Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Moving Forward Against The Inertia and Cognitive Disonance of Old Paradigm

The state of affairs post-COP-21 could be considered bleak if it weren’t so dire. The occupants of Earth are faced with a set of circumstances within which there are more whens than ifs, and the real question is which one will trigger cascading disaster first. Even some of what would generally be called main-stream climate change reporting (as opposed to Guy McPherson type end of times) are finally openly embracing the concept that 1) we have a profoundly industrial base for our developed world civilization, 2) that profoundly industrial base is entirely and utterly dependent upon fossil hydro-carbon chemistry and energy, and 3) the end of what has been treated as an unending supply of those hydrocarbons is in sight, which will mean 4) the end of our industrial civilization as we know it.

Nothing about the outcome of COP-21 in any way presents a different scenario. If anything, it can be said that for the first time in 21 years of holding these meetings, the majority of the attendees agreed that global warming is the root problem in climate change, and that global warming is largely due to anthropocentric activity. The good news ends there. By way of offering a meaningless fig leaf to developing nations, it was agreed that the gathered body would focus on limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C – which is as ludicrous as it is commendable – primarily because of the 40 year lag in GHG effect which means that what we are experiencing now is the cumulative effect of what has not been done to change the course of human activity over the last 40 years. 

If we stopped emitting tomorrow, we would have 40 more years of aggregated effect to deal with, not to mention the nominal loss of the minor reflective effect that comes from particulate in the air cause by some sources of GHG emissions. Given what we are now experiencing and the realistic observation that the situation has picked up both speed and scope in recent years and months, it is quite realistic to think that we have at least another 5 degrees C already committed by actions that are “in the can” so to speak, and can’t be undone by any current means. This is taking into account what we can realistically project  of aggregate effects from what we know full well has been done by humanity over the last 40 years. Given that we are neither positioned to accomplish, nor seemingly desirous of, such a cessation, it is likely that the aggregating effect will continue to be the name of the game for some time to come. Further, there is no accounting for release of the immense stores of methane in the Arctic. Welcome to the Anthropocene!

There are those who are quick to say that the failure of industrial civilization will result in the extinction of homo sapiens. I disagree. While there are good reasons to suspect that the temperature rise previously mentioned will imperil the large majority of processes and methods that the majority of homo sapiens use to maintain a comfortable life style today, that does not effectively argue that humanity is unable to survive without those “creature comforts.” I would hasten to remind the reader that Australian aborigines and Kalahari bushmen have lived and thrived on some of the hottest, driest places on Earth, through periods that has encompassed a number of major climate changes that quite likely equal or exceed conditions predicted for this situation, with almost superhuman tenacity, for well over 40,000 years.  The fact that you are not a member of one of those groups does present your survival odds poorly, but is not an instant death sentence.

On the larger scale, across the spread of humanity as we now know it, it could be reasonably said that the people least prepared for the rough ride ahead are the citizens of the so called “developed world”. Why? Because, for the most part, they have become fat, dumb, and dubiously happy occupants of a social structure and a civilization that does not stress or value personal resilience or self-reliance, but does everything that it can to eradicate those two in the name of increased market dependence, the very foundational essence of market economies that drive our over-industrialized state. To the extent that developing countries have “bought into” the same mythology of egregious materialism and excess resource extraction that has powered the developed world to it’s detriment, they too, will suffer.

Which humans can best be said to be effectively prepared, by nature of having retained or maintained their intrinsic functions of regional knowledge, resilience, and self-reliance? As a broad generality, indigenous peoples fit this description. Indigenous people can be described as having a local & regional understanding of the ways of the natural world, with a perspective of themselves as fitting into that world, rather than being apart or different from it, and intrinsically knowing how to live effectively and sustainably within that environment. This type of knowledge, passed on as a function of culture (the accumulated knowledge and behaviors over time, of any group of humans, who deliberately pass on the knowledge, skills, and behaviors as a function of their social structure) creates a much more balanced and functional sense of values and ethics, related to self, place, and community, that is resilient, resourceful, and sustainable over time. It happens that Australian aborigines and Kalahari bushmen are among the most effective of those who have retained and practice these values and traditions into the modern day.

So… the question that I find myself trying to answer is “How can I contribute to improving the survival and resilience odds for my fellow citizens of the developed world?  This objective has some serious problems, given that there are simply too many of people in the first place, as a result of egregious over-population, to support expanding market economies that are unsustainable on a finite planet.  There are huge numbers who are simply sleep-walking into the unfolding environmental disaster and extinction event, unable to comprehend or accept that their way of life is so profoundly unsustainable that it, and they (as currently disposed) cannot survive another century. There will be a thinning of the proverbial herd. That said, there are opportunities to spread a more coherent and understandable message of the imperative; provide mechanisms for re-learning, re-indigenization, and re-engagement with the natural world; development of resilience and preparedness strategies and skill sets; and develop or refine appropriate technologies with an eye toward benefiting all impacted constituencies, improving life sustaining functions, and perhaps most important, doing no harm.

If we are to re-discover or re-create the critical body of knowledge that is associated with being “indigenous” or with re-indigenization, we must regenerate a sense of both environmental culture and environmental ethic, as well as the individual skills and behaviors that sustain the two. We are perilously close to having lost these understandings and skills across a broad sweep of our society, because of a rapid move into artificially sustained life-styles that are dependent upon fossil fuels and industrial production. The result is that we have come very close to an indigenous cultural sustainability threshold, signified by the steady loss of land ethic and indigenous culture (as previously defined) in the common discourse, such that, if a community drops below a certain level, there is effectively no indigenous understanding in the common discourse at all.

In the current situation, that threshold has been crossed in many areas, is just short of it (resulting in scattered pockets of indigeneity remaining intact) in others, and is relatively whole, albeit not intact, in others. This means that the opportunity exists to recreate and render whole the base of knowledge, skills, and behaviors required for indigenous continuity in many land and waterscapes, while extending that wisdom to others with the additional due diligence required of a nominally different land or waterscape.

With that in mind, I have identified a piece of land west of Athens, Ohio that presents an excellent opportunity to establish an Academy of Applied Sustainability & Neo-Indigenous Studies.  Here the functional realities of operational indigeneity, practical agro-ecology, principles of sustainability, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery, as well as personal and group resilience can be explored, refined, taught, and expanded, enhanced by effective identification and engagement of appropriate technologies.  This enterprise will function as a Center of Excellence where best practices for various processes and techniques of sustainability, resilience, and preparedness are identified and taught, where ongoing research into improved ways and means for the above are conducted, and where ultimately an intentional community will take shape to carry these principles and learnings forward as a new paradigm for human life in natural community, with an associated cultural progression.

Much of the functional knowledge required to proceed into the future with a confident degree of personal resilience and self-reliance, based on essential principles of global sustainability as we now understand them, exists in the present or is emergent. There is also reason to believe that a good bit of highly valuable and sustainable wisdom exists in many of the old ways and methods for doing things that slightly predate the availability of externally powered machines to do the work. Any number of skills and disciplines still incorporate elements of this learning, and various “placer deposits” of wisdom exist in various compilations such as the Foxfire book series, published by the young people of Rabun Gap, Georgia, as well as the broad reach of publications and studies conducted relative to previous indigenous cultures, as well as the living models presented by Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite communities of today. In short there is an abundance of material already available, although generally not in a “comprehensively aggregated, organized, and coordinated for instruction and learning” practicum. Our function would be to deliberately be an aggregation point for this knowledge to collect, organize, operationalize, and, ultimately, convey it to others, with the ultimate goal of an onsite intentional community to function as an exemplar of the teachings in practice.

I would like to see the activities as closely integrated into current conventional community life as possible as well as providing a mechanism for creation or development of new communities of practice based on the aggregate body of principles and best practices, with the ultimate goal being to achieve neo-indigeneity for any person entering or engaged with the program, and resilience, preparedness, and sustainability for related communities. I would be focused on providing on site learning opportunities of varying lengths, as well as taking the knowledge to other appropriate locations (high schools, community centers, community colleges, Ohio University, etc.), facilitating “community conversations” about our times and our potential issues and responses, providing a working library of related materials, and provide opportunities for the development and growth of community (physical and virtual) around this working body of knowledge.

Thanks for being there and being you... and reading this blog!
The Smokemaster

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