Out West of Sydney where the air is clear and at night you see a billion stars, a long neighborly Sunday luncheon was underway. A dozen guests; the view over the pink cliffs to the city reveals its brown stripe of polluted air. Toddlers play with crayons, the fire crackles (oh no, carbon emissions!), there is a vase of pink tulips factory grown and imported from across the world. Relaxed and comfortable, and yet as the conversation turns to oil decline, then “peak everything” and then, too much wine for sure, the shadow of Armageddon.
The guests are well informed, the sort that listen to the Science Show and read the broadsheets. To them, having moved West, the range of eco perils hitting the headlines have not come as a surprise. There was a subliminal mood of …“Maybe it's already too late”, as well as gung ho optimism. Chatter focused on the ways and means of working with the local community to adapt to the “times ahead”: edible gardens, solar greenhouses, long term food storage, public bicycles, co-housing … To my city friends, such talk sounds loopy.
In the din of all this brave green planning, a psychologist suddenly intervened: “You Australians are just playing around with the results of climate change”, she said, “you haven't mentioned guns or fences…” As a child raised in war wrecked East Germany, she recalled how city dwellers thronged to her rural town and stole anything portable, including vegetables, petrol, oil and bags of coal. “I admire the spirit of this lunch, she snorted, “but you are babies”. She has a point.
Creating the resilient, self-sufficient off-the-grid communities we would need to survive if the oil runs out, itself remains a fantasy. Let alone dealing with the rampaging hordes. “You'd have to go a lot further out West than here”, someone said, “if you really wanted to feel safe”. The mood darkened.
The esteemed and cuddly climatologist, Tim Flannery, says the Arctic ice melt is now so rapid that soaring sea levels are inevitable and the best option is to “pump sulphur into the stratosphere”. This would filter the sun's rays, slow global warming and "turn the sky yellow". He agrees the project is risky, but time is scarce. If the world's toxic emissions ceased at midnight, there remains enough greenhouse gas in the sky to create havoc. As one blogger put it: “Either we're fucked, or Tim Flannery has gone crazy-ape bonkers”.
THE DEVIL'S PERFUME
This is a legitimate response to our times. Don't you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the litany of plausible disasters? No? Perhaps you're living in denial. And the time will come when denial gives way to panic. Today's “crazy apes” are Idiot Savants with science degrees, sounding a series of alarms. "Everything is going in the wrong direction”, warns Flannery, “faster than predicted”. It's possible his remedy is worse than the disease. After all, sulphur is the Devil's perfume. The image of Boeing squadrons pumping yellow pellets into the heavens is not reassuring.
There is barely time to digest the latest threat, before a new one is announced, as in the “deadly double threat to our oceans” created by wild weather and chemical changes. Monitoring the disruptions to corals, krill and shellfish, scientists are now warning of “ocean acidification”, which threatens the survival of vital sea creatures, and thus the world's food supply. It's happening faster than anticipated. Flannery's mantra applies to an ever-widening range of events. Whether under the sea, high in the sky or in front of our nose, Everything is going in the wrong direction. Well, almost everything.
How did this happen? Let me count the ways. Nah, it would take too long. In the 13th Century, Japanese Zen master Dogen penned this cryptic insight: Coming, going, the waterfowl leaves not a trace. Nor does it need a guide. For humans, leaving a trace is what we live for. Until the industrial revolution, these traces were minimal, compared to the totality of Earth's abundance. As the era unfolded, with its dark satanic mills, coal pits, trains, ships and colonial conquests, vast disparities of wealth emerged, sparking both reform and bloody revolutions. Largely unnoticed, however, was the hidden, implacable, kamikazi agenda of industrialization that underlay its feverish wealth creation, which was - and remains - the domination of nature. This is the “central, indisputable project, the issue that encompasses all other issues” noted Guy Debord back in 1963. He regarded the cannibalisation of the ecosystem as the “real adventure we have embarked on”. So much so, that half a century later the adventure seems to be climaxing in a warped Hollywood Western, with the cowboys prepared to destroy their own homestead - Earth - so long as they profit from plundering nature's bounty.
Five countries are vying to tap the huge deposits of oil and gas that lie under the Arctic seabed, despite the consequences. The extraction and use of such fuel will hasten global warming and the melting of ice sheets. Scientists say the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2010. The situation is critical, but most of us are too overloaded to concentrate. We're trying to get rich, get laid, get famous and/or to sink into an opiated oblivion, with the help of the military industrial media entertainment matrix . As with climate, so in culture, everything is moving in the wrong direction. Well, almost everything.
AN AGE OF GOTHIC MALICE
It's wonderful that Barack Obama wrested the Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, but in your heart of hearts, can you possible believe that one politican can monkey wrench the direction of America? The CIA won't miss a beat. The Lobbyists will still hold sway. The Pentagon will continue its export of death, destruction, depleted uranium, cluster bombs and criminal atrocities. Mainstream media boards and members of Congress will continue to profit financially from their association with arms traders. Whether in the slums of Sadr city, the mud brick compounds of Afghanistan, or even in the towns of its allies, the US air force will continue to bomb innocent civilians, regardless of world opinion or the rules of war. (The Pakistanis are right to call the pilots cowards). Predator drones remotely operated from bases in the US, strike perceived enemies wherever they lurk. Last week's SBS TV showed a grinning Predator pilot lining up on his screen a lone motorbike rider in Afghanistan, then blasting him to bits. His crime not revealed, his name not known. Once considered the illegal act of a scoundrel, assassinations are now something to boast about. My partner says that this is judgmental ranting, and she's right. I apologise. Let's move on.
The military might of the West adds massively to global warming. Since March 2003, according to the report A Climate of War' (pdf), the occupation in Iraq has pumped over 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and its equivalents into the atmosphere. Emissions generated by the war to date are equivalent to putting 25 million more cars on the road. While Barack Obama has pledged to spend $150 billion over 10 years to advance green energy tech, the US blows that much on Iraq every 10 months. In 2006, the US spent more on the this war than the whole world spent on investing in renewable energy
You get the picture. The military is supremely indifferent to its impact on the eco-system, and yet scientists remain silent on the army’s contribution to climate shock. Sorry, no judgment. I suppose these cautious professionals toil in their own little cubicles, lips sealed, waiting for Bushism to disappear, hopefully before the ice caps do. Meanwhile, obscene riches at one end of the scale, poverty for the world’s majority and the rest grinding away in the disappearing middle. CONTINUED NEXT PAGE