewhere.
Our values, in fact, have nothing to do with reality, and we seem to as a group love best the philosophers who come up with excuses - I mean "reasons" - why we cannot be sure of what we know, or why we must focus on human issues to the exclusion of all others, because they give us a logical, "proof"-oriented reason for missing the obvious. For this reason, you can have a society of people who feel not only justified but proud of themselves for stamping their feet and demanding "proof" for global warming, as if that issue alone decided the question of whether or not we're committing ecocide, while thinking that "proof" is a higher form of reality than simply recognizing the obvious.
Do we even really need the silly little equation I've put above to realize that, in a space of fixed size, an human population increasing in size and using more machines each year will eventually take up the entire space?
There are wonderful contra-philosophies of course, such as the idea of the "invisible hand" by Adam Smith, which suggests that economies based on opportunity are self-regulating. In his view, businesses do what is logical because they wish to be good members of the community, because this is good business; the rest is handled by companies that see opportunities in the errors of others, and exploit them with countervailing goods and services (presumably in flying people to other planets, so they can consume them also). But none of these make sense when one considers that very few are aware of anything more than their immediate surroundings, tasks and fortune.
We can even blame God's people, whoever they are this millennia, for creating fantasy worlds in the sky that, like the "scientific" world of "proof," distract us from what's going on in actual, living, right-here-now reality. Yet this too rings hollow, although it's clear that dualistic and moralizing religions such as Judaism and Christianity are batshit insane, because even without these our society would ramble onward, eating all that it can and leaving behind it a trail of petrochemical ordure. So what is our cause?
To find out, work backward. A sensible society would at some point have the power to limit citizen growth, either by murdering a certain number of its people in a blessed reduction of latently useless traits (do we really need people under 125 IQ points? if so, for what?) or by restricting food supplies so that natural die-off culls the herd and restrains its breeding. A sensible society might even, at some point well in advance of the danger zone, set out a formula for how much land and resources are needed for nature.
But you can't do that! No, because you'll be violating someone's rights. Everyone has the "right" to be born, live, consume and reproduce before dying, and in order to limit population, we have to shatter someone's world and either prevent them from having children, or dispense with pretense and dispatch them with a well-placed 5.56mm round. Our modern society is based on the idea that you can't violate the individual, because individuals together in crowds find only what is common between them, which is fear for their lives. So how to band people together to protect lives, above all else? Make it illegal and immoral to kill anyone, and everyone can survive without fear of being judged as unfit.
This is how individualistic, "unique," autonomous beings become a single organism with no desire except to preserve itself. They don't necessary actually believe in their doctrine of not killing; crowds are notorious for murdering dissidents, for example. But they do believe in asserting some iron law that says you can't kill any member of the crowd for following the generic order imposed on all, an order derived from what they have in common, which is only the most basic desires of life, since a crowd of individuals actually have very little of more complex desires in common. They will agree they don't want to die, that they want to eat and they want entertainment, but beyond that, a crowd cannot decide an issue and will lapse into endless partisan debate like that on global warming.
And why is the crowdthink perpetuated? It benefits individuals. They want an iron law saying you will be able to survive and breed and gain wealth if you just follow a few rules, and they don't want any kind of judgment limiting their wealth and power because, for example, they're functionally intelligent but defective in any kind of moral reasoning or thought of larger entities than the individual. Even further, individuals like crowdthink because it gives them a straight path to profit: find something that appeals to that lowest common denominator that unites the crowd, and by golly, it'll sell. Circuses, junk food, soft drinks, deodorant, home security systems, divorces and video game systems are all popular with the mob.
I am not saying that money is the root of all evil. What is conveyed here is closer to the ancient saw that the love of money is the root of all evil; money may well be necessary, but those who are so fearful that they care for money more than for reverence of nature, care for their society as a whole, etc. are mental defectives who need that well-placed high velocity round. And would we miss them? The kind of people who have been great leaders, inventors, artists and forces of social stability certainly wouldn't, because those who do not succumb to that weakness are the kind who would plan in advance before advancing an environmental holocaust upon their planet.
The love of money is the fear of being unequal to such people, and if leaders separate from followers, followers form a crowd sheerly on the basis of having not been leaders. Then they attempt to create a power structure which "evens up" the gap between leaders and followers, such that followers can have power they didn't earn in civilizations they don't have the talent to create. Interestingly, this disease of populism - for that's the only word which accurately describes the utilitarian nature of governing by crowd-pleasing - afflicts only older civilizations, where the deeds required to create them are forgotten.
Before we get wrapped up in any of our other little political polarities, such as whether global warming can be "proved" or whether abortion should be legal or how to "empower" women such that they have the same "rights" as men, we should remember that n is decreasing with each moment of our unchecked expansion, and that the end result is destruction of our natural environment by consuming it. There is no way to "prove" its value, for someone will suppose that someday we will have machines to take the place of plants and animals, and media machines to simulate the experience of open ground. Instead, I appeal to a more fundamental force here.
Humans are creatures of play. We find things appealing because they are interesting, or have fundamental tendencies that amuse or challenge us, and thus without having a serious goal, we toss them around and play with them and, in the process, make our lives better; we bring laughter and skill and joy together in one act. But what really is more rewarding than nature? We've been unable to design a machine as efficient as a tree, and our science has no idea how to even quantify the joy of sitting under one on a quiet afternoon, or breathing the fresh oxygen of a healthy forest, or watching squirrels wrestle over plump acorns on spring ground.
Our natural environment is the ultimate playground, and something healthy people find inherently cool. But without trees, there are no forests; without forests, no animals, nor any of the uncountable species of plants, nor the vast diversity of ecosystems that remain starkly different yet self-contained in function. Some might say this is not "proof" of why nature is worth saving, but for those who have souls left, it is incentive to not destroy it, for the experience of nature is incomparable in contrast to the mechanistic drudgery of sitting in a committee room discussing profits, or even, engaging in endless and inconclusive debate about global warming.
January 5, 2005