Category: Collapse


My most recent book, “The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century,” hitherto available only in German, is now available in English for purchase (PDF download or hardcopy book), on the Palgrave Macmillan site, and other sites such as Amazon.com.

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I am honored that celebrated animal rights author, Norm Phelps, wrote the Foreword to the book, and here is the critical praise on the back cover:

“This is an extraordinary book that shatters all safe spaces found among the debris, torture, genocide, and despair scattered throughout history by the so-called march towards progress.” –Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Chapman University, USA, Author of Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution

“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.” –Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

“The Politics of Total Liberation is groundbreaking with an innovative new approach to understanding the ills of our society. Best makes is clear that we are losing the battle to save the environment and animals because of greed, domination, control, and war mongering created by humans. Best obviously did not write this to be popular, safe, or political; rather, he wrote because his conscience told him that it is right.” –Chris DeRose, President, Last Chance for Animals

“Steven Best gets it: if we are to stop destructive human conditions and habits, we will need `the most uncompromising, militant form of politics we can muster.’” –Jim Mason, author of An Unnatural Order: The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature.

“I have no argument with Norm Phelps when he states that `this may be the most important book of the 21st century’.” –Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front

I recently sat down with Sybelle Foxcroft of Cee4Life to talk about my forthcoming book, The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. Here is that video interview:

 

 

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. This concise, jargon-free, and highly readable work is soon to be published in three different languages: first, next month, in German, by Echo Verlag publishers; second, by mid-year, in Italian, by Ortica Editrice; and third, in English toward the end of 2014, by the major American academic press, Palgrave-MacMillan.

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Below is the Table of Contents and the Introduction to the work. Please look for the book soon in German, Italian, or English versions and I will post additional details regarding these and possibly other translated editions of the book as they become available.

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Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century

By

Steven Best

Table of Contents

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

 Chapter 1: The Animal Standpoint

Chapter 2: The New Abolitionism: Capitalism, Slavery, and Animal Liberation

Chapter 3: The Paralysis of Pacifism: In Defense of Militant Direct Action

Chapter 4: Rethinking Revolution: Veganism, Animal Liberation, Ecology, and the Left

Chapter 5: Minding the Animals: Cognitive Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism

Chapter 6: Moral Progress and the Struggle for Human Evolution

Conclusion: Reflections on Activism and Hope in a Dying World and Suicidal Culture

 

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu, sixth century BCE philosopher

In dystopian and apocalyptic times such as ours, one of accelerating global social and ecological crisis, these essays attempt to articulate a revolutionary politics of total liberation for the 21st century.

All political approaches and social movements to date have been fragmentary, weak, and non-inclusive, and regressive in their views toward nonhuman animals. In the last three decades, there have been initial and tentative alliances between social justice and environmental causes, with growing recognition that the assault on people and the environment have common roots in a growth-oriented capitalist system. But, due to neglect on all sides, these alliances did not include vegan and animal rights/liberation movements, which overflow with potential for advancing progressive values (such as peace, justice, rights, equality, and community), creating ecological societies, and overcoming human alienation from other animal species and the earth as a whole.

Alliance politics generally is a challenging issue, as people prefer to focus on their own causes rather than supporting other movements, especially ones they disdain out of ignorance. This has to change and new political ideologies, tactics, and groupings must be formulated, for everything else has failed and the stakes could not be higher. At risk is nothing less than the future of life on a planet that has been pushed beyond all limits to adapt to human existence and is prepared to shake us off entirely and allow the evolutionary process to continue without us. This century, the next decades or even the next years, is decisive, for what we do or fail to do now will determine the fate of species, our own fates, and evolutionary history on this planet for millennia to come. The urgency could not be greater, there is no time to waste, it is now do-or-die.

Although diverse in theme, the essays collected in this book form a coherent whole and address my core concerns as they relate to current crisis conditions. The most promising and relevant politics for this century, I believe, will not focus on class struggle or the fragmented identity politics pursued along single-issue lines concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. It will be, rather, a politics of total liberation that grasps commonalities among various forms of oppression, that recognizes the interdependence and common goals of various liberation movements, and that forges appropriate political alliances.

By “total liberation” I do not mean a metaphysical utopia to be realized in perfect form. I refer, rather, to the process of understanding human, animal, and earth liberation movements in relation to one another and forming alliances around interrelated issues such as democracy and ecology, sustainability and veganism, and social justice and animal rights. To be sure, total liberation is an ideal, a vision, and a goal to strive for, invoking visions of freedom and harmony. But the struggle ahead is a continuous one, conducted within the constraints of human nature and the limits imposed by ecology. Human, animal, and earth liberation movements are different components of one inseparable struggle — against hierarchy, domination, and unsustainable social forms — none of which is possible without the others.

Through predatory behaviors, systems of exploitation, and growth-oriented societies, we have lived in contradiction to one another, other species, and the planet for so long, that we have brought about a new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene Era – whose name recognizes our global dominance and severe impact of Homo sapiens on the planet. In this era of runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction crisis in earth’s history, increasing centralization of power, aggressive neoliberalism, global capitalism, rampant militarism, resource scarcity, chronic warfare, economic crashes, and suffering and struggle everywhere, we have come to a historical crossroads where momentous choices have to be made and implemented into action.

The omnicidal regimes of “civilization” and global capitalism have reached their zenith and will end — whether through an ascendant global resistance stronger than this dying world system, or through the cataclysmic adjustments the planet already has initiated, such as ensure its evolution for billions of years to come but create conditions utterly hostile to supporting humans and countless other species.

Anything short of a radical, systemic, and comprehensive change, of a formidable revolutionary movement against global capitalism and hierarchical domination of all kinds will yield useless reforms, pseudo-solutions, false hopes, and protracted suffering. The time for partial visions, separate struggles, and fragmented resistance is over, and the hour of total liberation and revolutionary alliance politics has arrived.

Yet, alarmingly, we have not yet as a species or critical mass awoken to the true gravity of the situation and the magnitude of the challenges we face. The big picture proves elusive, antiquated paradigms prevail, and dogmatism and complacency strangle possibilities from all angles and quarters. Although few realize it, the human, animal, and earth liberation movements desperately need one another, and the weaknesses and limitations of each can only be overcome through the strengths and contributions of the others.

If revolt can mature into revolution, the starting point for social transformation is to join hands across the barricades; to engage in respectful critical dialogue; to communicate, educate, and learn as equals; to overcome partial histories, critiques, and battles for a systemic struggle. A politics of total liberation could forge alliances more powerful than anything yet created. It seeks to emancipate not just one class, interest group, or even the entire human species from the grip of a nihilistic power elite, but also animal communities everywhere, ecosystems worldwide, and the dynamic energies of evolution and speciation currently strangled.

Listening and learning, working united not divided, a unity in difference and a differentiated unity, forging a plurality of critiques and tactics that attack at all points and mobilize resistance from all social quarters – through a politics of total revolution, a politics for the 21st century, a flank of militant groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the structures of domination, unlock every cell and cage, and open the doors to a myriad of possible futures.

But humans will awake, if ever, late in the process of advanced crisis and decay. Nothing guarantees we will succeed rather than fail. But pessimism is suicide, despair is surrender, the stakes are too high, and our responsibilities are too great. Despite our violent history as a predatory and colonizing species, what humanity can and cannot achieve is still unknown. Our capacities and limits are still being worked out in the laboratory of history and political struggle, as this evolutionary experiment nonetheless might soon end in extinction. Let us not only hope, but also struggle, for a different outcome.

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“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold, brilliant, and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.”  –  Captain Paul Watson

This is the first of two talks I gave at the International Conference for Animal Rights in Luxembourg, on September 12 2013, and the first of seven talks I gave on my Fall 2013 speaking tour in Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy.

Wow, I knew if I lived long enough I would agree with Prince Charles on something, and it seems we agree that there is an implacable war against animals, a world war on a global scale, starkly evident in the high-tech poaching industry that is wiping out species such as rhinos and elephants before our eyes (see, for instance, my posts here and here). It seems we also agree that the human assault on other animals ought to be viewed as and treated as a war in which we defend animals from attack by any means necessary on this dying planet (see, for instance, my posts here and here). 

Nice to be in agreement with you on these points, Prince Charles. Now how about putting the UK’s armed forces in the service of wildlife under attack?

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The Guardian, May 21, 2013

Princes Charles and Prince William

Prince Charles and Prince William examine confiscated items made from endangered animals at the conference.

Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment.

Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarised crisis.

“We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle – because it is precisely that,” said Charles. “Organised bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war – assault rifles, silencers, night-vision equipment and helicopters.”

It is the second outspoken speech that Charles has made this month, at a time when he is taking on an increasing number of monarchical duties, after he told a group of forest scientists also at St James’s Palace that corporate lobbyists and climate change sceptics were turning the Earth into a “dying patient”. The Prince of Wales warned that iconic species – which could include rhinoceros, tigers, orangutans and others – could be extinct in the wild within a decade if efforts to protect them were not stepped up. “By urgent, I mean urgent,” he told the dignitaries, who included governmental and United Nations officials as well as NGOs and grassroots activists.

His son, the Duke of Cambridge, added to the plea: “My fear is that one of two things will stop the illegal trade: either we take action to stem the trade, or we will run out of the animals. There is no other outcome possible.”

Charles also stressed the need to deal with the demand for exotic species. In the past, much of the market for tiger parts, rhino horns and ivory was said to be driven by beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine, in which the rare animal parts were believed to have curative or aphrodisiac properties. But the prince dismissed such ideas, saying the trade was in fact about status symbols rather than belief systems. “The bulk of the intended use is no longer for products that can be classified as traditional medicines. Instead, many more people in rapidly growing economies are seeking exotic products that reflect their economic prosperity and status.”

The conference called for celebrities to publicise their outrage and opposition to the trade, and for young people in countries such as China to be educated to reject the demands of their parents for such status-fuelled goods.

I have blogged often against fatuous “Vegan Victory” celebrations and parades to remind everyone that while meat consumption is temporarily down in the US, it is growing at staggering rates on a global level (see, for instance here and here). Particularly, I have tried to warn people that the world’s most populous and rapidly modernizing nations — such as China, India, and Indonesia — continue to expand their economies, develop Western-capitalist social-economic models, enlarge their populations, and dramatically increase their production and consumption of meat.

China continues to lead the way in posing grave ecological threats to the world and slaughter ever-more animals for consumption. I have emphasized the ambiguity of China, which is that as animal advocacy grows, so too does meat consumption.

In a major new and foreboding development, on May 29, meat producer Shuanghui International bought Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for nearly $5 billion dollars, in what many consider to be the largest Chinese acquisition of a US corporation in history.

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Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936, was a major meat producing corporation particularly of pork. The transaction was beneficial to both parties, for while pork consumption has declined in the US, it is steadily rising in China. The US slaughters 100 million hogs for food consumption annually, whereas China butchers 470 million hogs per year. Thus, in a classic case of demand stimulating supply, Smithfield Foods is now part of Shuanghui International. China — with a population of 1.6 billion compared to 300 million people living in the US — is the world’s leading producer and consumer of pork.

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As if US meat production methods were ever safe, or there is a thing as safe pork or healthy meat, some members of Congress are voicing hypocritical health concerns voiced. “I have deep doubts, said  Representative Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, “about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first.” But this is China, after all, and such “safety” concerns are not without merit: “Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river.”

china-produces-nearly-six-times-as-much-pork-per-person-as-the-rest-of-the-world

China produces nearly six times as much pork per person as the rest of the world

Apart from underscoring the oxymoron of “safe” or “healthy” meat of any kind, the more important issues are not sickened consumers foolish enough to consume animal “products,” but rather the ethical issue of a growing global animal holocaust and the catastrophic environmental impact of factory farming and the global rise of agribusiness and appetites for flesh, especially in the large, rapidly modernizing nations such as China.

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Chinese Pork Industry

Despite foreign ownership, USA Today notes:

“Shuanghui has 13 facilities that produce more than 2.7 million tons of meat per year. Under the agreement, there will be no closures at Smithfield’s facilities and locations, including its Smithfield, Va., headquarters in the historic southeastern Virginia town of about 8,100 where it was founded in 1936, the companies said.

Smithfield’s existing management team will remain in place, and Shuanghui also will honor the collective bargaining agreements with Smithfield workers. The company has about 46,000 employees.

“This transaction preserves the same old Smithfield, only with more opportunities and new markets and new frontiers,” Smithfield CEO Larry Pope said in a conference call. “This is not a strategy to import Chinese pork into the United States … this is exporting America to the world.”

Sadly, this statement is true, and when US carnivorous culture influences global markets and massively populated nations such as China, it is the perfect storm for ecological collapse.

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Also see: “14 Facts About The Staggeringly Huge Chinese Pork Industry”

 Steven Best

(This piece was originally written for my good friend Adam, and earlier published on his blog, OccupyEssays)

“I’d like to share with you a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.” Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)

This essay tells a story. It is more than a little story, it is one of the biggest stories of all — the story of how humans evolved from one of the weakest to the most dangerous animal on the planet, from hunted to hunter, from vulnerable prey to top predator. This is the amazing saga of how one species became the first and only global species and in a very short time built a vast empire that has colonized the planet for need and greed, has created a new geological epoch – the human-dominated Anthropocene Era — and is threatening to bring down the planetary house.

Like all empires, the human empire rose, had glorious triumphs, but ultimately was a decadent and unsustainable colossus; and thus it also dies, ebbs, declines, and falls like the rest. But much more is at stake in this drama than an imperialist state and its colonies, for here we are talking about the entire species of Homo sapiens and its impact on biodiversity and the ecological dynamics of the planet as a whole.

 There is no scientific consensus to this story; there are, rather, a thousand narratives of the origins of Homo sapiens and the proper taxonomical tables and nomenclature. The prevailing cacophony of dispute arises partly for the empirical reasons (the science is uncertain and always changing), and also for political reasons (scientists, researchers, and historians have vested interests in challenging competing narratives and validating their own discoveries and narratives). Uncertainties aside, grasping the outlines of the human past are critical for understanding what kind of animal we are, illuminating the causes of current social and ecological crises, and creating viable future societies — if indeed such a project is still possible in a significant sense.

 Out of Africa and Out of Control

Our earliest ancestors evolved from an independent branch of the primate tree some 5-7 million years ago. Pressured by climate changes, they moved out of the Eastern and Southern forests of Africa and into the savannas where for various reasons they stood up on two legs and evolved into bipedal animals. These Australopithecines were 3 feet tall, hairy, ape-men — like apes in their relatively small brain size, and like humans in walking upright. After 2-3 million years, various australopithecine types evolved into diverse variations of the Homo genus, including species such as Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens (behaviorally modern, language-speaking humans). Along this dynamic, variegated evolutionary path, hominid brains grew increasingly large; their technologies and cultures became ever more sophisticated; and their populations continuously expanded in size and geographical reach as their ecological impact became more and more severe.

 There is no consensus on key questions, such as: What is the proper taxonomical language to characterize humans in relation to other primates? What alleged Homo types were true species rather than sub-species? What Homo species co-existed, and when? Did they evolve as one species in a linear fashion, as the “Out of Africa” thesis argues, or did various Homo types co-evolve and leave Africa at different times and in many migrations, as the “Multiregional” theory claims?[1]

 Whatever the diversity of human types and subsequent migration patterns, about 100,000 years ago (there is no consensus on this date either) Homo sapiens left the African continent to explore a vast, unknown world in which continents were conjoined by ice sheets. They migrated to Europe, Asia, Australia, Siberia, Indonesia, and into the Americas, establishing their empire throughout the globe. All the time multiplying, diversifying, and scattering across the continents, humans wasted no time in colonizing the world from north to south and from east to west.

Just one among tens of millions of existing animal species – many already dispatched to oblivion, thousands currently poised on the end, and thousands yet on the brink of extinction and some yet to be discovered – Homo sapiens has risen from humble mammalian and primate origins to become the most dominant, violent, predatory, and destructive animal on the planet. Nearly everywhere it journeyed and lived, Homo sapiens wrought social and ecological devastation, extinction crises, and chronic warfare.  Continue reading

If you can ignore the anthropomophic and speciesist idiocy that it is morally objectionable to kill “cute” animals (when all plant and animal species save humans are integral to evolution and planetary survival), this article speaks volumes about why humans (capitalists above all) are an evolutionary mistake and how the only measure of value in capitalism is exchange value, not the intrinsic value of life.

“Too many” elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa?  Endangered wolves a threat to cattle and hamburger culture? Polar bears in the way of oil drilling and the energy crack fossil fuel industries supply to the denizens of the Anthropocene Era?

Simple solution: kill first, ask questions later, if at all. Kill anything in the way of “progress” (profits). The irony, of course, is that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused the survival crisis of polar bears in the first place, and now the need for more oil – access facilitated by melting ice sheets — demands the death sentence for those with barely an iceberg left to crowd onto to avoid drowning, and yet  nonetheless still “stand in the way of civilization.”

As if needed, this is still more evidence that corporations own states, governments, and the entire legal system, and that the “services” and departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service protect their corporate masters not the habitats or species suggested by their Orwellian titles.

This is a stunning example of blaming the victim, and yet another decisive sign that the values and priorities of  Homo rapiens are insanely inverted, and that this species by and large does not deserve to exist and indeed with this mindset is definitely doomed. May we go out with a bang, not a whimper.

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Court: Polar Bear Habitat that Interferes with Oil Drilling Has To Go

By Philip Bump, Gristmll, January 15, 2013

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Blocking Oil Drilling a Capital Crime, Genocide the Penalty!

Through a bit of evolutionary serendipity, polar bears are cute. They are big and fuzzy and have thick, dopey heads. This is helpful to the polar bears, because it’s given the animals a powerful tool in their fight for existence. “Do you want polar bears to go away?”

To which oil companies say, “Only if they’re in the way.” Last week, a federal court in Alaska overturned a Fish and Wildlife Service habitat designation for polar bears after the fossil fuel industry sued, complaining that the habitat interfered with oil exploration. From the Wall Street Journal:

A U.S. court in Alaska has overturned a federal rule aimed at protecting polar bear habitat in the Arctic, handing a victory to the oil and natural-gas industry.

The rule, established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is “valid in many respects,” but the agency didn’t follow all the legally required steps before adopting the regulation, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline wrote in the decision, which was dated Thursday and published Friday. …

The government designated barrier islands, offshore sea-ice and “denning” areas, where female polar bears are known to make dens where they give birth to their young during winter months, as critical habitat. At the time of the designation, in November 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the areas were “essential for the conservation of the bear.”

It’s fossil fuel industries that have put the polar bear in its current plight. Rampant greenhouse gas emission and the warming that has ensued has caused Arctic ice levels to plummet. With less ice, it becomes harder and harder for bears to conserve energy and to find food. As we noted in 2007:

As sea ice thins, and becomes more fractured and labile, it is likely to move more in response to winds and currents so that polar bears will need to walk or swim more and thus use greater amounts of energy to maintain contact with the remaining preferred habitats.

The government tried to create a protected habitat, a place where bears could hunt and rest as best they could without additional interference. But unfortunately for the bears, the Fish and Wildlife Service put the reserve on land that was already inhabited: by oil. So the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute sued, with the oil-obsessed state’s help.

The AOGA issued a pleased-as-punch statement [PDF] in response to the court ruling, including this quote from executive director Kara Moriarty.

AOGA members care as much about protecting Alaska’s environment and wildlife as anyone else, but we also recognize the need to responsibly develop our natural resources in order to keep the state’s number one economic driver healthy.

Emphasis added, to highlight the part of the quote that is bullshit.

Even worse was the statement from Alaska’s governor. Again from the Journal:

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Friday that he “applauded” the court’s decision.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt to classify massive sections of resource-rich North Slope lands as critical habitat is the latest in a long string of examples of the federal government encroaching on states’ rights,” Mr. Parnell said.

You can hear Parnell salivating as he says resource-rich. After all, he — along with every resident of Alaska — has a dog in the fight over drilling. Last year, every Alaskan received $878 thanks to the state’s Permanent Fund, which distributes profits from oil drilling to residents. More drilling equals more money for the state, meaning happier voters in Parnell’s eyes. More polar bears don’t do him much good at all.

Making the moral of the story this: Polar bears may be cute, but the faces on dollar bills are a lot cuter.

polar bear fuck humans

The facts of catastrophic climate change have become so alarming that growing numbers of scientists feel they can no longer hide behind inscrutable jargon, masks of neutrality, professional decorum, and robotic objectivity. When paragons of affectless detachment and Spock-speak begin dropping F-bombs at prestigious conferences, undertake civil disobedience, and call for mass resistance movements to overtake the forces of planetary destruction, there is a sea-change in the scientific world, appropriately so, something that far transcends “value-laden” research to become thunderous calls for action, anger, and uprising.

It seems the top experts know something pacifists and delusional vegans (who can only talk of the temporary reduction of meat consumption IN THE US while ignoring soaring global rates and remaining mute about the severity of climate change) don’t — the earth is fucked, time is running out, ivy league vegan outreach adds insult to injury, and it’s too late for education. The courage and integrity of the new generation of activist-scientists to speak truth to power and lay their careers on the line also puts 99.999% of academics to shame, narcissists and cowards who would rather lose species and ecosystems over a career advance any day.

The choice is mass rebellion or catastrophic collapse. Despite the false impression given by the final sentence of this article, while vocal, confrontational, and politicized climate scientists could emerge as key forces of change, the true catalysts will be mass resistance movements erupting globally. But of that, we have no guarantee and as of yet, little hope to avert impending disaster on an unimaginable scale.

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Why Earth and Atmospheric Scientists Are Swearing Up a Storm and Getting Arrested.

By , Slate, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012

NASA scientist and climatologist James Hansen takes part in a mock funeral parade.

NASA scientist and climatologist James Hansen takes part in a mock funeral parade during Climate Change Campaign Action Day in 2009 in Coventry, England

Many of us have wondered at some point in almost precisely these terms: “Is Earth Fucked?” But it’s not the sort of frank query you expect an expert in geomorphology to pose to his colleagues as the title of a formal presentation at one of the world’s largest scientific gatherings.

Nestled among offerings such as “Bedrock Hillslopes to Deltas: New Insights Into Landscape Mechanics” and “Chemical Indicators of Pathways in the Water Cycle,” the question leapt off the pages of the schedule for the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting.  Brad Werner, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the more than 20,000 Earth and atmospheric scientists who descended on downtown San Francisco this week to share their research on everything from Antarctic ice-sheet behavior to hurricane path modeling to earthquake forecasting. But he’s the only one whose presentation required the use of censorious asterisks. When the chairman of Werner’s panel announced the talk’s title on Wednesday, a titter ran through the audience at the naughtiness of it all.

Why shout out the blunt question on everyone’s mind? Werner explained at the outset of the presentation that it was inspired by friends who are depressed about the future of the planet. “Not so much depressed about all the good science that’s being done all over the world—a lot of it being presented here—about what the future holds,” he clarified, “but by the seeming inability to respond appropriately to it.”

That’s probably an apt description of legions of scientists who have labored for years only to see their findings met with shrugs—or worse. Researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, for instance, published a paper in Nature Climate Change this week showing that carbon emissions have reached record levels, with a 2.6 percent projected rise in 2012. In another AGU presentation, Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posed the question: “Will realistic fossil fuel burning scenarios prevent catastrophic climate change?” He did not seem optimistic. “We might end up burning 900 billion tons of carbon” from oil, gas, and coal, he announced. “We can have a managed path to lower emissions—or do it by misery.” A guy next to me in the audience gave a kind of hopeless snort. The head of NOAA and polar experts held a news conference at the conference entitled, “What’s going on in the Arctic?” This year broke all sorts of records: the lowest recorded sea-ice extent, the lowest recorded snow cover extent and duration, and the most extensive recorded melting event on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, among other milestones. “I’ve studied Greenland for 20 years now; I’ve devoted my career to it,” Jason Box of Ohio State University intoned somberly, “and 2012 was an astonishing year. This was the warmest summer in a period of record that’s continuous in 170 years.”

Werner’s title nodded at a question running like an anxious murmur just beneath the surface of this and other presentations at the AGU conference: What is the responsibility of scientists, many of them funded by taxpayer dollars through institutions like the National Science Foundation, to tell us just exactly how fucked we are? Should scientists be neutral arbiters who provide information but leave the fraught decision-making and cost-benefit analysis to economists and political actors? Or should they engage directly in the political process or even become advocates for policies implied by their scientific findings?

Scientists have been loath to answer such questions in unequivocal terms. Overstepping the perceived boundaries of prudence, objectivity, and statistical error bars can derail a promising career. But, in step with many of the planet’s critical systems, that may be quickly changing. Lately more and more scientists seem shaken enough by what their measurements and computer models are telling them (and not just about climate change but also about the global nitrogen cycle, extinction rates, fisheries depletion, etc.) to speak out and endorse specific actions. The most prominent example is NASA climatologist James Hansen, who was so freaked out by his own data that he began agitating several years ago for legislation to rein in carbon emissions. His combination of rigorous research and vigorous advocacy is becoming, if not quite mainstream, somewhat less exotic. A commentary in Nature last month implored scientists to risk tenure and get arrested, if necessary, to promote the political solutions their research tells them are required. Climate researchers Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows recently made an impassioned call on their colleagues to do a better job of communicating the urgency of their findings and to no longer cede the making of policy prescriptions entirely to economists and politicians.

Lonnie Thompson, one of the world’s foremost experts on glaciers and ancient climates, framed the dilemma in a speech he gave to a group of behavioral scientists in 2010:

Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.

That’s the sound of serious-minded scientists fretting out loud to the rest of us that the earth is indeed fucked, unless we get our shit together. More and more are willing to risk professional opprobrium to drive that message home.

Box is a prime example. A veteran Arctic researcher, Box was arrested alongside more than 1,000 others in 2011 outside the White House while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, thus facilitating the liberation of a vast quantity of climate-warming and ice-sheet-disintegrating carbon. “Taking that stand was arguably the most important thing I’ve done,” he told me, and that includes a highly regarded body of work on Greenland ice-sheet dynamics. “I’ve taken a number of perceived political risks. The groupthink was, ‘You’re wasting your time, you’re risking your career,’ ” he said. Such actions might one day keep him from membership in the National Academies of Science, he mused aloud, but he didn’t seem too concerned. As he sees it, he can pursue rigorous science and be an engaged, concerned citizen at the same time. “I have a 14-month-old daughter,” he explained simply.

The bulk of Werner’s talk, as it turned out, was not profane or prophetic but was a fairly technical discussion of a “preliminary agent-based numerical model” of “coupled human-environmental systems.” He described a computer model he is building of the complex two-way interaction between people and the environment, including how we respond to signals such as environmental degradation, using the same techniques he employs to simulate the dynamics of natural systems such as permafrost, glaciers, and coastal landscapes. These tools, he argued, can lead to better decision-making. Echoing Anderson and Bows, he claimed it as a legitimate part of a physical scientist’s domain. “It’s really a geophysics problem,” he said. “It’s not something that we can just leave to the social scientists or the humanities.”

Active resistance by concerned groups of citizens, analogous to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements of the past, is one of the features of the planetary system that plays an important role in his model. If you think that we should take a much longer view when making decisions about the health of the “coupled human-environmental system”—that is to say, if you’re interested in averting the scenario in which the Earth is fucked—then, Werner’s model implied, resistance is the best and probably only hope. Every other element—environmental regulation, even science—is too embedded in the dominant economic system.

I asked Werner what he sees as scientists’ role in contributing to this kind of resistance, the kind of direct action taken by researchers like Hansen and Box. Werner views his own advocacy as separate from his scientific work. “To some extent, [science is] a job, and a job I really like, and I have the good fortune and privilege to have,” he told me. “In my other life, I am an activist, but there’s a line. Both sides inform the other. And I think that that is healthy. But when I’m doing geophysics, I’m a geophysicist. When I’m doing activism, I’m an activist.”

Werner agreed that more and more scientists are now engaging in advocacy than in the past. “Even if you say, ‘OK, I’m not going to advocate anything. I am simply going to make sure that I am going to produce results which are useful and available to a broad range of people,’ that’s a decision that researchers have to make.” This is not just an academic question. Anderson and Bows’ work, for instance, suggests that economic growth in the short term is simply incompatible with the (nonbinding) commitments made by most U.N. member states to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). This, of course, is not a message that is making any headway with the leaders of those countries. “The elephant in the room sits undisturbed while collective acquiescence and cognitive dissonance trample all who dare to ask difficult questions,” Anderson and Bows write. Getting relevant information into the hands of those more likely to ask those questions is, Werner said, part of his responsibility as a scientist.

Box agrees and is launching a new initiative called the Dark Snow Project, which aims to conduct the first crowdsourced scientific expedition to the Arctic, measuring how soot from North American wildfires might be accelerating Greenland’s ice melt. He and his colleagues plan to make their results publically accessible via video and other online tools, and he sees the project eventually growing into an organization that does rapid-response field science in the public interest.

As for the big question—is Earth fucked?—Werner announced in his talk that he has done some preliminary runs of his model. At this point I could sense the audience lean forward collectively on their seats. First he simulated the global economy proceeding into the future without the drag of environmental management decisions. “What happens is not too surprising,” he told us evenly. “Basically the economy fast chews up the environmental resources, depletes those reservoirs, resulting in a significant amount of environmental damage.”

Then he factored in some environmental management, presumably of our standard, EPA cost-benefit-analysis-driven variety, and found that “it delays the environmental damage but it doesn’t prevent it.”

That’s not too surprising either. But it also implies we’re eventually, definitely fucked. Still, there’s a choose-your-own-adventure element to the story that has yet to play out. Resistance, Werner argued, is the wild card that can force dominant systems such as our current resource-chewing juggernaut onto a more sustainable path. Werner hasn’t completed that part of his model, so we’ll have to wait to find out what happens. But during the Q-and-A session, he conceded that “even though individual resistance movements might not be fast enough reacting to some of these problems, if a global environmental movement develops that is strong enough, that has the potential to have a bigger impact in a timely manner.”

In other words, according to at least one expert, maybe the Earth is not quite fucked yet after all. But the ultimate outcome may depend on how much, and how many, scientists choose to wade into the fray.

The nature of evolution is speciation — to produce diversity of life, even in the harshest and most challenging conditions. Indeed, after the five previous major extinctions events on earth, nature responded not only by restabilizing ecological dynamics, but by proliferating even more life and enhancing biodiversity such as happened during the Cambrian Explosion.

The diversity of life involves not only the proliferation of plant and animal species, but also of unique human cultures and languages. At all levels, we are currently losing the rich diversity of biological, cultural, and linguistic forms; in a profound sense, we can no longer speak of “evolution” but rather must understand that planet earth is undergoing a profound devolutionary process in the sense that diversity of all kinds is rapidly receding not advancing.

Thus, in the midst of the sixth extinction crisis in the history of this planet that is currently underway, we are also witness to the precipitous loss of cultural and linguistic diversity as well, as we leave the prior Holocene epoch and enter the new Anthropocene era. This new and emergent geological epoch is  defined by the dominant role played by humans, not the natural world, in altering the planet, and clearly not in desirable ways. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the combined forces of the modernization, the Industrial Revolution, fossil-fuel addiction, a grow-or-die metastasizing system of global capitalism, the spread of agribusiness and rising world meat consumption, human overpopulation, mass culture, rampant consumerism, and other forces have brought about habitat loss, rainforest destruction, desertification, climate change, and species extinction.

In fact since the emergence of agricultural society 10-15,000 years ago, the now dominant mode of production began a war of extermination against hunting and gathering tribes that preserved traditional nomadic and non-hierarchical life ways, as opposed to the growth-oriented, hierarchical farming societies based on domesticating nature and animals, obsessive concerns with control, expansion, war, and conquest.

The war still being waged against indigenous peoples, first nations, and other non-modern/non-Western cultures certainly fully advanced with colonialism five centuries ago, but ultimately is a continuation of the exterminism agricultural society launched against all peoples who did not conform to the pathological imperatives of “civilization” and “progress.”

While from the standpoint of the earth and nonhuman animal species, the ideal would be for Homo rapiens as a whole to die off as rapidly as possible. But the alternative to what most humans find repugnant and nauseating, for those who believe we still have a right to inhabit this planet even if we prove we do not have the ability to harmonize our societies with animal communities and the natural world as a whole, is to do everything possible to resist global capitalism and its war against tribal and indigenous peoples everywhere.

For not only is it vital that indigenous peoples and ancient lifeways be preserved in their own right against the genocidal onslaught of global capitalism, and that we have more diverse languages, cultures, and lifeways than market societies and forces of cultural homogenization will tolerate. It is also crucial, if we want to preserve what biodiversity is left, that we protect and preserve premodern and non-traditional peoples.

One obvious reason — although this has often been overstated in romanticized ways — is that they retain a more reverential ethic toward the earth, they have a far deeper connectedness to life and land, they value tradition over novelty and create far more sustainable cultures, and that they are far more capable of caring for the earth and animals that predatory and rapacious capitalist societies.

Despite the fact that indigenous peoples (such as the Clovis Indians who first inhabited North America) have often throughout history overshot ecological limits and driven animals into extinction, they nonetheless are clearly more suited “custodians” of the earth than the IMF, World Bank, WTO, ExxonMobil, Shell, Monsanto, Cargill, Maxxam, Du Pont, Japanese whalers, NGOs, ignorant narcissistic Western consumers, and so on. 

As the essay below makes clear, the areas now highest in biodiversity are the same areas inhabited by indigeous peoples (and this is partly so because plant and animal species are struggling to adjust to escape the ravages of climate change). Thus, the key to preserving what biodiversity remains amidst the rapidly unfolding sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet is to preserve the remaining cultural and linguistic diversity — to support, help defend, and sustain the indigenous peoples inhabiting the areas with the most dense and diverse plant and animal species.

Thus, here we see yet another vivid example of the politics of total liberation, and how the multiple struggles to save humans, animals, and nature from the devastating effects of the capitalist-dominated Anthropocene era are ultimately one struggle ad must be formulated in theory and practice accordingly.

So there are two main options to save biodiversity: either through the collapse of “civilization” and the extinction of the human species, or through advancing the only politics suitable for the twenty-first century and era of global social and ecological crisis — a politics of total liberation that preserves biodiversity by preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. And this, unavoidably, demands a total war against global capitalism and the sundry institutions and forces of destruction bound up with advanced market societies and this nihilistic world system.

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By  NEWS JUNKIE POST, Oct 11, 2012

An unprecedented study of global biological and cultural diversity paints a dire picture of the state of our species.

Like the amphibians that climb to ever tinier areas at higher altitudes to avoid being extinguished by global warming, most of the world’s species currently huddle in a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface, and most human cultural diversity — as measured by the number of languages — occupies essentially the same tiny fraction of the planet.

We are dying.

A scientist would never say it quite this way. Instead, he would tell you that the world’s animal and plant species are disappearing 1,000 times faster than ever in recorded history. He might add that some areas of the world have lost 60% of their languages since the mid-1970’s, and 90% of the world’s languages are expected to vanish by the year 2099.

In Haitian Creole, we would yell “Amwe!” (Help!), and this would be right and proper.

As ever, the best scientific studies merely quantify what everybody has known all along. Life, in general, has suffered horribly from the runaway spread of European values and the notions of progress that began with the Industrial Revolution. A sharp bit of mathematics finally brings forth the maps that expose the poverty of the world’s major carbon emitters and the little wealth that remains in those parts of the world where the indigenous are making their final stand.

High-biodiversity wilderness areas

There currently exist very few places on Earth that could be considered intact. The researchers found only five such areas, which are numbered 36-40 on the biodiversity map and colored in shades of green.

These are, by number: 36: Amazonia; 37: Congo Forests; 38: Miombo-Mopane Woodlands and Savannas; 39: New Guinea; 40: North American Deserts.

Together these intact spots amounted to only about six percent of the terrestrial surface but were home to 17 percent of vascular plants and eight percent of vertebrates that could not be found anywhere else. The same areas were the refuge for 1,622 of the world’s 6,900 languages, with little New Guinea topping the chart at 976 tongues.

The only glimmer of hope from the study was the discovery that, contrary to what conservationists might presume, a place does not have to be untouched by humans to serve as a refuge for the world’s plants and animals. Instead, habitats must be handled in the right way, and more than anything, they must be protected from the kinds of blows dealt by industrialization.

Biodiversity hotspots

The researchers additionally identified 35 “biodiversity hotspots” (numbered 1-35 and colored in shades of yellow to red on the biodiversity map), defined as places with a high density of endemic species despite having lost over 70% of natural habitat.

These were, by number: 1: Atlantic Forest; 2: California Floristic Province; 3: Cape Floristic Region; 4: Caribbean Islands; 5: Caucasus; 6: Cerrado; 7: Chilean Winter Rainfall-Valdivian Forests; 8: Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa; 9: East Melanesian Islands; 10: Eastern Afromontane; 11: Forests of East Australia; 12: Guinean Forests of West Africa; 13: Himalaya; 14: Horn of Africa; 15: Indo-Burma; 16: Irano-Anatolian; 17: Japan; 18: Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands; 19: Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands; 20: Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany; 21: Mediterranean Basin; 22: Mesoamerica; 23: Mountains of Central Asia; 24: Mountains of Southwest China; 25: New Caledonia; 26: New Zealand; 27: Philippines; 28: Polynesia-Micronesia; 29: Southwest Australia; 30: Succulent Karoo; 31: Sundaland; 32: Tropical Andes; 33: Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena; 34: Wallacea; 35: Western Ghats and Sri Lanka.

The biodiversity hotspots amounted only to about two percent of the Earth’s surface, but they were home to a whopping 50% of plant species and 43% of vertebrates that could be found nowhere else. Again, there was a stunning correlation of biodiversity with culture, with the hotspots being home to 3,202 of the world’s languages.

Biodiversity is being lost, but what’s far worse is that the ability to express this loss is vanishing. For example, 1,553 of the languages in hotspots were spoken by only 10,000 or fewer people, and 544 were spoken by fewer than 1,000 people. Ironically, the American researchers who did this study are now regarded as experts on biodiversity, although the only real experts on how to maintain biodiversity in places occupied by humans are the world’s indigenous.

The logical conclusion to take from this study is that modern science, with all its sophisticated technology, is completely trumped by the thousands of years of experimentation by the world’s indigenous, although their findings have been transmitted by oral tradition and other simple means. To be fair, it isn’t so much the fault of modern science as the fault of the industrialized world, which worships power, greed, and the absurdity of exponential growth.

One cannot disdain all other living beings, grind mountains to extract minerals, build roads without a thought for habitat fragmentation, design gardens to please only human aesthetics, or harvest monocultures that serve solely human needs, and expect one’s world to continue for long. There is room for humans at Earth’s banquet, but only those who have lived in place long enough to have learned the contours of their terrain, the language of their plant and animal neighbors and, more than anything, the needs of non humans.

When a shaman leaves a lock of his hair where he has uprooted a medicinal cactus, it is not a bit of imbecility, but a humble acknowledgement that, for each living thing taken, one must give a bit of oneself, however small. For centuries humans have spilled their most beloved animals’ blood to the earth to acknowledge the cyclical aspects of life in preparation for battle and celebration of life’s milestones. These are not concepts that a pharmaceutical corporation could ever understand.

As for every other scientific report, this one concludes that yet more study will be needed, but what is needed, and urgently so, is more humility, because as the world’s indigenous cultures go, so does all humanity.

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