jeudi 16 octobre 2008

October 14, Canadian Federal Election 2008: Steven Harper, Conservative (Neocon Lite) prime minister re-elected.

As I predicted Harper won but without the parliamentary majority I anticipated. (NOTE: Commentator Rex Murphy says Harper won a "defacto majority", presumably due to his increase in popular vote and the fragmentation of center-left votes among Liberals, Greens, New Democrats and Bloc-Québécois).

These are times of socio-political reaction. Out-moded power structures and modes of governance are crumbling everywhere, in tune with crashing ecosystems: witness the finanacal débâcle currently afflicting the world's financial markets !! People are running scared and Harper certainly benefited from the recent upturn in world stock markets which was inspired by lucrative bank "bail out" schemes.

However, Harper's victory should be seen in context: THE VOTING TURN OUT WAS THE LOWEST IN HISTORY.,_2008

Why was it so low? I believe that at some level of consciousness, the masses KNOW (deep visceral GNOSIS), they are not fooled by the smoke 'n mirrors of the formal political process. Young voters, in particular, are APATHETIC. And with reason! Harper: "The Kyoto accord is a socialist plot to destroy the economies of the West". Then there is Canada's pathetic failure to meet its Kyoto CO2 emission reduction goals (under a LIBERAL (Neocon Xtra Lite) goverment).

Overheard: College and university students active in environmental movement are disengaged from the formal political process. "At some level of consciousness", these enlightened young people see through the smoke 'n mirrors of the formal electoral process: election call - campaign - inevitable promises (inevitably unfufilled in large part) - stasis (the world drifts blithely toward Armageddon) - election call - campaign - inevitable lies... and so the wheel turns..

One can only conclude that things are at a tense stalemate, an ustable and untenable equilibrium. Perhaps it will prove to be the calm before the storm (??) Disatisfaction, fear and frustration are the daily bread of the masses, sporadically exploding in the violence of scapegoating: 9-11 and its sequel, the unjustified Irak war; feminist / gay bashing, Islamophobia / Islamofascism, terrorism / neonazism.. Ripe times indeed for the ascendancy of fascism.

I have been told that the Chinese ideogram for "crisis" is composed of two roots whose meanings are "danger" and "opportunity". In the present impasse, I actually find some hope in the political apathy / cynicism of the young. Their frustration, badly canalized, can lead to socio-political reaction in its worst forms; well canalized, that frustration can provide the MOTIVE FORCE for life renewing change. Only time will tell which form will prevail. Qui Vivra Verra!

samedi 6 septembre 2008

reflections on reading Chis Turner: The Geography of Hope

I recently began reading Chris Turner's "The Geography of Hope: a tour of the world we need", Random House Canada, 2007, 439 pages + source notes and index.

Turner's thesis is interesting, not least because, he agrees with our own analyses posted in this and several other discussion groups. (This proves that no matter how crazy you are, there's always someone, somewhere at least as crazy..)

Turner argues, as many critics of conventional environmentalism are saying these days, that exclusive emphasis on the negative side of our interactions with nature has become counter-productive. Pointing out the damage we have done to the environment is a disincentive, dissuasive force akin to a Skinnerian "negative reinforcer": it 's intended goal is to turn society away from a suicidal, ecocidal way of life. It's the "stick" used to beat public opinion into mending its ways. Greens want to shame the public into behaving morally toward the rest of living nature and responsibly toward the fate of unborn generations. So far so good! But, says Turner, the PRACTICAL RESULTS of this policy have not been impressive. Moreover, time is running out. We have to find a better way to turn things around.

If environmental "doom-saying" is the "stick" of the argument for Sustainable Development (SD), then the Golden Opportunities offered by SD constitute the "carrot" which will entice the public to actively embrace SD: clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy, transport systems and industries that do not pollute, new jobs and career opportunities in the expanding Alternative Energy market, a chance for global peace as LOCAL populations throw off the yoke of foreign economic domination and learn to harvest nature's wealth SUSTAINABLY AND EQUITABLY in their own back yards,.. Such are the promises Turner holds out.

And he may not be lying !! The text is based not on academic or corporate sponsored think-tank "scenarios" but on visits the author made to communities where people have actually chosen to live sustainably, to reduce their carbon footprint, to leave an intact planet to their descendants. Turner, in essence, is calling for a space age high tech "return to the earth". This is what James Lovelock - inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis - called "The Awakening of Gaia": human consciousness FULLY INTEGRATED into the workings of nature as PART OF the evolutive process which is Gaia herself.



1- Terms like "post-Darwinian evolution", "self-organization" or neo-Christian "co-creationism" (in which man is seen as God's partner in the creative process) are sometimes used to characterize the "new world order" emerging. Such "philosophical intuitions" go back quite a few years. Charles Péguy (died in WW I), French Catholic writer and social critic, held that God needed man to fufill the creation of the world. The work of the revisionist Catholic theologian, Pr. Teilhard de Chardin, expressed similar views and may even be seen as a precursor to the emerging "Gaian" world view. Chardin's major works date from the 1st half of the 20th century. A more Nietzschean, "bourgeois" view is probably reflected in the "transhumanist" movement which aims to "transcend" our (flawed) humanity through technology.

At the limit, all these views merge at the center (where they overlap). They can be seen as representing divergent - or "mutant" -tendencies within a much larger, global, emerging World Paradigm ("Paradigm of Everything" - a new "Road Map of Reality"). The very existence of such variants is actually more of a testimony to the strength of the emerging paradigm than to its weakness..

In retrospect, this current movement to "re-enchant the world", this re-insertion of man back into the cosmos as an active agent, only continues a trend that began in quantum physics in the early years of the 20th century: there can no longer be "disembodied observers", each act of measurement ("measurement" without intent to modify) alters the process which is being observed. The observer is no longer separate from that which s/he observes..
Continues the review of Chris Turner: The Geography of Hope

In chap 1 Turner provides a case study of Sustainable Development (SD): the Danish Island of Samso which, over a 10 year period, reduced its carbon footprint to less than zero (by exporting windpower). The island uses a variety of innovative yet available - "off the shelf" - technologies to achieve sustainablility. ("Sustainability" is defined a bit loosely. Fossil fuel consumption on the island is offset by energy exports. The islandrs have, with a bit of "creative bookeeping" attained a sustainable ecological footprint.) Grasses are grown to produce steam for community domestic heating, solar panels and windmills provide power for local use and commercial export.

One of the interesting points Turner makes is how LITTLE the life of the villagers of Samso has changed. The Danish government wisely involved local communities in planning and development of SD projects, working with THEIR human resources. Islanders thus "owned" the projects they were implementing, instilling pride-of-place and local commitment. "Top-down", imposed, approaches, Truner warms, must be avoided at all costs if the Green Revolution is to work! "Decentralization" is the word of honor in SD.

Theoretically, this makes a lot of sense. Simulations in the emerging study of Self-Organizing Systems (SOS) shows that the most gneral, efficient, robust approach is to develop / evolve control systems with a high degree of MODULARITY, HIERARCHICALLY ORGANIZED. Each "module" serves a function relating to the whole system and is regulated by commands from the top, but is quite AUTONOMOUS in how it goes about organizing and regulating its own internal behaviors. Generally, info flows BOTH ways: not only do commands flow from the top to lower levels but lower level modules feed info to higher levels to help the "command" levels formulate and correct overall goals. One can argue that the Soviet Union collapsed, in part, from botch-ups created by upper levels of the command structure attempting to micro-manage all lower levels of the economic machine.

I remember our Economics 101 prof telling our class about a factory in Siberia which, for some 15 years, continued to crank out gigantic lfet side wheels for a locomotive series that had been discontinued. Some bureaucrat in the Kremlin had messed up and forgotten to send a telegram to the factory manager in Siberia !!

Turner isloates the following principles as crucial factors for any equitable, decentralized, Sustainable Development (SD) project:

1- HOPE: (which in the words of one American activist "renders the present supportable"). I formulate this principle a bit differently: we must do what is right because it is right (not because it is popular or "is on the winning side").

2- MEANINGFULNESS: "Discover your life project" say the Existentialists. "Engage in right livelihood" say the Bhuddists. Our livelihoods should be SANE (as opposed to the suicidal non-sustainable status quo). They should be "ennobling", "worthy", "meaningful" (different people will find different emphases..). We should leave behind us a world at least as intact to our children as the one we received from our parents. We should do nothing to consciously diminish the chances of life of those yet unborn.

3- WILL: Not the (pseudo-)individual will to make a fast buck and prove that one is "better than the Jonses" but the collective (political) will to leave behind a better - or, at least, equivalent - world to future generations. The collective Will to engage the "Grand Project" of SD.

4- COMMUNITY: FUNCTIONAL COMMUNITY IS THE BASE OF ALL EFFECTIVE ACTION. This is why the neo-cons went after the "base communities" of the Liberation Theologians in Latin America with such vengence. One the other hand, when it comes to "mobilizing the masses" for THEIR objectives, the neo-cons indeed go for the "grass-roots", exploiting the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War era to create a collective climate of fear, hate and intolerance. See, for example, Lisa McGirr: Suburban Warriors

The results of this exercise are telling: it is liberalism that, despite its former successes, got beat all hollow while the neo-cons have hardly looked back since the glory days of Nixon-Reagan. Without the support of local communities, the Green Revolution will simply not occur.

As a concluding, personal note, for this installment, I would suggest that activists acquaint themselves with the odd, confusing mixture of brutalizing pseudo-individualism and paranoid group-think that appears to be the hallmark of fascisms (of all stripes and colors): JP Stern: "Hitler, The Fuhrer and the People is a good place to begin.

jeudi 1 mai 2008

Thoughts on reading Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey D Sachs: Common Wealth, Economics for a Crowded Planet, Penguin Press, New York, 2008, 339 pages + glossary, notes, reference, index. 28 $ US

Reading Sachs is leaving me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I feel, well, sort of vindicated: "I could have written this book!" (obviously, I refer to his general analyses, not to the wealth of info arising from his professional work in his specialty..)

Sachs, director of the Earth Institute (Columbia U., New York), writes well and convincingly. He ties facts and analyses from various disciplines together with facility, offering illumination. I would probably recommend this book to beginning green activists as a general survey of the situation of Sustainable Development (SD) at the present moment.

I especially like Sachs' emphasis on linking SD and the war against terrorism. Poverty, underemployment, unemployment and forced emigration are factors feeding terrorism and fanaticism (religious, political, racial, ethnic). In the long run, I argue, the costs - human, environmental, economic and cultural - of defending ourselves against terrorisms (external and internal) will far outweigh money spent for well designed, equitable (redistributive) SD. Such projects, which would aim to promote local entrepreneurship and participatory modes of decision making and governance, are sorely needed in our energy short world full of willing hands and of minds attuned to local needs and resources. In short, if well designed, decentralized, participatory SD could probably deliver the biggest bang for the development / aid buck.

Well designed, therein lies the hick! For what we lack, I feel, is the will to act or even, it seems, to realize that what happens on the other side of the world is our business (Global Warming, Climate Change, poverty-bred terrorism..). What will it take to wake people in the West up to this - to me - evident reality of the interconnectedness and interreactivity of the modern world system? For unless we realize that interconnectivity we cannot, I think, get a handle on the future. Thus our world continues to spiral into chaos..

lundi 21 avril 2008

Earth Day 2008

Earth Day, 2008

Earth Day and the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. But what can be done? Is the world, in fact, going to hell in a handbasket? These are the types of questions we want to address in this blog. (I would, first of all, like to apologize for the rough nature of these early notes. Writing a blog, as it turns out, I find a bit disconcerting: the spotlight is on me! Reaction: writer's block. Hoping that things will go easier..)

The terms Gaian consciousness or the Awakening of Gaia refer to observations made by James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia Hypothesis. A long, long time ago Gaia was the primordial Earth Mother of the ancient Greeks; we still see the root geo- in modern words referring to the earth: geology, geography, geode.. In the Gaia Hypothesis, Gaia refers to the totality of life on earth plus the physical environment which both supports life and is modified by biological processes to render it more life-sustaining.

Gaia, the Planetary Macro-organism, can said to "awaken" in human consciousness because of the rapid rise in our scientifico-technological understanding and control of natural processes. If we don't use SciTech to destroy ourselves first, these emerging human powers will allow Gaia to transcend blind, unconscious Darwinian evolution and ascend to a new, higher, more integrated Post-Darwinian evolutionary sequence, one caracterized by conscious evolution. Today we see the initial stirrings of such possibilities in emerging technologies like genetic engineering (itself an extension of traditional techniques of "artificial selection" of cultivars and livestock).

One of our central theses is that human Science and Technology are not, in themselves, either "good" or "evil". They contain the seeds of both. At present, mankind benefits from certain aspects of the Scientific Revolution: increased life expectancies, older people who remain healthy and active longer, reduced child mortality, rising literacy.. Unfortunately, these gains have been produced through a process which is, globally speaking, unsustainable. In short, we risk a civilizational collapse which could reduce the survivors to a state worse than the one they started from. For example: the hundred of millions of North Americans would not be able to return to the pre-columbian hunter-gatherer economy; there are too many of us and we have destroyed much of the natural heritage (plains buffalo..) which sustained the Native Americans. Short sightedness, ignorance (including willfully programmed ignorance serving vested corporate and social interests), defeatism: these are our true enemies today, not international terrorism or "clashes of civilizations". In reality, terrorism and conflicts are often, usually, by-products of failed processes of development, particularly in the poorest regions of the planet.

Today, we need to get international development on a sustainable track, capable of sustaining future generations. There is a great moral imperative here: in failing to work for Sustainable Development (SD), we are depriving future generations of the right to a life of dignity. This must be the height of human arrogance and stupidity: seen from a moral perspective, our current position is simply untenable.


To make a donkey move, one uses "positive reinforcers" or rewards - the carrot - and "negative reinforcers" or punishments/ threats - the stick. We hold that the current environmental and SD debates are hampered by an excessive pre-occupation with the negative consequences of environmental degradation and resource depletion. All stick and no carrot causes the donkey (the world's publics) to switch off the doom-sayers and engage in escapist-denial behaviors such as:

- drug addiction,

- absurd risk taking (road racing, extreme sports, jackass contests),

- scapegoating (9-11, religious or ethnic intolerance..),

- religious and political fanaticisms (fundamentalisms, neonazism..).

One of the goals of this blog will be to help people concerned about the future to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to wield stick and carrot effectively, in the proper dosage..

While collective - international and national - effort is essential if we are to succeed, we believe that the effort must begin with individuals and small groups of individuals linked by community or by internet.

Our goal, therefore, is to empower individuals and local groups of environmental and SD activists to act effectively in their own communities: think globally, act locally.. We also aim to create mutual aid - synergy - between groups thus rendering their actions more effective.

Hoping to be hearing from you soon..

blessed Earth Day, 2008