Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is It Insane If We All Do It?

We are seriously mentally ill, as individuals and as a society.  If you don't believe it, just look at all the self-destructive things we do, often with a sense of achievement and invariably without thinking them through.

A fellow by the name of Jim Harris writes that modern economics is a form of pathology.  He notes how furiously we're working to liquidate our natural capital, rebranding it "income" and congratulating ourselves for our wonderful success.

Jim's right when you give it just a little thought.   If resources are non-renewable why are we so intent on depleting them to the point of exhaustion?   What of future generations who might have some need for them?   Is that just their tough luck?   Should we leave them a note saying "Sorry but we sucked out your country's resources because we could.  By the way, would you mind looking after those deficits we bequeathed to you?"

We play this very game with our bitumen pits.  Our Tar Sands boosters proclaim bitumen to be (to quote Ignatieff) the "beating heart" of the Canadian economy for the 21st century.   Without the Tar Sands we're what, nothing?  Just a bigger Albania?  We have all this education and all this wealth, especially from our renewable resources, but we're defining ourselves by a sludgy hydrocarbon?

Been doing a bit of reading lately about consumerism and consumption and if you want any proof that we're mad, there's plenty to be had in that discussion.

University of Colorado epidemiologist and behavioural scientist, Warren Hern, has formulated a theory that mankind's burgeoning population and ever increasing consumption footprint is creating conditions that operate very much as a malignancy on the planet.  We have, as a species, become a cancer or at least replicate all four main characteristics of malignancy:

-  Rapid, uncontrolled growth;
-  Invasion and destruction of adjacent normal tissues;
-  De-differentation (loss of distinctiveness of individual components); and,
-  Metastasis to different sites.

"The human species is a rapacious, predatory, omniecophagic species engaged in a global pattern of converting all available plant, animal, organic and inorganic matter into either human biomass or into adaptive adjuncts of human biomass.   This is an epiecopathological process that is both immediately and ultimately ecocidal."

It's madness, to be sure, but does that mean our leadership will even speak to it much less do anything about it?  Hardly.  It's not for want of intelligence.  It's not for want of education.  They have those qualities in abundance.  No, their deficiencies are far worse and far more dangerous.   They're wanting in courage and in decency and that goes for the lot of them.

They still rely on consumerism to fuel our economic engine and they harness that engine in the insane pursuit of perpetual growth.  We're not only adding massively more people but we're adding massively more people with ever greater consumption patterns.  That's our malignancy.

We live in a deranged world dedicated to the cause of maximizing consumption and growth for the purpose of constantly increasing production and growth.   We grow so that we can grow ever larger, ever faster.   That sounds awfully malignant, doesn't it?

Can you imagine putting a moratorium on the depletion of non-renewable resources?   What if we were to place those non-renewables in trust for future generations?   What if we said we've been depleting those resources so rapaciously for the past two generations that we've had our share and what remains is rightly the property of generations of Canadians yet to come?   That would be denounced as heresy, madness, perhaps even treasonous.  I can't think of a reason why it should, of a single moral argument that could be maintained against it.   Yet I know - as do you - that the mere suggestion of these things would elicit nothing but indignation and outrage.   That's what mad people do.


JGL said...

As always, an interesting post.

By coincidence, a cartoon in the UK satirical magazine, 'Private Eye' (No. 1342, 14 June-27 June 2013) depicts three delegates at the G8 Summit with one speaking into a microphone. The caption is:
"What have future generations ever done for us?"...
Hmm, I guess that could sum our current psychopathology up...

Thank you for your efforts in maintaining this blog!

Richard said...

Excellent post! This is what I've been trying to draw attention to all this time! :)

So happy to see more Canadians pursuing this topic.

Anonymous said...

The key is a population growth. Control of it was popular in the 60's but it fell out of use for a very "practical" reason. Growth in population of consumers is good for business.
And humans have the urge (as every other animal) to reproduce. Even THE most prominent environmentalist from Kitsilano is affected, as he has 5 kids. With 2 wives, given, but still too much if he is doing what he preaches.

Addressing of those two pillars of population growth is a challenge beyond our current grasp and ability.

Après moi, le déluge ?

theo said...

Yes, there is quite an argument to be made that Humanity as it currently exists, is a malignancy. Since about 1970 I have been of the opinion that one of reasons for our existence is to field stress every other life form on the planet. Our ultimate overlords, bacteria, have little to fear as current superbugs show their hand. The planet, and Mother Nature, really doesn’t give a farthing who survives because Life, as long as the planet doesn’t turn into a hellhole like Venus or a desiccant like Mars will always rise up to exist. Our greatest strengths, inquisitiveness and the ability to cooperate have been sublimated by the desires for power and control, practiced most efficiently by corporations and religion. Long term thinkers (but sociopaths none the less) like the Chinese are in the ascendancy courtesy of the global corporate hegemony. I see their way around the problem of destruction of their enemies as a biological one. Nuclear destruction, of course, is always on the table but it might very very well destroy the entire technological global infrastructure that currently exists and if we do destroy it, that we very likely not be able to rebuild it. I think one way to lessen Humanity’s footprint on the world is through biological warfare and from the little I have gleaned, I think the Chinese and the Americans are working on those avenues of thought. Bird Flu anyone?

Alison said...

Can you imagine putting a moratorium on the depletion of non-renewable resources? What if we were to place those non-renewables in trust for future generations?

Like they did in Norway, where the oil reserves are owned by the state and the plan is to leave half the stuff in the ground for future generations.

"When oil was discovered in the Norwegian continental shelf in 1969, Norway was very aware of the finite nature of petroleum, and didn’t waste any time legislating policies to manage the new-found resource in a way that would give Norwegians long-term wealth, benefit their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter.

This is in contrast to Canada’s free-market approach, he contends, where our government is discouraged from long-term public planning, in favour of allowing the market to determine the pace and scope of development."

Purple library guy said...

I hesitate to raise a bright side, but population growth is slowing. It wasn't our glorious leaders' idea, indeed everywhere population becomes static or starts to shrink there's all kinds of doom and gloom from the establishment about it. But it's happening anyway.

Hopefully our numbers will peak soon, before we've quite finished ruining everything.

Onceler said...

" I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads"

- The Onceler, Dr Suess - The Lorax

The Mound of Sound said...

@JGL and Richard - many years ago Bill Moyers produced a multi-part documentary series on "Posterity", the role it once played in advancing our society and how it lapsed into irrelevance in the postwar era. The recognition of posterity as a proper element of planning and policy had been deemed essential. Without it we have been free to descend into consumption madness.

@ Anon. Unfortunately, population growth is only part of our dilemma. In the post-war era, the U.S. population has swelled by a hundred million plus. That hundred million, however, due to their resource consumption, approximated a billion Indians in global footprint. Now, due to their emerging economic ascendancy, we're adding a brand new "world" of middle class consumers all vying for the same, limited asset pool.

Sort of makes the case for Canada husbanding our own resources, no?

@ Theo. Yes, mankind's power to cooperate has been superceded by our quest to compete which has fueled our insane pursuit of illusory wealth. Modern America illustrates a tumultuous but steady state "bubble economy" in which wealth is largely notional, i.e. the "Dot Com Bubble" even while debt is as real and hard as concrete.

@ Alison - yes, I had Norway in mind as I wrote this piece. Norway not only has amassed a huge, sovereign wealth fund to benefit future generations but the country has wisely decided that the fund would not invest in Norway itself.

That sounds counterintuitive but it reflects the warnings the people of Alberta were given by Peter Lougheed. Norway knows that injecting that wealth into their own economy would simply overheat it and much of the wealth would boil off. Lougheed warned of precisely the same thing. Yet today some 30% of Alberta's budget spending is dependent on Tar Sands royalties as the province is repeatedly whipsawed in boom & bust cycles of their own making.

That classic Alberta bumper sticker says it all - "Dear God, give us just one more oil boom and, this time, we promise we won't piss it all away."

@ PLG - yes I saw that item on population growth slowing. As a civilization, we're already seriously overstretched. The Global Footprint Network has done invaluable work in assessing each country's ecological assets and consumption. Most nations run significant eco-deficits. The wealthy ones import resources but it produces a situation in which mankind is eating its "seed corn." This is manifest in the collapse of global fisheries and is visible to the naked eye from space in forms such as desertification, deforestation, pollution and the collapse of lakes and rivers.

Canada is one of just three or four northern hemisphere countries that is not in ecological deficit. All of the others are also northern countries.

You can find more at

@ Oncelor. Would that we could have political leadership as wise as Dr. Seuss.

Anyong said...

When my adoped (though born in Englnd) country through my father, that of Newfoundland and Labrador, was occupied by Canada by means of a constitutional coup with the help of Great Britain in 1949, the Canadian Government saw fit to divy up Newfoundland & Labrador....that was Mr. King, Mr. St. Laurent and Mr. Deff. It arranged for the USSR to purchase wheat from the western provinces by selling fishing rights of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Alberta was one of those provinces and at the time, 1950-60's, receiving payments from the Federal Government to keep its head above water. Alberta did not become wealthy until oil and most pronounced, the Tar Sands. The province that enabled Alberta not to starve and which did not have ANY say in how the fishery would be hacked into sections for foreign countries and called everything under the sun from stupid to poor which is was NOT. Nfld has been treated as third class citizens by Alberta. When Nfld became part of Canada, we lost everything. Two ships which sailed to England twice a week, two ferries to Boston every week. We lost control of the iron ore in Labrador as well as Churchill Falls and our surplus of money in 1949. Later, the train was removed track and all. It at the time in 1949 served everyone with sterling silver cutlery. Korea was encouraged to build a factory in Ont with the reward of fishing rights off the Grand Banks. Quebec reaped the revenues from Churchill Falls and we got to get the upkeep. We get 40% from the off shore oil while Exxon gets the rest. During the Great War, Newfoundland gave Britain its bank account. In 1933, Newfoundland found itself without a bank account and Britain took away our Government and we did not get it back ...ever! Newfoundland was not given the right to negociate its own terms. But still we grew a surplus of funds and by 1949 it disappeared. Alberta in all its wisdom always complaining about how they are treated...that is the biggest joke ever. It goes to show just what Albertans truly know about this country of theirs and why Danny Williams turned the flag upside down and flew it half mast. Newfoundland & Labrador are not LEGAL within this country...still to this day.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I really don't know how to respond to your screed. N&L are "not legal" within this country? What in hell does that mean? Is the province somehow illegal?

And I don't know where you got the fanciful notion that N&L was flush before the province was waylaid into Confederation. Everything I have read indicates, as a colony, the place was an unwelcome drain on the British treasury, one that Westminster was eager to unload.

Can you recall the reasons that Newfoundland was compelled to give "Britain its bank account"?

As for Alberta, I'm not sure I would call it "wealthy" today. It has a boom and bust cycle economy and a government that funds one dollar out of three of its spending from unreliable Tar Sands royalties. Booms can create an illusion of wealth but the bust cycles reveal the deception.

In any event I'm not sure what your venting has to do with the point of this article.

Anyong said...

Mr. is relevant to your reminded me of how Alberta likes to play the high hand as if it is so vertuous, it has never accepted help from anyone and has made its own way tried and true. Yes..after the war Westminister was egar to unload but Mr. Churchill did not want any talk of Newfoundland ending up in the hands of the US...and Mr. Churchill wanted to unload due to the fact they couldn't look after themselves after the II WW and he thought Newfoundland would become a burden. Mr. Churchill had many thoughts of that the ship they were going to build of ice in the Province of Alberta so the Germans couldn't see the allies. And Mr. MOS, Gwynne Dyer knows all about Newfoundland & Labrador but I doubt if you personally know him...perhaps no...but he does know like all Newfoundlanders know. Newfoundland was in the black when the Great War began and again in 1949 but no one...that means no one, knows where the accumulated money went at the time of confederation. Thing is, Newfoundland had been promised if it got it books in order, London would restore Responsible Government. Nfld was not given that respectful consideration due to the fact, Newfoundland wanted an economic alliance with the US and Mr. Churchill was scared of it. He would rather see the Cross Roads of the World be handled by Canada. Newfoundland & Labrador came into Canada on a vote which was 58% for Responsible Government and 48% for Confederation which my father voted for. As soon as the ballots were counted they were burned...a rather oddd thing to do since it was an historical event. Yes Mr. MOS, Newfoundlanders saved Alberters neck by the Canadian Gov. giving Russia the right to fish off the Grand Banks unchecked for the purchase of wheat at a time when the Western Provinces were in dyer need. There were many, many other agreements as well and is one of the reasons why the fishery died in Newfoundland. I always thought highly of Mr. Pearson but not any more. It was very underhanded in the way Newfoundland was brought into was indeed a constitutional coup. I highly recommended a book "Don't Tell The Newfoundlanders"....a very, very good read. One other point, when I asked my father about the events in Newfoundland in 1949, he was very much aware how the Country had voted even though he voted for Confederation. And what of Mr. Smallwood...well, we all know he wanted one thing!! However, MOS because you haven't heard this before doesn't mean every Newfoundlander doesn't know about it. It is about time the rest of the country knew just how Newfoundland & Labrador were illegally forged into Canada. It's time the story was told.

Paul Morrison said...

There was another recent cartoon showing some business types around a table, and the CEO is saying something along the lines of, "Yes, we know the end of the world is coming, but there are some excellent business opportunities to be had just before it happens".