Paths Forward: In Defense of “Utopian” Creativity

The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.

Paths Forward: In Defense of “Utopian” Creativity

(A helpful note for the reader: To read an endnote click on the number one time. To get back to the place in the text, click on the number again. Hyperlinks can be clicked on and then opened in a new tab.)

The oral traditions and origin stories of many Indigenous peoples, worldwide, include some stories of the endings of previous worlds. In such stories, the end of one world usually coincides with the beginning of a new world. Typically, the end of one world is the end of a grave error, the end of a world gone wrong. The life-endangering wrong way had to end for life to continue anew.[1] To have a fresh start, venturing into many unknowns, might be somewhat scary, but it is really a wonderful gift.

In the early winter months of 2014, in Missoula, Montana, I was part of a coalition of climate activists and Indigenous Earth and water protectors who were trying to stop, or at least discourage, the transport of enormous pieces of mining equipment to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where it would be used in the largest and dirtiest oil extraction project on our planet. The equipment was so large that the companies that owned those things could only move them through cities in the middle of the night, at the time of least traffic use (around 2:00 a.m.). They could not transport these monstrosities on the freeways because they were too tall—even lying down on trucks—to go under the overpasses. We called them the “megaloads.” On four cold winter nights, in January through March, we walked out onto the largest street in Missoula as soon as we saw a megaload and its entourage of pilot cars and police vehicles approaching. We sang and round-danced in the middle of the street, carrying signs, and sometimes our crowd was big enough to make a circle that fit from curb to curb across the whole street. The police allowed us to continue for a short while (the longest time was 22 minutes), then they cleared us off the road. A handful of our people intentionally got arrested, but most did not.

Sometime after the fourth megaload blockade, the oil and equipment transport companies decided to refabricate the equipment for transport on the freeways. We had caused them a minor inconvenience and a little negative publicity regarding the tar sands industry and its impacts on the Canadian boreal forests, rivers, the health of humans and other species, and global warming. So they began transporting their destructive devices in smaller pieces, to be reassembled upon arrival in Alberta. That change in operations cost three companies (Exxon Mobil, Imperial Oil, and transport company, Mammoet) about two billion dollars altogether, or about one quarter’s profits (at that time, just before oil prices dropped and tar sands extracting became a little less profitable). When taking government subsidies and tax breaks given to oil corporations into account, they probably hardly even felt a pinch from our annoying actions and were actually able to expand their tar sands operations and increase their profits for a few years after the blockades. Our blockade coalition held together for a few months longer, waiting for the next megaload to come through Missoula, which never came.

During those weeks and months after the last megaload blockade, I spent a good amount of time analyzing and reassessing the value and effectiveness of street blockades and similar actions on the big picture. The big question on my mind, and in the minds of some of my friends, was, “What did we accomplish and what good did we do for protecting the Earth through our actions in the street?” We also wondered who even noticed what we did (most citizens of Missoula are asleep at 2:00 a.m. and we didn’t get much media coverage) and, for those that noticed, did anybody who wasn’t already in agreement with our views on protecting the natural world change their minds and decide to take action on behalf of natural life? How about the megaload transport workers, security guards and police, whom we forced to stop their work and sit there watching us for 15 or 20 minutes, reading our signs, and listening to our round dance songs and our vocal pleas for the end of fossil fuel use? Did any of them change their thinking or quit their jobs? Well, we never heard back from any of them on that, as far as I know, seven years later.

One thing that seemed pretty certain to me then, and I’m even more sure about now, is that humans who live in monetary-based economies (capitalist or socialist) will very rarely choose to cease engaging in activities that assure them that they will be rewarded with that most essential material tool: money. That includes fossil fuel workers, the corporate bosses who own their labor, and just about everybody else who lives within the constraints of modern industrial societies. Most people would not knowingly engage in toxic, life-destroying activities if they were not getting paid for it or benefitting from it in some other way, or if they did not feel that they had no choice other than to make money doing such things. As long as people are rewarded for destroying life on Earth, they will continue to destroy life on Earth. Just about a week before the first megaload blockade, in January, I had written an essay about how money and beliefs about money are at the root of all of the activities, systems, and structural devices that are destroying natural life on Earth, titled, “The Problem with Money.” In the months after the last blockade, I revised that essay into a new one, titled, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies , and began to bring the ideas therein into many public forums, mostly attended by other self-professed “environmental activists.” That essay is a combination of critique of the status quo and suggestions for alternative, EarthLife-centered, local economies and societal structures. At that point in time, I had come to the conclusion that it was futile to continue attempting to change the prevailing large-scale societies (nation states and corporate-controlled empires), working through the usual channels, and settling for the small increments and ineffective gestures toward change allowed by the systemic authorities.[2] As I was learning more about the science regarding Earth’s bio-system tipping points and feedback cycles, I could see that we most likely do not have the time to move at such a snail’s pace, “barking up the wrong trees,” and make the types of major changes in human activities and social systems necessary for stopping the destruction of our interconnected Life on Earth and preventing more mass extinctions and ecosystem collapses. It had become clear to me then, and it is even clearer now, that the actual function of our political and economic systems is to perpetuate and protect the productive and consumptive mechanisms and so-called “way of life” that is destroying life on Earth, regardless of any official statements of purpose or intent to the contrary. The response that I received from most people to all of that was disappointing, but also enlightening. For a variety of understandable reasons, many people feel an immediate need to dismiss and block out not only the essay, but my entire perspective on necessary responses to our current crisis as “utopian dreaming,” or some similarly dismissive label.

When people read that essay or hear me say things like the economic and political structure of modern industrial societies is fundamentally wrong and that these societies must end most of their ways of being before they destroy most life on Earth, there are two responses that I hear most frequently, from the very few people who bother to talk with me about these ideas at all. Here are those responses:

“You are throwing out the baby with the bath water!”

“You are making the perfect the enemy of the good.”

My succinct reply to that first dismissive accusation can be found in the very short essay on this blog titled, “Who is the Baby?” That reply basically goes along the lines of asking people which baby they want to save, industrial civilization and their modern conveniences, or natural biological life on Earth, because we cannot save both. That is all I will say about that one now, as the point has also been made in my book review of Bright Green Lies, even better in the Bright Green Lies book itself, and by many others, including more and more climate-related scientists. (I will elaborate on this further, below). In this present essay, I would like to focus on that second dismissive accusation, which was actually the primary impetus for me to write this essay in the first place, along with my love for natural life.

There are many important questions to probe about the assumedly “perfect” and the allegedly “good.” Why do most people believe that utopian thinking is a quest for “perfection?” How did that claim originate? Whose interest does the claim that all utopian thinkers are unrealistic, irrational perfectionists serve? What is the difference between an imaginary, unattainable, “perfect” society and an ideal society? Are the societies that we (residents of all modern industrial nation states) live in now something that we can justifiably call “good?” When we call societies like these “good,” do we really mean that they are “lesser evils?” Very often, when people are told that their society is not good, or is unjust and harmful to life, they respond by comparing it to some other countries that they consider to be much worse. Is “good” and “lesser evil” truly the same thing? What should be the essential, required elements for a truly good or ideal society, especially in light of the current and near-future global crises? I would like to productively address all of the above questions in this essay and, by doing so, hopefully open up some possibilities for future interaction and deeper engagement with these core issues. Ultimately, I would like to persuade people that utopian thinking and actual creativity really is a useful, vital and even absolutely necessary exercise for us to engage in now, in order to be able to proactively and successfully deal with the challenges presented to us by the current and future, multi-pronged crises facing both Earth’s biosphere and the prevailing human societal frameworks.

Obviously, answering these questions will require some clarification of the definitions of several terms, especially “utopian.” So, in the interest of getting right to the point, let’s begin with that word. The word, “utopia,” was invented by Thomas More (Sir or Saint Thomas More, if you think that we should use one of those two titles that were bestowed upon him by the recognized authorities, when speaking of him), for his 1516 novel, “A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia.” That was the original, long title (but in English, instead of the original Latin). There are six slightly different shorter titles used in some of the various English translations of the book, as follows:        

  • On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia
  • Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the New Island Utopia
  • On the Best State of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia
  • Concerning the Best Condition of the Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
  • On the Best Kind of a Republic and About the New Island of Utopia
  • About the Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia

Why was it important for me to show you More’s actual original title of the book and the six commonly-used titles? Because none of the titles describe the fictional island nation called Utopia as “perfect” and the book is not a discussion of perfect societies at all, but rather of best or most optimal societies. More uses the word “perfect” six times in the book, but never as a descriptive term for Utopia. [3] Rather than calling Utopia perfect or flawless, More preferred words like “best” or “good.” In his original title, More suggests that Utopia is an example of “how things should be in a state,” or, in other words, an ideal—but not perfect—state. The word “best,” in the 16th century as well as now, is a relative term, defined as “better than all other examples of a certain type or class of thing.” Under that general definition, the thing referred to as best is also understood to be the best so far, or best that we know of, until something better of its type is either found, accomplished, or created. In no way is the best considered to be permanently best, flawless, without room for improvement, or perfect.

The meaning of the word “best” in the various English titles of the book, as outlined above, becomes even clearer when we consider the structure and style of this frame narrative novel. The book is divided into two parts, the first part being a discussion between More and a couple of fictional characters about both the flaws and the best aspects of European societies, including England, and the second part is a descriptive narrative by one of More’s fictional friends about a fictional island somewhere off the coast of South America called “Utopia.” [4] Much of the social structure, politics, economics (i.e., no private property in Utopia), beliefs and customs of Utopia are compared to those in Europe and found by More’s friend to be ideal, or at least better than those in Europe.  But, not only does no character in the story assert that Utopia is perfect, More himself, as a character in his own novel, states in conclusion at the end of the book that, when listening to his friend describe Utopia, “many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people [the Utopians], that seemed very absurd,” and, after listing some of those disagreeable aspects of Utopian society, he says in his final sentence, “however, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.”[5] The literary device that More uses here, in which he places himself in conversation with the fictional characters that he created (his “imaginary friends?”), allows him to express ideas that might have been dangerous for him to propose directly, in his own voice, while representing himself as somewhat oppositional to the radical social ideas advocated for by the character who describes Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaye. This technique also allowed More to be somewhat mysterious, or publicly ambivalent, regarding his actual views about ideal societies (“plausible deniability”?), as he was considering finding employment in the court of King Henry VIII at the time when he was writing “Utopia.”[6]

For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society.

For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society. Even though the Utopians have an economic system that is somewhat ideal and closely resembles the non-monetary, use value (rather than market or commodity value), need-based distribution, gift economy type of economic system that I and others have long advocated for,[7] much of the rest of Utopia’s social order is abominable. For example, it is a patriarchal society with all of the political leaders being males, and the Utopians allow for and excuse colonialism and slavery (not race-based, but for convicts and prisoners of war). While they seem to keep their population within the carrying capacity of their island most of the time, when their population gets a little too large for that, they form temporary colonies on the neighboring mainland, with or without the permission of the people already living there, on lands that they call “waste land,” because the land is uncultivated or “undeveloped” by humans (a familiar excuse used frequently by European colonialists of the western hemisphere, in More’s time and long after). That perspective and practice also illustrates the crucial missing element of the Utopian economic system, which (if it actually existed) would doom it to unsustainability and failure: it is anthropocentric, or centered on human needs and desires only, and not on the needs and sustainable, regenerative order of their local ecosystems, including all species of Life. That has been the most significant flaw of most utopian communal experiments in western, Euro-based societies for centuries (a point that I will elaborate upon further, below).

            One reason for the common claim that the Utopia in More’s book, or any proposed utopian society, is intended to be perfect and therefore can never actually exist, can be found in the debate over More’s intended meaning of the name. Thomas More invented the name, Utopia, based on one of two possible Greek prefixes. (The suffix is “topos,” which means “place,” and there is no debate regarding that.) The debatable possible prefixes are “ou” (pronounced “oo,” as in “boo” or “goo”), which means “no,” or “none,” and “eu” (pronounced like “you”), which means “good.” Depending upon which Greek prefix one thinks More incorporated for the name of his fictional society, Utopia can either mean “No place,” if the prefix came from ou, or “good place,” if it came from eu. The U in the word Utopia has long been pronounced like the Greek eu, which suggests that More possibly used that prefix to form the name, but, since we have no audio recordings of how utopia was pronounced by More and other early 16th century English speakers, we don’t know with any certainty that they pronounced it in the same way that we do now. The text of Utopia itself, was originally written in Latin by More (who left it to later, posthumous publishers to produce English translations), not Greek, so there is no assurance there as to which Greek prefix he meant. “Utopia” is the Latin spelling of the name. For some reason, possibly related to his personal career ambitions and even his personal safety (in a society in which people often unexpectedly or capriciously “lost their heads”), More left the question about the meaning of “Utopia”—no place or a good place—open to debate. There is a contextual clue on page 171 of the second English translation, but it does not definitively resolve the question. [8]

            So, now we can leave that question of the origin and meaning of the word behind us and get to the more important question of why most people believe that utopian thinking is a futile, foolish quest for “perfection.” The short, most direct, and most likely answer is because that is what they have always been told. But, if that is not how the inventor of the word defined it, who decided to give us this other story, and why? Follow the interest and the benefit (not just the money). The powerful and wealthy, the rulers of the vast majority of human societies, find it in their interest to discourage their subject people from imagining or creating alternative societies that are no longer subject to their domain and no longer contribute toward generating enormous, disproportionate amounts of material wealth for themselves. Ever since human beings began to depart from living in local, indigenous, eco-centered, life-regenerating communities and started creating unsustainable mega-societies like nation states and empires, about 7,000 years ago, the rulers have worked hard (or hired and forced others to work hard) at producing and perpetuating many lies for the purpose of deluding or frightening their subjects into remaining submissive to their systemic power, wealth and control. Over this long span of time, the rulers became very adept at persuading people what to think and what not to think, and with the electronic technologies invented over the last hundred or so years,[9] the subjected general public has been constantly bombarded with such messages. Commercial advertising, mandatory public schooling, peer pressure, parental love, fear of poverty, and the quest for equality, along with many other things, have all been used successfully by the ruling class as mechanisms for keeping people submissive and keeping wealth and power in the hands of a select social minority.

One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions.

Not only are we told what to think, but also which topics to never think about seriously and which questions are too dangerous to ever ask. One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions. The topics that the rulers would like to see eliminated from our thoughts and plans the most are those that threaten to end their power, wealth and social control. Thoughts, plans, and especially actions, for creating ideal, utopian societies must therefore be suppressed and eliminated, and the most effective mechanism used for that purpose, so far, has been to convince people that utopian societies can never exist because utopia means “perfect” and we all know that humans are not, have never been, and will never be, perfect. But, it is much harder for the rulers to convince us that we can’t become something much better than we are now, not just individually, but collectively, as a society, and therefore they cannot allow “utopian” to be defined as “better” or “best possible,” as the title and discourse in Thomas More’s book seems to suggest.

The more that subject people are rewarded, praised, honored, and awarded for their submission and service to the rulers and the system, the more difficult it becomes for them to question and resist the status quo. When the status quo systems are completely accepted as at least inevitable (“the only game in town”), if not unquestionable, and people are convinced that any apparent flaws in the system will eventually be corrected by the system, utopian creativity becomes unnecessary, dismissed, and considered a foolish waste of time and energy. Thoughts about reform—improving the system through the allegedly self-correcting mechanisms available within the system—are about as far as people are encouraged to reach in pursuit of social change. But the system, which is really a conjoined political, cultural and economic system, is primarily designed to self-preserve, not self-correct. What the system preserves most is the power of the wealthiest persons in the society, who control or strongly influence the politicians by use of lobbyists, bribery and threats to the politicians’ continued luxurious lifestyles or their actual safety. This happens at all levels of government, but is most structurally effective and most firmly established at the federal level. In the United States (and in other nations, as well to somewhat lesser degrees), the “revolving door” phenomenon, in which congresspersons who leave Congress are then hired by corporations to serve as lobbyists to their former colleagues in government, and sometimes later return to politics in higher public offices (such as presidential cabinet positions), is a prime example of this type of political corruption. A 2005 report by the non-profit consumer rights advocacy organization, Public Citizen, found that between 1998 and 2004, 43% of the congresspersons who left their government positions registered to work as lobbyists. Other reports show that another approximately 25% work as lobbyists without officially registering by becoming corporate “consultants” or lawyers.[10] Besides the lobbying aspect of the system—If you need more evidence of the depth of the systems’ corruption and why it will most likely continue to self-preserve for the perpetuation of the mechanisms causing Earth’s biosphere collapse instead of self-correcting to the substantial degree now necessary to prevent such collapse—do some research and analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision and on the “pay to play” system which all U.S. congressperson’s (of both political parties) must go through in order to get significant positions on law-writing committees or gain financial support from their party for their next re-election campaign. I could go on and on about the system’s corruption and its likely trajectory, but this is an essay about ideal paths forward and new possible systems, not so much about dystopia. I will only describe enough here about the current dystopian society and its contribution to the global crises to illuminate the need to abandon it and turn towards “utopian” creativity.

While much has been researched and written about the political and economic elements of the conjoined system, not as much has been dealt with regarding the cultural element, which is as much at the heart of the problem as the other two. One study that deals well with that cultural and ethical element, “The Ethics of Lobbying: Organized Interests, Political Power, and the Common Good”, by the Woodstock Theological Center (Georgetown University Press 2002), provides us with a very telling short quote from a corporate lobbyist they interviewed, who chose to speak anonymously: “I know what my client wants; no one knows what the common good is.” For utopian and alternative society thinkers and creators, it is this issue of the common good (which I expand further, below, to include the common well-being of all Life in Earth, not just humans), which the modern industrial political systems seem to have lost sight of, that matters most. A culture in which personal, individual self-interest, most often manifest in personal material accumulation and consumption, is the greatest concern for the vast majority of people, will consequently produce the types of political systems that we are subject to today. If one is familiar with and understands that type of culture, combined with the fact that getting elected to a political office now requires amounts of money that are inaccessible to the vast majority of aspirants to political office, then it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of politicians are more concerned with securing the financial assistance needed to keep their political power than they are with whatever may be the common good.[11]

While it is true that utopian thinking has taken on all sorts of forms over the centuries—from moderately restructured or reformed societies that closely resemble the societies that their creators criticize or reject, to societies that are only different due to the invention and application of phenomenal new technologies or wonders of human innovation, to those societies which are completely, radically different from the status quo systems and culture that their creators have come to reject and refuse to perpetuate—when I think of the type of utopian societies that are needed today, I think of that latter type, not reformism or techno-fixes. I know that pursuing such a path could meet with much opposition and can be dangerous if our opponents ever think that we could actually succeed at creating enough independent, ideal societies to cause the prevailing system to become abandoned and defunct. Suggestions for abolishing and replacing the system with a new way of living that ends the usual limits on the distribution of power and wealth are discouraged, punished (through various social mechanisms, legal and illegal), and sometimes labeled as “treasonous,” a capital offense, which can provide legal justification for a government to end a person’s life. This has long been the case with empires and nation states, whether capitalist or socialist, so why is it so relevant and urgent to risk going in such a direction now? This is a time like no other before it, in which there has never been a greater need for widespread utopian creative thinking and action. If we carefully examine the likelihood of extreme danger for all life on Earth that would result from continuing with the same social, cultural, technological, political and economic systems, according to all of the best available science to date, it becomes clear that we must create and learn to live within some very different types or ways of social life, in order for life on Earth to continue and to minimize the number of extinctions of species that are already set to soon occur, under the present system and its current trajectory. It is a matter of likely consequences and unacceptable risks, like leaving a bunch of matches and highly flammable materials in a room of unmonitored, naturally adventurous little children—but on a much larger, global scale.

Before most people can seriously consider what follows in the rest of this essay, they probably need some more persuasive reasons why such drastic changes to their customary and comfortable “way of life” are necessary. Such reasons can be found within the scientific case for the futility and/or impossibility of successfully resolving the current and near future biosphere crises through current social, political and economic structures or with the use of any actual or imagined technological “fixes.” That case has already been made, increasingly, by numerous experts, in a growing number of scientific reports and publications, so, rather than repeat all of that here, I will just insert some links to some of the best sources for that information for your reference, examination and further evaluation. It is difficult to summarize the essential root of our predicament in just one or two sentences, but as a sort of hint as to what a thorough investigation would find, I will offer you this “nutshell” illustration: capitalist industrial manufacturers seek the most powerful fuel and engines to run their large-scale, earth-moving, industrial equipment as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to successfully compete, attain or maintain a competitive edge, and maximize their profits. So far, no electric battery powered machinery comes anywhere close to providing the power that they get from fossil fuels. That includes the heavy equipment used to mine and manufacture so-called “green” technologies. The links and a little more information are in the following endnote: [12]

Right now, at the end of 2021, we are still emitting C02 in the same upward trajectory pictured in this 2017 chart. This picture clearly illustrates the need for an abrupt end to modern society’s structural norms.[13]

Although having a solid grasp on the latest scientific findings on our predicament is essential to determining our most effective response, many social scientists and psychologists say that the real barrier preventing most people from considering the scientific facts regarding the dire circumstances facing biological life on Earth, and the need for radical societal change, is what people are willing to accept and resign themselves to, instead of making such changes. What are people willing to settle for as “good enough?” That question brings us back to the discussion of how people define “good.” If the type of creative thinking that is now required of us does not mean that we have to come up with something “perfect,” will those who now protest that we utopian creativity advocates are “making the perfect the enemy of the good” switch their accusation to “making the best (or the better) the enemy of the good?” If so, I would still have to ask them, “How do you define ‘good’? How would you define a good society?” Can any society that was built on a foundation of colonialism, slavery, the predatory exploitation of all of the material natural world (including other humans), patriarchy, anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, justified greed, and many other life-destructive perspectives and practices actually become a good society through attempts at reform, especially when the people in power oppose and block nearly all necessary substantial reforms? In the history of the United States, the foundational flaws listed above were not just unfortunate, unintended by-products of a basically just and well-intended government, but, in actuality, the necessary elements for achieving its intended purpose: dominion over all of the human and non-human inhabitants of their illicitly-acquired lands and over any other lands that they might eventually take in the future. Has that fundamental intended purpose of the U.S. (and other human empires) disappeared or ever been relinquished?

One reason why transformational reform towards real justice, equality, and regenerative environmental sustainability is continuously prevented from occurring is that the social mechanisms deemed necessary to perpetuate an empire or large nation-state, including formal education, indoctrination (both religious and secular), economic bondage, and social peer pressure (leveraging the human need to belong), are used by the ruling class in such societies to promote patriotism and widespread belief in the righteousness of the nation’s foundation. It is completely understandable that people want to feel good about their ancestors, their society, and their culture, have a sense of innocence about it all, and not be burdened with a sense of guilt over what the vast majority feel is normal and unquestionable. Such widespread beliefs and comfort zones make it even harder for people to admit that their societies are fundamentally flawed. Even when social beliefs about right and wrong change, over the long span of time, and large numbers of people begin to recognize and assess the errors of their nation’s founders, there remains a need for the ruling class and their loyal subjects to either justify or deny those foundational errors. One of many examples of this practice in the U.S. is the attempt to justify the slaveholding practiced by founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington by referring to them as “simply men of their time,” while denying (or completely unaware of the fact) that 98% of the “men of their time” in the new nation did not hold any of their fellow humans in slavery and the majority of states in the new nation outlawed slavery in their original state constitutions.[14] Another example, used to justify colonialism and the aggressive, often genocidal, separation of Indigenous peoples from their homelands, is the lie that the North American continent was mostly an uninhabited, unused by humans, “virgin wilderness wasteland, ripe for the taking,” at all of the various times and places in which European or Euro-descended people first arrived. For over a century, American academic anthropologists, in service to the ruling class, grossly underestimated the population numbers of Indigenous societies originally in the land now called the U.S., in order to perpetuate that lie.[15] Such institutional social mechanisms stifle and obstruct any imagined or actual significant correctional mechanisms that people believe are built into the system. People who have been effectively taught that their societal system is designed to repair its own flaws (no matter how foundational or essential those “flaws” and outright atrocities are to its existence) through its authorized “proper channels,” that such processes for correction must take lengthy amounts of time (perhaps even generations, for major flaws), and that creating new societies built on better foundations is unnecessary, impossible, and maybe even “treasonous,” tend to accept the common assumption that their society is either “good,” “better than other countries,” or, at least something we can call a “lesser evil.” We have also been effectively conditioned to accept lesser evils in nearly every political election campaign, especially at the national level, and every time that we must transport ourselves somewhere that is too far away to walk or bike to, even when we would prefer not to use fossil fuels or toxically-mined and produced lithium at all. Is a “lesser evil” the same thing as “good?”

Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia?

Unfortunately, it seems that most subject peoples of modern industrial nations have come to define “good” and “lesser evil” as basically the same thing. Maybe the two-word phrase that most people would use to define the state of our current societies and our assumed-as-necessary daily compromises with evil is “good enough.” To that statement of submissive resignation I just have to ask, “good enough for what?” Good enough to keep a sufficient roof over your head and food on your table, at least for this month? Good enough to put enough gas in your tank so that you can continue to drive to that job of yours that just barely pays you a “living wage?” For those who have been a little more fortunate, a little more submissive, compromising, and “well-adjusted”—and, therefore, better-rewarded—does “good enough” mean “at least I get to have all of these great toys and continue to consume way beyond what I really need?” Good enough to keep you binging and streaming your life away? To those who do not define a “good enough” society based solely on its material benefits to themselves, and think more about the well-being of all members of the society (or, what used to be called the “common weal,” or, “common good”), does a society where 5% of its members own 67% of the wealth have a “good enough” economic system?[16] Is a society that is continuously engaged in illegal wars fought only for the purpose of generating financial profits for the owners of various industries “good enough?” Is a society of human beings whose minds are so twisted by the colonialist concept called “race” that they actually have no idea what a human being really is “good enough?” For those who care about preserving Earth’s natural systems that keep us alive, is a society in which the majority of its citizens are so out of touch with and alienated from the natural world that they do not realize that they need those interconnected natural systems (much more than they “need” money) in order to remain alive “good enough?” When confronted with the painful and repulsive fact that their society’s way of life is actually destroying life on Earth and bringing many species, including their own, rapidly towards extinction, some people reply, in attempted self-defense, that there are other nations which are doing more harm to the natural world than their own country is. Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia? I think that any society that destroys their natural source of biological life simply by carrying out their normal processes of living, within the laws, customs, and ordered structures or systems of that society, and cannot bring themselves to stop doing so, is a dystopian society. Is living in a dystopian society “good enough?” But, again, let’s not get bogged down with endless examples of social dystopia. The only reason I am writing about dystopia here is to point out the need to move towards new (and some old) utopian, or actually ideal, ways of living. So, let’s proceed now in that direction.

What really is the “normal” way of human life in Earth, over the broad span of human history? The reason that I inserted the image above is to give everybody a sense of what is possible for the human species on this planet, and to de-normalize the ways we have been living for the last 5 to 7 thousand years, or 2.5% of our existence.[17] Before we began to go the wrong way, disrespecting and exceeding the carrying capacity of our ancient ancestral homelands (and/or other people’s homelands, taken through conquest or colonialism), all of our various Indigenous ancestors[18] practiced ways of life that were guided by local ecosystems and all of our interconnected and related fellow living beings. Those were harmonious, regenerative, sustainable, and (though not “perfect”) probably mostly joyful, peaceful, thankful and abundant ways of life.[19] We are still that same species and this is still the same planet, even when we take into account all that has changed, and all the vital knowledge that most of our people lost long ago. We will not know what is possible, regarding a return to at least some aspects of the old normal, until we make our best attempts to do so.

The points in time at which various ancient human societies began to go the wrong way (whether by force from outsiders, or by bad decisions made from within) are numerous and span thousands of years, but, thankfully for our future, some few remotely-situated Indigenous societies around the world never departed from those basic, ancient ways of seeing and living with the natural world and still have enough of their ancestral homelands not yet confiscated or destroyed by colonialist predators to make that continuance possible. The Kogi people of the northern Andes mountains in Colombia are a prime and now well-known example,[20] as are some of the more remote tribes to the south and east of them in the Amazon rainforest. Other relatively intact traditional indigenous societies exist in remote locations in central Africa, the Pacific islands, northern and southeastern Asia, and a few other remote locations in the Americas and elsewhere.[21] It is by learning from people such as these, and from all of our relations in the non-human world as well, that we might be able to find our way back to truly green, sustainable and regenerative ways of life. There are also many more Indigenous peoples throughout the world who have just a little or none of their ancestral homelands still accessible to them, retain only pieces of their traditional cultural values and practices, and have just a small number of tribal members who are still fluent in their ancestral languages. Colonialism, capitalism, cultural oppression, and intercultural relations have brought many changes to them, but, even so, for people whose encounter with wrong ways of living is more recent than most of the rest of humanity, the way back to truly green eco-harmony might be a little easier.[22]

Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse.

As clearly as we now see that the concept of utopian societies was never meant to mean “perfect” societies, it should also be clearly understood that traditional Indigenous societies were never perfect either, just as no human society has ever been perfect and none ever will. But, model ideal societies do not have to be perfect to provide inspiration, wisdom, and direction for our paths forward into the difficult future. It is interesting to note that the first contacts that European colonialists and their descendants had with Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere (or, “the Americas” and the first people to be called “Americans”) inspired a small wave of utopian thinking that lasted for centuries,[23] and now, in this time of profound global crises, many people are looking to Indigenous individuals, societies and cultures for guidance and leadership towards resolution of the current crises and for ways to create viable, Earth-sustaining and regenerative future communities. Many utopian community social experiments have come and gone over the last five centuries, and one reason why the vast majority of them failed is that they did not look closely enough at the models to be found in Indigenous societies all over the world. While some communities have mimicked Indigenous, eco-based, reciprocal economic models to some extent, and others have imitated Indigenous representative political models, there are two elements of the original ways of human social organization, which nearly all non-Indigenous-led utopian communal experiments have missed, and which are essential to ideal community success. One element is the understanding that humans are just one of millions of types of people (or, “species”) who all have the potential to make essential, invaluable contributions to the interconnected web of regenerative life on Earth.[24] All species of the living world belong here and need each other. People from anthropocentric, “human needs first,” or “humans-are-most-important,” or “humans are superior to all other species” societies have an extremely difficult time trying to see that, unless they somehow acquire a special ability to break free from that very powerful mass delusion. Unless a community consciously agrees to put the needs of their entire local ecosystem and all lives within it first, above what they conceive to be human needs, their community will someday fail and collapse. A big step on the way to getting there is to realize that the greatest human need is to be in tune with the needs of the entire living organism to which we are all connected.

The second element is the need to learn how to have deep communion or interactive communication (listening, hearing, and being heard) with all of our non-human relations in the natural world (animals, plants, earth, water, fire and air). That idea sounds very unreal, or even impossible, to most modern humans today, but there are many stories and indications that most of our species once had and commonly engaged in such abilities, throughout most of our history as homo sapiens sapiens. Although I probably will not be able to recover much of our former fluency in such communion, after 70 years of living in this corrupt, lost, degenerated modern industrial world, I will remain committed to working on that quest for all of the remaining time that I have to live in this body, with all of the species by which I am surrounded. Why? Because I expect that we can learn more about what Mother Earth wants from us and how we can be healed and corrected, from our innocent, already-connected, harmonious, right-living, non-human relatives than we can from just listening to and following other humans. Daniel Wildcat (Yuchi, Muskogee), professor of American Indian Studies at Haskell University, helped to clarify this Indigenous perspective in his ground-breaking 2009 book, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge:

Current scientific research on animal communication overwhelmingly verifies the existence of complex communication systems. Honesty and humility require us to acknowledge that indigenous knowledge, in its diverse substance and structure, is the result of collaboration, a respectful partnership, between us and our many other-than-human relatives. Several tribal elders I have known have been almost matter-of-fact about their ability to exercise interspecies communication with animals.[25]

The old ability to also commune with and hear the languages of the plant beings is eloquently described by Potawatomi scholar and award-winning nature writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer in a recent essay that was re-published in Yes! magazine:

The Indigenous story tradition speaks of a past in which all beings spoke the same language and life lessons flowed among species. But we have forgotten—or been made to forget—how to listen so that all we hear is sound, emptied of its meaning. The soft sibilance of pine needles in the wind is an acoustic signature of pines. But this well-known “whispering of pines” is just a sound, it is not their voice….Traditional cultures who sit beneath the white pines recognize that human people are only one manifestation of intelligence in the living world. Other beings, from Otters to Ash trees, are understood as persons, possessed of their own gifts, responsibilities, and intentions. This is not some kind of mistaken anthropomorphism….Trees are not misconstrued as leaf-wearing humans but respected as unique, sovereign beings equal to or exceeding the power of humans.[26] 

We definitely won’t get to successful, regenerative, natural Life-connected communities just from reading books written by other humans. This is not a simple philosophical exercise or an intellectual parlor game. We have to actually live the interconnected life, under natural laws and the wise limits of Mother Earth, on a finite but abundantly sufficient planet. That was the old normal way of living for the vast majority of our species, for the overwhelming majority of the time of our existence in Earth.

Some other essential elements for successful utopian societies at this particular moment in global history, besides the two most important elements mentioned above, include:

  • A group of people with a common enough vision or sense of direction, not excessive in population for the particular place in which they live so that they do not overshoot the carrying capacity of their local ecosystem or need to trade with the world outside their community for material goods[27], and can help to maintain regenerative processes and relationships between all species of life in that local ecosystem/community. Eventually, the community would need to determine their own membership or citizenship requirements and limits.
  • Access to sufficient land and clean water. This might require that people pool their financial resources and purchase land together. A more remote rural location would be safer, but for people who feel that they must remain living in urban locations, at least for the short-term future, city or town governments sometimes lease vacant lots relatively cheap for use as community gardens.
  • Sufficient collective knowledge and experience within the community membership about how to care for and nurture a wide variety of edible plants, either native to the place where the community lives or compatible with that ecosystem, to organically grow or gather for food and medicine. Knowledge in sustainable, respectful hunting and fishing might also be useful or necessary.
  • A commitment by all community members to expanding the community’s collective knowledge of the lifeways and connections between all species in the community’s ecosystem and learning how humans best fit into the interconnected purposes of life in that place. Knowledge of the lifeways of the people who were, or still are, indigenous to that place is an essential part of this process. As much as it may be possible, that knowledge should come directly from the people who are indigenous to the community’s place, whenever and how much they may be willing to share that knowledge, and such people should be invited into those communities and have leadership roles there, if they choose to do so. Generally, though, most Indigenous peoples would prefer to form their own ideal communities on their own ancestral lands or reservations.
  • Although ideal or utopian communities may need to use some money to get the community started, ideal communal economies should eventually become moneyless, direct-from-and-back-to-nature (ecologically reciprocal), mutually reciprocal, life-giving and sharing societies. In the formerly normal pre-monetary world, a society’s wealth was received directly from relationship with the natural world and was preserved or enhanced by maintaining a good, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the natural world. If our economic dependency is on the well-being of local natural systems, that is what we take care of and if our dependency is upon money, then that is what we care about most. In old Indigenous societies, the honorable attitude was to look out for the well-being of all people (human and non-human) in the community, give generously without worrying about what you will receive in return, and NOT measure out individual material possessions mathematically, to assure exactly equal portions of everything to each individual. In a culturally generous gifting economy, sometimes individuals or families would be honored in a ceremony and receive many gifts from the community, making them temporarily rich in material possessions. On another occasion a family or individual might sponsor a feast for the whole community and give gifts to all who attended until they had no more possessions left to give. When such activities were frequent and commonplace and people knew that they were connected to a generous, caring, cooperative, reciprocating community, of both human and non-human beings, there was no anxiety or sense of loss about giving one’s possessions away. Generosity was such a highly-esteemed, honorable character trait, that people sometimes actually competed with each other to become the most generous. There was also social shaming attached to being stingy or greedy, which is seen in some of the old stories, along with the stories about generosity and other positive traits.[28]
  • The community would need to mutually agree upon a governing structure and decision-making processes for issues that involve or impact the entire community (including the ecosystem and non-human members of the community). Community rules and laws should conform to and not violate nature’s laws. Effective government depends on mutual respect and/or love, listening and communication skills, common core vision and goals, honesty, transparency, and a commitment by all community members to working on and continually improving their self-governing skills.
  • Democratic or consensus decision-making about what technologies and tools will be allowed in the community, again giving highest regard to what would be best for the entire ecological community and for the connected biosphere of our whole planet.

Here again are the first two necessary elements of ideal community creation (explained above, before this list), reduced to nutshell, outline form:

  • Relinquish all anthropocentrism and any concepts of human superiority over all of the other species that we share interconnected life with in our ecosystems and in the entire biosphere of Mother Earth. Recognize the interconnected value of all species of life and keep that recognition at the forefront of all community decision making. (How can the species that is the most destructive to Life on Earth be rightfully considered “superior” to any other species, much less to all of them?)
  • All individuals in the community should commit themselves to actively developing our formerly common human abilities to commune deeply with and communicate (listening, hearing, and being heard) with other species in our inter-connected natural world. Since, for many of us, our ancestors lost those abilities hundreds or even thousands of years ago, a community should make no requirements about the speed at which those abilities should be developed. It should not be a contest, but, instead, a mutually-encouraging, enjoyable, natural process. With each successful step that any individual makes in this endeavor, the entire community gains greater ability to more closely follow nature’s laws and gains a better sense of how humans were meant to participate in and contribute to Earth’s living systems.

There are probably many more essential elements of community formation, structure, and actual operation which people may feel they need to consider and discuss. The reason that I titled this essay “Paths (plural) Forward….) was to acknowledge that there will be innumerable forms that ideal communities will take, throughout the world, depending upon the needs of local ecosystems and all of their inhabitants, the will of the particular communities, their sense of the common good, and whatever creative ideas that they come up with.

Some Obstacles and Possible Scenarios on the Near Future Paths Forward, both Good and Bad:

The idea of giving up and abandoning modern technologies is unthinkable and even abhorrent to most present-day humans. Besides those humans who have an abundance or excess of such things, many people around the world who own very few modern technology products are also repulsed by the idea that they might have to give up even the dream or desire to have such things. To abruptly switch to pre-20th century, or earlier, technologies would be excruciatingly painful to most modern, western industrialized people, and even a slow transition would be quite hard. It is possible that, to somewhat ease the transition to truly green and bio-sustainable living, we could just end the production of toxic modern technological products, while still using those things that already exist until they’re spent or broken (but cease immediately from using items that burn fossil fuels or emit other toxic wastes, in their production or consumption), and then not replace them. Some items could possibly be re-constructed from discarded parts, until such things are no longer available. During the time span in which the old manufactured goods are being used up, people would simultaneously need to be very actively engaged with learning to bio-sustainably produce the things that they actually need and that are actually green or Earth system friendly. That might be, at least in part, what a viable transition could look like. Obviously, most people today would absolutely reject and resist such a change, due partly to not knowing any other way to live, alienation from nature, fear of the unknown, and belief in, addiction to, or imprisonment by their normal material culture. Just wrapping their minds around the realization that so many things that they had always considered to be normal and innocent should probably never have been made, will be nearly inconceivable to most, at least initially. I remember how hard it hit me when I first realized that we just cannot continue to go forward with the status quo social systems and most of their by-products and still have a living world for very long. But how many will give it a second thought or change their minds after personally experiencing the increasingly common excruciating pain of global warming natural disasters? At some very near future point, relief agencies, all of which have finite resources, will not be able to keep up with the increasingly frequent catastrophic events, including more pandemics (connected to thawing permafrost, increased trade and travel, and increasing displacements and migrations of humans and other species). Is the creation of ideal or “utopian” local eco-communities, immediately and proactively—like building the lifeboats before the ship actually sinks—the best possible and most viable path forward, both for humanity and the rest of Life on Earth?

Because of the likelihood that modern industrial humans will not respond quickly or adequately enough to sufficiently (or even significantly) alter our present global destruction trajectory, the creation of utopian eco-communities might become more of a post-collapse source for places of refuge or survival and healing for those relative few who do manage to survive, than a means for actually providing an appealing alternative to continuing with the status quo, or just limiting the harm caused by our predicament. It may be likely that even those of us who would like to create utopian eco-communities would have a hard time doing so as long as the option of continuing with the status quo still exists, because we are so conditioned to depend on or desire many of the things that society offers us. Either way, though—whether prior to the collapse of the status quo or after—the creation of such communities would be a good thing and probably the least futile use of our time, attention and energy.

I offer here a brief assortment of some possible near-future scenarios, both positive and negative:

1. Sometime within the next five years, about 60% of humans around the world decide to create local eco-utopian communities, following the old Indigenous principles described above, and begin the process of abandoning modern industrial technological social systems and structures. Soon after that, we also begin the difficult process of safely de-commissioning all of the existing nuclear power and nuclear weapons facilities in the world and sealing away the radioactive materials therein. The bio-system collapse already set in motion to that point continues, but at a rapidly diminishing rate, as Earth’s regenerating systems are allowed to take over and bring gradual healing and an opportunity for a new direction for humanity, rather than repeating our former disastrous mistakes. As the human people begin to experience the joy of re-discovering our real purpose as part of Earth’s interconnected life-regenerating systems, while simultaneously grieving about all of the increased suffering of the humans who are still stuck in the collapsing, chaotic old industrial societies, and offering refuge to any persons that their communities can take in, many ask each other the question, “why didn’t we start doing this much sooner?”[29]


2. In the initial first few years of the international, local utopian eco-community movement, very few people take it seriously and the vast majority of humanity knows nothing about it. Government security agencies in the wealthiest nations of the world know about it, but only because they spy on everybody, and not because they see the movement as a serious threat, as they assume it would never catch on due to the common unquestioning submission to the system and consumer addictions to modern technology and over-consumption. During those same first few years, the corporate-controlled wealthiest governments are much more concerned with the growing far right wing revolutionary movements in the U.S. and much of Europe than they are with the mild-mannered, willing to work through the system, so-called “left.” The fringe right, or the tail that wags the Republican Party dog, successfully breaks Donald Trump out of prison, and re-elects him as President in 2024, then designates him to be “President-for-life.” Though at one time useful tools for the ruling class’s divide and conquer strategy, at this point the rulers determine that they have become somewhat unmanageable, since an obvious one party state is not as useful or dependable as two parties masquerading as opposites, when they actually serve the same corporate economic masters. So, the corporate rulers decide to make the far right wingers of the U.S. an example to the far right in Europe and to any on the far left in the U.S. who might be encouraged to try something similar with the harder to wag Democratic Party dog. The U.S. military is called in, they stage a coup against Trump and his cohorts, and begin mass imprisonments, and some executions, of many of the remaining right wing revolutionaries (except for the ones who cooperate with the government, making deals and submissions in order to save their “me first” lives). It is only after that that the governments of the wealthy nations of the world and their corporate handlers begin to notice that the utopian community movement had grown exponentially during the years that they were pre-occupied with the far right. Of course they had noticed that consumer spending had diminished considerably throughout the “developed world,” but had attributed that to other usual economic factors and to the extensive hardships caused by the increasing natural disasters, including the most recent pandemics. Once they realize that the eco-utopian movement has the potential to completely bring down the prevailing economic system, they get right on it. One useful tactic they find for dealing with the situation is to employ the now scattered, frustrated, scorned, unemployable, and even more fearful far righters as mercenary soldiers against the eco-utopians, whom they easily scapegoat for the deteriation of the economy, with very little need for indoctrination. Most of the righters agree to serve just because of the promise made to them that they would get their guns back after they complete their service to the country. Simultaneously, the EU, Russia, China and other governments use their more conventional militaries and other methods of persuasion and suppression to deal with the situation.

3. Instead of rejecting modern industrial technological society altogether, the majority decides to try technological “fixes” to our predicament instead. They generally agree that saving the capitalist system, their precious, hard-fought-for careers, and their even more precious levels of material consumption are more important than saving biological life on Earth itself. But, in order to save capitalism and the status quo civilization, and avoid an international socialist revolution, they realize that some more significant and more convincing gestures need to be made toward CO2 reduction. In 2023, production and installation of solar electricity panels and wind farms begins to increase rapidly throughout the world, along with all of the toxic, CO2-producing mining, manufacturing, construction, deforesting and defoliating of natural habitats for new power lines as well as for the new power installations themselves, road-building, hauling of equipment, workers, and the products themselves to retailers and installation sites, and more—all of which involve a huge increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Even though the alleged purpose for all of that increased industrial activity would be to replace fossil fuels with “green energy technologies” at the scale needed to keep the precious system going and growing and create more jobs, the unexpected or oft-denied negative consequences soon become nearly undeniable (but humans have the ability to deny just about anything—or, actually, just anything). The oil, lithium, and “green energy” companies then use their greatly increased profits for advertising and indoctrinating people to trust the new “green” uses for fossil fuels. They also use some of the new profits to purchase the cooperation of additional politicians and entire governments in protecting their enterprises. The bio-system collapse, natural disaster and mass extinction trajectory then continues, at a more rapid rate.

4. By 2033, it becomes widely obvious to the majority of humans that the “green” energy techno-fix for the continuation and growth of modern industrial capitalism is not really that green and is actually exacerbating global warming and the continually increasing environmental catastrophes, while pulling attention and resources away from both the urgently-needed disaster relief and the struggle against the seemingly endless parade of new pandemic diseases. Because they still have not developed any proven technologies or machinery for sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere at anywhere near the rate needed to get back to the 2° C “point of no return,” which we had already passed back in 2028, the ruling class then decides to proceed with the next great, unproven, theoretical techno-fix: injecting sulfides and/or other chemicals into Earth’s only, increasingly fragile, atmosphere in an attempt to block or reduce much of Father Sun’s gift of radiant light and warmth—a technology called “geoengineering,” or artificially forced Earth cooling. Very soon after the first widespread use of that techno-fix, we then get a “Snowpiercer” scenario, but without the horrific, impossible, perpetual-motion prison train “lifeboat.” We just get the entire planet frozen to death.

5. The complete collapse of the modern industrial economy occurs in the year 2029, due to multiple factors (too many to list here, but they include some of those listed in the scenarios above and many things that are actually happening RIGHT NOW). The radical left finally realizes then that a real opportunity for a successful socialist revolution is now upon them, effectively dropped right into their laps. They can actually just vote it right in, throughout the so-called “developed world.” Seeing the writing on the wall, the trillionaires and billionaires decide that the whole planet has become unmanageable and too out of control, so they make one last plundering of the planet’s gifts (a.k.a., “resources”) to build up their private spaceship fleets and build more space stations, in preparation for their last grand exit. Many of the millionaires and wannabe trillionaires do whatever they can to join them and those who fail to make the escape then also fail at a last ditch attempt to save capitalism. Many eco-utopians and eco-socialists advise the more conventional Marxist socialists that socialism will fail without putting the needs of the natural world first (instead of just the humans) and doing away with money. After much productive discussion around the world, in-person and by the internet (whenever the intermittent grid is up and running) it is generally agreed that nation states and empires have run their course, done much more net harm to life in Earth and the common good of humans than their assumed “benefits” can make up for, so the human people decide to abolish all such political entities. They also decide that, instead of nations, human societies should be small, local, eco-centered, non-monetary and truly democratic, while staying in touch with each other through communication networks, with or without the electric grid. For several decades after that glorious beginning, as the Earth begins to heal through natural regenerative processes and the humans begin to discover who they really are and how they fit within the Whole of Life, they also discuss whether or not they should continue to use electricity, and, if so, what limits upon such use does Mother Earth and all our non-human relations recommend to us?

6. OK, just one more possible near-future scenario to give here, although I am sure that we all could think of many more. Nuclear war breaks out between the U.S. and China in 2022, with additional participation from Russia, the EU, and North Korea. China targets both the Yellowstone caldera and the San Andreas fault. We get combined nuclear and volcanic winter, and the Earth freezes to death. A couple of the trillionaires, with their entourages, manage last minute, rushed, and not completely prepared, spaceship exits, and end up starving to death in outer space within a couple of years (having extended the time of their survival with cannibalism, of course).

             Which of the above scenarios seems most likely to occur, in your opinion? Do you think that something else would be more likely and, if so, what? What would you like to see happen? Do you feel free to think with utopian creativity? If not, do you understand why that is? Would you like to have that freedom and engage in such creativity for the common good?

            I realize that, for many of you, this may be the first time that you have heard of many of these dismal realities regarding the present condition and future prospects of life on Earth. As I began to say earlier, I have not forgotten the dismay, anger and other emotions that I felt when I first became aware of some of these facts (and other facts that I did not go into here), several years ago. There are many other people, around the world, who are going through the same thing and there are support groups and other resources that have been formed over the years to help people get through this together and peacefully adapt to it.[30] For me, the way I deal with it best is to try to create alternative, natural living paths forward. Just because the status quo way of societal life is doomed does not necessarily mean that all life or all potential human societies are doomed.

            I also realize that for many of you this may be the first time that anybody ever told you that utopian does not really mean “perfect” or impossible, and that exercising our utopian creativity might be not only a good thing, but an absolutely essential thing to do at this particular time. It might also be the case that you have never heard that traditional Indigenous societies and lifeways might provide us with models for viable, Life-saving, Earth-protecting, regenerative paths forward at this time, instead of being the “miserable,” “brutal,” “struggles for existence” that you might have heard about in some anthropology class. The future might indeed look like it is going to be a painful struggle for life, for both humans and non-humans, but engaging in survival efforts as communities with united visions, a common sense of purpose, seeking the common good for each other and for all species of life in our local community worlds, will be much easier and more enjoyable than trying to pursue mere survival as “rugged individuals” or rugged little nuclear family units. Embarking upon these paths forward to “utopian,” ideal, or best possible and ever-improving human eco-communities might be what our Mother Earth and all of our relations of all inter-connected Life have been yearning for us to do for thousands of years! I am excited to find out what we will learn in the actual doings.[31]


[1] Beck, Peggy V., and Anna Lee Walters, The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life, Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile, Arizona, 1992. Clark, Ella E., Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1966, 1977.

[2] The recent COP 26 debacle, which intentionally excluded participation by many Indigenous and other heavily-impacted peoples from the global south, and the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress that same week provided us with fresh examples of that futility, which many of us have long realized is the case.

[3] To be clear and fair, the word, “perfect,” in 16th century English, usually meant “complete” or “absolute,” although in certain contexts could be interpreted as “flawless” or something more like the way we define “perfect” today.

[4] Raphael Hythlodaye, Thomas More’s fictional friend who tells the story of his time in Utopia, is said to have gone there with Amerigo (a.k.a., “Alberico”) Vespucci. More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page viii.

[5] Utopia, pp. 164 and 165.

[6] As you may already know, More did eventually serve Henry VIII as a counselor, until Henry had him beheaded for refusing to publicly agree with him on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

[7] See, Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman, eds., Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies, London, Pluto Press, 2011.

[8] More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page 171. One of the minor characters in the book writes a poem speaking on behalf of the nation of Utopia personified, saying, “Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.”

[9] Beginning with the radio.

[10] Thomas B. Edsall. “The Trouble With That Revolving Door”, New York Times, December 18, 2011. That and 176 other reference citations, along with an extensive list of “further readings” on the topic, can be found in the excellent Wikipedia entry, “Lobbying in the United States,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying_in_the_United_States

[11] Perhaps the only way that the politicians of today would prioritize the needs of the people whom they allegedly represent, over the will of the corporations who lobby them, would be if the people could form their own “Lobby for the Common Good” and that lobby was funded well enough to surpass the enormous dollar amounts in bribery of all of the corporate lobbyists combined. But, increased corruption of the electoral process (gerrymandering, artificially-constructed “gridlock” through the invincible two-party system, “divide and conquer,” etc.) is also making the people’s voice and will less relevant to the concerns of politicians.

[12] The first scholar to clearly demonstrate the inadequacies of so-called “100% green energy” technologies for replacing fossil fuel energy at present scale (and much less adequate at future expanded scales) was Ozzie Zehner, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, in his excellent 2012 book, Green Illusions: the dirty secrets of clean energy and the future of environmentalism, (University of Nebraska Press). In their 2021 book, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert echoed much of what Zehner had previously shown while updating the case and adding many more examples and reasons why the so-called green technologies are not nearly green enough to resolve our dire predicament, taking into account all of the fossil fuel energy, mining pollution, and CO2 emissions required to manufacture, transport, install and maintain those “green” technologies at the scale needed to continue with the industrial capitalist high-tech consumer societies. In their 2011 book, TechNo-fix : why technology won’t save us or the environment, Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann describe in great detail the shortcomings and pitfalls of human technological “ingenuity,” including environmental pollution, the many harmful by-products and unintended consequences of many technologies, and the need to fix harm done by many techno fixes. The authors make a very strong argument against the notion that technology and “human innovation” can fix any problem or predicament. A very informative and well-researched study published by three science journalists earlier this year (2021) on exactly what it would take to run the current and growing industrial technological U.S. economy by switching from fossil fuel energy to solar and wind power apparently led to conclusions that were not nearly as rosy or optimistic as the authors had hoped for. The Race to Zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?, by Oliver Milman, Alvin Chang and Rashida Kamal, The Guardian, March 15, 2021, delivers some startling facts about how much environmentally degrading infrastructure that feat would require, including the need to cover 10% of the surface area of the continental U.S. with solar and wind farms, just to supply the electricity, not to mention all of the other energy productions now done using fossil fuels. We would also need “enough new transmission lines to wrap around Earth 19 times.” That article can be read at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/15/race-to-zero-america-emissions-climate-crisis?utm_term=75ea2afeff5d052feec5683cc23a9e8f&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUS_email&fbclid=IwAR2Y1IXwzzEzviZY_u8hJ6gcW0ffBiIucDHfbRkjNzDAr5v0mH2vRNGl2oE

Another good, recent scientific article about the inadequacy of “green energy” technologies for resolving our biosphere crises is found here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-delusion-of-infinite-economic-growth/  Earth system scientists are experts at the big picture of our planet’s condition and trajectory of changes over the broad span of time. One of the best (at least most clearly explained, although there was a little wifi connection fuzziness) presentations on the reality of Earth system collapse was made in an interview with Earth system scientist, Joe Brewer, back in December of 2020. Here is the link for that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2L_JD2nxbE  OK, that’s enough for one footnote—more, later. Of course, all of these cited items contain references to further sources of good information.

[13] Global CO2 emissions went down briefly, from March to May of 2020, during the big international shutdown of commercial and industrial activity at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but have gone back up again continuously since then. Stats on emissions for 2021 should be published in February or March of 2022.

[14] See, Nash, Gary B., The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, New York, Penguin Press, 2005, and Lynd, Staughton, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution: Ten Essays, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill,1967.

[15] See, Thornton, Russell, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1987. Also, Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

[16] For this and many more statistics on economic inequality in the U.S. and the rest of the world, visit the Inequality.org website. https://inequality.org/facts/wealth-inequality/

[17] The time frame for the starting point of homo sapiens sapiens, or modern humans in their present form, ranges from 150,000 to 400,000 years ago, depending upon whom you ask. The longer ago that starting point was, the smaller the percentage of our existence that has been spent in unsustainable, life-destructive societies.

[18] All humans have ancestors who were, at some point in the past, indigenous to a particular place.

[19] In contrast to the negative, racist portrayals of all Indigenous peoples made by the ruling class colonialists.

[20] Here is a link to the only free access to the amazing old documentary film on the Kogis, “ From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRgTtrQOiR0 The written introduction to the film at the top of the post, contains an excellent explanation on why the Kogi people do not want to receive tourists or other visitors on their lands. What humans who want to return to our original harmonious ways need to start doing is to work on listening to and following the voices of our relations in the non-human portion of this inter-connected life world. That is an ability that all First Peoples had for most of the time of our existence as humans on this Earth, and it is still the best source of true guidance. Stop looking to modern humans and guru types for the light that we all need that is freely available in our natural, inter-connected world (both within and outside of our bodies).

[21] I am afraid that if I name and give more precise locations for these model Indigenous societies, some eco-tourists, missionaries, or other modern humans might find them and corrupt or destroy them. So, then, how do we learn from them, if we cannot go find them and visit them? Maybe we should just wait until we are invited by these Indigenous peoples to come visit them, when they decide they want to teach us some things. That is how Alan Ereira, the filmmaker of the documentary on the Kogis, got to visit and film the Kogis—they found him and invited him because they had a message that they wanted to send to the world through him. Indigenous people are under no obligation to teach the rest of humanity anything, unless they are persuaded to do so by their relationships with Mother Earth and their natural relations with all species whom they follow or receive guidance from.

[22] I must acknowledge here that, like all human demographic groups, the multitude of Indigenous peoples, world-wide, have much variation among individuals within their unique individual societies—in personal experiences, adaptation to historical circumstances, retaining of cultural traditions, level of wealth or success within the imposed colonialist economic systems, and several other factors that impact cultural resiliency and recovery.

[23] Besides Thomas More, other colonial era European writers who imagined “utopian” societies and were inspired, in part, by what they had heard about Indigenous peoples of the Americas include Jean-Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract, 1762), Tomasso Campanella (City of the Sun, 1602, English translation, 1623), Thomas Bacon (New Atlantis, 1626), and James Harrington (The Commonwealth of Oceana, 1656). Benjamin Franklin is known to have admired the form of government of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy and to have recommended to his fellow revolutionaries that they copy the Haudenosaunee, to some extent. See, Donald A. Grinde, Jr. and Bruce E. Johansen, Exemplar of Liberty: Native America and the Evolution of Democracy, UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 1991, pp.96-98, but really, the whole book.

[24] There are presently about 9 million species of animals and 391,000 species of plants in Earth. See, “Our World in Data,” “Biodiversity and Wildlife.” ourworldindata.org/biodiversity-and-wildlife 

[25] Daniel R. Wildcat, Red Alert: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge, Golden, Colorado, Fulcrum Publishing, 2009, pg. 75.

[26] Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Hearing the Language of Trees,” excerpt from The Mind of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, edited by John C. Ryan, Patricia Viera, and Monica Galiano, published by Synergetic Press (2021), re-printed in Yes!, October 29, 2021.

[27] If not a need or dependency, such trade could remain optional, to preserve good relations with neighbors, and provide things not available in the community location that would do no harm if brought in to the community.

[28] For more on why we should stop using money and on possible alternative economic systems see my essay, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies

[29] Some of us old-timers who tried to go in that direction back in the late 1960’s on through the 1980’s and failed will probably have plenty to say about that. Barb and I lived communally (in shared houses and living spaces) from 1970 until 1973 and in intentional community (separate households on shared land) from 1982 to 1985.

[30] Although I do not agree with them about everything, two people who it has been said are very helpful with that kind of support are Joanna Macy and Michael Dowd (they work separately).

[31] That is enough about the “whys” of this for now, partly because the essay is getting very long. I’ll be glad to hear from others now, in the comments below and elsewhere, and will turn my attention now and in future blog posts to more about the “hows” of it all. But, I know that the real knowledge, wisdom, and joy, will come through the doing, not just the words.

2020: the Year in My Rearview Mirror

2020: the Year in My Rearview Mirror

   When we look in the rearview mirrors of our cars, we don’t usually see very much of all that we just passed. Normally, we just glance back there now and then to see if it is safe to change lanes and pass somebody or to see if there are any police cars behind us when we want to go a little faster than the law allows. In a similar fashion, this look back at the year 2020 will not attempt to deal with everything that came to pass, just those things that did the most to catch my attention and give me something to think about. This is the first time that I have ever written one of these things. I thought about writing one back in June, before we were even halfway through the year, because so many things of higher significance than we usually see in a whole year had already transpired. After giving it much thought, I decided to wait until the year was over. I worked on it over a period of 37 days, researching and writing, and had no idea when I started that I would learn so much by diving in and doing this. I realize that now, in February, 2021, many of us seem to want to forget all about the year 2020. Maybe it is just too soon to deal with what happened during that notable fragment of the time continuum, and that is completely understandable. It was, and is still, very painful. This essay will still be sitting right here for you whenever you are ready for it. It is also one of those pieces of writing that does not necessarily have to be read in its chronological order–you can jump in and out of it at any points that you wish. It is my hope that the thoughts and analyses of those events that I describe here, and the many vital questions raised, will contribute to us humans taking the corrective, life-nurturing, natural life-preserving actions that we so urgently need to take in 2021 and during whatever time after that which we will still have in our hands.

          Something different that you will probably notice about this review of the year, from most others that you may read, is that I pay more attention to and attach more significance to events and phenomena that significantly impacted those fellow beings whom I call “the innocents”: our non-human relations (all other species and every part of our natural habitats) and those humans around the world who do not engage in the modern industrial technological toxic production and over-consumption that we are so accustomed to here in the U.S., and in similar countries. I also include with the innocents the little children who did not ask to be born into over-consumptive, toxic, wasteful industrial societies and, at this point in their lives, “know not what they do.” Most of these stories are rather grim and painful, but, if we can learn from them how to better live and be better humans, then, hopefully, all that we suffered last year will not be in vain.

Siberian tusk hunter. Photo by Amos Chapple

            January.

First, a few major events that rolled on, in continuity, from 2019. Over in the Siberian Arctic, because the climate-warmed permafrost had continued to melt and collapse in large sections that year, people who used to be farmers before their lands became unstable and swampy, continued to engage in their newest occupation: scavenging. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/climate-environment/climate-change-siberia/  They search the recently-melted and collapsed former permafrost lands for mammoth and mastodon tusks, from the carcasses which are now exposed, thawing out, and decaying, after being buried deep and frozen for over 10,000 years. Who knows what microbial entities have been released from their ancient slumber among all of the various decaying bodies of long-extinct animals and plants? Perhaps some potentially pandemic viruses? The scavenging residents of the Siberian Arctic sell the mammoth and mastodon tusks that they find to brokers and buyers throughout the world who believe that “medicines” made from these tusks can restore men’s fading or lost virility. About 90% of their customer base consists of men in China, where such beliefs in the power of ivory are more common. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-mammoth-problem-emerges-in-siberia-11562763878https://www.boredpanda.com/mammoth-tusk-hunting-russia/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic   I am not claiming that Covid-19 came from the thawing Siberian permafrost. Scientists don’t know for sure where it originated but their consensus theory is that it first came to humans in China from a particular species of bat that is common there. One of the favorite foods of bats is the mosquito and there is now a veritable plague of mosquitos in Siberia, which borders with northern China. Mosquitos are also able to pass viruses from animals to humans.

Mosquitos cover photographer Amos Chapple’s feet at the tusk hunters’ camp in Siberia. Photo by Amos Chapple.

Also rolling on from the end of 2019 to begin the new year of 2020, was the feigned attempt by members of the Democratic Party serving in the House and Senate of the United States to impeach what should have been the most easily impeachable (but not by that much) President in the entire history of that miserable nation. The estimated number of impeachable offenses committed by Donald Trump during his first three years in office (January 2017 through January 2020) ranges wildly from about ten to over one hundred, depending on whether one counts each individual violation of the same law or just the number of laws themselves that he violated. Constitutional scholar and former senior official in the Department of Justice, Bruce Fein, concluded that there were twelve separate laws (nine articles of the U.S. Constitution and three other federal laws) which Donald Trump had broken by the time that the impeachment investigation began, and that he committed multiple violations of some of those laws, even dozens of violations of two of them (Abuse of the Powers of the President and Abuse of Public Trust). https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/11/25/end-rule-law-12-impeachable-offenses-committed-trump Even so, the Democratic legislators chose to only impeach him on two of the multitude of Trump’s criminal offenses: Abuse of Power, and Obstruction of Congress (https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres755/BILLS-116hres755enr.pdf ). Disregarding most of the many examples of violations by Trump within those two categories, the Democrats chose to focus only on actions by Trump related to his attempt to get the Ukrainian government to dig up evidence of impropriety against his already apparent future opponent in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden. The natural question that arises from that choice is, why choose only that one example of those two major infractions when they had roughly one hundred other impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” that they could have used? Was this impeachment trial really an attempt to impeach Donald Trump, or was it actually the first public event in the 2020 Democratic presidential election campaign, designed to promote their long-before-chosen candidate? In the article cited above, Bruce Fein and Chris Hedges provide us with evidence for a very plausible explanation. It would not serve the Biden presidential campaign well to attempt to impeach Trump for crimes that were also committed by the Obama/Biden administration, such as sending U.S. troops into wars that were not declared by Congress, or carrying out illegal surveillance against U.S. citizens, along with several other illegal, power-abusing, impeachable acts. Although the consequences of the failure to impeach Donald Trump may have ended up being nearly the same had Mike Pence become Trump’s replacement, we will never really know how many thousands fewer lives would have been lost to Covid-19 had they actually impeached Trump on something that would have also got him convicted in the Senate. The losses suffered in 2020 by the rest of the natural world due to Trump’s prioritizing of capitalist industrial production and consumption over our natural life-sustaining ecosystems would probably have been no different under Pence, and will probably continue at nearly the same level under Biden.

            On January 7th, China announced that they had identified a new (or “novel”) coronavirus that had sickened some people in Wuhan. The World Health Organization initially named the virus “2019-nCoV,” but later changed the name to “Covid-19.” Two days later, the first person to die of the disease, a 61-year old man, died in Wuhan.

Australian Kookaburra Kingfisher perched in a burnt tree in Australia, 2020. Photo by Adam Stevenson

            The last beginning-of-2020-continuum that I will mention here is the devastating wildfires in Australia, which consumed and destroyed so many lives, from September of 2019 until the last of the fires was extinguished in early May of 2020. The intensity and amount of these fires (15,000 separate fires in all, for just that one season) was enabled by decades of increasingly frequent droughts and record-setting average temperatures, the previous summer of 2018-19 being the hottest summer on record in Australia. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/04032020/warming-climate-implicated-australian-wildfires-new-study-finds/  When the year began, in January, the inferno was reaching its peak, eventually consuming 47 million acres (18.6 million hectares), an area about the size of the U.S. state of Nebraska. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season  The cost to Life was over one billion reptiles, mammals, birds and amphibians killed and another two billion injured and displaced due to destroyed habitat. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/28/asia/australia-fires-wildlife-report-scli-intl-scn/index.html
https://www.statista.com/chart/22396/estimated-number-of-animals-killed-or-displaced-in-australian-bushfires/ 
  I could find no statistics on the losses of fish and insects, but I know that the waters in the fire zones were intensely over-heated and afterward, when the rains came, were filled with ash, eroded soil and bodily remains from the runoff. Thirty four humans were killed by direct contact with the fire and heat and another 445 humans died from smoke inhalation, many in towns and cities long distances away from the actual flames. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/26/australias-summer-bushfire-smoke-killed-445-and-put-thousands-in-hospital-inquiry-hears  Smoke and ash frequently darkened parts of nearby New Zealand and the smoke plumes even spread at times all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina.

I have not seen any numbers on the Australian Indigenous traditional medicine and food plants that were destroyed or possibly made extinct in those fires. I do not know how people calculate and translate all of this loss into monetary values, but of course they tried to (mostly measuring “property damage,” including the 3,500 human homes that were destroyed), and that figure came out to $103 billion Australian dollars, and thus the “costliest” natural disaster of any kind in Australian history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%9320_Australian_bushfire_season  Has anybody ever measured the cost to inter-connected Life itself from a disaster like this, or the cost to Life created by bringing English colonialism and industrial capitalism to Australia in the first place? How about the long-term psychological damage incurred during and after the fires from hearing the screams and tending to the wounded, of all species?
           

“More than 2,000 koalas may have died in the fires and their bodies may never be found, an ecologist says.” Australian Associated Press Sun 8 Dec 2019 Photograph: Supplied by Jimboomba Police

            February.

            Bernie Sanders learned in 2016 that the Democratic Party leaders would never allow him or any other self-identified democratic socialist to become their party’s nominee for President, and that they would prevent that from happening by any means possible, fair or foul, legal or illegal. So, why did he run again, in the Democratic Party primary in 2020? Did he think that if a large enough number of voters enthusiastically supported him the Democratic National Committee would come to see the light and begin to accept and support the will of the people? Or, was somebody or something else pulling his strings? Well, whatever the reason, he sure got off to a great start in the February primaries. After some days of confusion and delay in counting the votes in Iowa, Bernie won that first primary (I know, “caucus”) of the season (although the party later gave the victory to Pete Buttigieg, without any reasonable explanation, and Joe Biden was given the most delegates in Iowa, even though he came in fourth place). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/04/us/elections/results-iowa-caucus.html Bernie ended up winning 3 out of the 4 February primary contests, until the switcheroo was pulled on him, regarding Iowa. He won in New Hampshire and Nevada, while Joe Biden won the last February primary in South Carolina, making the delegate count at the end of the month come out to 62 delegates for Biden and 60 for Bernie. Millions of Bernie’s supporters were enormously pleased with his much better performance in those early primaries than expected, but apparently that delegate count and all of that progressive enthusiasm was way too close for comfort for the DNC. On February 21st, the Washington Post published a story, citing anonymous “U.S. officials,” saying that the Russians were assisting Bernie Sanders’ campaign in order to help Donald Trump win the 2020 election and remain in office. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/bernie-sanders-briefed-by-us-officials-that-russia-is-trying-to-help-his-presidential-campaign/2020/02/21/5ad396a6-54bd-11ea-929a-64efa7482a77_story.html 

https://greenwald.substack.com/p/after-the-deep-state-sabotaged-his

            Meanwhile, the fires in Australia gradually diminished in February, due largely to some strong rains, and on February 9th Antarctica experienced its hottest day ever recorded, hitting a high of 69.35 degrees Fahrenheit (20.75 degrees Celsius) at Marambio research base, on Seymour Island, a team of Argentine researchers reported. Massive icebergs continue to break off of the continent at an increasing rate and journey out into the warming seas. https://www.livescience.com/antarctica-record-high-temperature.html 

On February 27th, Donald Trump said about the Covid-19 virus: “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves to supporters after a campaign rally in Chicago’s Grant Park Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

            March.

            March 3rd was “Super Tuesday” for the Democratic Presidential Primary contest, which was called that because there were 15 primaries in that one day. Bernie Sanders won five of them, including California (the largest one in the nation, by delegate count), Colorado, Democrats Abroad, Utah and Vermont. He also came in a close second in a few of the other contests, picking up significant amounts of delegates there, too. Joe Biden won the other 10. After all of the Super Tuesday votes were counted, Bernie had a total of 623 delegates and Biden had 746, with the vast majority of primaries still to come and nearly three thousand delegates still to be voted for and counted toward the 1,991 delegates needed to win the nomination. A victory for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary election was still easily mathematically possible. Even so, within the next week after Super Tuesday, mainstream corporate media outlets were harmoniously declaring Joe Biden to be “the presumptive Democratic nominee,” in spite of the math and the many outraged objections to that from campaigners for Sanders. https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Joe_Biden  By Thursday, March 5th, the other three leading contenders had all dropped out of the race: Pete Buttigieg on Sunday, the 1st; Amy Klobuchar on Monday, the 2nd; and Elizabeth Warren on Thursday. Buttigieg and Klobuchar endorsed Biden immediately upon their exits, and Warren waited until April 15th to endorse him. On the last day of that momentous week, Saturday the 7th, Bernie Sanders announced that he and his campaign organizers were considering the cancellation of all of their currently-scheduled campaign rallies, due to their concerns about the rapidly growing Covid-19 pandemic and their desire to not help spread it further. Bernie’s campaign rallies were the largest of any presidential candidate (including the Republican candidate’s rallies) and a major promotional force for his campaign.

            Coinciding with this major shift in the Democratic primary dynamics was the rapid increase in the spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19. On March 15th, the total number of cases of Covid 19 in the U.S. was 4,191, which put the U.S. in eighth place among all the nations of the world in active cases. Just eleven days later, on March 26th, the U.S. leaped over China into first place in number of active cases in the world, with 86,613 cases and 1,206 deaths! The nation has remained in first place for number of cases and number of deaths ever since, far ahead of the second and third place nations (India and Brazil) and many times more than all of the other nations, and is still surging further and further away from them all, as I write this in mid-January of 2021.

During those first two weeks of March, two very credible investigative journalists for CNN, Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam, counted 33 different lies and misleading statements that Donald Trump told to the American people about Covid-19, in what Trump claims was an attempt by him to keep the people from panicking. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/22/politics/fact-check-trump-coronavirus-false-claims-march/index.html https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/09/trump-bob-woodward-book-rage-coronavirus  The lies, twists, and spins from Trump included statements such as: “We have very low numbers compared to major countries throughout the world. Our numbers are lower than just about anybody.” (March 6th, to reporters at signing of a coronavirus appropriations bill, when the U.S. was ranked tenth among all nations in the world in numbers of cases, and relatively few Americans were being tested); “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is.” (March 6th, when doctors all over the country were saying that there were not enough testing kits available, and there were many restrictions and limitations on who could get tested); “..we’re having to fix a problem that, four weeks ago, nobody ever thought would be a problem.” (March 11th to reporters at a coronavirus meeting with bankers. Trump had been briefed as early as late January on the seriousness and potential disaster that the pandemic could be to the U.S. and the world.); “This is a very contagious–this is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something that we have tremendous control of.” (March 15th, at a coronavirus press conference). That is just four out of thirty-three examples over a period of two weeks. On March 19th, Trump told Bob Woodward in an interview, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

This intentional deception was possibly Trump’s most serious crime committed while in office (with the continued enabling of the genocide in Yemen—initiated under Obama—possibly worse, in number of lives lost, which is very difficult to measure) https://www.mintpressnews.com/yemen-genocide/243247/ , and ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. Of course, I am not saying that Trump is responsible for all of the Covid-19 deaths in the U.S.. I am not sure how to go about doing the math to compute what percentage of the total deaths (over 425,000, as I am writing this now) can be reasonably attributed to Trump’s lies, deception, lack of leadership, lack of concern for the danger of the virus and for the sufferings of people other than himself, but surely some significant percentage exists. Whoever takes on that grand mathematical puzzle would not only have to figure out how many people contracted Covid-19 because they believed Trump’s lies and didn’t take precautions, but also how many people who did not believe Trump and did take precautions were infected due to the actions of Trump’s followers. Another big factor that makes the puzzle even more complex, is the historical and systemic circumstances, in existence since long before Trump was even born, that surely contributed to the U.S. Covid-19 death rate, rooted in the health disparities created by vast economic inequality, racial discrimination, and all the ravages of unrestrained predatory capitalism itself. The repeated refusal of U.S. politicians to even seriously consider and discuss adapting a universal health care system, like the ones that helped bring much better results in the battle against the pandemic to most of the other industrialized nations of the world, is a prime example of that. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2021/02/11/lancet-commission-donald-trump-covid-19-health-medicare-for-all/4453762001/ We could also try to figure out how many lives might have been saved if Bob Woodward would have revealed what Trump told him about his reckless disregard for the danger of the coronavirus, and his intentional misleading of the people he was sworn to protect, back then, in March, instead of waiting until his book was published in August.

            After the world, including the U.S., began to respond to the pandemic with shutdowns of business as usual, and the U.S. stock market took its deepest dive ever on March 9th, the U.S. Congress began to formulate and debate some sort of action for economic relief and the salvation of capitalism. Realizing that this was no time to resist a little emergency socialism (although they didn’t dare use that word for it), the House created and passed the first Coronavirus relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and sent it on to the Senate for further debate and tweakage, where it finally passed again on March 25th. That bill provided for $1,200 checks to Americans making under $75,000, families to receive $500 for each dependent child, an additional $600 per week for four weeks for people who had been laid off, to supplement their unemployment checks, $100 billion for the nation’s hospitals, $150 billion in relief funds for all the states, and a $500 billion loan program to give “relief” to allegedly “struggling” corporations like those in the airline industry. https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2020-03-26/senate-passes-historic-2-trillion-relief-to-combat-coronavirus-pandemic

In this country, socialism of various sorts is considered allowable in cases of emergency, such as FEMA assistance after a hurricane or devastating wildfires, or, in normal conditions, to fund fire and police departments, or even for non-emergency essential public services, such as public schools and public libraries. In most other “western,” “civilized” countries, free public health care would also be included among those last examples. But, in the U.S., the largest non-emergency government spending from the common treasury of all Americans (which is a form of socialism) goes in the form of subsidies and tax breaks to the largest corporate business entities, along with funding military activities that are mostly not related to the constitutionally-ordained purpose of the military: to protect and defend the nation from both foreign and domestic attackers, in wars declared by Congress. So, in summary, the acceptable practice is minimal, mostly emergency socialism for the working class majority of Americans, and the maximum socialism (or raiding of the common treasury) that the ruling class can get away with for the most wealthy and powerful Americans. The Congresspersons, the President, and the Supreme Court members also get 100% of their medical needs covered from the common treasury for the rest of their lives, after gaining office. Bernie Sanders spoke strongly in the Senate for the Coronavirus Relief Bill, but did not take advantage of that amazingly “teachable moment” to say at least a few words about how this great bill that they were passing to meet so many dire needs of the American people (and a couple of not-so-dire “needs” of the corporate elites) in a time of crisis was a form of socialism. Why not?

April.

As Covid 19 rapidly surged throughout the world during the months of March and April, many nations began to respond to it in ways similar to China’s successful response back in January and February. Restrictions on normal activities of all kinds were put into place by about 54% of the world’s human population, from total lockdowns to reductions of varying degrees on travel, work, shopping, and in-person socializing. A study published at the end of April by the International Energy Agency https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020 revealed that the impacts of these shutdowns and reductions produced the only example of humans actually doing what really needs to be done to resolve the climate crisis that we have ever witnessed! The data compiled by the IEA clearly shows us the only likely way that we will accomplish the 7.6% reduction in CO2 output per year for the rest of this decade that was urged by the IPCC. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/  Basically, what their findings revealed was that the reductions in industrial production, consumption, and travel that the industrialized world carried out between January (beginning in China) and April 28th, when they completed their report, reduced CO2 output by an estimated 8% worldwide!!

https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2020/05/02/coronavirus-carbon-emissions-turned-back-10-years/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=YESDaily_20200505&utm_content=YESDaily_20200505%20CID_6bddd1df1e1d3e71fd84a9cdfbd6609f&utm_source=CM&utm_term=Read%20the%20full%20story&fbclid=IwAR2FVa_qOVdoLewUOCUN7fJJTj9nltNV1lBuvpuyWHmJbp_yKgREUEuc5pY

As the above chart shows us, we have never seen anything close to this level of CO2 and energy output reduction in the entire modern industrial era! Even with all of the wind turbine and solar panel installations around the world, over the last few decades, CO2 levels have continued on a steady rise, until now. This is a profound illustration of what many of us have been saying for years: to resolve the climate, biosphere, and extinction crisis, we will have to actually stop or dramatically reduce the activities and habits that have created the problem. Unfortunately, what happened next—in May, June, and ever since then—masses of people in the U.S. and elsewhere refusing to continue with restrictions once they saw a little improvement in the Covid-19 crisis, shows us how unlikely it is that enough humans are willing to sacrifice some of their personal comfort and consumption habits even to save themselves and their offspring from deadly disease or biosphere collapse.

It was reported on April 7th that, “Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has experienced its most widespread bleaching event on record, with the south of the reef bleaching extensively for the first time. This marks the third mass bleaching event on the reef in just the last five years and scientists say that the rapid warming of the planet due to human emissions of heat-trapping gases are to blame.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/07/australia/great-barrier-reef-bleaching-2020-intl-hnk/index.html

On April 8th, the day after the number of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 400,000, and the number of dead had grown to 12,790, Bernie Sanders announced that he was suspending his campaign for president. Bernie explained that the deadly seriousness of the pandemic had much to do with his decision and that it would be a better use of his time and abilities to fight that battle. “As I see the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership, and the work that needs to be done to protect people in this most desperate hour, I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us,” Sanders said. Even though he said that he “cannot win,” he assured everybody that his name would remain on the ballot throughout the rest of the primaries, in hope that he would gain enough votes to show the considerable popular support for his policy goals and help push the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. At that point in time there were still 26 primaries left (about half of them) and 1,506 delegates still up for grabs, so it still seemed like anything was possible before the primaries would end in June. But, less than a week later, on April 13th, Bernie publicly endorsed Joe Biden for president. How many of his supporters did he think would then continue to show up and vote for him in the primaries? Did he really think that this early surrender to Joe Biden and the DNC would even nudge the party one micro-millimeter to the left of anything? So, we come back to the question, “Why did Bernie run in 2020?” Who or what entity actually benefitted from all of that extraordinary effort and enthusiasm from so many determined and hopeful people who energetically campaigned for him and from the millions who voted for him?

A field of onions waiting to be buried in Nyssa, Idaho on April 10, 2020. (Joseph Haeberle / The New York Times)

Innocent, “naïve” child: “Mommy, why don’t the farmers just give all of those onions to the hungry and starving people, instead of just throwing them away?

“Well-adjusted,” “sensible” mother: “That’s not how capitalism works, honey. To give the food away could destroy capitalism.”

Innocent, “naïve” child: “Well, it sounds to me like capitalism doesn’t work. Maybe it SHOULD be destroyed.”

At around that same time, the middle of April, the closing of most restaurants in the country due to the pandemic, along with the increased purchasing of foods from grocery stores as more people ate at home, caused some severe economic difficulties in the commercial food supply chain. Many farmers, processed food manufacturers, and freight transportation companies were not able to adjust to the changes in demand and distribution in ways that would allow them to make sufficient profits. That led to people sitting in their cars in very long lines waiting to pick up food (either purchased or freely distributed) and farmers having to dump large quantities of produce that they could not sell or transport at a profit, rather than distributing it to free food distribution centers.  That would have been a great opportunity for Bernie Sanders to talk to people about the necessity for some socialistic intervention by the government to assist those industries as well as the millions of Americans then experiencing food insecurity, while teaching them a little bit about what socialism really is. https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavirus/ct-nw-nyt-coronavirus-food-waste-20200413-x5n6sbmrh5an3cilo6hxozrkj4-story.html?fbclid=IwAR1_h32r_D-tgcajt2KSmM7p9kuz7hb09whMWhouMEM5dAxwzrSC5ryZ_fw   Does anybody remember hearing Bernie say one word about the meaning of socialism while he was allegedly trying to push the Democratic Party further to the left?

Back during the first week of this month of April, Trump began to lay the ground work for claiming the election would be fraudulent if he lost, by claiming that mail-in ballots are subject to a much higher rate of fraud than in-person voting. Trump said that after Democrats had begun to question the safety of voting in-person for the rest of their primary elections, due to the pandemic. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/07/829323152/fact-check-is-mail-ballot-fraud-as-rampant-as-president-trump-says-it-is  It was clear to the Republican Party leaders that since more Democrats were taking Covid-19 seriously and taking precautions than Republicans generally were, Democrats would be much more likely to use mail-in ballots in the general election in the fall (which also indicates that they were aware then that the pandemic would not just “go away like magic” before Fall). But Republican politicians had also known since at least as far back as the 1980s that higher voter turnouts generally favored the Democrats and voter suppression tactics generally favored themselves. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/30/trump-republican-party-voting-reform-coronavirus

On the last day of April, inspired by, and with the vocal support of their president, both heavily-armed and unarmed citizens of the state of Michigan, were allowed into the state capitol building by police (but not into the actual legislative chamber) to protest and shout down a state legislative hearing on whether to continue the Covid-19 safety regulations that they had put into place a little over one month earlier, during the initial surge of the pandemic. Many in the crowd seemed to be primarily concerned about the economic ramifications of the partial shutdown, while some of them seemed more concerned about government taking away their liberty to just do whatever the heck they want to. The fact that very few in the crowd of hundreds wore masks or distanced themselves indicated that the actual dangers of Covid-19 were of as little concern to them as to their commander-in-chief. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/4/30/21243462/armed-protesters-michigan-capitol-rally-stay-at-home-order

https://www.salon.com/2020/05/01/trump-declares-support-for-armed-protestors-storming-michigan-capitol-these-are-very-good-people/

Dress rehearsal for insurrection at the Michigan State Capitol, April, 2020 Photo by Nicole Hester of MLive.com

In mid-April, a team of scientists from Columbia University published a long-term analytical research report showing that the mega-drought (an extremely dry, wide-spread pattern that endures over two decades or longer) in the western U.S. is nearly equal to the worst mega-drought in the last 1,200 years, and on course, due to climate change, to soon become the worst ever on record. This current mega-drought began in 2000. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-drought-california-western-united-states-study/

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22nd, a new documentary film was released called, “Planet of the Humans,” which caused much debate, antagonism, and even calls by some environmentalists to censor or ban the film. There were many reasons for the turmoil, one being that the filmmakers dared to reveal that switching to solar and wind power while still using fossil fuels to mine the materials, transport them, manufacture the “green energy” devices from those materials, and transport the devices to their markets and installation sites, would not reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently for meeting even the modest Paris Accord objectives, even if done so on a grand scale. The filmmakers basically said that what we really need to do is reduce industrial production and consumption to the levels recommended in 2018 by the IPCC https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/  and numerous other climate scientists https://systemchangenotclimatechange.org/article/ipcc-report-first-thoughts-next-steps , as the Covid-19 shutdowns were already showing us could be done (see above). To try to resolve the crisis with green energy devices alone would be way too little too late. It would be like driving a car toward a cliff and not slowing down sufficiently or applying the brakes hard enough to stop in time to prevent flying over the edge. A little bit of slowing down and a light application on the brake pedal would ultimately be a meaningless and pointless gesture. The driver and passengers would not “feel good that at least we did something” while melting in flames at the bottom of the ravine. The chart below (made in 2016) illustrates the science on the urgency of our current global ecological circumstances very clearly:


            May.

            In the spring, many people who had not done so before, started growing their own food. More people fished, hunted and gathered wild berries in 2020, too. That was, in part, a response to the food insecurity generated by the pandemic shutdowns, but it was also part of an ongoing conjunction of social movements going back to the late 1960s. First there was the counter-status quo-culture “back to the land” and health food movements. Then, in the 1980s in Mexico, there was the Indigenous La Campesina food sovereignty movement, which was also a response to food insecurity, as well as to the ravages that corporate commercial agriculture was continuously committing against the land and the people. That movement gradually spread throughout Latin America and into other parts of the world, among mainly traditional and Indigenous farmers. The food sovereignty movement has experienced a revival in North America over the last decade or so, mainly among Indigenous peoples, but influencing non-Indigenous people as well. As the name suggests, “food sovereignty” means the power to create and maintain food systems that can operate locally and independently from the failed, toxic industrial commercial system that currently dominates the industrialized world and imperils all of the world. The food sovereignty movement differs from survivalist movements in that it is community-centered, cooperative, and also, in many cases, eco-centered, rather than individualistic and self-centered. This is part of what some of us are doing to move forward, past the collapse of a dying system and culture, into a new, Earth/Water/Sun-centered, inter-connected, eco-harmonious living world.

Photo by Faith Price

                                                                                     

                When Bernie Sanders left the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, the Democratic Party desperately needed to find a way to bring enough of Bernie’s supporters on board with the Joe Biden campaign to help him win in November. What could they say and do to encourage active, if not enthusiastic, support among progressive Democrats, Democratic Socialists, and left-leaning independents for their chosen candidate? The Democratic Party elites could sense somehow that saying “at least Biden is better than Trump” might not be enough to win them over. To make the matter even more challenging, some of Sanders’ supporters still hoped that Bernie was kidding about the “suspension” of his campaign and his endorsement of Biden, and speculated that Bernie may have some sort of secret plan to insert himself back into the campaign before the Democratic national convention. Using the mainstream corporate media to amplify the horror of the idea of another four years of Trump, with plenty of help from Trump himself and his shockingly inept gestures at handling the worse medical crisis in American history (“maybe we could inject some of that disinfectant into the lungs?”), might do the trick, but they sensed that they probably needed something more. Even though a hold-your-nose-while-voting-for-the-lesser-evil vote counts just about the same as an enthusiastic, I-just-LOVE-this-candidate vote, the enthusiasm really helps gain more votes during the months of campaigning before an election. But what could the progressives and democratic socialists be enthusiastic about that the DNC could put into the Democratic presidential platform and get Biden to promise in his campaign speeches? The DNC would never allow Biden to run on promises of Medicare For All, higher taxes on the rich, or anything that even hinted of socialist reform of the economy, including the demands of the most serious, science-believing climate activists to go beyond just reducing the use of fossil fuels and actually reduce industrial production and consumption, which would violate the gospel of endless economic growth and maximization of monetary profit. So, which of the many progressive demands of the Bernie supporters could be safely co-opted for the Biden campaign and didn’t need any adherence to or mention of socialism to accomplish (or at least promise) them? The equality and inclusion issues (within the limits of only those opportunities possibly available under status quo capitalism), such as anti-racism, LGBT rights, humane treatment of immigrants and their children, diversity in hiring—including in Joe Biden’s cabinet and staff appointments, along with many vague references to “social justice” thrown in here and there, for good measure, had long proven useful on such occasions in the past. All of that, plus being a little bit better than Trump, and actually believing in science, especially during the horrific pandemic, might be the ticket to success and Democratic victory in November.

            On May 5th a video surfaced and went viral on the internet showing a present-day lynching of a young Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia. The murder actually happened back on February 23rd, but, like many in the very long history of murders and lynchings of Afro-descended human beings in America, this murder went unreported and unnoticed in the press for those two and a half months. But nowadays we have cellphones with very high quality cameras and video recorders in just about everybody’s hands and that, along with the fact that the majority opinion in America shifted away from support for murdering Black people with impunity about sixty years ago, is getting to be a bit of a problem for white supremacist murderers who don’t want to be incarcerated. That includes white supremacist policemen and former policemen like one of the two murderers of Ahmaud Arbery. Those two murderers were arrested the day after the video surfaced. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/05/us/ahmaud-arbery-jogging-georgia-shooting/index.html

            On May 13th another police murder, this time of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, unarmed, at home, in her bed, surfaced in the national press exactly two months after the murder occurred on March 13th. Breonna Taylor was an emergency services technician who lived in Louisville, Kentucky. https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/13/us/louisville-police-emt-killed-trnd/index.html

            On May 25th another murder occurred, by an active duty policeman, with support from three police accomplices, far away from the Deep South, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The victim was George Floyd and the graphic videos detailing the entire incident, combined with the two above-mentioned murders earlier in the month, pushed masses of Americans over a tipping point and into action. The videos of this murder began to go viral on the internet the same night, and it was covered in the press beginning the next day. https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2020/05/26/george-floyd-man-dies-after-being-arrested-by-minneapolis-police-fbi-called-to-investigate/  People also began to fill the streets of St. Paul in protest that day, along with many other cities and states in the days and months that followed.

A protester holds up a portrait of George Floyd during a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration in front of the Brooklyn Library and Grand Army Plaza on June 5, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York | Angela Weiss/AFP

            What brought so many thousands of people into the streets for about three consecutive months, all over the country, was a culmination of many forces, circumstances and determinations. In America, the use of various types of policing forces to protect the plunder of colonialists and capitalists and to keep oppressed peoples subordinate and/or terrorized, began with the building of forts to protect land stealers, moved on to the employment of “patrollers” to pursue and re-capture escaped enslaved persons, the use of marginalized immigrants to police other marginalized working class people in the industrial north, on through the KKK and local police enforcing Jim Crow segregation, and into the present enforcement of the old white power institutional structures as they transition into multi-ethnic but monocultural capitalist ruling structures, or, in other words, the guard not really changing, just changing colors. So, the viral videos of police murders and lynchings were not signifying anything new, and the resistance represented by the Black Lives Matter movement was also part of a long-enduring continuum of resistance and opposition to racist institutional structures and practices. One somewhat remarkable aspect of this particular wave of resistance in 2020 was its diversity of participants. I don’t know if anybody has actually done a formal study of the crowd demographics, but, from what I observed, it looked like a much higher proportion of white-identified people joined in these protests than we had back in the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” Black voter registration movement in the summer of 1964, which was quite a high percentage (again, I don’t know the exact numbers for back then, just a fuzzy memory). Several of the young white activists that I talked to last summer indicated to me that they were embarrassed about and just sick of seeing so much racism still present in 2020, when it seems to them that “everybody should know that’s wrong by now.” They were also embarrassed about and sick of having a president who encouraged and promoted it. Of course, what was also at work on their feelings was the customary “guilt by association” that America’s deeply-engrained custom of racial classification and racial bonding brings, along with their relatively new-found awareness of systemic race-based advantage and disadvantage. The police response to these anti-racism protests in the spring and summer of 2020 was similar in excess to the police response in the south in the 1960s, but more in the style of the militarized police brutality demonstrated at Standing Rock in 2016.

            The Black Lives matter, anti-racism, anti-police brutality protests of 2020 could have been a useful entity for the Democratic Party to latch onto and even co-opt, to some degree (to the extent that the organizers of individual demonstrations would have allowed or enabled that), to try to reach out to progressives and alienated Bernie supporters. Did the Democrats actually try to do that, to any significant degree? As was the case with Democrats being able to politically advantage Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic (as described above), Trump did more to disadvantage himself with his atrocious response to both the protests and the police violence that surrounded them than Joe Biden and his advisors did anything to advantage himself with his weak, non-committal, middle of the road remarks. Biden basically played both sides—calling for racial justice and equal treatment under the law, while trying to assure the conservatives that he stood for law and order (against protester violence more than against police violence) and “would never recommend defunding the police.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/06/08/joe-biden-against-defund-police-push-after-death-george-floyd/5319717002/

            At the end of this month of May, on the 29th, the world got to see (well, those of us who happened to stumble upon any news media that actually covered it) another frightening example of what the collapsing permafrost can bring about. At a power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk, Russia, above the Arctic Circle, the permafrost dramatically shifted again, causing severe damage to a diesel fuel storage tank and spilling 20,000 tons of diesel oil into the  Ambarnaya River, then flowed into a lake, into two other rivers, and on into the Arctic Ocean. Cleanup of the spill is expected to take about 10 years and cost about $1.5 billion, but the cost to innocent life in that region is harder to measure. The toxins released into water and land from the spill will remain for decades to come, harming fish, birds, reindeer and other innocents. Earlier in that month, temperatures had risen 18 degrees F higher than normal in Siberia, as the rest of the Arctic Circle also continued to be the most rapidly-warming part of the planet (but Antarctica might be catching up). Man-made structures containing oil and many other toxic products, exist throughout the permafrost regions and these types of catastrophic spills will happen more frequently.   https://weather.com/news/news/2020-11-30-2020-year-in-review-worst-environmental-disasters-climate-change 

A flooded street after water from the Tittabawassee River breached the Edenville Dam on May 20, 2020,
in Sanford, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

           After some extreme rainfall in Michigan on May 19 and 20th, two dams spilled over and flooded the towns of Edenville, Sanford and Midland, washing out trees, bridges, roads, houses and businesses and forcing more than 11,000 people from their homes. Heavy precipitation events, fueled by the extra moisture in the atmosphere due to the warming climate, have increased almost 40% across the upper Midwest in recent decades, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

June.

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene

When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means

Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream

As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream

Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

– Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble With Normal” © 1983, Rounder Records

Yearning for “normal,” which meant many different things to many different people, was perhaps the most commonly-shared motivating force throughout the pandemic-devastated, climate change-devastated, and warfare-devastated world, as the month of June began. For some of us, the part of normal we missed most was being able to socialize without wearing masks, along with not being in constant fear of catching a deadly disease. To the unprecedented number of people recently laid off from their jobs, normal meant relief from the fear that they might soon become homeless and unable to feed their families. Others hoped for, more than anything, to be free from the fear that their parents, grandparents, and most physically vulnerable loved ones would not have to die miserable deaths, alone and isolated from their loved ones in hospitals. Some people just yearned mostly to be able to go to restaurants, bars, and movie theaters again. Others yearned mostly for the freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they wanted to do, without having to be concerned about the well-being of others. Many of those people decided to just go ahead and do that, regardless of scientific reality and the likely disastrous, deadly consequences. The white supremacists amongst those folks found additional encouragement for their recklessness after they heard news reports stating that the coronavirus disproportionately impacts people of color. If the media had instead reported more accurately that increased vulnerability to Covid-19 correlates to poverty, less access to health care, industrial waste sites located in and near low-income neighborhoods (including some trailer parks inhabited by many impoverished white-identified people), and other forms of oppression by class, rather than just attributing it to race, and made it clear that poor white-identified people are just as vulnerable to Covid, perhaps we could have seen a little more cautious behavior from that particular demographic group. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_over_responses_to_the_COVID-19_pandemic 

We also had to deal with the people for whom “normal” meant putting monetary profit, their ability to maintain an unquestioning, submissive, over-consumptive society, and the preservation of the capitalist power structure which supports them, above all else, including life itself. The ruling class couldn’t stand to see masses of their usually obedient subjects, cease from traveling, cut back on shopping and consumption, and be prevented from working for low wages while maintaining the “essential services” to the industrial economy that the rulers depend upon for their excessive, degenerate “lifestyles.” And the rulers certainly did not want to see the working class use their newly-acquired “idle” or “free” time to think, read and communicate with each other about things like systemic inequality, alternative economic systems, ecological reality and possibilities for either revolution or abandonment of the prevailing system.

Some of us who shared the more humane of those universal yearnings of that moment, also hoped that it would be a moment in which the worst parts of “normal” would begin to be widely and deeply questioned, challenged, resisted, disassembled, and replaced by the best societies that we humans can possibly create. It seemed, to many of us, that the moment was ripe for it and full of amazing potential. While people were taking to the streets and to social media to cry out against systemic racism, we hoped that they would also cry out against the rest of it and develop strategies for revolutionary reformation of society, throughout the industrialized world. Were we wrong or deluded to hope and work for that? Are we wrong to continue to do so now, even though the Orange Plague has been removed from the WH for another changing of the neo-liberal corporate guard? Is it time to relax and drift back into over-consumptive, oblivious sleep, just as long as our precious careers and businesses remain intact?

Back to normal at a bakery shop in New Zealand, June, 2020. Getty Images, 2020

            While the U.S. Senate was bickering over a three trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill that had passed in the House three weeks earlier and which the Senate, ultimately, would never pass, and while some U.S. states around the country were loosening Covid restrictions and people in other states were just ignoring them—even though the numbers of cases and deaths were still rapidly rising—the nation of New Zealand actually, safely got back to normal. They were able to end all coronavirus restrictions (except for keeping their borders closed to all foreign travelers and requiring returning New Zealanders to quarantine for 14 days before going out in public) in their country on June 8th, after there had been no new cases in their country for seventeen days prior to that date and all of their previously infected citizens had recovered. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52961539  The New Zealanders were able to do that because, soon after the first cases appeared in their country (back in late February) and the facts about the danger of the virus became known, they followed the science and collectively—both their government and their private citizens—did what they knew they needed to do for their common good and their public health. On March 25th, after creating a science-based plan with four different stages of restrictions, their country went into the severest stage of near-complete lockdown immediately—closing most businesses, all schools, and any unnecessary ventures out into public spaces, for five weeks. The New Zealand government also did not hesitate to use their common national treasury for the common good and well-being of their people and spent over 4% of their GDP, beginning well before the shutdown, on subsidizing their people for potential lost income by essentially making generous payments to businesses and workers which allowed them to afford to stay home. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/17/new-zealand-launches-massive-spending-package-to-combat-covid-19  After the five weeks at stage 4, they were able to gradually move on through the other, less-restrictive stages to complete opening of their normal economic and social life. The whole process took a total of about ten weeks. A couple of months later, in late August, a few new cases of Covid-19 appeared in New Zealand, but, because they already had a successful plan for dealing with it in place, they were able to again completely eliminate the virus, in a little over six weeks this time, through their cooperative efforts. Another thing that New Zealand had in its favor, was a humane, intelligent, empathetic prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and a very capable Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, who both told their people the truth about the pandemic and clearly explained the science so that the people understood why the shutdown was necessary. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52344299  In sharp contrast to that, the four nations that have had the four highest numbers of both cases of Covid-19 and Covid deaths, from June 2020 on to the end of the year, the United States, Brazil, Russia and India, were all ruled by pathological, racist, autocratic, self-obsessed men. Here are the Covid-19 statistics for those four worse-hit nations of the world on June 30th, halfway through the year: USA- 2,633,466 cases, 130,096 deaths; Brazil- 1,402,041 cases, 59, 594 deaths; Russia- 646,929 cases, 9,320 deaths (likely, a severe undercount); India- 566,840 cases, 17,410 deaths (also, likely, a very inaccurate undercount). Those are still the four worse today (1-25-21). https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51235105     

https://epidemic-stats.com/coronavirus/usa

            July.

People watch and record as protesters pull down a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike during an event to mark Juneteenth in Washington, D.C., on June 19, 2020. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

            The summer of 2020 could be called “the summer of toppling statues.” Beginning with the earliest Black Lives Matter protests at the end of May and running on through the first week of September, nearly 200 statues, monuments and memorials that glorified slavery, slave-holders, slavery-defenders, genocide, racism and colonialism were either torn down or defaced by the People, taken down by city governments, or removed by people who wanted to protect those icons from potential destruction by protesters. Most of these monuments and statues were made to honor Confederate insurrectionists and many were statues of Christopher Columbus and other land stealers and murderers of Indigenous people. The reason that these monuments to white male supremacy existed in the first place was not just to honor historical figures who contributed to the establishment of white power in America, but also to remind people of color of the terror that those figures and the people who inherited their power wield over them today, as well as to keep all subjects of this empire in awe and submission. (Most of those Confederate statues were put up during the Jim Crow era, between about 50 to 100 years after the Civil War over.) The pigeons of America never got that message, though, and in the summer of 2020, many humans declared loudly in those public spaces that they adamantly rejected that message, too, and that it has no place in the America that they want to create and live in. The people who expressed themselves by taking down those statues and monuments were letting everybody know that they want to live in a nation that honors, nurtures and protects all life, and that a nation which honors the horrors and injustice that those statues and monuments represented is very sick, indeed.

Indigenous anti-racism, “Land Back” activists stand up for truth and justice in the face of Trump, in the Lakota homelands at the Black Hills. Photo by Willi White

            On the 3rd day of July, Donald Trump went to the largest and possibly most offensive white supremacist, pro-colonialist, true history-denying monument of all, Mt. Rushmore, to rally his base and attempt to gain support from more American racists, for the purpose of keeping himself in power. Trump had actually been doing this for weeks, focusing on the violence against these American icons and trying to get other people and the media to focus on that also, instead of on the legacy of American racism and genocide, or on his disastrously inept “handling” of the pandemic. In his speech that day, Trump proclaimed that, “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.” https://www.vox.com/2020/7/5/21313762/trump-mount-rushmore-speech-independence-day  How in the hell did Confederate monuments, which are memorials to secessionist enemies of the United States, to people who would rather not be citizens of the United States than give up their claimed ownership of other human beings whom they had been holding in total, predatory, brutal bondage for many generations, which they also fought a war against the United States for, which cost more American lives than any other war before or since, become “our most sacred memorials”?!! What was the process of indoctrination and mass delusion-building that led to that bizarro-world statement, or to similar statements echoed by many of Trump’s followers? How does that sort of twisted belief become “normal” in any culture or society? That sort of process actually takes a lot of effort and time, combined with enabling by the failure of a large part of the population who see the wrong to speak up and resist it.
            Before Trump and his people arrived that day at the site they call “Mt. Rushmore,” a large contingent of mostly young Indigenous American social justice and anti-racism activists filled the road that leads to that monument with their bodies, signs, and voices, and attempted to educate the American public as to why this particular Trump campaign event, and the Mt. Rushmore memorial itself, was such an offense to justice and humanity. Many of these activists represented the recently-organized “Land Back” movement, which actually is part of a continuous movement going back over the last 500+ years, which found revived energy in 2020, thanks to the vision, courage and determination of these young spiritual warriors. Krystal Two Bulls, a Northern Cheyenne and Oglala Lakota woman from Montana, who is one of the leaders of the Land Back movement, clearly and concisely articulated their position: “There are a few central demands of our campaign: First is to dismantle white supremacy, period, and the systems and institutions that uphold it. Second is to defund all of the mechanisms that enforce white supremacy — the military-industrial complex, the police, ICE, border patrol. And then return. Starting with public lands, return them to the original stewards. Lastly, consent. This speaks to a shift in mindset, where we are no longer asking permission for these things. If you don’t get consent based on your decisions that are going to impact our lives and our connection to the land, then we have the right to say `no.’” https://grist.org/fix/indigenous-landback-movement-can-it-help-climate/?emci=f155270f-0430-eb11-9fb4-00155d43b2cd&emdi=caa8f1b8-0430-eb11-9fb4-00155d43b2cd&ceid=128642&fbclid=IwAR0pjaFG9QO2qkGmmiWlaRFB5WvT797KS1_zWE4Bdpush_XmNXMonEKP9hY

The Six Grandfathers
Mt. Rushmore

                                                                                                                                                                  

            Most Americans know very little about the history of the Black Hills of South Dakota and why it was such an offense and injustice for the gigantic Mt. Rushmore monument to be dynamited and carved into those hills in the first place. For thousands of years before the arrival of the United Statesians into their homelands, the Paha Sapa (Black Hills in Lakota language) was a very sacred medicine and spiritual place for the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Cheyenne, Crow, Hidatsa, Assiniboine and several other Indigenous tribal nations. Peoples of many neighboring tribal nations would travel long distances to go there at least once a year to pray and gather medicines from plants. Some tribes have origin stories connected to those hills that say that they were created there. When the United States forced the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 on over 40 tribes in that region, they promised that they would leave the Paha Sapa to the Lakota people (which, due to the traditional customs of the Lakotas, as land-keepers or “stewards,” would thereby protect that sacred place for the continued use of the other tribes who held it sacred, too), while the U.S. took vast expanses of the lands surrounding that area. In 1876, gold was discovered by some of the soldiers and then by other Americans traveling through the Black Hills the next year, and soon they were all over the place, in violation of those treaties. The language of the treaties says that the land that is not taken by the U.S. is “reserved for the exclusive use and habitation of the tribes named herein (in the specific treaty).” That word, “reserved” is where the word “reservation” comes from—small pieces of their homeland that is left for the Indigenous peoples from the rest of the land that was stolen—not some kind of “gift to the Indians” from the U.S. government, as so many Americans have been misleadingly taught. The U.S. made 370 treaties with American Indian nations and broke 370 of those treaties, usually by violating that “exclusive use and habitation clause,” but also in many other ways.

            The particular mountain in the Paha Sapa upon which the Mt. Rushmore desecration was made, was called for thousands of years by the Lakota and Dakota people “the Six Grandfathers,” in recognition of six spirit beings who lived at the top of that mountain and could be seen in certain rock formations up there. As I said earlier, almost all of the Confederate monuments and statues, along with the Columbus statues and other memorials upholding and honoring white supremacy in the U.S., were created during the Jim Crow era of the 20th century, and so it was with Mt. Rushmore. The gargantuan monument was commissioned by a few “leading citizens” of the state of South Dakota, but eventually paid for (mostly) by the U.S. government, in 1927, and took 14 years to construct. This was at a time when KKK membership was at its peak, with branches in all 48 states. The lead sculptor for the project was a man named Gutzon Borglum, who had previously worked on a very large Confederate memorial at Stone Mountain, Georgia, which was meant to be a recruitment tool for KKK membership. Borglum was an outspoken white supremacist and KKK member. It was Borglum who made the decision to carve the monument in place of the Six Grandfathers after another place in the Black Hills had been previously chosen by the people who hired him. The commissioners of the project had also originally wanted Borglum to carve a memorial to the myth of the “settling of the wild West,” with sculptures of George Armstrong Custer, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and perhaps one Indigenous leader, and Lakota Chief Red Cloud was suggested for that. Borglum also nixed that idea, recommending that the carvings be a memorial to the entire span of “Manifest Destiny,” which means the “right” of the “superior white race” to take the homelands of any people in the world whom they deem as “inferiors,” and he chose the figures that ended up being in the monument: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—all of whom played significant roles in the taking of Indigenous American land, from coast to coast. That is what Trump, and others who spoke there at his campaign event were trying so adamantly to defend. https://discover.hubpages.com/education/Mount-Rushmores-Insult-to-Native-Americans     https://www.democracynow.org/2020/7/2/nick_tilsen_mount_rushmore_trump

            When some folks hear or read this kind of obnoxious history, all they can say in response is, “Why even bring up this sordid past? It happened so long ago,” which implies that it only exists in the past, is not recurring in the present, there is nothing of value that we can learn from this, and even that it is all somehow excused. For people who say things like that, I offer this little story:

            Imagine a gangster who, beginning at the age of 19, rapidly worked his way to the top of a big crime syndicate by stealing, murdering, brutalizing and terrorizing people in all sorts of ways. Eventually, by the age of 40, he had billions of dollars, owned a few very lucrative businesses, and had all of the wealth that he desired, so he decided to retire and turn the crime syndicate over to others to run. He would no longer be involved with organized crime and just be a model citizen and superficially generous philanthropist, instead. That went on well for him until after he turned sixty, and the relatives of a few of his murder victims from almost 40 years earlier, along with some former crime associates whom he had betrayed, got together and decided to release a heap of evidence to the district attorney’s office and see to it that the man paid for those crimes. During the murder trial, the man’s defense attorney said, “We admit to the crimes, but they were done so long ago and my client is now such a widely-respected, well-honored, valuable citizen of this city, we ask that you, the jury, forget all the wrong that my client did in his past, and all of the suffering, hardship and misery that he caused for so many people, or at least accept our excuses and justifications for it all, and find him not guilty.” What sort of a jury would agree to that? What laws say that the passing of time and the social popularity of a criminal turns guilt into innocence and makes the continued suffering of many people as a result of those crimes irrelevant (at least in the case of murder, where there is no “statute of limitations”)?

            But, the taking and desecrating of Paha Sapa, and the consequences of that, does not only exist in the past. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in the United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, et al. case, that the Black Hills were wrongfully “appropriated” (stolen), but instead of ordering the U.S. to return the stolen land, the court ordered the U.S. to pay the Lakota nation about $106 million dollars, with interest. The Lakota people, who have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, responded that they would rather have the land back than have the money. That was forty years ago and the interest that has accrued since then puts the figure well over $1.3 billion now, but the Lakota nation’s position on having the land back is still the same. https://www.salon.com/2014/02/17/we_must_give_the_land_back_americas_brutality_toward_native_americans_continues_today/   What other legal standard makes the stealing of Indigenous lands 150 or more years ago (400 years ago for my Wampanoag ancestors and other east coast tribes) relevant today, besides the violation of treaties? Every jurisdiction in the country, be it town, city, county, state, tribal, or federal, has laws against knowingly receiving and holding stolen property. Such laws are used every day to apprehend and convict accomplices of thieves, who did not commit the actual robbery, burglary, or whatever, but benefitted from the crime in some way. Every person who lives on, or has EVER lived on, any of the land claimed by the United States has benefitted to some degree from the wealth acquired through this stolen property. Think about that.

            They say patriotism is the last refuge

To which a scoundrel clings

Steal a little and they throw you in jail

Steal a lot and they make you king

-Bob Dylan, from “Sweetheart Like You,” 1983

            What happened during the two months after the 2020 presidential election was already easily predictable in July. A July 21st CNN report stated, “Voting experts and political strategists from across the political spectrum are increasingly alarmed about the potential for a disputed presidential election in November, one in which one candidate openly questions the legitimacy of the results or even refuses to concede.” The signs for that go back to at least 2016 and Donald Trump’s first attempt to run for a public political office of any kind. Even when he won the Electoral College vote, he blamed “election fraud” for the fact that he did not win the popular vote, claiming, without any evidence, as he usually does, that millions of “illegal aliens” were probably brought in to vote for Hillary Clinton.When the early polls in the 2020 race consistently all showed him to be about an average of 9 points behind Joe Biden, and he saw that many people were voting by mail in the Democratic primaries, to be safe from contacting the coronavirus, he began to attack mail-in voting and claim that the only way that he could lose in November would be by fraud. It was also very informative to hear Trump’s niece, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationwide_opinion_polling_for_the_2020_United_States_presidential_election#May_3_%E2%80%93_June_30,_2020

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/20/politics/disputed-election-crisis-trump/index.html

Mary Trump (who is also a clinical psychologist), say in interviews (after her book came out in July) how her grandfather, Trump’s dad, made Trump believe that he could never allow himself to lose at anything, or ever show weakness of any kind, or even admit if he was sick. That really explains a lot about Trump, including his insistence on denying any realities that do not fit within his father’s rules and demands. The voice of his abusive, controlling, intolerant father is probably ever-present in his mind.

            So, the government spying agencies and federal law enforcers, as well as the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties knew all about that, at least by July, and they knew about the threats of violence against the government made in public online forums for many years by white supremacist groups and how those threats were increasing that summer and fall as it began to appear likely that Trump would lose in November. They also witnessed a sort of “dress rehearsal” for the coming insurrection during the armed invasion of the Michigan state capitol building back in April (see above).  Yet they didn’t proactively attempt to avert the threat, either then or shortly before the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol. Why do many Americans seem to feel more threatened when in the presence of an unarmed Black or Brown teenage male wearing a hoodie than when they are walking past dozens of white-identified males carrying assault machine guns, wearing camouflage pants, and actually trying to look scary? This brings me to one more comment about the insidious destructive power of the white supremacist statues and monuments all over this country, along with the white male supremacy iconography found in most U.S. Christian churches, in their stain glass windows and the Sunday school literature (the image of God being a white male, or, actually, two white men and a white bird of unknown gender, along with a brown or sometimes black image of the devil. OK, I know that their holy book, the Bible, does not say anywhere within it that God is a white man, and it actually does say in one passage of that book that, “God is not a man.” But, ever since that religion was co-opted and institutionalized by the Roman Empire, followed by other European nations and empires, their rulers and clerics have continuously promulgated the conceptual image of a God-figure who closely resembles themselves, in a very transparent attempt to sanctify their positions of power, wealth and authority.). All of those aforementioned icons, as part of a system and culture of institutional racism, create an atmosphere and a sort of spiritual nutrient base that people breathe in and ingest without even realizing it, every time that they are in the presence of such icons. One of the effects of that is to create a deeply-engrained sense within most Americans (including even some Americans of color) of white innocence, authority and safety, alongside the sense of assumed guilt (or suspicion of guilt), ineptitude, malevolence, and danger assigned to black and brown-skinned people. We all saw many examples of that and received many lessons about it last summer regarding the actions of some American police officers, but there was not as much discussion and exploration of how that phenomena plays out throughout society, although the conversations have begun. The recent insurrection at the Capitol building, along with the continuum of similar events that will probably happen next (unless the threat is taken seriously and sufficient preventative action is taken), might force America to really begin to deal with it all and hopefully begin to deconstruct all of our life-destroying institutions.

            August.

Beginning in late May, and continuing through November, global warming and ocean warming in particular brought us the biggest, most record-setting, hurricane season on record.

Courtesy of NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season was its extremely high level of activity. The season saw 30 named storms (storms with winds of 39 mph or greater) develop, including 13 hurricanes (storms with winds of 74 mph or greater) and six major hurricanes (storms with winds of 111 mph or greater). This makes 2020 the most active season on record and breaks the previous record of 28 storms set back in 2005, which includes an unnamed subtropical storm discovered in post-season analysis.

Other seasonal records of note: 

  • Twelve separate storms made landfall in the contiguous U.S. during the 2020 season, beating the previous record of nine set in 1916.
  • Of those 12 landfalls, five occurred in the state of Louisiana, setting another record for most landfalls in a single state in a season.
  • Ten storms formed in the month of September, the most in any single month on record. 
  • 2020 was only the second year in history that Greek letter names were used as storm names after exhausting the usual rotating list of 21 names (2005 is the only other year this has been done). 
  • Two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, formed in the month of November, marking the first time this has happened. 
  • Iota also attained Category 5 intensity on November 16, 2020, making it the strongest storm to occur so late in the season. 
  • 2020 marked a record fifth consecutive year with at least one Category 5 hurricane.”

https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/2020-north-atlantic-hurricane-season-shatters-records

            Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana on August 26, and was the strongest hurricane, measured by sustained wind speed, to hit there since 1856.

On August 9th, a Japanese cargo ship that had run aground on a coral reef in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Mauritius, a couple of weeks earlier, began leaking oil. Altogether, the ship spilled about 1,184 tons of oil, killing many innocent living beings. While not as large of a spill as the one in Siberia earlier in the year (see above), this one, too, will take decades to clean up and the area may never fully recover its previous, healthy condition.

This aerial view from Aug. 9, 2020, shows the site of containment operations for the leaked oil coming from the vessel MV Wakashio off the coast of southeastern Mauritius.   (AFP via Getty Images)

            Also in August, the Democratic and Republican Parties held their presidential nominating conventions and officially nominated the two candidates that had been chosen for them over a year and a half earlier.

            By the middle of August, after a long summer of super-spreader events and all sorts of reckless, rebellious, self-centered behavior, school districts and parents all over the country were debating how they were going to go back to school, in the middle of the seemingly endless, unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic. Back in March, Texas Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, had suggested that the grandparents of America should be willing to sacrifice themselves to the coronavirus for the sake of opening up business-as-usual and saving the U.S. economy. Now, America was debating whether or not to sacrifice her children and teachers for the same cause. Some parents were afraid that if their children had to learn at home, by computer, instead of at school, they might somehow lose their competitive edge or positions of advantage in the ultra-competitive, cutthroat, capitalist world. Some parents also feared losing the entertainment value and vicarious thrill provided by school sports competitions. Some still believed the virus was a fake conspiracy. Other parents were worried about who would watch their kids if they had to go back to work and there was no school. Various types of combinations of at distance and in-person learning were experimented with. By mid-September, many young people, mostly middle school through college age, came down with the virus and many schools that had tried in-person learning had to switch to at-distance. It was, and still is, a very difficult situation to resolve.

            September.

            Worldwide, 2020 was the worst wildfire year on record. I already covered the Australian fires (scroll up to January), so now I will go to the Amazon Forest and Pantanal wetlands and grasslands in South America. For those who haven’t heard of the Pantanal (like me, until yesterday) it is an amazing biologically rich and diverse area right in the geographic center of South America, mostly in Brazil, but also partly in Bolivia and Paraguay. It is the largest tropical wetland area in the world. There are many rare and some endangered species of animals, plants, birds and other beings there, such as the Tapir, Capybaras, the endangered Pantanal Jaguar, Yacare Caimin, the Giant Anteater, and others. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantanal  The Amazon forest had another rough year for fires, but the Pantanal was hit much worse. The fire season in Brazil went from towards the end of May through most of September in the Amazon, and was still going in the Pantanal in early December, having moved up into the mountains there. There were 44,013 separate fires in Brazil for the season: 6,315 in the Amazon and 37,698 in the Pantanal, which is more fires in the Pantanal than in the previous six years combined. Over 30% of the Pantanal (approximately 8,000 square miles, or a little over the size of the state of New Jersey) had burned up by December, and final data on the devastation might not be available until late February or March, 2021. I have found no statistics yet on the devastation of these fires to wildlife, but, as happened in Australia and elsewhere, loss of habitat always means further loss of life (and sometimes loss of species) for those beings that cannot recover before the habitat is restored. Who knows how long that will take, as the Earth continues to warm and all habitats fall under further future endangerment? https://news.mongabay.com/2020/10/fire-burns-pantanals-upland-heart-and-threatens-natures-fragile-balance/         https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03464-1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Brazil_rainforest_wildfires

Volunteers rescue a sedated tapir with critical leg burns from wildfires in the Pantanal, Brazil. Credit: Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto/Getty

            As temperatures continued to rise in the Siberian Arctic, reaching a record high of 100 degrees F (38 degrees C) in June, a massive amount of wildfires spread through the forests and peatlands in and near the Arctic Circle. Between May and early September, 18,591 fires consumed an estimated 35 million acres (14 million hectares) of those lands. Both peatlands and boreal forests are very important carbon sinks for the balance and survival of life on Earth, but peatlands store ten times more CO2 than forests, for the same volume of land. Therefore, burning peatlands release proportionally much more CO2 when they burn than forests. Together, in 2020, these Siberian forests and peatlands released a record 250 megatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is 35% more than the Siberian Arctic fires of the previous year. To put that into a little more of a big picture perspective, 250 mt is one quarter of a gigatonne and the world only has less than 600 gigatonnes left in its total carbon budget (see chart above, at the end of the month of April), in order to stay under the 1.5 degree C limit of warming advised by the IPCC, or less than 800 gt for the more reckless goal of 2 degrees C. The “feedback loop” factor is also very important to consider here with these annual Siberian and other Arctic Circle fires. As the Earth warms and peatlands and forests become dryer earlier each year, the fire seasons continue to grow more intense and destructive, releasing higher volumes of CO2 into the atmosphere and causing more, accelerated global warming. 
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02568-y    https://www.usnews.com/news/news/articles/2020-12-08/vast-wildfires-in-siberia-linked-to-warming-arctic      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_wildfire_season

In the map below, you can observe and compare the density of the peatlands in North America, especially south of Hudson Bay, but also in other places just south of the Arctic Circle, to the peatlands in Siberia and the rest of Russia or northern Asia. There is plenty of potential for catastrophic wildfire in the American Arctic, too.

Sources: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service/European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts; Hugelius, G. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 117, 20438–20446 (2020)

            I will not say much about the 2020 wildfire season in the western U.S., since most of my readers will probably be more familiar with that one than with those in the other parts of the world that I just covered. (I am also getting kind of tired of writing this essay, which has grown way beyond the bounds that I had originally imagined.) Overall, the 2020 fire season was not a record year for the entire western U.S., but some individual mega-fires did set records in the states of California, Oregon, and Colorado. It should also be noted that the raging Coronavirus in the U.S. created additional complications to the situation. When tremendous amounts of smoke drifted more into heavily-populated urban areas than usual for wildfires, that inflicted respiratory problems on many people, thus causing increased vulnerability for many Covid-19 patients. Also, in California, the state’s usual reliance upon convict labor for a large portion of their wildland firefighting workforce was hampered by the severe outbreaks of Covid-19 in most California prisons.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Western_United_States_wildfire_season

Smoke over San Francisco at midday, September 9, 2020. Photo credit: Christopher Michel

            On September 15, the U.S. surpassed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths, with 6.7 million cases. The statistics for the entire world on that day were 29.4 million cases and 937,988 deaths.

            During the first debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, on September 29th, Trump appealed to the assumption of white male innocence and harmlessness that I referred to earlier, and which is generally assumed by most of Trump’s followers, by refusing to condemn white supremacists, when asked to do so several times by the debate moderator, Chris Wallace. In one response, Trump said, “I would be willing to do that, but everything I’m seeing is from the left wing, not from the right wing.” In other words, Trump did not see “right wing” white supremacists as a problem. He regarded them as harmless. He also regarded them as his allies, and even implied that they were under his command, when, after denying he knew what kind of groups that Wallace was referring to, and Wallace answered him by naming the Proud Boys as an example, Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” The events that followed after election night, along with further remarks by Trump and his son, Trump Jr., who called for “Total war,” on the day after the election, if Biden were to be declared the winner, made it clear what Trump Sr. wanted the Proud Boys to “stand by” for. All of this was surely known and understood by every federal government security and defense official at that time, and probably long before then. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2020/09/29/stand-back-and-stand-by-trump-doesnt-condemn-white-supremacists-but-gives-shoutout-to-right-wing-proud-boys/?sh=33c5447b3b29     https://hillreporter.com/donald-trump-jr-calls-for-total-war-over-election-results-84411

            The next day, the last day of September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another Coronavirus relief and stimulus bill that they knew that the U.S. Senate would not pass. At that point in time, the House had passed three such bills since the pandemic hit and the Senate had only approved one of them, back on March 25th (and the Senate would not pass another such bill until December 21st). During the whole time between March 25th and the end of September, unemployment in the U.S. fluctuated between a high of 16% and low of about 8%. After September, the figure leveled out to about 7%, where it has remained ever since. Before the pandemic hit, unemployment in the U.S. was half what it is now, at about 3.5%. The following chart represents a slight undercount, since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has mistakenly classified many workers who were laid off work due to COVID-19-related business closures, or other Covid-19-related hardships (like catching Covid-19 or staying home to care for sick relatives) as “employed but absent from work” instead of unemployed or temporary laid off. But the two following charts are the best that I could find.
https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/30/unemployment-rate-is-higher-than-officially-recorded-more-so-for-women-and-certain-other-groups/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/273909/seasonally-adjusted-monthly-unemployment-rate-in-the-us/

https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2020/article/employment-recovery.htm

            I could not find similar charts for worldwide unemployment that did not either have a freaking paywall, were likely inaccurate, or not updated past last summer. Probably a big reason for that is that most other nations of the world, unlike the Big Sick Four (U.S., India, Brazil, and Russia) had experienced some significant level of recovery by the end of last summer. Besides unemployment, we have had to deal with small business closures, food insecurity, evictions (even with the modest protections from eviction put into the relief bill), continued deportations of brown people, continued police executions and assaults upon black and brown people and upon left-leaning protesters of all colors, homelessness, diseases other than Covid-19 and injuries going untreated due to overwhelmed hospitals and fear of leaving home for treatment, increased right wing terrorism, various climate-related disasters, continuing toxic industrial pollution, along with increased psychological stress, due to the entire mess and to the inability of most humans to identify and resolve the problem.

            What usually goes overlooked and rarely discussed, when considering topics related to poverty, economic inequality, or even economic system change, is the potential impact on the climate crisis if most proposed “solutions” are implemented. Specifically, people fail to consider what “economic justice,” or the much-needed uplifting of the economic conditions of the world’s poor humans, thus significantly increasing most humans’ ability to purchase and consume more industrial products, while increasing industrial CO2 and toxicity output, would do to the planet, without a simultaneous drastic reduction of the income, consumption, and production of the world’s over-consuming human minority. If we really want to get to “net-zero” CO2 emissions by 2030 or `35, as the scientific consensus now says we must (see charts above, under April), we have to reduce overall emissions by 7.5% each year, from now until 2030. Each year that we fail to do so, that percentage will have to be set proportionately higher for the remaining years of this decade! The final statistics for the first year of the decade have not come in yet, but preliminary reports show that, even though we got off to a great start during the initial peak of the pandemic (8% reduction), things drifted way south when people ended shutdowns, opened up economies or just recklessly demonstrated how much they don’t care about actually ending the pandemic. (The way that many people “think” these days is that when you want to get rid of a problem you just have to deny that it exists.) What the old-time socialists and various communitarians used to refer to as an “economic levelling” will not be enough of a solution, without an overall net reduction of nearly all industrial economic activities. That is what is referred to in circles where this vital reality is actually openly discussed, as economic “de-growth,” https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/mindless-growth-robust-scientific-case-for-degrowth-is-stronger-every-day-1.4011495?fbclid=IwAR2iKnTmVHP40Rs6ykZUceRhEx_ZCqsjRGIf5LgmJsJTRquTv1tLKopvyf4 https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2017/11/22/why-branko-milanovic-is-wrong-about-degrowth-ii

which is an essentially forbidden and censored topic in mainstream media and government circles. Ten years from now, people everywhere will probably be saying, “How come nobody ever told us about this?”

October.

The FBI found out about a right-wing militia plot to kidnap Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and then hold a mock trial for her, followed by a real execution. Using infiltrators and surveillance, they closed in on them and arrested 13 men on October 8th. The men had been motivated to do so ever since Governor Whitmer ordered some standard Covid-19 safety measures back in April, like wearing masks in public, temporarily closing some non-essential businesses and all schools, and encouraging people to stay home, if possible. They were also inspired in their wretched plot by several personal attacks that Donald Trump made against the governor during the spring and summer. Actually, Trump’s animus against Gov. Whitmer can probably be traced back to when she gave the official Democratic Response to Trump’s State of the Union Address on February 4th. Around that same time in February, Whitmer also began to show much more leadership in her state in taking the pandemic much more seriously and organizing aggressive action to protect her citizens than Trump was doing at the national level. Trump did not declare the pandemic a national emergency until March 13th, three days after Whitmer had already done so for the state of Michigan. Whitmer criticized Trump for dumping all responsibility for handling the pandemic crisis on the states and doing nothing at the federal level. They exchanged criticisms through the media for the next few days, and Trump has attacked her continuously ever since. In addition to all that, I am sure that Trump was not pleased that Whitmer was also the national co-chair for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

https://apnews.com/article/michigan-checks-and-balances-archive-gretchen-whitmer-da09ca66cd8d5f36722021d3593425ff

https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/03/trump-slams-michigan-gov-gretchen-whitmers-response-to-coronavirus-response-amid-statewide-shutdown.html

            After the plot was foiled and the suspects taken into custody, Trump continued to verbally attack Whitmer, blaming the victim and showing no compassion or empathy for a servant of the people who had just been seriously shaken by this absolutely undeserved and horrific personal threat.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/10/08/trump-slams-gretchen-whitmer-not-saying-thank-you-she-did/5932028002/  

            November.

            The presidential election and its horrific aftermath went as expected. We all got to reap what the failures of the American political power structure—the corporate lobbyist-owned two party system that got Donald Trump elected in the first place, back in 2016—had sown. In a society and culture in which beliefs are more important than facts, where unacceptable truths can be easily made to disappear through denial, and, by ancient tradition, the accumulation and preservation of money and power is always justified by any means that can be hidden or denied, the natural consequences of the error of those ways could be seen clearly by all. Lies piled on top of more lies, wicked webs more tightly woven, as so many people labored so hard to deceive themselves and others. Will this be the new customary aftermath of most future elections in the U.S. before the final collapse of the empire–one side celebrating and dancing in the streets while the losing side screams and cries in uncontrollable grief and anger, refusing to ever accept the results because they believed that they could never lose or possibly ever be wrong? Part of the problem of course is the delusion that there are many more people who think like ourselves than there really are, due to increasingly sophisticated, high tech surveillance-based, targeted media advertising and selective social networking. A more successful method of divide-and-conquer has never been created (with the possible exception of racial identity theory), nor did it even enter the dreams of the corporate elites, just 60 or 70 years ago, that their subjects could be so easily controllable, constantly deflected from seeing the real culprits as they keep looking at their so-called “enemies” on the other side. We now live in a society where difference of opinion is considered “treason” and punishable by death, in the minds of many, and few people have the ability to carefully dissect and expose a fallacious, illogical argument. It is even rare to find people who can write complete sentences, with all the words spelled out correctly and no use of newly-devised acronyms or abbreviations. To “win” an argument, one just has to shout the loudest, or use ALL CAPS and extra exclamation marks when one tries to write, and whoever gets the most “likes” and followers wins. But, in the world of facts, natural laws, and logical consequences, a mass delusion is still a delusion, no matter how large the mass. Mother Nature, our source of real, inter-connected life, will ultimately have the last word, and all human delusions will be lost in oblivion. (More on this in the next section, December.)

Graphic courtesy of The Weather Channel, November 16, 2020

            Late season Hurricane Iota was the final and strongest hurricane of the record-breaking 2020 Hurricane season (scroll back up to August for more details on the whole season). Many people in Nicaragua and Honduras lost loved ones and homes.

            December.

            Globally, 2020 was a year of many protests and uprisings in the streets. There was much for people to be unhappy about, and many things to be deeply frightened of and extremely angry about, as well. If you would like to skim through the wide variety of troubling issues that people were alarmed about all over the world in 2020 (and the three years before that), I found this very interesting website that has a large volume of compiled data on that in a user-friendly, interactive format. It is called the “Global Protest Tracker” and it was developed and is maintained and updated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: https://carnegieendowment.org/publications/interactive/protest-tracker  If you only want to view the information on protests in 2020 (or one of the other particular years) just click on “Start Date” at the top of the third column and scroll down. I counted 84 separate protest categories listed for 2020. For each category event, such as the police brutality protests in the U.S., they give the duration length of the protests (days, weeks, months, etc.), but they don’t break it down into each individual protest event in each particular city. Some protest events only happened for one day, in one city, and in such cases the particular city is usually given.
            I also found a Wikipedia page on worldwide protests exclusively related to the Coronavirus pandemic, usually as a complaint or criticism of how their particular government (local and national) was handling the crisis. There were all kinds of issues, from too many restrictions to not enough care available, to “no care centers so close to our homes,” and many more. Here is an interesting example from Bulgaria: “On 30 March 2020 The Bulgarian Health Ministry issued an order that made not wearing a face mask in public punishable by law, at a time when no masks were available for purchasing in the country. After strong public unrest, the order was recalled on the following day.” There are so many protests listed on that page, it makes me think that the other website I mentioned probably missed quite a few. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_over_responses_to_the_COVID-19_pandemic#United_States 

            Being a longtime veteran of street protests myself, from an anti-war protest in 1966 to the solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock street protests, fifty years later, and many others in-between those, I have often wondered about how effective our uprisings were. I know that much good came out of all of that and there have been many positive changes, but, looking at the state of the world today and the enormity and urgency of what remains to be done, I wonder what better, more effective paths to actually getting to the root of the problems can we engage ourselves in now? I have observed, throughout my lifetime, people picking away at the symptoms of the human societal disease, but not really dealing with the source or root issues (kind of like popping zits but never changing one’s diet). Dealing with the economic and cultural roots of our dilemma, which always implies a need for drastic change in social structure and many of our customary habits and comfort zones, is just not somewhere that most people want to go. Historically, the only things that take people there are the forces of politics (including laws, police and militaries) and the forces of nature (disasters and scarcity). Seldom do human societies make necessary, drastic, structural change willingly and democratically, even though most of us would prefer that to sudden, unplanned, chaotic upheaval. But the social and economic structure that we know as “normal” is not sustainable for Earth’s living natural systems that all life, including ours, depends upon, so the empire will end soon and be replaced by something, one way or another, with our cooperation, or not. What is it about us and our circumstances that prevents us from going where we would really rather be, and democratically, cooperatively creating the types of societies or local communities that we would really rather live in? I have written about this and asked these questions of other people pretty often over the last decade or so, but not many people are willing to engage with this.  https://learningearthways.net/2016/01/01/the-problem-with-money-2/  (There are links to several other peoples’ writings on that topic in the essay and on the blog.) file:///C:/Users/George%20Price/Downloads/MoneyDegrowth18082016.pdf

For some reason, possibly, in part, as a way to save the Republican Party from the possible impacts of the insurrection that everybody in high places must have seen coming, the Senate finally approved a version of a Coronavirus relief bill previously passed by the House, on December 27th. I won’t talk much about the events of January 6, 2021 now, even though 2020 was still going then on some of the human calendars of the world, but since it is all a continuum, I will say a few words about what led to that insurrection. I don’t think that, especially by mid-December, when the Electoral College finalized the November election, the continuing Trump Cult protests against the counting of votes was really about actually trying to reverse the results of the presidential election any more, if that ever was what the protests were really intended to do (except, maybe in the mysterious mind of Trump himself). I surely don’t think the Republican Party establishment officials were willing to risk the relatively good results that they achieved in many of the down-ballot elections (Georgia excepted) by nullifying the whole election and having to have the votes either recounted again (with everybody watching) or an entirely new election at a time when Trump approval and Republican Party approval was sinking. The fix that the Republicans were in by mid-December was connected to the deep divisions and mass delusions I referred to earlier. Because the Trump Cult base of the Republican Party is now (and has long been) the majority of their party (having replaced the old Reagan Trickle Down Theory Cult base), the Republican politicians are now forced to appeal to the Trump base, especially as they prepare for the next round of primary elections (which starts for both parties immediately after the general elections, since campaigning, keeping their jobs, and staying on the corporate lobbyist gravy train is the primary interest and most common form of actual work done by probably at least 97% of everybody in Congress). Therefore, the Republican politicians must now cavort in the looney bin of their base for the primary campaigns, and save any modicum of rational, fact-based human discourse that they still have left for the generals, when they are running against Democrats. So, if promoting insurrectionist conspiracies to keep on the good side of the base is what the situation seems to call for, that is what they will do. Trump himself, though, who has no allegiance to the Republicans or any political party, or anyone other than himself, had his own reasons for continuing with the insurrectionist movement. When it becomes apparent to most Republicans that they can no longer keep power through democratic, electoral processes, especially if the Trump Cult splits off and forms a third party (why are all of the other parties besides the two majors called “third parties”—did people forget how to count past the number three?), violent overthrow of the government—at all levels, federal, state, and county—will be their only resort. The Trump Cult might already believe that. At that point, the rest of the Republicans will have to decide which other party they will turn to. The Democrats, in both houses of Congress, now have time to decide if they really have to actually do some things that are needed for the working class majority, and also take climate change and equality issues—including economic inequality—seriously, or just relax, assured that the woes now facing the Republican party will be severe enough to keep themselves in power while they continue to do next to nothing to create real, progressive change (as Joe Biden promised the world back during their primary season, when he said, “nothing would fundamentally change” if he is elected.).  https://www.salon.com/2019/06/19/joe-biden-to-rich-donors-nothing-would-fundamentally-change-if-hes-elected/  Unfortunately (in terms of the potential suffering and bloodshed), a sudden mass re-awakening to relative sanity, concern for the common good of all, or even national unity seems much less likely to occur. The other thing about “normal” is it never comes back.

            Back to the fate of the innocents in 2020. The following article provides us a detailed list of 164 species of plants and animals that scientists declared to have become extinct, or likely extinct, during the year: https://www.ecowatch.com/species-extinct-in-2020-2649768697.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2   Extinction statistics are always an undercount because there are so many unknown, not-yet-discovered species in some remote corners of the world. Also, there are not enough scientists who specialize in counting species populations out in the field to keep up with everything. On December 2nd, United Nations Inspector General, António Guterres, gave a heartfelt, stirring speech to the world in which he said, “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes … Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.” Can we? We won’t know the answer to that unless we honestly give everything that we can, or that we need to, to making the necessary changes. Notice that Guterres said “solve it,” not just “slow the collapse down a bit.” Not just back off a little on the accelerator and gently tap on the brakes. The destructive institutions, actions, and habits must come to a complete stop, if Earth’s—meaning OUR—life systems are to have a chance to recover. That will also require some deep change in our normal ways of thinking about the place of humans and role of humans in the natural world, among other things. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/02/humanity-is-waging-war-on-nature-says-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres

            It is with good reason that we don’t spend that much of our driving time looking back in our rearview mirrors. Our focus, while on our journeys, rightly should be more on looking forward. Yet, as both a long-time driver and a retired academic historian, I know that there is some great value to occasionally looking backward. When driving a car, that value is mainly safety, and so it also is—safety for all life—as we make our journey together through the current, unprecedented time of crisis. Another value to looking backward is that we can learn from what we, as a species, probably did wrong, as well as to learn from what we used to do right, some important lessons that we can apply to our future, as either preventers of global collapse or as the few who might possibly survive it.

Thinking About the “Unthinkable”

Most people in our society don’t want to hear about or even imagine the present ways of societal organization coming to an end, whether by natural disaster, unnatural disasters, or human revolution. They resist the very thought of it partly because they are so heavily invested in the status quo—career training, grad school, military service, parental and familial bonding, “needing money,” and being in debt—those realities all work towards preventing people from even considering the possibility of turning to other ways of life. The general rule is that the more heavily invested in the status quo, the harder it becomes to accept the possibility that there might be a better way of collective life, or societal organization. Marriage and parenting tend to deepen the investment and make it even harder to believe that all you have worked for and given your life to might not really have been the best path to have taken, or that maybe you should be living in a very different kind of society.

So, how will most people respond and what will they do when it becomes clear to them that our “way of life” and the ways of life of most modern industrial technological societies must change drastically because those ways have become essentially unsustainable? Oh, oh,… a red flag just went up in the mind of my reader and, before I can go any further, I’d better explain and provide a little proof regarding this “unsustainable way of life” claim. Most people in this country think that there might be certain practices that are unsustainable, like factories dumping all of their waste into the rivers or clear-cutting the forests or littering, but our basic, “glorious way of life” remains untouchable to them, and leaving it is “unthinkable.” Well, here is a brief outline of what the modern industrial technological, overly-consumptive way of life has brought us to that is clearly unsustainable (meaning: makes the continuation of most life forms on earth impossible), and therefore should not continue:

1. The upper limit for a safe amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere is 350 ppm (parts per million). Above 350 ppm, the atmosphere becomes too warm to sustain the balanced life systems of nature. The CO2 level in our atmosphere is currently at about 398 ppm and expected to hit 400 in 2014. The average CO2 ppm throughout the history of planet Earth until the expansion of the industrial revolution less than 200 years ago was about 275 ppm. It has been rising at an increasing rate ever since.[1]

2. The increase in CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has caused the average atmospheric temperature to rise 0.9° C since the beginning of the rapid increase in large-scale industrialism during the 19th century, accelerating exponentially since the 1870s, shortly after the internal combustion engine was invented. The vast majority of scientists from all over the world have agreed that the unsustainable, irreversible damage to the Earth point for this temperature rise is 2° C (3.6° F). At the current rate of global warming, the Earth is due to reach that point in about 15 years![2]

3. What would a warming level of 2° C do to life on Earth?[3]

     – completely melt the polar ice caps (the ice caps have already been reduced by 50% since

       1969, when photos of the Earth were taken by the first men to walk on the Moon)

     – raise sea levels by 20 to 50 milimeters, flooding many small islands and coastal cities and towns

     – accelerate the rate of warming even more, due to the lack of the white ice caps which have

       always reflected sunlight and heat back out into space, and increase exposure and release

       of methane gas, which is currently covered by the remaining ice caps (this process has

       already been occurring)

     – continued and accelerated warming and acidification of the oceans, leading to mass

       exterminations of all sea life (due to warming of the water and loss of food and habitat)

       (the oceans are now 30% more acidic than they were 30 years ago)

     – more erratic weather patterns (larger and wetter storms, with long periods of drought in

       between them) due to loss of the stability of jet streams that have always been relatively

       stable due to the presence of the ice caps

     – more wildfires due to the droughts and buildup of fuel from dead trees and vegetation

     – massive extinctions of all life forms and species of plants and animals[4]

4. When measured by weight, the amount of carbon that would be in the atmosphere if we reach the unsustainable 2° rise in temperature will be 565 gigatons. The current reserves of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) on hand (already extracted and in storage and processing) is enough to produce 2,795 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere, or five times the level that is unsustainable for Earth’s atmosphere! In light of just that fact alone, what is the point of continuing to extract any more of these toxic fuels from the Earth? We have alternatives.[5]

So, in light of all that (and more that I did not list), how can we rightly continue on this path, especially when we know that we can devise, cultivate, and live by healthy alternatives, including consuming less? We know of solar energy, small-scale hydro power, small-scale wind, and pleasant ways to live without electricity at all. We also know that we don’t need to eat so much and live in such large houses. We know that if we lived directly from the land upon which we dwell we would not need to drive anywhere in cars, except maybe for occasional trips. We also know that for most of the vast span of human history, about 94% of the history of homo sapiens sapiens, humans lived very well directly from the natural resources in their own surroundings, without the use of money. Or do we know that? And if most of us humans don’t know all of these things, why don’t we? Why have we not learned this? Why isn’t this information taught in our schools and community centers and made available through all media as a public service? There are many reasons why we feel bound to the dominant paradigms and prevailing social systems and are not aware of the dire, immediate need to engage in alternative ideas and ways of living. Unless we make a deliberate and diligent effort to educate ourselves on these matters, we do not gain that education—mainly because the status quo society actually works against us finding out what our situation and the possible alternatives to it are. Educating ourselves and each other on these matters immediately is probably about the most important thing that we can do right now. It is also why we still need electricity and the internet for at least awhile longer, due to the fact that currently, the fastest and easiest way to access and spread the necessary information is through the internet. Eventually, when we have enough of this information in people’s hands on paper and, more importantly, in our minds, we will not be so dependent on electronic media.

In a future essay I plan to write about some examples of and possibilities for future alternative, sustainable, small scale societies. In this essay I am focusing on what is “unthinkable,” why we need to think about and act upon the formerly “unthinkable,” and the obstacles built into our social context and our minds that, thus far, have prevented most of us from “going there.” On the topic of alternative future societies, I will just say for now that our fears regarding non-industrial, light industrial, or “low-tech” ways of life are not something natural that we were born with. Those fears are the product of the strenuous and constant efforts of corporate advertisers, education systems, popular media, and duly frightened parents and grandparents, understandably and with the best of intentions, passing those fears along to their children. For example, anthropologists during the first hundred or so years of massive, large-scale industrialism consistently slandered the lifeways of pre-industrial, indigenous peoples worldwide with phrases like “primitive,” “backwards,” and “meager subsistence,” carried that bias into all their work, and passed it on to their students. While some of that bias can occasionally still be found in academia, there has been a notable change since roughly the early 1960s, as less biased (and therefore more scientific) field work on the few remaining pre-industrial traditional indigenous societies who still had much of their traditional lands, resources and knowledge, began to reveal a much different picture. What anthropologists, like Marshall Sahlins, Richard Lee, and many others since then, have found is that traditional indigenous peoples in their intact socio-ecological enclaves are healthy, have plenty of healthy, natural food to eat and clean water, teas, and juices to drink, a wealth of naturopathic medicinal knowledge, spend much less time working than modern industrial/techno people do, spend a lot more time socializing and laughing, and have very rich cultural and ceremonial practices.[6] Of course, those vital societies and their ways have also been endangered and driven to extinction and near-extinction by destructive industrial/technological practices.

If traditional subsistence economies were so “bare” and “meager,” why did the people make such big baskets?

illustration for Thinking the Unthinkable

Now, we shall move on to the obstacles in our minds, absorbed there through the pervasive conceptual paradigm in which we live. Industrial technological society operates under several unquestioned assumptions: the technologically new is always equivalent to technologically “advanced”; faster is better than slow; more is better than less; convenience always improves upon difficulty; and economies must always “grow.” Combined with the ultra-competitive, or ruthlessly competitive, modern market economies (both capitalistic and “socialistic” alike[7]), things that are technologically new are expected to give their creators and/or owners a competitive edge in the market place. For that reason, there is a built-in incentive within the creation of new technologies to minimize testing for possible negative effects of the new technology and rush it to the marketplace, before some industrial spy (of which there are multitudes in nearly every large industry) steals the technology and markets it first. Product testing is done mainly to avoid suits and regulatory laws, and products are launched into the marketplace as soon as their creator/owners have enough assurance of a likelihood of either immunity from prosecution, victory or an easily absorbable penalty if they are prosecuted or sued in the courts. Public or environmental safety is therefore only considered to the minimum extent necessary while in the process of maximizing monetary profit.

The major mental obstacle that perpetuates that unbridled pursuit of monetary profit is the failure to see that monetary profit and economic profit are not one and the same! True economic profit is gaged in consideration of its impact on the natural resource base, the core source of all wealth. Human beings have not yet gained the ability to create matter out of nothing and probably never will, so we are still bound to receive all of the substances that are necessary for life from the Earth or biosphere. When people who seek monetary profit do not take into account the costs of their industrial/technological economic activity to the Earth or biosphere itself, they are not really thinking economically. Harmonious interaction with the life systems of the Earth and biosphere was the original economic system for all living things, who all once lived in that sustainable, reciprocal balance. For probably a variety of reasons—perhaps the foremost being a fear of death, the very natural process by which all physical bodies return to the earth—humans in some societies began to think that they could alter and control the life source in ways that could protect them from death and pain. Avoiding death and pain is a natural instinct, but finding ways to do that (including through technologies) can either be done in harmony with the Earth’s life systems or in opposition to those systems, and the latter approach ultimately creates more death and pain. When human beings think that they have a right to do whatever they find it is in their power to do, without regard to the well-being and continuance of biological life itself, they are thinking in a toxic, life-destructive, and therefore self-destructive manner.

Funny cartoon on changing the worldA most timely example of this toxic way of thinking is the concept of “climate engineering,” which is the use of new, untested technologies in an attempt to alter the course of global warming by further manipulating the biosphere’s natural systems, which is the same kind of thinking that started the human-caused aspects of global warming in the first place! The reason that I said “untested technologies” is because the devisers of these climate engineering technologies also wish to sell these technologies for a maximal profit-margin, and therefore we can expect them to engage in as minimal effort in testing their products as possible, based in the principles of competitive monetary economics I described earlier. Ironically, the corporations involved in creating and promoting the climate engineering technologies could possibly be conglomerated with the same corporations that have produced the climate destruction, due to the recent trend toward more corporate buy-outs and mergers, which concentrate more and more wealth and power into fewer hands. These entities cannot be trusted to have the well-being of the biosphere and all who live within it as their first priority. The historical track record of this industrial market economy and its culture tells us that it is unlikely that they care much about anything other than what they perceive to be “profit.” This is largely because their concept of economic profit is thoroughly enmeshed with the pursuit of currency. To them, the man-made product called “money” is wealth, not the life-sustaining systems of the natural world.

The man-made exchange currencies (money) of the world are not part of the original biological economic system, in which all beings or all species—including ours—exchanged life-sustaining natural substances with the biosphere for the mutual, reciprocal benefit of all life forms. There was trade between neighboring small scale, independent, sustainable human societies before there was money, but that form of trade was more like gift exchanges, designed to maintain inter-community peace, friendship, and stability, and neither neighbor was dependent on the other society’s goods. Once local overpopulation threw human social groups into unsustainable disharmony with the natural systems of their local homeland ecosystems, they began to experience scarcity, and became dependent on trade and/or conquest to acquire the resources of neighboring societies. Dependency on trade led to the creation of trade currencies (money), which were based on mutually agreed to numerical values placed on certain objects formed by humans from natural substances, like carved rocks, gold coins, or specially marked paper. The numerical values were (and still are) arbitrarily arrived at, based only in beliefs agreed upon by the humans. In a world held captive by beliefs in the value of currency, in which we are compelled to do some things that are actually destructive to the life of the biosphere in pursuit of currencies that we are forced to accept as essential for continuing our lives, we humans now find ourselves in an unsustainable, self-destroying, life-destroying downward spiral.

Due to our toxic thinking, our unnatural, unreasonable beliefs, our untested, unregulated technological experiments, and our failure to re-engage with our former, life-connected, loving and nurturing ways of being, we are now looking at some possibly immanent extinction level events. Such events include the ones mentioned at the beginning of this essay, plus some others that were not mentioned there: toxic, unbreathable atmospheres due to industrial pollution, such as much of the heavily industrialized regions of China are experiencing now; unsurvivable levels of radiation from nuclear power plants destroyed by natural disasters, such as we now see spewing forth from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant in Japan, which is presently causing the fish of the northern Pacific ocean to become sick, inedible, and dead; the destruction and toxification of vast expanses of tribal homelands and waters in Canada due to the tar sands oil extraction fiasco; the attempt to control the world food supply through copyrighting genetically engineered vegetable seeds; the rapid depletion of the water table of the Great Plains of the U.S., due to the continuation of the deadly practices of corporate monoculture agriculture; the toxification of earth and water through fracking; and more, worldwide. But, if humans created these circumstances, through improper, unsustainable ways of living and thinking, could we also possibly reverse those processes by ceasing to live and think in those ways? If a “need” for money, or currencies, has us trapped in these life-destructive systems, and we humans created those currencies and sustain their value and destructive power based on our beliefs in those currencies, could we possibly just stop using and giving value to those, and all, currencies? Can we possibly return to living in small, sustainable, natural resource-compatible, non-monetary economic systems?

As you begin to do your own research on these topics, you will no doubt run into lots of misinformation perpetrated by climate change deniers, who are generously funded by the various industrialists who have an interest in the matter (although some are foolish enough to do their bidding for free). One tactic that they use is to point to a temporary downward fluctuation in global temperature as “proof” that global warming is “a hoax,” while completely ignoring the obviously upward long-term trend, as illustrated by this chart.[8]


[1]http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/do-the-math/ . Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/index.html 

[2] Because we normally think about temperature change in terms of our day to day weather, one or two degrees of temperature change seems like nothing, and would cause most of us to say, “What’s the big deal?” Where I live, in Montana, I have seen temperature fluctuations of 40° F in one day several times, over the last 28 years. But global temperature rise over a long span of time is something very different. Consider this analogy from Michael Kelberer, “If you’re sitting in the sun, and the skin temperature on your arm goes up 5 degrees – no problem, you’re tanning. But if your body temperature goes up 5 degrees — you take your fever to the emergency room. Local temperature rise – no problem. All-body temperature rise — big problem.” http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/hey-global-warming–1-degree-thats-all-you-got.aspx#ixzz2oWCO6MfR James Hansen, et al, “Climate sensitivity, sea level and atmospheric carbon dioxide,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, September 16, 2013. http://www.livescience.com/topics/global-warming/ . McKibben, ibid. For the United Nations Summit on Climate Change conclusions, see: https://www.un.org/en/globalissues/climatechange/ 

[3] For a more technical collection of information and analysis from many scientists try, Josep G. Canadell, ed., et al, “Interactions of the carbon cycle, human activity, and the climate system: a research portfolio,” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2010, 2:301–311. http://www.livescience.com/10325-living-warmer-2-degrees-change-earth.html  .

[4] We are currently in the largest mass extinction since the time of the end of the dinosaurs. For a complete, clearly explained, scientific report on that, see this from the website of the Center for Biological Diversity: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/ 

[5] McKibben, Do the Math… http://350.org/about/science . http://www.realclimate.org/ The continuing extraction of fossil fuels is very comparable to what was going on during the race to build and possess the most nuclear weapons. Even when the U.S. and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear missiles, combined, to destroy the world 100 times over, and a nuclear war would have ended before they could have detonated 5% of the weapons, they kept on building and storing them. Of course, by a certain point, the arms race had little or nothing to do with protecting nations, but everything to do with making profits for the weapons manufacturers and their affiliated industries. In the same manner, fossil fuels extraction, by a certain point, became no longer about “supplying the energy we need,” because those forms of energy had become unsustainable and therefore no longer “needful.” The continued extraction then became all about continuing to supply the exorbitant profits of the industrialists.

[6] Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, Chicago, Aldine/Atherton, Inc., 1972. Richard B. Lee, The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society, Boston, Cambridge University Press, 1979

[7] Both the Soviet Union and China provided us with plenty of evidence that a socialist nation can be just as environmentally destructive as a capitalist one. The commonly-held assumption that the only alternative to capitalism is socialism is a false dichotomy which blinds us to the incredible potential of human minds to come up with something better. Once our minds are freed from that dichotomy, along with the imprisoning paradigms of unquestionable technological “progress,” unlimited and insatiable “economic growth,” and several other toxic, unsustainable concepts, we can begin to come up with new, viable, sustainable economic systems, hopefully based within the guiding parameters of the first economic system, Earth’s biosphere itself.

[8] This essay was written by George Price, a teacher and organic farmer who lives in western Montana, U.S.A. See, http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/12/16/global_warming_new_study_shows_pause_doesn_t_exist.html  for a simple, easy to follow answer to the deniers.