the Informed

Social Dysfunction, Part III: Legalized Greed

In Part III of this series on apathy, ignorance and greed, we take a look at the most heinous of the three vices; at how the elite have created a system for themselves whereby greed has become not only an acceptable way of life, but in fact completely legalized for the rich and for the elite of this world. There are people on this desperate planet for whom the very thought of caring for our fellow human beings or sharing the wealth is repugnant, and this must change. If we are to repair the damage done and fix our broken society, we need to topple these sociopaths and strip them of their power, for theirs is a world where billions suffer for their excess. When the accumulation of wealth becomes a disease and an addiction, the power they crave is their ultimate fix.

People in the business world have little concern for the welfare of competitors, or much interest in the social feeling that we consider so essential. Some business practices and enterprises are actually based on the principle that the advantage of one employee or competitor can result only from the disadvantage of another. As a rule there is no punishment for such behavior even though there is a conscious malicious intention. Everyday business practices that express greed and lack social feeling poison society as a whole. - Alfred Adler

Greed. The word conjures images of rich, fat elitists living lives of excess and wealth, smoking five-hundred dollar cigars and drinking thirty year old scotch in the back rooms of private clubs finished with mahogany and leather. Bankers, politicians, media moguls and CEOs, wolves of Wall Street, morally bankrupt and ethically viscous. The money is a means to an end, and that end is powerBut there is more to this problem than just the desire for money and the pathological accumulation of wealth at the expense of so many. The money is a means to an end, and that end is power; this is the ultimate goal, and power, by its nature, corrupts. Of course, like all things in life, it is more complex than this, for there are ethical rich people and not all powerful people are evil. However, current research has shown that power tends to amplify pre-existing psychological traits. The real problem is that moral and ethical people also tend to not be drawn to money and power, hence our current state of discord in society and the disproportionate amount of uncaring, sociopathological elite. Look at this article on incidence of psychopathy amongst professions; CEOs are in fact 4 times more likely to demonstrate qualities of psychopathy than the average person. Scary.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. - Abraham Lincoln

The problems that a greedy elite, and a greed-driven society as a whole create are widespread and pervade every element of our society. Climate change (corporate profit trumping environmental concerns), poverty, inequality, wars for profit and financial crises are all effects of greed. But what's important to consider is the shift in values toward the acceptance and even idolization of greed and the greedy. Just look at self-made celebrities, as they act as ritualized consumers, or our lack of public shame in the profiting of Wall Street fraud. Martin Scorsese's 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street in fact glorifies this greed, despite the fall of its protagonist. This excellent article from Salon illustrates this acceptance of greed nicely.

With the market crash of 2008, greed became ever more legalized; in fact the scams and incompetence of those responsible were rewarded with lavish bonuses and a massive public bailout. The sheer size and swiftness of this bailout very much exemplified the fact that their fraud was above the law. While Iceland remains the only country to jail these bankers for their illegal and immoral actions, the rest of the world showered them in moneyJust imagine if we took as much action against the climate crisis, for example. While Iceland remains the only country to jail these bankers for their illegal and immoral actions, the rest of the world showered them in money. We now live in a world where there are two layers of justice - one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

And then there's Bono and Richard Branson, super-rich who preach of helping the poor, yet shelter their money and avoid taxes that will create the very change they speak of. Or Apple, who shelter $140 billion in offshore accounts to avoid the tax man, while they claim to be egalitarian. They are hustlers, and the people literally line up overnight to throw money at them. Their offshore money alone could end world hunger - twice. When profits are placed before human life or our planet, we have clearly taken a wrong turn somewhere collectively to allow this to happen.

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. - P. J. O'Rourke

A research team at the University of California, Berkeley, have been studying greed for almost a decade, and have discovered some amazing things that we already knew in our hearts; they have found that the rich are more likely to cheat, lie, steal and promote unethical behaviour. One test had participants told to not touch a jar of candy designated for children, and the rich not only stole more frequently from the jar, but also stole twice as much. We already knew this, but now it's proven science.

With wealth becoming concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, with inequality growing larger every day, we need to examine the psychology of greed and ways to inhibit it. Why does a man like Rupert Murdoch want to own all of the world's media for example, when this flies in the face of what journalism is about in the first place? Why do we encourage people, as a society, to put their own needs ahead of the needs of others? Have we not learned that happiness does not come from money, but from building community and helping others? Greed is rampant, and it is the root of so many of the social problems we now face. When money trumps humanity, something is wrong. As long as the worst of us are drawn to positions of power, the hope for lasting change is slim. When are we going to wake up?

Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequality. - Bill Gates, 2007
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Un-separating the Issues & Un-fucking the System: Protesting Bill C-51, Vancouver Style

As it goes into its third reading this coming week, it would seem that Bill C-51 will be passed through the Canadian Parliamentary system soon, and there is little else we can do to stop it. Or is there? The anatomy of a Canadian protest and why it is crucial that our mild-mannered fellow citizens speak up and fight for our way of life.

Placards awaiting protesters at the Vancouver Art Gallery, April 18th, 2015

The mood at the Vancouver Art Gallery today for the protest against Canada's controversial bill C-51 was decidedly low, at least at the start. The turnout was less than one would have hoped, and I think we all collectively wondered if the glorious spring weather was a factor in the numbers attending. Go play outside, we'll take care of this while your freedom rots. I'm sure some of us were thinking this, but those of us at the protest a month before could recall a much larger turnout then, and a much more intense energy, and since that day, millions more Canadians have opened their eyes to the tyranny of this legislature, thanks mostly to the tireless efforts of protesters and concerned citizens across the country. But today, they didn't come; it is Spring in Vancouver and patios and other indulgences beckon.

As the start time of one o-clock came and went, the protest organizers huddled and consulted one another off to the side of the Art Gallery steps and presumably decided to wait and allow more folks to arrive In these dangerous times, there are no sidelines; there is a definitive line in the sand, and those who don't know about this bill, those who don't care, are on one side of that line to fill the sparseness of the public space before proceeding. More people slowly trickled in and finally, there was a feint buzz forming in the small crowd. Why are they not packed in, shoulder to shoulder, spilling out across the street and holding up traffic? Surely there are substantially more people shopping on Robson Street in the sunshine at this very moment; do they not care, or do they think we'll just take care of everything in defense of their freedom? In these dangerous times, there are no sidelines; there is a definitive line in the sand, and those who don't know about this bill, those who don't care, and those who prefer to shop instead of fight are on one side of that line. Many of them just don't know it.

As the energy built, and our hopefulness for a successful protest rose, I wandered the crowd to find some interesting people, and hear their opinions. A group of bicycle police waited across the street and I approached them. When asked what their mandate was, they (very politely, very Canadian-like I might add) told me that they are told to observe, and escort the lawful gathering as it marched through the streets, and to explicitly not get involved unless there are acts of violence. One of the officers told me that he has worked many of these events, and they are always peaceful.

They were more than eager to share with me their opinion of the bill, and they were, obviously, in favour of it. They were quite adamant about the fact that this bill will not affect Canadians' right to peaceful protest and would not give CSIS police-like powers. They also accused me of not reading it, to which I informed them that it is because I have read it that I was there at all. They were working off of scripted responses, and they are required, by virtue of their profession, to toe the line, and I can understand that. But what was disappointing with the conversation is that the information they are told to convey is, in fact, propaganda. Most, if not all, of the speakers today spoke of abuses of police power to detain and attempt to silence them. Where there is a law, there is abuse of that law and over-step of authority. Why would this be any different? I wanted to tell them where their logic was flawed, but unfortunately they were just then called away by their supervisor to debrief before the protest began.

Joseph Lawson, 1st Nations Cree from Saskatchewan
Finally, as the ceremonies began, a gentleman named Shea called forth the first speaker, a Canadian musician named Zachary Gray from the band The Zolas. His beautiful songs of protest started to build the crowd and, as music often does, united the eclectic crowd and served to create a sort of sacred space for all of us. And more people came and filled the public space. He paused between songs to occasionally speak, and told us that because there is so much information out there these days, there is a grey area, a confusion around issues like this. He went on to say that everyone he talks to these days is opposed to the bill, and yes, we all are indeed opposed. But what about them? What about the politicians, the economic elite, and the media elite? I know lots of liberals and socialists too, and while we appreciate his music and message, we need to heed that as a warning - when an individual is surrounded by only like-minded people, that is a sign that it is time to reach out and expand your circle of influence, and inject truth into the story that is being told, our cultural dialogue.

After the music ended and the first speaker took the stage, we had finally amounted to the size of a respectable protest - not revolutionary mind you, but respectable. Audrey Siegl took the mic, a Musqueam First Nations activist and a great speaker that any Vancouver activist has crossed paths with before. She never fails to make me feel proud to be Canadian and it was mid-way through her speech that I realized that she was laying it down. She mentioned, as she and so many protesters always do, that this action was being held on the occupied land of the Coast Salish First Nations, and she spoke of the bill, her own fear as an activist, and about the world as a wholeThis protest was as much about fracking, as much about human rights, about the environment and democracy as it was about Bill C-51. It was about un-fucking the system, saying that in order to value the Earth, we need to also value all of the people that inhabit it, and rise above the tyranny that is in place. If you have ever been to a Canadian protest, you will know that these fights are very much led and championed by our First Nations, and they are not afraid to speak out. She made what was, for me, the most sense - that we can no longer look at separate issues, that there are no separate issues anymore, and that we are fighting tyranny, inequality and injustice alike. This protest was as much about fracking, as much about human rights, about the environment and democracy as it was about Bill C-51. It was about unfucking the system, and her words resonated with me. The wealth of backgrounds, races, life-styles and economics of the varied crowd this afternoon could only make one consider, why do we hold onto specific ideologies in this day and age? Why do we not just unite in our collective need to unfuck the system? This is clearly what we all want, isn't it?

Then there was the first of two performances by The Raging Grannies, a bunch of sweet little grandmothers who are not only badass, but on the CSIS watch list for their attempts at raising our consciousness.

The Raging Grannies, on the CSIS watch list
But then, something unexpected happened. A man who calls himself Rainbow John took to the stage and grabbed the microphone and said his peace, saying, in his very elderly way, that this might be his last stand. The MC, Shea, gave the signal for Rainbow John's mic to be cut off. When the crowd booed and began chanting "let him speak!" the Master of Ceremonies graciously relented and the crowd cheered as he went on about spirituality, fascism, the universe and physics. He was awesome. When Shea had control of the mic once again, he was sure to point out that this protest held no opinion of other matters; the truth of 9/11 (note the giant blue banner behind the Grannies), the pipeline or any other issue, to cover his ass. While I can appreciate his position to make this protest about this sole issue and not be so-called partisan, this author thinks he was wrong in his judgement to not only silence one of our elders, but to follow up with an almost corporate propaganda and rhetoric.

Rainbow John
And that, my dear readers, is the crux of this issue, in that it is an every-issue for the every-man. Our world has become so tyrannical and unequal that the time for cautious separation of issues is no longer what activism or protest is all about; that was the last wave. The system needs to be un-fucked, and the issues are all oneThe cautious separation of issues is no longer what activism or protest is all about, all are symptoms of this broken society, all are cries for help in the darkness of our modern world. When Martin Luther King, Jr. summoned the troops, in the days preceeding instant communication, shit got done. The people came, and they came en masse. We need to organize as people did in those times, we need to un-separate the issues and unite in our understanding that the system has failed. There were 9/11 truthers with banners, there were animal liberationists against C-51, there were those raising awareness about xenophobia in our society, anti-fracking activists, Anonymous, you name it - we were all there because this is about our freedom, about what our society has become, and about how we need to fix it. While we felt the energy of the afternoon's speeches, we needed all the people to come today, not just the passionate ones. We need people to understand that Bill C-51 is what is dangerous to Canadians. We need people to get on this side of the line, because it's just too crowded on the other side. Although all of those placards were eventually carried by someone, the truth is, if everyone came today, in all of the protests across the country, this bill, this violation of our humanity, would have died, today.

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Vital Signs: Why Politics is Broken & The Argument for Radical Change

It would seem that so many of us now believe that our current political system has failed us catastrophically and that it is beyond its present capability to fix our ailing society. Almost as many believe that it is beyond the realm of possibility for this system to repair itself from within. As grim as that may sound, it is an uncomfortable reality that more and more people are waking up to. We'll take a look at the signs and symptoms of this system-wide failure as well as examine the role of capitalism in all of this, and what our alternatives might look like.


And in the end, we are all just humans drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

We all have the same notion, to varying degrees, that we now live in a broken world, where the political system and economics have failed us, where they've proven that maybe they never even had our best interests in mind in the first place. Whether liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, East or West, we collectively share in the knowledge that things have gone horribly wrong and we now face larger and more looming problems than we ever have at any point in our history. To put it bluntly, the world is in crisis. And we need swift and decisive action to get us out of this mess.

What are the vital signs of a healthy society, what do we tend to value the most, and how do our readings differ from that of a society that is working properly? When society is functioning optimally, its people are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, they have meaningful and fulfilling work, satisfying leisure time filled with friends, family and hobbies, a sense of community and support from that community, and sustainable management of shared resources, all driven by a collective desire to grow and develop as a whole. In a healthy society, no one slips between the cracks, and no one is left behind. If this does not sound like our world at all, that's because ours is not a healthy world, not in the least.

In a world where politics so dominates the policies and practices that shape our lives, especially US politics in its effect over global issues, it is politics we must look at if we are to create some sort of lasting change that will repair this broken planet. The fact is that the political system has become powerless to effect meaningful change to benefit the vast majority of its populations, instead only serving their corporate masters, and as a result, we have seen the slow decline of society through bad policy after bad policy and failure after failure. In this interesting analysis by Paul C. Light from his paper entitled "A Cascade of Failures", it becomes apparent as well that governmental failures are becoming ever more frequent. One doesn't have to look very far to see the result of our years of bad policy in effect: a degrading environment, widespread corruption and mistrust of politicians, corporate interest taking precedence over the needs of the people, a media that serves as a propaganda machine for the capitalist system, a multitude of wars around the globe, starvation, surveillance of entire populations. And it goes on and on. How did we let it get to this, a world that would have made Orwell himself shudder?

Some would disagree with the fact that these systems are failing, and those who do would fall into one of three categories: those poor souls who are terribly misinformed about the facts, those in denial and who cannot face up to the current reality of our world, and lastly the elite, how did we let it get to this, a world that would have made Orwell himself shudder?those for whom the system does work, whether they be the media, political or corporate elite. Those people who fall into one of the first two categories can indeed be saved, educated and elevated to see the truth, but as for the elite, they have a deeply vested interest in seeing the status quo maintained - at any cost. And because of this fact, the elite are the key to fixing this. We have privatized greed, and the greedy are running with it.

The reason that the current political systems in place serve the elite so well is because of the fact that the system serves capitalism and the corporation alone, itself so hallowed as to be considered a living entity by the law. When a system serves only this, it no longer serves the people, and the people pay the price. The brilliant Noam Chomsky had a lot to say regarding this, and he conceded that capitalism and democracy are inconsistent with one another and cannot exist together in harmony. He states that capitalism is in fact privatized tyranny, a tyranny by unrestricted, unaccountable concentrations of wealth and this is why they so vehemently oppose change to the economic and political systems that serve them so well. A perfect example of this is the division of labour created by industrialization. When a man or woman is relegated to a menial task day-in and day-out, they become ignorant and they become stripped of their humanity in the process. Roosevelt warned that allowing a corporation to grow more powerful than the government would lead to tyranny, and as we can all see, it certainly has done just that. Of the top 100 world economies as of this writing, fifty-one of them are corporations.

they become ignorant and they become stripped of their humanity in the processSo where does this leave us? Do we continue to struggle with our current broken system in a vain attempt to make some kind of change? Obama's promise of change was false. The promises of the future politicians will be false, with our faith in them declining rapidly with each successive year. As all of this continues to stagnate, we plunge deeper and deeper into the quagmire of social and environmental decay at an ever-increasing speed, and time is running out for all of humanity. There needs to be a massive change, and there are alternatives, many alternatives. Take, as one example, the idea of  WDSEs, or Workers' Self-Directed Enterprises. It can be described thusly:

Quite simply, a WSDE entails the workers who make whatever a corporation sells also functioning - collectively and democratically - as their own board of directors. WSDEs thereby abolish the capitalist differentiation and opposition of surplus producers versus surplus appropriators. Instead, the workers themselves cooperatively run their own enterprise, thereby bringing democracy inside the enterprise where capitalism had long excluded it. - Richard Wolff

But when governments and the corporations they serve reject any notion of socialism, they are indeed being hypocritical in the sense that they socialize things all the time, when it serves them.

A basic principle of modern state capitalism is that costs and risks are socialized to the [largest] extent possible, while profit is privatized. - Noam Chomsky 

This is sometimes also referred to as externalization, whereby the government passes costs along to the people while the elite stuff their pockets. Think of the automobile industry for there are no non-radical options left on the tableexample, as they reap profits while we pay for roads, environmental costs and health costs associated with their industry. Why have they never had to pay? Why do we allow the government to socialize the losses of the financial institutions, when the men of Wall Street have been greedy little pigs? The time has come to consider new and radical shifts in our consciousness, new ideas of politics and economics, and to reshape the world in which we live. As Naomi Klein has said in her crusade to save the environment, there are no non-radical options left on the table.

Could you imagine a world that was different from this one, where billions no longer have to live a nightmare so that a few elite can flourish? Our politics is broken and it's got to go, plain and simple. And we have the power to take it all back if we decide to. The Revolution will be live. I'll leave you with this thought, and I hope you take it to heart:

Imagine a country where the majority of the population reaps the majority of the benefits for their hard work, creative ingenuity and collaborative efforts. Imagine a country where corporate losses aren't socialized, while gains are captured by an exclusive minority. Imagine a country run as a democracy, from the bottom up, not a plutocracy from the top down. - Nomi Prins, Author of It Takes a Pillage and Black Tuesday

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Social Dysfunction, Part II: Willful Ignorance and The Death of Truth in Post 9/11 America

With the overwhelming evidence that the 9/11 Commission Report is riddled with inaccuracies, half-truths and flat-out lies, it is clear that the American people have been duped for years now. So why do they continue put any faith in the system at all? In the second part of this series on apathy, ignorance and greed, we take a look at lies, hidden agendas and the human psychology of ignorance.

I can't help but come back time and again to the concept that far too many people have opinions that, unfortunately, are not based in fact or science. Opinion surrounding the events of 9/11 is no exception to this, and in fact is possibly the most striking example of emotion and fear obfuscating the truth and leading to widespread ignorance and avoidance. In this, the second article of the series, I want to take a look at 9/11 and its repercussions as a case study for why so many people willingly wish to remain ignorant, at a time when radical change is so badly needed, where uncovering the truth is our only salvation. We need to ask the question, why do we live in a cultural climate where even discussing issues such as 9/11, climate change or NSA surveillance are met with such hostility and emotion when facts and the truth simply do not lie?

People are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts. - Edward Snowden

On September 11th, 2001, we all watched in horror as we witnessed our world change forever. As to exactly what extent and how, we were still blissfully ignorant, We were still blissfully ignorant, but for many of us, that would changebut for many of us, that would change over the coming years as question after question arose about the validity of the official story about the events of that day and the events leading to that horrific tragedy. But for millions of others, these newly disseminated facts were of no relevance.

The plain, sad reality — I report this following four full days studying the work — is that The 9/11 Commission Report, despite the vast quantity of labor behind it, is a cheat and a fraud. It stands as a series of evasive maneuvers that infantilize the audience, transform candor into iniquity, and conceal realities that demand immediate inspection and confrontation. - Benajmin Demott, Harper's Magazine

So why, fourteen years after the fact, are we still unable to conduct a proper investigation, and why are so many people still unaware of the evidence? While the conspiracy theorists have made many conjectures based on the evidence, and to some this has discredited these truths, the facts are still the facts, however you decide to process them. Why are so many Americans not even aware of the issue of the collapse of building 7 on the afternoon of 9/11? Is it possible that they just don't want to know, or did Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, have it right?

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State. - Joseph Goebbels

A culture of willful ignorance, or as they refer to it, motivated avoidance of sociopolitical informationIn a 2012 paper from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors took a look at exactly how people function within a society when they look to the government not just for taking care of basic needs (utilities, infrastructure, security, etc) but also for emotional needs, relieving the individual from having to be concerned or worried about social issues, leading to a culture of willful ignorance, or as they refer to it, motivated avoidance of sociopolitical information. The authors, in their study, concluded:

[We] leveraged this past research to develop a novel explanation for how people’s tendency to trust in their social systems, and outsource their worries and fears to these systems, can lead to the propagation of ignorance in the context of important social issues. - Steven Shepherd and Aaron C Kay, 2012

They found that people most affected by the economic recession, for example, were least likely to read information challenging the government's ability to deal with the situation. This same group was, interestingly, more inclined to only read positive stories about the economy. Similarly, is it possible that the heartache of knowing that the American government is lying to its people about the events of 9/11 so unbearable, that most people simply don't want to know? Or that knowing the science behind climate change is too frightening? If you want a few hundred examples of commonly held beliefs that are just plain wrong, this Wikipedia article is very eye-opening. I challenge you to see how many of these things you may have been wrong about. It's truly scary, just how many misconceptions we carry around as a society, particularly in the realm of science.

The problem becomes then that these thousands of wrong ideas we have accumulated in the cultural dialogue are severely limiting to finding solutions and we areIs it possible that the heartache of knowing that the American government is lying to its people so unbearable, that most people simply don't want to know? trying to move forward without really knowing what is going on. Why, then, do we have experts if we are not willing to listen to them? Why do people, for example, want to formulate their own opinions about what happened on 9/11 when the architects and engineers, the people who build this stuff, are banding together to help educate people of the facts? Why is their message so difficult to get out to the public? Why do we continually choose fear instead of love? Why have we allowed 9/11 to be used to move forward a heinous and evil agenda?

There are so many questions related to the problem of ignorance, and it can become daunting - another reason to ignore. The media, of course, as a propaganda machine for capitalism, is very much responsible for this lack of truth. Media coverage in the mainstream is in no way representative of the reality of our world. In fact, consumers of the most popular mainstream media outlets are less informed about facts than any other group. These corporations are guilty of keeping millions in the dark, while they talk of fair and balanced reporting. It's shameful and immoral.

Ignorance is a luxury we can no longer afford in this era. We are obligated to one another to learn the truth about issues before we form opinions, and especially before we form policies. We can no longer leave it up to the government to deal with these issues in a responsible manner - their trust has been all but completely washed away. And trust has declined, particularly since 9/11, and particularly during the presidencies of Nixon and two Bushs. But even knowing this, we still, some would say blindly, follow our governments when it is clear from the evidence that they are failing the people. They certainly aren't failing corporate interest, as is evidenced by their profits. Is it the death of truth in our culture? Avoiding issues or being willfully ignorant will not make them go away. It is time everyone did their part to be informed, avoid emotional bias, and most importantly, to uncover the truth . If you turn off your TV for a while, you might just start to find it.
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Climate Change: On Naomi Klein, The Deniers and Learning To Swim

Climate change is real and it is upon us. But what can we learn from volcanoes in Siberia 250 million years ago and the geoengineers who want to reshape our world today? And more importantly, will Naomi Klein help manage to save us in the end?

Banksy near the Oval bridge in Camden, London. Zak Hussein/PA

If I asked you what you thought the biggest event to cause a mass extinction in the history of our planet was, what would you say? Most people would tell you it was caused by a giant meteor hitting the Earth 65 million years ago, and they'd be wrong - most people do believe this, however, and most people also believe a great deal of other falsehoods in regard to science, but we'll get to that in its due course. Although a giant meteor about the size of Mount Everest did hit the Earth roughly 65 million years ago and did cause a mass extinction, it was not the biggest in Earth's history, although it is a close second to be fair. The largest came about over a 50,000 year period beginning some 250 million years ago, and it began, many scientists now believe, in Siberia, in a stretch of volcanoes called the Siberian Traps, today a region of volcanic rock stretching two million square kilometers. Massive volumes of basaltic lava spewed out for thousands of years and with it, large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane gas. This resulted in highly sulfuric acid rain to come down and create hydrogen sulfide in the oceans, which warmed the planet by more than 10 degrees centigrade. This led to the loss of 90 percent of the Earth's species and took tens of millions of years to recover from. When a world gets warmer, as it did then, its poles heat faster than the equator, and when an equilibrium exists, winds stop and ocean currents no longer move and our oceans become anoxic, without sufficient oxygen and unable to sustain life. And science can measure these changes in levels quite accurately by studying layers of rock and other techniques.

An event which affected only 1.3% of our planet's surface rendered it impossible for 90% of life to survive and it destroyed our atmosphere planet-wide in the process. There is so much that this story can teach us about the effects that climate change will have upon our planet and the fragility of our ecosystem, and we need to heed those lessons. Although this event was a natural one and ours is arguably man-made (and even if it's not, it is happening regardless), the plot-lines follow very similar paths and we would be fools to not listen to the evidence. Sadly, some of us still refuse to. Regardless, as dramatic as that period was in its utter devastation of life, its mechanics don't look all that dissimilar to the data we're seeing today. The planet has already heated up by 1.3 degrees, and the scientific community now concedes that 2 degrees is the maximum temperature increase that we can sustain - at that point, crops will fail, and ocean levels will rise, amongst a host of other repercussions. (Source - Peter Ward, 2013)

Let's focus our attention for a moment on the rising ocean levels - the repercussion of climate change that will have the most impact on human life. The conservative estimate is that by 2100, ocean levels will have risen by 1.5 meters, 1 meter of that being built-in due to the thermal expansion of our oceans resulting from the aforementioned 1.3 degree increase in Earth's temperature compared to pre-industrial times. If the snow in the Arctic melts, it won't have an impact on our rising sea levels (think of an ice cube melting in a glass of ice), but it will allow for a release of an estimated 50 gigatonnes of methane gas, which will  contribute another 1.7 degree temperature increase, well above the 2 degree limit. But if the ice on Greenland and Antarctica melt - ice on land - that will have a dramatic effect on ocean levels. It would result in a three meter rise if Greenland's ice melts and a whopping thirty meter rise if Antarctica's melts - and these are real possibilities in the next century. Here's what North America and South-East Asia would look like with a 30 meter rise in ocean levels:

Sea level rise: N. America (top) & Asia (bottom) by Kees Veenenbos
Hundreds of millions displaced, but what's ultimately much more devastating will be the resulting crop failure. If you think of the world's deltas, our most abundant and productive agricultural regions, they are often at or near sea-level. In fact, only a one meter rise in ocean levels could destroy 25% of the world's agricultural regions, and this is a reality we are facing already in the next century even if we stop now. And as carbon dioxide levels rise, this becomes an even more looming threat to our health on the planet. The Netherlands is already spending 18% of its GDP on building and maintaining dams to keep the waters at bay. We are almost at an alarming 400 parts-per-million carbon dioxide count in the atmosphere and it is increasing by 2ppm per year. (Source - Peter Ward, 2013) Add to this the methane being released by permafrost melt in the Arctic Circle coupled with our increasing use of fossil fuels and we are looking at a very bleak future indeed.

We have procrastinated for so long, we have allowed emissions to increase so much year after year, that there are no non-radical options left on the table. - Naomi Klein, The Guardian Live, 2014.

Let's take a look next at some of the proposed solutions to this mess then. There are many who feel that science and technology will save us from our fate, but time is running out and the measures that are being proposed are based, on the most part, on future technologies. Geoengineering, once the domain of kooks and retired engineers, is now being proposed by many, and if you aren't yet familiar with that term, it can be summed up thusly:

Geoengineering is the planetary-scale intervention [in] or tinkering with planetary processes. - David Bello, Scientific American, 2014.

While the idea of geoengineering is not new, it is only recently being applied to the science of climate change. Between 1958 and 1962, both the Soviet and American governments tried to figure out ways to detonate atomic bombs in space outside our atmosphere to modify the global environment for military reasons. These military manics clearly had no concern whatsoever for the stewardship of our planet. But those archaic concepts aside, the two ideas being proposed now involve either reflecting the Sun's rays back into space and away from the surface of Earth, or finding methods to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One of the ideas proposed to reflect sunlight off the planet is to release massive amounts of sulfur high up in the atmosphere, which will cool the planet and, as a by-product, cause severe acid rain. There is currently no theory regarding how to deal with that eventuality. Dealing with pollution by creating more pollution seems like an insane idea on the surface, at least to me.

Using technofixes to tinker with global climate systems is an excuse to avoid unpopular but necessary measures to reduce carbon emissions. - Clive Hamilton, Scientific American, 2015

Another idea is to cover massive areas, like our deserts, with reflective materials to reflect the Sun's energy back into space. This also seems like a radical and short-sighted solution. In short, geoengineering is radical, controversial and not proven, and if we are willing to consider such radical ideas to combat the problem, then why not some other radical ideas, like challenging an economic system that conflicts head-on with our natural world?

What underlies the problem of climate change as well, is a broad scientific illiteracy in the developed world, particularly in the US. In 2009, according to ABC News, only 40% of Americans believed in evolution, 80% thought the government is hiding information about aliens and 54% believed in alien abductions. But here's the kicker:

In 2009, 54% of Republicans in the United States did not believe in climate change. - ABC News

There is an education that clearly needs to happen to increase the scientific literacy in the world, particularly in regard to climate change. Some even suggest that being a climate change denier is immoral in today's world, where science proves them wrong on every count. Rather than list every climate change denier argument, I will refer you to this great piece which lists every possible argument that a skeptic may have, and refutes each in turn with the science and references. It's a great read, and every activist should have this information in their back pockets. As serious and weighty as the issue is, it is still fun to completely shut down a climate change denier. Or at least make them think a little.

And speaking of great reads, Naomi Klein's new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate" is being hailed as the greatest book on climate change since Silent Spring in 1962. Some say that she has changed the terms of the debate altogether, shedding light on our economic system and it's conflict with the planet. She argues that the time is over for half-measures and that a massive movement of climate action needs to happen, one that will fight for radical and fundamental shifts in our economic system, a system that is failing us on more levels than just an environmental one. She argues that our current economic system represents a conflict between our  neoliberal ideology and a worldview that supports sustained life on Earth. She champions interdependence over individualism, reciprocity over dominance and cooperation over hierarchy. There is an excellent resource on her website where she has partnered with Beautiful Solutions to look at economic alternatives and answers to the problem. She maintains an optimism that carries throughout the book, and leaves you speechless in the process. A must-read.

However, what with the media coverage of climate change having dropped dramatically in the past 5 years, when belief in climate change as a reality itself is dropping, it is critical for each one of us to bring this topic into the collective discussion again. We are clearly acting in a completely irresponsible way, acting like we are the last generation to have to live here. People take their personal finances and dental hygiene, for example, far more seriously than the issue of our imminent extinction. There is not nearly enough engagement with this issue, not nearly what there should be, and we need to create that engagement. Like Naomi said, the time has run out for moderate measures. There are no non-radical options left on the table. But, as she and so many others have said, it will take all of us to find a solution.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. - Voltaire

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Our Social Dysfunction, Part I: Will Apathy Be Our Downfall?

This article is the first in a series on the three big players in our modern-day social dysfunction: apathy, ignorance and greed. These mutually reinforcing qualities of humanity come together to render any social progress impossible and their alliance forms an almost unstoppable machine, one that has the power not only to halt society dead in its tracks, but also to propel it backwards, down into a black hole of tyranny and eventual collapse. In this series, we will look at each one of these problems in turn in an attempt to shed some light on their causes, their effects and on possible solutions, and a fourth installment will focus on the interconnection of the three, because it is important for us to not divide these problems and thus, oversimplify the issue. We need to understand their connection to break this cycle and move forward. This December, 2006 article from The Progress Report put it this way:

As an example of the interplay between ignorance, apathy, and greed, consider the problem of pollution. Suppose the most efficient preventative is a pollution charge based on the damage caused by each pollutant. However, the government regulates pollution instead, a policy failure that needlessly reduces employment and economic growth. One possible cause is ignorance.
But suppose the best policy is known. The owners of the polluting industries seek to influence legislation to prevent the best policy. Because of their campaign contributions and other favours, the government adopts the poorer policy. The cause in this case is greed, both by the influence seeker and by corrupted politicians. Greed depends on the absence of sympathy, and it benefits from ignorance about a social problem.

Apathy; indifference, numbness, spiritlessness, whatever you want to call it, this ailment is considered by many thinkers to be the worst of all modern-day plagues, the one single force that may inevitably prove to be impossible to stop. In an era where access to information is readily available and social problems and cause for action are at unprecedented levels, we continue to grow more and more apathetic, more disaffected. Indeed, each succeeding generation, despite the growing alarms, grows wearier and wearier to the call to action. Whatever the reason, whatever analogy we find useful, it is clear that at a time when we need massive action there is an overwhelming sense of ennui about the whole notion of getting up from one's chair and doing anything at all. And this also accompanies a fundamental shift in our values as well. Take this example from a March 2012 study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Life goals of American First-Year College Students 1966-2009:

1. What percent of a generation values being well off financially:
Baby Boomers (1966-1978): 45 percent
Generation X (1979-1999): 70 percent
Millennials (2000-2009): 75 percent

2. What percent of a generation values keeping up to date with political affairs:
Baby Boomers (1966-1978): 50 percent
Generation X (1979-1999): 39 percent
Millennials (2000-2009): 35 percent

3. What percent of a generation values becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment:
Baby Boomers (1966-1978): 33 percent
Generation X (1979-1999): 24 percent
Millennials (2000-2009): 20 percent

If you look at voter turnout over the past fifty years, you can see similar trends:

The shift in values over the past five decades is obvious to anyone who has been around that long; even for those of us who haven't. This shift underlies the problem of apathy, but what are the causes of this moral shift? Are we, like the ancient Romans, simply playing out our predestined role as the gluttonous, selfish citizens who consume and don't contribute, while civilization crumbles all around us? (Read this great article on collapse, environment and society). This shift in values and its resulting rise in apathy is multi-fold in its reasons:

  • the negative influence of the mainstream media as a whole as a propaganda machine for capitalism, particularly in how it is used to desensitize the masses 
  • a fundamental lack of empathy toward our fellow man, which is also related to desensitization

The problem with all of this apathy and shifting values is that when we are living in such critical times, where the environment and other looming issues are taking center stage and need to be addressed in radical and effective ways, we allow our apathy to rule. There is no savior coming to save us, and no one else is going to fix these problems for us. When people become apathetic to critical issues, we fail, and when the corporate and political powers that dominate our lives take a stronger and stronger hold over us, they diminish even our power to speak out.

The only way to overcome this problem is through education, and a radical shift in paradigm. Nothing short of a revolution is going to free us from this apathetic culture. We focus on trivialities, things the media tells us to, instead of on the major issues facing us today. We have access to the world's knowledge at our fingertips, yet we watch and consume garbage media and information. We're aware of massive inequality and poverty in the world, yet we do nothing. The Occupy movement and The Arab Spring may have raised awareness about certain issues, but their effects were not lasting. We need to address this problem of an apathetic society head-on and create a culture where this is not tolerated or socially acceptable. We need to wake people up, and information is the tool. Will apathy be our downfall? Not if we don't allow it to be.

The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men - Plato

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