“Saving the Planet” is a Misleading, Lost Cause

“There is something fundamentally wrong with treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.” – Herman Daly

urban land use 1

The actual ratio of cleared forest to urban land is exponentially larger than this, along with water, food and energy acreage. Most cities are temporary illusions of prosperity.

Too many cards are stacked against saving nature from human greed, hunger and environmental apathy. The evidence is clear when you get past the veneer of endless hope, techno-fixes and greenwashing. We should just admit it and drop the ruse of “sustainability” as more people consume more resources each day. Nature is under a long-term siege because “The Economy” demands it. A POTUS was elected on an EPA-gutting mandate while “environmentalists” praise the biggest machines ever built on rural lands and won’t take a real stance on overpopulation. Rare leaders who promote serious conservation are seen as weak, or enemies of individual freedom (to take as one pleases). Manifest Destiny still prevails, framing wilderness as a place to be feared more than respected. People actually trying to save the biosphere are caught in an expanding charade that bows to economic growth. Wise people should certainly keep trying, but not with optimistic rhetoric that ignores root causes and placates the masses.

Humans are genetically programmed to overcome nature’s hazards simply to stay alive. This includes ruthless survival tactics like lying and cheating to gain advantage. For many centuries these traits had limited impacts on ecosystems, then fossil fuels greatly amplified our ability to harm nature while also enabling a population explosion. The expansion of technology and consumerism turned us from survivors into destroyers. Even well-meaning people behave as if the power balance never shifted from nature to Man. They were born into a system that served their post-industrial ancestors and assume it must be “the way of the world,” so they keep obeying primal instincts in outdated context. They’ll say things like “what a crazy system!” as in fun-crazy instead of terminally corrupt. Some never contemplate the growing scale of human impact or simply don’t care. “People are basically good” doesn’t explain the true state of the world. The belief that God will decide when humans have gone too far is foolish since hardships occur with or without prayer. Christians who practice Creation Care are at odds with Genesis 1:28 and similar Bible passages.

Some conservatives gloat about polluting and pillaging nature, which is plain evil. They also call environmentalism “socialism” when regulations cramp their style. The greedy hate greed-control so they frame it as liberty infringement. Meanwhile, many liberals who claim to be Green are so concerned about being fair to other cultures that they ignore blatant problems like overpopulation and criminality. Or they push destructive technology like IWTs to protest coal, etc. This complex combination of greed and naivety prevents intelligent policies from being carried out on a meaningful scale. The wealthy may think they’re above nature’s laws while the poor often trash their surroundings, e.g. homeless camps, nonexistent regulations in third-world countries and tropical deforestation. “Environmental & social justice” overlooks shared flaws in human nature. Growing numbers of people from all ranks are stifling environmental progress.

Modern cultures are obsessed with economic growth, business and being busy with an industrious, industrial attitude. Action for its own sake is favored over letting things be. Slogans like “work hard, play hard” and “no limits” defy conservation and restraint. Most modern work depletes resources and the mantra of progress is to constantly build something, either physically or monetarily. It’s considered lazy to halt the grind and let nature recover, except temporarily for fallow fields, clearcuts or overfished waters. Everything’s about stock indices, housing-starts and production capacity, measured in flawed GDP terms. Workers are told to be grateful for miserable slogs that serve 24/7 manufacturing cycles and superfluous marketing. The ethos of “hard work” is seen as moral, regardless of what’s being sacrificed. One can feed a family designing nuclear warheads, or with barely ethical FIRE Economy schemes. Countless jobs require hustling, lying and searching for loopholes, with no shortage of sleazy people willing to do it. Also, the words build and produce are not defined honestly. People merely convert nature into forms convenient to our species with little regard for balance. True production is growth without depletion, like plants fertilized by natural decay. Finite replenishment cycles have been replaced by the infinite allure of fiat money.

oil derricks and wind turbines on beach

The old oil derricks on this CA beach are similar to modern wind turbines except for low-carbon hype. Millions of very large, noisy machines are sought by cleantech hypocrites.

To ostensibly stop all this depletion, the term “renewable energy” gets thrown around, but it’s mostly a new spin on business-as-usual. Man has greatly escalated urban sprawl with things like industrial wind power, discussed at length in other posts here. The main differences between today’s “renewable” and non-renewable sources are partial energy offsets and green slogans. With the exception of dependable, high-ERoI sources like hydroelectric and geothermal, little of the infrastructure is viable without finite fossil fuels and mined raw materials for construction, maintenance and replacement. Greenwashing has millions of naive people convinced that destroying nature to preserve society is reasonable, so hard questions about overpopulation and restraint are unanswered by public policy.

Thanks to an artificial money system, people are the only species that keeps depleting finite resources to make a living. Money is seen as a resource unto itself rather than contrived compensation, thus physical commodity limits are disrespected. Other species don’t need to invent financial schemes merely to stay alive. They used to live in balance until we disrupted ancient systems and replaced them with unnatural growth. The mandate to constantly create jobs and build something (“green” or otherwise) drives most modern enterprises. Deliberate job-creation accommodates a surplus of labor and overpopulation. Intrinsically necessary work wouldn’t have to be schemed up or funded with credit.

True sustainability looks a lot like primitive hunting and gathering. Understandably, few want to revert to that lifestyle, except with temporary gestures backed up by modern gear. There’s a lot of contextual denial among sandaled “back to nature” types. If everyone tried to hunt, fish or survive on backyard farms, we’d quickly learn that agribusiness and dense livestock are the only practical way to feed huge populations. Many bushcraft practitioners make a living from videos these days. The worst hypocrites travel the globe killing wildlife as professional hunters, or enjoy the crass sport of bass fishing with speedboats. Look at how many jobs are based on recreation that mimics true needs from pre-industrial times. Nature needs to survive our growing harshness, not the converse; at least to the point where we destroy its ability to support us. It’s become a contest to see which happens first, Peak Oil or major AGW impacts, both of which are ignored by utilitarian commerce.

Oregon railroad clearcuts

Square-mile railroad logging parcels in Oregon symbolize human land-use. When species like bark beetles kill trees they’re a pest, but man-made damage is called “management.”

So-called victories for the environment tend to be islands in a sea of development, and have done relatively little to stop habitat fragmentation. A typical example is saving a few acres of trees as greenspace for an “intentional community.” It’s still a net loss for the forest, and later a nearby ridge could be logged, mined or covered with ugly wind turbines (more net losses). Our ability to develop and denude the planet went viral when fossil fuels made the work much easier. If you study the duties of environmental professionals, you realize they’re mostly cleaning up messes and shuffling population growth into different areas. They have no way to stop the source of the growth, and developers pay them for image-control. Urban planners plan for more destruction while calling it balance. Hands-on efforts like untangling animals from fishing lines or relocating endangered species make little difference as more people put pressure on nature. When root causes are addressed, it’s usually worded to not offend the human perpetrators. You can see why nothing really changes.

Some neo-environmentalists have taken fatalism too far, like terminally ill smokers who believe in reincarnation (examples: 1, 2, 3). They use the demented argument that we can never completely destroy nature (minus runaway nuclear war) therefore “the planet is fine” because nature will “recover” after we’re gone. The degree of recovery and “after we’re gone” date are kept vague to accommodate all future suffering they’ve rationalized as acceptable. Would today’s extinct or soon-to-be species get regenerated, Jurassic Park style, assuming there’s anyone left with such technology? Do they think quality of life now is meaningless to all the species lucky enough to have survived human impact so far? That includes us, you know! The whole narrative is arrogant anthropocentrism, i.e. forget the planet that allows us to live and rescue us from our sins in the absence of viable life-support.

Movies have widespread influence and apocalyptic themes are popular because people know something’s out of balance, but root causes are usually sidestepped. Most plots are sympathetic to human failings or go overboard with zombie plagues and alien invasions. Others use shock value by making overnight catastrophes out of slow-moving problems, e.g. “The Day After Tomorrow.” It ends up inspiring apathy because people see it as unrealistic. In the ecologically-aware 1970s, the film “Z.P.G.” tackled overpopulation but sympathized with people bucking efforts to stop it. A similar plot occurred in “Children of Men” where mass infertility could have been seen as a reprieve from environmental ruin. In the real world, economic recessions mandate conservation but are seen as negative. “They Live” tried to blame consumerism on aliens, with people as hapless victims. “WALL-E” was praised for its environmental message but the director said it was just a subplot. The viral-humans speech in “The Matrix” told the truth, yet a virtual reality cure was unacceptable. Human interest or anti-government themes tend to drown out pragmatic solutions. A society with gravitas about overshoot would face the topic head-on without endless tangents. “Soylent Green” was one of the few films that got to the point, and deserves a sequel. The “nobody cares” scene in “Silent Running” was also truthful. Many television documentaries present grim environmental warnings but usually stay polite to the perpetrators. Educating the public doesn’t help without personal accountability. Billions of complicit people will have to be offended at some point.

alfred e. neuman couple

Even when they do worry, most people still ignore the 24/7 destruction of their only life source, preferring to dwell on personal matters. Denial is built into the human brain.

If people were seriously planning to save nature it would be echoed in the things they do and say every day, but most still talk about making money (from depletion) feeling good and staying entertained. Watch and listen to your neighbors and co-workers. They’re generally ego-driven, hedonistic and impatient, with nature as a mere backdrop for their scarce leisure time. They keep electing leaders with similar values, then blame them for societal ills. The relative few who make sacrifices for the environment (beyond token recycling) or live at a slower pace are seen as “not with the program.” The Internet provides some hope with an echo chamber of wise people fighting all this denial, but they’re vastly outnumbered. There’s little evidence that enough people care about their true source of life to protect it from money-hungry urban sprawl and banality. Let’s stop pretending the planet can be saved from us, by us.*

This page will be updated and reworded at random with new information. If you cite it, please post the link instead of a pasted snapshot. *Us means everyone who won’t practice personal restraint until it’s too late to matter.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on ““Saving the Planet” is a Misleading, Lost Cause

  1. Pingback: By Respect Silence: Why “Saving the Planet” is a Misleading, Lost Cause – un-Denial

  2. Brian Sanderson

    Well, this is one of those rare occasions when I just have to absolutely agree. I would say just two things: (1) Continued population growth causes human poverty. (2) Aggressive war can be expected when an affluent nation, with growing population, perceives future shortages.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Respect Silence Post author

      Of course I agree with your points also. One of the toughest tasks is explaining to people that it’s wise to be pessimistic when the evidence warrants it. Most are too afraid to seem like downers, so they stick with optimistic narratives and don’t learn from history. They lack moral courage, e.g. the “bystander effect.”

      Liked by 3 people

      Reply
  3. Jacob

    This could be a less wordy version of the Dark Mountain Manifesto and lots of people have concluded the same things independently. Heck, it was known by the 1800’s that man was runaway train.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. Kirk Hall

    An excellent article. You might to join a facebook group called “Join the Degrowth Revolution (JTDR)” or if you just want to see what it’s about without joining then try the FB page “Degrowth – it’s urgent?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Why “Saving the Planet” is a Misleading, Lost Cause | Damn the Matrix

  6. glen osborne

    wow, finally commentators that stick to the article. This article seems to sum up the physical reality ” on the ground ” fairly well. Could there be a reason for the path traveled? Are we also not children of the universe? Personally I think that we could have overcome greed and avarice, but it looks like we have passed the tipping point of ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  7. Jim W.

    It’s refreshing to read something so bluntly truthful…thanks for the clarity and honesty. There’s that famous line uttered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men “You can’t handle the truth!” which sadly describes the mental/emotional state of at least 99% of humans. I think it was Krishnamurti who said something to the effect of “There’s ample evidence that humans are a dangerously insane species”. Perhaps we should rename our species Homo Unsapiens! As one commenter noted, our trajectory has been known by a handful of critical thinkers since the 19th century which brings to mind my favorite quote from that noted optimist Franz Kafka: “There’s plenty of hope. Just not for us.”

    Like

    Reply
    1. Respect Silence Post author

      As you must know, blogs like this represent a small fraction of public thought and it’s not likely to change until the next resource price shock happens. From other species’ point of view, economic recessions are the only real reprieve from destruction. A politician or business leader who mentions that will be shunned as a pessimist.

      But when over-hyped U.S. shale oil & gas production plays out, we could have a final reality-check and living small may become permanently popular. Predicting the year it will happen can spoil reputations (e.g. Jeff Rubin) but pre-2030 is a good guess. It will probably happen with minimal warning and be analyzed in detail afterward.

      Like

      Reply
  8. gasbuggy

    I noticed the following statement in the above article. “… with nature as a mere backdrop for their scarce leisure time.” When I’ve camped at developed campgrounds I often notice that some campsites are essentially party sites. They consist of folks who seem to be far more interested in hanging with friends then in being in communion with nature. For many of them the awesomeness of nature seems to be pretty much invisible.

    For most of the still rapidly growing 7.6 billion of our species the concept, that a diverse healthy ecosystem is an essential foundation of our life support system, seems alien to them.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Respect Silence Post author

      Very true, and the crassness is getting worse with technology. Compact Bluetooth speakers put ghetto beats in remote locations, and one of the worst developments is loud marine stereos heard for over a mile on flat water. They let cretins get away with it on lakes we thought were sacred.

      Extreme sports use scenic cliffs as goals and takeoff points. Places like Everest and the Rubicon Trail have big human waste problems, all in the name of recreation.

      Like

      Reply
  9. Vorty

    The facebook feed regularly gets filled with pro environment ‘news’ items. All you have to do is like and share and you’ve done your good deed for the day. Now return to consuming.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  10. gail m zawacki

    “This ability worked with reasonable balance until fossil fuels, technology and consumerism turned us from survivors into destroyers.” If it makes you feel any better, from my perspective this is not quite accurate. The balance of power shifted from nature to man when humanity discovered how to use fire. It enabled us to leave our natural niche and expand into terrain where we never could have otherwise survived. Use of fire enabled us to cook food and use all that caloric energy to grow our brains, and develop technology. It enabled us to eliminate predation that would have kept out population in check, and also, to burn down forests and maintain savannas more conducive to hunting. In this process we began driving dozens of megafaunal species to extinction within short time frames whenever we arrived at a new island or continent. Fossil fuels – and Haber-Bausch – exacerbated the trends tremendously, but the innate behavior – survivors turning into destroyers – has been in place for hundreds of thousands of years.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Respect Silence Post author

      That line has since been refined but we’re not in disagreement about fire as an early factor. Fossil fuels (“extreme fire”) are the main driver of exponential growth, as can be seen in population graphs (with a degree of time lag). Switching locomotives from wood to coal was no small change, for example. Then diesel provided even more power. Without cheap bunker fuel (major source of pollution) giant cargo ships couldn’t function, and so on.

      RE population growth, modern agriculture comes down to Land + Water + Oil (machines & fertilizer) = Food. Once oil peaks we’ll slide back to an older agrarian scale after much fighting and misdirected blame. The fantasy of “renewables” replacing the very thing they’re built with is a big theme here.

      Like

      Reply

Leave an intelligent comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s