Friday, December 18, 2015

When Cognitive Dissonance Becomes Your Default Operating System

The Achilles' Heel of climate change is commonly known as "cognitive dissonance."  Wiki defines it as, "the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values."

The mountain of omni-disciplinary science we've amassed over the past 20-years has given us a clear, no make that blunt, warning of just what we're facing and what we're going to have to do if we're to avoid some utterly catastrophic outcomes.

Our leaders, of all stripes, say they get it but that's when they succumb to the paralysing effects of cognitive dissonance. Petro-state Canada affords a clear example of this.

We know that mankind and our civilization are not going to get through this century in any form we would today recognize unless we leave at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, untouched. We know that means we must promptly implement what the Potsdam Institute's Hans Joachim Schellnhuber calls an "induced implosion" of the world's fossil fuel industry. The only group who can induce that result are those in whose hands we have entrusted the levers of power, our political caste. This is particularly relevant to Canada which promotes the extraction and sale abroad of the world's most costly and carbon-intensive unconventional petroleum, bitumen.

Do you hear Rachel Notley, Brad Wall, Justin Trudeau, Rona Ambrose, even Elizabeth May advocating that we shut down the Tar Sands for the sake of our grandkids and all the grandkids around the world? That's cognitive dissonance. We can't do it. We won't.

What about the linked perils of over-consumption and overpopulation? Have you heard any leader in any country, China and India in particular, calling for a depopulation movement which, in the non-violence category, would mean some sort of mass sterilization? I haven't and I don't have any hope that I will.  What about advocacy for, as James Lovelock terms it "sustainable retreat," an immediate and major reduction in production and consumption, engineered negative GDP? I'm not hearing much on that score either.

Negative GDP invokes notions of recession or even another Great Depression. That's the way modern economies are organized. But market fundamentalism of the sort that prevails today is full of contradictions, falsehoods, half-truths and illogic. One of these is the delusion that today's global economy which has grown far beyond the boundaries of our planetary environment can simply and must continue to grow and that's for our benefit. Here's what that looks like in cartoon form:

You see, the environment defines the limits of our resources, especially our essential renewable resources - biomass, water and so on. Since the 70s we've been pretending that's not true. We've been consuming resources far beyond their natural recovery rate using nothing but parlour tricks. We have been defying gravity.

When we collapse a fish species, we just move to the next most desirable species and predate that. It's called "fishing down the food chain." Eventually you're left with stuff that nobody really wants to eat.

We keep our economy growing with ever more resort to groundwater, aquifers, that we're draining many times faster than their recharge rate. We're heading to "E" empty very rapidly.

We're even exhausting our farmland due to intensive agriculture dependent on ever greater applications of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and rapacious access to already dwindling supplies of groundwater. We strip so much out of once productive soil that we transform it into desert.

We, mankind, our species alone - consume so much of the Earth's renewable resources that we've caused stocks of all other living things, plant and animal, to decline by 50% over the past 40-years.

Here's the thing. All of these excessive behaviours are unsustainable. They're all self-destructive. And yet we're pursuing all of them at ever increasing rates. It's called GDP growth. We have reached a state of absolute dependency on steadily worsening behaviours that are completely and unavoidably nihilistic.

It's been estimated that there are enough renewable resources on our planet to sustain a global population of about three billion people at 1970s levels of consumption. Instead, our per capita consumption has spiraled even as our sheer numbers have grown to 7+ billion heading to 9-billion or more. Even today we see the Earth collapsing under the weight of our feet.

In the context of these unacknowledged companion challenges - overpopulation and over-consumption, our fight against climate change becomes a well-intentioned gesture that cannot possibly succeed much less avert the end of our civilization.

Here are some insights from Chris Hedges:

"The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not curtail extraction or impose hefty carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit the overconsumption that is the engine of global capitalism. They act as if the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases—the animal agriculture industry—does not exist. They siphon off trillions of dollars and employ scientific and technical expertise—expertise that should be directed toward preparing for environmental catastrophe and investing in renewable energy—to wage endless wars in the Middle East. What they airily hold out as a distant solution to the crisis—wind turbines and solar panels—is, as the scientist James Lovelock says, the equivalent of 18th-century doctors attempting to cure serious diseases with leeches and mercury. And as the elites mouth platitudes about saving the climate they are shoving still another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The TPP permits corporations to ignore nonbinding climate accords made at conferences such as the one in Paris, and it allows them, in secret trade tribunals, to defy environmental regulations imposed by individual states.

"New technology—fracking, fuel-efficient vehicles or genetically modified food—is not about curbing overconsumption or conserving resources. It is about ensuring that consumption continues at unsustainable levels. Technological innovation, employed to build systems of greater and greater complexity, has fragmented society into cadres of specialists. The expertise of each of these specialists is limited to a small section of the elaborate technological, scientific and bureaucratic machinery that drives corporate capitalism forward—much as in the specialized bureaucratic machinery that defined the genocide carried out by the Nazis. These technocrats are part of the massive, unthinking hive that makes any system work, even a system of death. They lack the intellectual and moral capacity to question the doomsday machine spawned by global capitalism. And they are in control.

"Civilizations careening toward collapse create ever more complex structures, and more intricate specialization, to exploit diminishing resources. But eventually the resources are destroyed or exhausted. The systems and technologies designed to exploit these resources become useless. Economists call such a phenomenon the “Jevons paradox.” The result is systems collapse.

"...The elites, trained in business schools and managerial programs not to solve real problems but to maintain at any cost the systems of global capitalism, profit personally from the assault. They amass inconceivable sums of wealth while their victims, the underclasses around the globe, are thrust into increasing distress from global warming, poverty and societal breakdown. The apparatus of government, seized by this corporate cabal, is hostile to genuine change. It passes laws, as it did for Denton, Texas, afterresidents voted to outlaw fracking in their city, to overturn the ability of local communities to control their own resources. It persecutes dissidents, along with environmental and animal rights activists, who try to halt the insanity. The elites don’t work for us. They don’t work for the planet. They orchestrate the gaiacide. And they are well paid for it."

You didn't ask to ride this tiger, not knowingly anyway, but that doesn't change the fact that you are well and truly astride the running beast that will turn and attack you the minute you fall off. The political caste, meanwhile, will be watching the spectacle from a temporarily safe distance. The big cats will be onto them eventually.


Dana said...

Evolutionary dead end.

The Mound of Sound said...

I so wish that wasn't true, Dana.

Toby said...

"Deep cuts and VAT bring ruin to UK solar industry"

chris said...

We are, as Dr. Box succinctly put it, fcked.

chris said...

Toby, welcome to Nova Scotia:

The Mound of Sound said...

Chris - I have written about a couple of experiences I've had with climate science types, both of them government scientists. While on the job they're all "we can still do this." It's when they're off the clock and you're having a couple of beers that it becomes "we're so screwed."

Jason Box, I'm sure you recall, never intended that remark for public consumption. He inadvertently let that cat out of the bag but he's never denied his conclusion either.

It's not easy but it remains important that we continue to fight the good fight even if we have no faith in fairy tale deliverance.

I expect we will confront all these challenges, eventually, because they'll find us even if we try to avoid them. What I fear is that, by the time we decide to act, the best options will have been long foreclosed.

Anonymous said...

It is psychology 101.
People do not want to hear truth, often a.k.a. "bad news."
Impossible to change, save for extreme shock...

Dana said...

Mound, best options have been off the table for a while now. We're left with adapting not preventing or even forestalling.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's "Thelma and Louise" with a dash of "Groundhog Day"

Anonymous said...

The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries.

FUture government subsidies will be paid for by carbon taxes..

chris said...

Thanks, Mound, I couldn't remember if his first name was Jason or Justin.

Yes, I know he didn't mean for that to be public.But, you know maybe he should have. If the scientists actually said what they think and how they feel about it maybe we'd have a better chance of fixing things. The public doesn't understand or care about radiative forcing confidence intervals and the like. But they do understand, "This really smart guy is very scared." Maybe then we'd see some real action but I won't hold my breath.

Guy McPherson has done that and been marginalised. I don't know that he's right (and I hope he isn't!) about the near-term extinction of humanity but he makes a very good argument.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Chris. I've written a couple of posts about McPherson and his apocalyptic views. At some level I accept his conclusions yet I can't bring myself to support them. Giving up is wrong. We have to keep hammering away at this and all the associated ills. We're not human if we don't. I understand the internal contradiction. It's why I came to join Dark Mountain. That's a place for those who are tired of the lies society tells itself about our environmental predicament but still choose to fight the good fight.

My attitude may change should I live long enough to have to witness death and displacement on a truly massive scale from those most vulnerable parts of our world that are in line to be the first and worst victims of the excesses of the developed world.

Northern PoV said...

"cognitive dissonance"
Methinks you've got it backwards.....

The cognitive dissonance is at the retail level:
I'm OK. You're OK. Weather is weather and always changes. (ie we do not experience "climate")

Short of something like massive/abrupt sea level changes, we are lobsters in a pot. Real action=political suicide for the list you posted.

The real question is not so much mitigation and/or reversal. It is (imo) 'Will we attempt to adapt as a species to a radically changed planet while governed collectively/socially or ruled by warlords?'

Dana said...

We experience climate in our closets.

I live in North Vancouver. I own no long underwear. If I lived in Winnipeg I'd have more than one pair. Ditto a parka here, parka there.

Hugh said...

BC has had a carbon tax and GHG reduction targets since 2008. Gasoline and diesel slaes have not really gone down since then, you can search here:

In BC the plan is to grow the economy, keep building bridges, export coal and LNG, etc.

chris said...

I agree, Mound, giving up is wrong. But it's hard not to when people like McPherson lay out the facts. At least we know what we're up against.

I've added Dark Mountain to my bookmarks so I will no longer confuse it with the Dark Enlightenment ;-)