Confronting our Mortality and Gaining Inner Strength
Part II (Conclusion)

In part I, a familiar paradox about our reactions to bad medical news was discussed: the well known fact that if we have face five difficult (but non-fatal) diseases we can easily succumb to panic or despair, while on the other hand many people who are told they have a terminal disease do, in fact --often after initial panic, denial, and anger-- reach a point of _Calm_ and move on with their life in a more thoughtful, balanced, even enlightened way -- from which constructive action can emerge.

When we face our worst fears about the world, something similar can happen. Unfortunately, at this point in time it is not merely fears but the facing the quite probable arrows headed humanity's way. Still, through a similar process we can gain a calmer perspective that allows us to do what one does when a natural disaster is coming our way, when we don't have time for the luxury of panic, or being depressed: we take action to prepare for it; we help ourselves and as many others as possible survive; we work to help society survive and do as well as possible during the cataclysm. In the case of climate change and other arrows already starting to hit us, we must also do as much as possible to help society avoid an endless string of such disasters, which requires a change society's trajectory and the basics of how it operates.

Here then, are just a few sets of data points to put the coming disasters into sharper focus -- and in so doing putting the disastrous policies of the Bush regime in perspective and in context so we can "Step back from it all" Following this, some comments about what it might mean to prepare, in a constructive and positive way, for the disasters in the coming years and decades.

As George Monbiot notes, the already serious climate disruptions we are seeing around us come after an increase of "only" 0.6 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree F) in average global temperature last century. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], an open scientific peer review process of unprecedented scale, has concluded, and the scientific consensus generally is that we can expect by 2100 an increase of from 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius. That is, an increase in planet Earth's average temperature by up to not twice or three times but *ten times* the increase that's already causing visible disruptions.

As if that wasn't sobering enough, recent studies suggest soot in the atmosphere, which is decreasing --a good thing given the literally millions of premature deaths and asthma it causes-- may be temporarily masking global warming. If so, the range by 2100 could be as much as 7 to 10 degrees Celsius higher -- that's a mind-boggling 13 to almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher -- and is something that would cause not just massive direct disruptions in weather, flooding, etc, but would put into question whether our food systems needed to feed 6.4 billion people could even continue. Notes Monbiot "We are not contemplating the end of holidays in Seville. We are contemplating the end of the circumstances which permit most human beings to remain on earth" [3].

Equally if not even more ominous are recent studies of the largest ever extinction on planet Earth. This extinction, far more severe than that which killed off the dinosaurs some 70 million years ago, was during the Permian period. The Permian extinction now appears to have been related to runaway global warming that began to feed on itself and accelerate until it stabilized after a severe, sudden burst of warming. The burst was quick enough to wipe out 90% [sic] of all living things of the Earth. How much warming in that burst? The science is now fairly precise: about 6 degrees C [4], exactly the top of the pre-soot scenario range and at the bottom of the worse soot-based range of warming by 2100.

But it could be still worse. The study about how our temporary soot screen might by 2100 mean even more extreme climate disruption (euphemistically, "warming"), does not take into account "runaway global warming" possibilities such as those involving methane hydrates. These would release more methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere as the climate warms (I'll be happy to send upon request the several recent serious studies I've come across which appear to suggest such "global warming feeding on itself" positive feedback loops are already happening [5]). How many Americans are aware of any of these dramatic findings and the threats (to use the term of the American Academy of Science) they present?

More recently -- although this hasn't made the front page headlines either -- the news is now that many of the world's major cities will *probably* be submerged due to global warming. Think I am joking? In December of 2003 Deutche Welle ran a story on a then recently released report by the German Advisory Council on Climate Change, the official group of top scientists appointed by the German government to advise it [6]. The report referred to the expected temperature rise by 2100 predicted by the majority of climate scientists and the IPCC, stating, reported Deutche Welle, that:

"Should this happen, 'dangerous climatic changes' will become 'highly probable,' according to a recent report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change. The West Antarctic ice sheet and the Greenland ice cap would begin melting and eventually lead to a rise in sea levels of up to nine meters (30 feet). London, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo, among others, would be largely submerged as a result, according to the government body's report"

This paragraph later disappeared.When I contacted Deutche West and requested an explanation I received a very terse one line email from the Editor that they had "misconstrued" what the scientists said; [6] now has an editor's comment stating there is an omission, but without quoting the now-deleted paragraph. Of course, I'd hate to suggest that politics or "keeping the public from panic" has ever, ever had anything to do with government or media PR.

Well, we no longer have to wait to find out if Deutche Welle has anything to confess to. As our local (Republican) representative recently stated at a screening of "We Are All Smith Islanders", scientists believe that passing a carbon dioxide [CO2] level of 500 parts per million is the point beyond which we are courting disaster; global CO2 levels had ranged between 180 and 280 ppm (parts per million) and are now at a whopping 380ppm.

The story continues. We can now turn to no less a source than Professor Sir David King, the UK government's leading scientist, to have it confirmed that if warming temperatures one day melted the Greenland ice cap that would mean global sea levels would ultimately rise by 6-7 meters (or 19 to 22 feet!) and as to "Is there a point where the melting becomes irreversible?" the answer is "Yes, there is. When the temperature around Greenland is 2.7 C above the pre-industrial level - that is the tipping point" and that "We're already 0.6C above it" meaning we have 2.1 C to go before we are courting disaster. [7]

But as Stephen Leahy reports [8] the IPCC scientific consensus is that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 "is almost certain [sic] to reach 540 ppm sometime in the next 40 to 50 years" and that "without major changes in energy technology, CO2 levels could reach 800 to 1,000 ppm before the end of the century". That's right, not 500 ppm but reaching an estimated 540 ppm and not by 2100 but by circa 2050, is an "almost certain" outcome.

Hence, putting 2 and 2 together, it is "almost certain" (an assessment which most likely came before the last two year's massive increase in fossil fuel burning by China and India along with accelerated use by the US) that what? It is "almost certain" that we WILL reach a level of CO2 (namely 500 ppm) at which point, melting of the above described massive scale will be triggered and become impossible to prevent, and, as top scientists tell us, this irreversible melting would, not immediately, but over decades to centuries, would unavoidably cause a 20 foot increase in sea levels. Surely enough to "largely submerge" many cities, one can say without a city planner's map (though additional research on what exactly 20 feet would do to NYC would be nice). Other sources suggest even this may be under-estimating how close we are to the cliff [9]. Readers may view the maps at the National Geographic link in [8] of a 3 (not 30) foot rise and their effects on Florida, to put a rise of 5, 10, 20, or even 30 feet into perspective.

So: it is time to make peace with the fact -- not to give up the fight against it, but to realistically make peace with the high likelihood of -- the fact that according to our best science the submersion of much of New York City, New Orleans, London, Tokyo and other major cities _will_ become a historical fact when future history books are written. There are ample reasons why we may be under-estimating what will happen: as noted, the models do not even include feedback mechanisms like the release of methane as methane hydrates melt in a warming world, other feedback mechanisms, and last but not least, the ferocious "growth based" demand for more and more oil, particularly in the last two years. (See also the short piece in Caltech News listed in [9] on the not impossible scenario of the Earth turning into a scorching Venus-like planet making (most of) life, certainly human life, impossible).

It is this last fact in particular -- the economic model which forces upon us endless growth forever -- which has convinced me that while we can and should work to minimize the damage, avoiding significant global warming disasters is very unlikely. To be more precise, this perspective is gained from a string of articles about how dire another problem is, Peak Oil (e.g. and These articles about peak oil describe in detail how disastrous for our (sick) economic system a mere 0% cut in growth (that is flat levels of oil usage) or a cut of a few percent in oil usage would be. The best researched of these articles discuss --convincingly-- how vastly unprepared industrial society and the political-economic nexus linked to it are, for the coming oil shocks which will happen by 2010 and quite possibly much sooner, when supply cannot keep up with demand.

It's easy to see why it's hard to be optimistic; trying to do so, Monbiot mused, "Perhaps, just perhaps, humanity will, almost for the first time in history, do something before it's too late" [10].

This is not merely recreational pessimism: anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time reviewing not merely the "hard numbers" of oil depletion but the analysis and economic/political background in such articles [11] about how very, very far society is from being prepared to deal with oil peak. That is: how very, very far society is from being prepared for a 0% cut(that is no growth), or for a small few-percent decline due to depletion. It makes the climate change informed reader want to shout at the author of such peak oil pieces, "I agree with you, friend, but what the hell does this say about humanity's unpreparedness for the 50-70% massive cuts scientists tell us the world must make (meaning close to 90% cuts for e.g. the U.S.) in order to avoid *catastrophe*-scale climate disasters?!?"

In fact, such peak oil articles describe how hard our mainstream economy and industries are working already, resisting with everything they can, with all their might, to avoid having to face an "end to growth" in available energy -- our growth-based economy cannot handle such a scenario without reeling from crisis to crisis. What does this say, then, for how able our economic system is to deal with the cuts in energy usage needed to avoid disaster? (Note: if we doubled solar and wind, then doubled them again, then doubled them again, we'd still have a miniscule part of our energy coming from these sources. They are important, but cannot be ramped up on time to avoid a crisis. Nor should we celebrate a crisis of our economic system as automatically leading to a more enlightened one; fascism (as we are already seeing) among other alternatives even less palatable are quite possible, perhaps probable, unless we are able steer the boat in other directions).

Added 11/26/04 day after first post: amidst such a long list of reasons why it's unlikely cliamte disasters will be averted a more obvious reason was neglected: the move to increase usage of coal (as oil peaks) that is likely and already underway....

(News Flash: We are currently headed for not even hitting Kyoto's target of a 5% cut over 1990 by 2010, not even a 0% cut, but a 10% increase [12])

Readers needing one more reason for a less than optimistic prognosis about the system's likelihood to respond, need only read the excerpt in [2] from Hegemony or Survival or the author's observation how time and time again throughout human history, elites chose the former, Hegemony, and were very happy to risk their own survival and that of millions of others (e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis).

It's perhaps enough to remember that corporate capitalism is not a conspiracy, however. It's not merely an evil system, it's an incredibly blind and stupid one. Just look at the "beef" industry which for years refused to listen to the food safety activists who warned of a Mad Cow outbreak. For merely a miniscule few pennies per pound this industry -- without caring one bit about human health or cow welfare, but caring only about their own profits -- could have saved itself the far larger cost to its profits when the Dec 2003 outbreak occurred. So why didn't it take steps? In part, their own memos suggest they did not want to create a "precedent of being ruled by activists" but it goes deeper: it is not merely profits but *short* term profits (next Quarter's results) to which the capitalists are, themselves, slaves. These "slave" capitalists are therefore not only unable to act morally towards the planet, they can't even do so to save their own skins, and _that_ is the sobering realization when we think about "climate change" (a euphemism for climate disruption on our planet).

After all changing meat industry standards is a tiny, miniscule flea in comparison to the leviathan, indeed, the ocean of change that a complete re-structuring of society would require in terms of a 50-70% cut in the use of fossil fuels and the massive cuts in overall energy use this would entail. Much less to do so on the short time scale we have not only before oil peak hits, but also before graver still climate disasters may strike, particularly given the tiny percent renewables play in the energy mix halfway through the first decade of the 21st century. What snowball's chance in hell is there for "painful now, but in our own capitalist best interest long-term" decisions when they can't even do it for far smaller ones as in the cattle industry example?

To recap before moving to positive action: it's time we faced the reality that corporate capitalism is not only an incredibly formidable amoral adversary, but also that it is too stupid to even protect itself, simply too blind and stupid to be counted on to save its own skin (let alone our collective skins. One thinks of the AIDS virus for an example of stupidity and strength going hand in hand: it is, counter-intuitively,the very "stupidity" of the virus, namely that it is very sloppy and inaccurate, and making lots of mistakes as it copies itself, which we call "mutations", which make it very difficult to combat. The analogy is in many ways not a good one, but is mentioned here not to suggest a close analogy, but only to remind us of the more general fact that stupidity does not necessarily make an enemy or a danger, easy/easier to stop).

Of course politicians' reactions will be "too little, too late" but more than that, fundamentally, the system will simply never be able to do enough: it will go from "managing" one disaster (or set of disasters) to "managing" the next; unfortunately this will include NYC and many other cities being devastated, and much else, no doubt, that we cannot even imagine. And this will happen without this system making the fundamental self-changes that are needed until it is far past too late. Some of this will happen in our lifetimes; much else will happen beyond the lifetimes of those reading this in 2004. Worldwide devastation will continue and in some ways accelerate (though, due to heroic action by citizen activists everywhere, it will be less damaging than otherwise, and the seeds of reversing the tide will be planted).

These seeds are what we need to remember when, thinking of the above, we may feel like curling up in a fetal position and rocking back and forth (Or seeking others for a group fetal curl. Not that human warmth and hugs are a bad thing, far from it). These seeds are what we can plant now, so that when the current body politic (and parts of the planet with it) withers and dies, people will have alternatives. They will not merely have a vacuum, and will have an alternative to worse systems (e.g. fascism). Our work can ensure we and future citizens of this Earth have the seeds of, and some tools for, a brighter future, one that is saner, more humane, more livable, in balance, peaceful, and green -- a positive future that is not merely "worth dying for" but that is worth _living_ for.

Yes, realizing the awesome dimensions and pathos of what the human race faces, does make it a bit easier to deal with the blood pressure rises which are due to the latest machinations of the proto-Fascist Bush II regime. Partly because understanding that the ape-descendants of that regime, with all their machinations, they too are 'slaves' to their own ideology means there are other ways for us to react, other than merely reacting with hate or anger (though sadness is certainly called for and some anger is only human, and healthy, to express).

Allowing ourselves to fully see this pathos can free us from (most of) the hate-and-anger traps and let us mourn at this Globe-wide pathos that our infant-species, homo sapiens, still so far from morally growing up is in, tied up in the corporate capitalist system which will not willingly give up its own "drinking habit" even though the habit is killing this system just as it kills the planet. And having mourned, we come to place of some peace, able to step back, take a deep breath, let out a sigh, in a deep exhale, and take it all in, allowing a deeper and wider perspective to come to us, from which to act.

Which Directions Forward Then..?

I cannot claim to have this perspective all figured out, far from it. However, as suggested in part I, we do not have the luxury of starting to build the alternative society "after" the present one collapses. We need to start building it now, first and foremost, because time is short. Secondly, because humanity *deserves* these "lifeboats" -- our new economic, social, and cultural institutions and ways of living -- to be in place, so fascism and other calamities are not what replace corporate capitalism, so misery is minimized and positive, healing solutions are spread we widely as possible. The time for planting those seeds is now. Let them spread like dandelion seeds blown away...some will get lost, some will not get planted, but many will bring forth flowers, bushes, magnificent trees, and entire social ecosystems, as we look into the future.

The time has nearly come to end this essay, and so the collection of seeds is outlined here in synopsis. A New Culture is just as needed as a new economic-political order (and many other new things); and we focus on the economic-political merely because that is the subject of this essay, and because there are still, very important seeds to be created in the economic arena -- seeds which are absolutely necessary to free ourselves from the corporate machine and its suicidal path.

In short, we need to remove the economic gun pointed at our heads. This is the gun that says, "cooperate with the system, live within it, or you will die, starve, or live in miserable poverty"

Given this gun, the "choice" people have of working within corporate capitalism or not is no choice at all. Further, creating alternatives is a powerful way to become strong enough and independent enough to challenge the system in other ways. It also helps us learn 'what works' through action and experimentation. It helps us stop "feeding the tiger" and by creating attractive alternatives, some day, millions, tens of millions of others can stop feeding the corporate capitalist tiger because more and more of the economic gun will have been removed from their heads, so they will be able to survive economically and live without feeding this system.

What do we need to do to remove that gun?

We must, in short, be able to meet the key material human needs outside the system. The primary ones are food and energy, shelter, health care, health insurance, and currencies of exchange; and there are also media/communication, appropriate levels of necessary transportation; child-care, elder-care, education, and retirement income.

Permaculture, de-centralized renewable energy, intentional communities (and networks thereof like the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and innovative low cost homes [13] are some very important seeds that, while still growing, and needing to grow, are already small plants, so we will not dwell of them here. For local currencies, a good start is

Creating democratic media with audience size in the millions is absolutely critical. How could roughly half the voting public vote for the most criminal (towards others) and insane (bad for Americans, too) regime in memory? When you are brainwashed (it's hard to think of a softer term here) and you are convinced that 1+1=15 then it's not that Americans _knowingly_ support the horrible, but rather that unless we have a really democratic and free media, no matter _what_ Bush does -- he can even kill a baby LIVE on TV with his bare hands -- the American people (or half or them or many) will believe he did it to save us from evil (or some other insane "1+1=37"). The projects section of and the "Webcast" and "On Funding" articles are some of the author's activist strategy pieces on these areas. Still, the idea of creating our own media is gaining wider and wider acceptance.

Less established but no less important are ways of providing health care (e.g. community clinics, Patch Adam's work and the like) and for providing health insurance outside of the corporate sphere. And even outside of government. Yes, keep demanding single payer, but realize this may be still yet many decades away, if not ever receding into the horizon, and we deserve something better in place, today. As well, we gain more leverage over government --and what corporate-linked government giveth, it can take away, to paraphrase Paul Glover-- by creating our own health insurance system. Everyone should look into the Ithaca Health Fund at least as a model, and should seriously consider joining it, as it covers people outside of Ithaca as well (

For retirement income, the continued attacks on society security, and continued risks of a declining value for the US dollar alone argue for putting a citizen's democratically run retirement system in place. A proposal is at under "Alternative Economics & Business" and called A Workable Transition to Democratic Retirement Systems.

Another copy is at the projects listing in under G-1, linking to

Update: In summer 2004, I visited Ithaca for a week, and on the last day I met with Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca Hours (local currency that is one of the prime models in the US) and the Ithaca Health Fund ( in person at his residence. We finalized agreement on combining ideas in my essay with his own WISE (Whole Ithaca Stock Exchange idea. My proposal looks at the retirement side of the coin, while WISE looks at the community investment side of the same coin. Glover, one of the most talented community activists I know of in this country, is willing to spend a good part of a year launching what I've tentatively called WISE Equity Community Annuity Notes (WE*CAN) if $20,000 in investments are received. We have $2,200 committed and need to raise another $17,800. Note: Under this proposal, the original investors like us have no advantages: every one has the same vote, one vote, everyone earns the same return on each $1 invested (An outline of WISE is at

Another reason for the critical importance of such a project is that such a system would also be a microcosm experiment for _all_ community based, democratic "income security" measures for everyone: not just those who happen to be retired. As noted "people deserve better", but we also need something "to replace the current system" and that "something" needs to be built now, not "after the wreckage" -- if the "wreckage" comes, by then, it will be a bit too late to just start to build the alternative, or to convince the public to pay attention to our own proposals. Strategically, one of the best ways to attack the current system may not be to "attack" it at all, but to build positive alternatives. That may be the only way to weaken the system, to give people alternative institutions to plug into, so they can stop "feeding the tiger" of the current "Corporate Feudalist" system. This proposal on Democratic Retirement Systems tries to do that for retirement income.

I would be pleased to send anyone interested the current draft Investor's Agreement for the WE*CAN retirement system, and input is welcome on changes/additions that would make people more likely and happier to invest. I can be contacted at h[at] if you think you might be interested in investing or related projects.