Der Spiegel Talks Environment – Automatic Earth

Posted: May 30th, 2008 by: h-2

Ilargi posted a very thoughtful comment in the automatic earth, a response to a Der Spiegel article on the environment.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to read a straight ahead piece like this amidst all the talk about the economy, especially when you have to hear pretty much every mainstream media voice on the planet talk about the costs of not killing ourselves, ie, the economic costs of stopping growth, which is what this all really boils down to in the end.

As long as we keep stating the earth’s value in monetary terms, we are irrevocably doomed. If you accept that you come from, and belong to, the world around you, and understand that Darwin has delivered proof that (wo)man has come from all that has been before, that 90% of our genes are identical to those of our pets and so on, than putting a dollar price on plants and animals and rivers and skies is identical to putting a dollar price on your own life, and on your children and loved ones. Everything alive is a part of you. Dollars are not.

In our economic system, based on debt, credit and interest, the future value of everything under the sun necessarily gets discounted over time. That is because currencies lose their value over time. It’s also in our genes: we prefer what we have now over what we might have later. Our ancestors were the ones who focused on immediate threats. Those who focused on future ones, in general didn’t live long enough to procreate.

There is an economist in this article who says:
“Protecting diversity is much cheaper than allowing its destruction.”
He’s wrong, because of what I just said: all future values are discounted, so destruction is more profitable than preservation. This economist has never grasped the essence of his own chosen field.
What is the earth worth?, the Automatic Earth, May 27, 2008

The only things in the natural world that have a value in our economics are those that can be sold at a profit, today; and that is all the value they have. All else is luxury.

Preservation only has a chance in times of plenty, and even then only in theory. After all, we are today coming out of the by far most plentiful time in human existence, but it has not exactly been a time of preservation. Quite the contrary, it has both led to, and was accomodated by, the worst destruction of the natural environment ever in history. That is not a coincidence; it’s destruction that gave us our riches.

Now, we are entering a much poorer time economically, and that will lead to an even worse destruction, if only because the riches made us multiply like so many rabbits.

As long as our world views emanate from an economic system based on perpetual growth, there is, after the short high we are now leaving, no way but down and worse. We would need to take food, water and indeed the entire natural world out of any and all profit calculations, or they’ll all be devoured in time by the ever-growing credit monster that requires us to pay interest over every breath we take, every plant we grow, every meal we eat, and every house we build. As long as we run our societies on that system, there is no other possible outcome than what we are witnessing today.

To fully understand this, you need to shake off your dreams and illusions about preservation and doing good, and take a good hard open look at the numbers on extinctions and environmental degradation. People have been talking about saving the planet for a long time, but it all deteriorates. And not just that, the deterioration accelerates.

If we are to save this planet, we will have to throw out the economic model. But that is an issue utterly absent from any green program. Green movements indeed are but modern religions, far removed from reality, unable to grasp what happens right before their eyes, focused instead on making those who donate feel good, on keeping the false idea alive that we can continue to live close enough to the way we do and save the planet at the same time.

Man is like yeast, which destroy their own living environment when given the chance. At least yeast have the excuse that they can’t think. Man can think, but is still incapable of understanding that thinking does not control his actions.

What does drive us to do what we do, happen to be the same things that drive yeast: billion-year-old primitive instincts with no regard whatsoever for the future. We discount the future in the exact same way that our economic system does. That system is ideally fitted for how our brains function, and that will make it near impossible to get rid of it before it’s too late.

Being able to think equals being able to lie, to lie to ourselves and others about why we do what we do. That makes man both the most tragic and the most destructive animal ever assembled by evolution. As such, we are a unique success story.

I’ve often wondered why it is, and what it means, that man allows himself to destroy the world his children need to live in after he’s gone. What does that say about the idea of “love for your progenity”? It drags down that love to the level of some semi-automated, genetically predetermined (re-)action, like a cat that licks her kittens; but that’s where love stops, for man and cat. But yes, it can be puzzling at first glance: while they obliterate the natural world without which their sons and daughters have no chance of survival, most parents would die to save their kids from a fire today. And there is the essence: it’s about today. We are no better at “doing future” than yeast is.
What is the earth worth?, the Automatic Earth, May 27, 2008

Sometimes it’s too easy to get caught up in all the crap, and you need to step back and take a real look at where we are today.

I’d say this is as about a true description of homo sapiens today as you’re likely to read anywhere. Definitely a gem from Ilargi, that’s for sure. Keep up the good work.

The real question of course is how in the hell are we going to get this huge mass of yeast to do something intelligent for once? Can it even happen?

My guess is some people in some regions may find ways that make some long term sense. One thing for sure though, the solution is not going to be global, although global agreements might have to be part of it, but this is about who humans really are in their cores, that’s the ‘who’ that all philosophy of all time has pointed to as the self that you are challenged to know. And that task, I’m very sad to report, has had VERY little success through history, although some have had some luck in that area.

Taboo has true utility

Some years ago, I began to realize that we have only one chance, since our brains do not work the way we think they work, and seem utterly incapable of taking meaningful rational actions. All you have to do is take a real look at history: cultures that make taboo the behaviors that brought us to where we are today are sustainable, those that do not, fail.

Such cultures could be native American, native Iberian, native African, it makes no difference. The ones that choose growth die, and always have, the ones that don’t survive until overwhelmed by a growth culture, which itself then dies at some point.

I started to realize that our culture, our biological self ordering, did in fact have such taboos, but we foolishly wrapped them in religion, which no longer controls us like it once did. Those taboos we call the ‘7 cardinal sins’.

Greed, Arrogance, Sloth… it’s the list of how to become rich and successful, how to become a Wall Street millionaire, how to welcome excess and reject humility and contentment.

Taoism, in the Tao Teh Ching, and in Chuang Tzu, likewise noted these tendencies, and what happens when you leave the Way.

None of this is secret at all, but it’s simply ignored. But you can’t ignore this biological imperative and survive for long.

A perverse look ahead

Given that it seems like human weaknesses were doomed to one day explode into a full on cancerous growth based global system, as they did in our case, the one positive I can pull out of this scenario is that in the process of using up all the easily extracted resources available, we will have used them up, thus ensuring that we can only attempt such a foolish global experiment one time.

And, given our increasing skill at extracting even the lowest grade ores, coal, uranium, and oil, I’d say it’s a safe bet that we will have totally gutted all easily accessible resources by the time this game runs down to its final stages, sometime during this coming century.

And for the world that is to come, once it’s all recovered, stabilized, sustainable, etc, that will be a blessing. Though for the vast quantities of vanished species made extinct by our greed long before their days would naturally have ended, it’s a grim solace at best.

Since it’s virtually guaranteed that humanity will use it all up in its quest to keep growth based biological and economic systems going, what we will end up will be just what the sun and earth can provide, and no more.

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