A Collapse of Time, Part I

By AvivaRahmani

49 leading environmental activists from all over the world convened at Cooper Union for a two-day Teach-In conference this weekend on Techno-Utopianism & the Fate of the Earth; why Technology will not Save the World, presented by the International Forum on Globalization and the Techno-Utopia Project in collaboration with the International Center for Technology Assessment, the New York Open Center and the Schumacher Center for New Economics.
Throuout the two days, they reminded us that revolutions start and even are carried out by a handful of people. Tho the reality is grim, we have the means to resist. The first act of resistance will be to get out the vote in the USA next week, despite the feelings of learned helplessness in the electorate. The changes they discussed in this event have all happened very quickly, in the past ten years, and our time is short to forestall the worst damage of what has been set in motion.
I took many notes and will add installments, links and pictures to this post over the next few days, as I have time. First, I want to just set it all down. I took the notes so fast that I’m not sure I always got the precise quote or the attribution so apologize for that. It will need to be better organized later.
The general message was that corporations have bought governments internationally, and especially, in the United States, where the Koch Bros have bought most Universities, the US Congress and are about to buy the Senate. However, there is a vigorous resistance movement led by Indigenous Peoples and young organic farmers. The goal of the Koch Bros and their cohorts is a state of perpetual global nuclear war fueled by conscienceless extractive industries, manned increasingly by intelligent robots and enslaved and indentured human labor, thanks to vast over-population. Science fiction horror story? Not anymore.
The antidote is accepting limitation, effecting structural change, collaboration without ego, facing how addicted we are to the delusion of cheap, easy, fast energy. We must come back to our bodies and the earth. “Efficiency” only increases competition and alienation. Negative consequences are inevitable (Barry Commoner). There are no techno fixes. Over-population is the friend of business and religion (but not the earth). Over-population began with agriculture, not the industrial revolution, when we got the idea we could control nature. At the advent of agriculture, the human population exploded. Everything has a cost. Progress is a process of diminishing returns. The weakness of the scientific method is reductionism. We now have market driven education. There was a time when the UN had regulatory control over corporations, but pressure from the US gutted those provisions.
Helen Callicott: Congress has now allocated $1 trillion to new nuclear programs that even the Pentagon did not want. 1 million people died from Chernobyl. Nothing should be eaten from Turkey or Japan because it is so radioactive. Fukushima still releases 3-400 tons of radioactivity into the Pacific Ocean daily. This is a crisis without end. The goal now is nuclear power to explore space for mineral extractions by the military industrial complex.
Wes Jackson: “technology shapes culture. Biodiversity (should be) the metric for success. Efficiency is inherent in natural integrities.”
“How to survive genocide (towards the goal of extractive industries)?”
weapons of war have become the US’s primary industry. $.59 of every tax dollar goes towards the Pentagon. 10% of Maine’s economy is now military and they plan to put missile sites and toxic fuel in the Rangeley Mountains at a cost of $4 billion to benefit Boeing. The Chicago Crown family is being “rewarded” by Obama for their support of his election with the Rangeley contract. The Pentagon didn’t even want it. Not even Congress wanted it but Obama did.
Vandana Shiva: “We defended the freedom of the seeds. Monsanto earned $10 billion from seed patenting in the US alone. They have bought the biggest soil database. They are sueing seed libraries. In 2008, Ghandi taught us not to obey bad laws. The propaganda for this corporate biopiracy is being packaged as religion, referring to “miracle” seeds and apostles.
GMOs are failures. They advertise results before they have them and then can’t verify anything. Instead, indigenous yields are 10- 100 times what Monsanto can deliver. Monsanto delivers “food” commodities that aren’t actually food. They measure “yield” but not nutrition. GMO agricultural land produces 30% of food but destroys 70% of the earth’s biodiversity.”
Atossi Soltani on work in the Amazon: “Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the earth. Their lands are the same lands where we find 80% of the earth’s biodiversity. 4% of the world’s population are protecting that 80%. We must subvert the war paradigm that leads to deforestation. This means being good to our ancestors. The most biodiverse lands are threatened today by oil companies. When 800 000 Ecuadorans signed a petition to keep the oil in the ground, but President Rafael Correo went back on his campaign promises and over rode the petition.
Richard Feinberg: “the party (for us) is over. Adam Smith warned us that applying supply and demand to nature is a recipe for disaster. (But now) labor (humans), and land (nature), have all been commodified. EROEI: energy return on energy investment. We need FRED: Facing the reality of Extinction and Doom. Efficiency = ideological displacement, cognitive belittlement and fictitious commodities unless we can re-embed the economy in ecology and nature. Denial of limits means the loss of beauty. (Because) we haven’t accepted limitation, the banks have been allowed to get even bigger and more irresponsible. The coming crash will be 10X worse than what we saw in 2008.
Quote from a Chinese GMO scientist: “we can now produce anything, anywhere, without people.” This will mean the end of countless small farmers world-wide, for example in Haiti where they produce vetiver for perfumes or in Madagascar where they produce vanilla.
Anthropocentrism, arrogance, greed run amuck.
The question this begs is, without real education, jobs, or governance, what will happen to the billions of useless, disenfranchised, impoverished people of the world, let alone, the remaining wildlife?
Pat Mooney: “the rich see what’s coming. The poor can’t get out of the way.”
We need:
1. public education
2. exposure
3. strategy
Ralph Nader: “organize, organize with the right, organize. The biggest asset these corporations have is to inculcate feelings of powerlessness. How they have done this is:
1. technological development
2. secrecy
3. alliance with the state
4. buying time with a science backlash
5. They have confused corporate science with academic science
6. They have compromised academic credibility in Universities with “research” money
This is the golden age of exposure documentaries but the missing link is distribution. The best films might reach 150 000. The best book might reach 10 000.
The public must wake up, be woken up. Start small, in one place, 1 congressional district. Organize with intensity, persistence. Change the zeitgeist.
The prescription: clear thinking. (But) the public (seems) bored with solutions.
(Is it) easier than we think? How much does it take to effect change?”
Bill McKibben: “I (still) feel fear dominated by sadness. ‘We have become as gods, destroyers of the world.’ Restraint is a gift. The climate change movement is conservative. The oil people are reckless radicals. This will be a leaderless movement. We will be protean.”
Personally, I felt devastated and physically sick, as I had written on FB Saturday night, by the sheer scale of evil ambition and ruthless exercise of financial power that was being detailed. I also found myself thinking that the community appeal of the presenters would not be met (at least among ecological artists, whom I think should be spearheading a response) because the market forces on us still make ego and competition too tempting distractions from what is required, which is grounded in a profound generosity of spirit and vision- that little in art world traditions fosters.

However, I do still think most of us can (and should) be part of a significant movement. As I stressed, it just takes a few, not all of us.

What the presenters spoke about that answers spiritual questions on Sunday, was the sheer faith in that possibility of the power of the small and few, not just in terms of activist organizing, but the very personal capacity of humans to rise to these challenges and how those few people can turn a tide (what for me, represents what I term trigger points). I think that is a profoundly spiritual position. I suppose I didn’t write more about it yesterday because it both seemed obvious to me and I was still reeling from much of what I’d heard and been thinking about.

Finally, Sunday, which is what I will write more about asap, was all about models of incredible courage and beauty, mostly, as I wrote before, from Indigenous and young people. In the case of the former, the spiritual was explicit in many forms and deeply inspiring, even cathartic to hear.

A theme that emerged at the conference Sunday, was that property-based laws that protect corporate banditry are unjust, must be resisted and fought, just as people fought for slave emancipation and suffrage. That analogy was repeatedly made and framed as the “integrity of whole communities,” including whole rivers, etc. Winona LaDuke & a woman from the Amazon were amazing on this topic. That is what I will write about next.

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