RN: facing eco-collapse and preparing for it


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,                      Oct. 20

I think you will find the two message from Paul Isaacs (below) and a
subsequent bit of dialogue between Paul and I interesting, if maybe a bit
discouraging too, but our outlook is indeed pretty grim.

all the best, Jan

From: Paul Isaacs <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 1999 23:08:53 -0500

On 28-Aug-99, Richard K. Moore wrote:
{ snip }

>I agree with your proposals:
>  >1) an ongoing critique of the shortcomings of the current system
>  >2) proposals for an alternative system or systems.

>But it seems to me these must eventually lead to organizing and
>mobilization - not just migration of mindset - if anything is going to


Things ARE going to change. The current system is going to collapse

Just for starters:

- global warming
- ozone depletion
- deforestation
- lack of fresh water, by 2025 demand for water will be 50% greater than the
global fresh water supply
- 25% loss of global topsoil in the last 50 years
- pervasive pollution
- an exponentially growing human population
- 2 billion people dependent on industrially fixed nitrogen fertilizers for
their food
- the world will have to create 30 million jobs per year for the next 50 years
to employ the growing population
- oil production peaking peaking in about 2005
- the loss of ocean fisheries
- 2 million dead, 20 million infected with AIDS in Africa, a 20 year drop in
life expectancy
- a similar drop in life expectancy in Russia
- antibiotic resistant bacterial strains
- an expanding underclass in the "advanced" countries
- a wildly speculative economy on a global scale
- a "system" rendered increasing brittle by the elimination of redundancies in
the name of "productivity" and "competitiveness"
- mega-mergers making an already brittle system even more so

Every one of these "problems" has to be considered serious. Together they will
be devastating.

My guestimates are: absolute certainty of collapse within 25 years, probable
collapse within 10 years, possible collapse within 5 years. 

There is no time for mobilization. That time is now past. We are going to
crash because we are now out of time and out of options.

The only question is one of how to respond to the stripping of every last one
of the gears in the current "machine" that you describe. 

The moral imperative is attempting to limit the number of dead.

The critical moment is the moment of collapse. At that instant people need to
have been prepared with alternatives. We are in the position of having to
create a global "emergency preparedness plan".


Paul Isaacs
From: Paul Isaacs <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 00:06:44 -0500

On 01-Oct-99, Richard K. Moore wrote:

{ snip }

>I honestly think we've reached a point of diminishing returns with reform
>ideas.  The question that needs our attention more is _how we can bring
>about significant system reforms, of whatever kind.  If we don't start
>turning the Titanic around right now, it doesn't matter what great plans we
>have for refurbishing it.

It is already too late. We are going to hit the iceberg and the consequences
are going to be dire.

{ snip }

>The current regime is like a well-defended fortress.  No small foray,
>however noble or clever, is going to bring it down.  And until it is
>brought down, it exercises near-total power over most of the globe.  Trying
>to influence it, or reform it, is like throwing stones against the fortress
>walls.  There is no incremental path to a better world, not at this point
>in history.  Not while the globalization process is rapidly consolidating
>elite power into a single world government, a government of by and for the
>corporate elite.

The fortress is going to collapse on its own. The Titanic analogy is not quite
accurate. We are going to the bottom because capitalism is blowing holes in
the hull. The "corporate elite" are sinking their own ship.

{ snip }

>My point here is that movements _can arise, they _can be massive, they _can
>somehow cultivate a shared understanding of their objectives, they _can
>overcome obstacles, and they _can be rather radical in their objectives.
>These things do happen, and in historical terms they happen with some
>regularity.  I can't tell you exactly how they start, or how they achieve a
>shared understanding (despite media lies), or how they grow to large
>proportions - but somehow these things have happened and could happen
>again.  It is not a waste of time to think about how such a movement could
>get started, and what its 'shared understanding' should be if it really
>wants to overcome the fortress.

{ snip }

>Somehow the movement needs to get started, a seed needs to be planted.
>What more important task can there be for those of us who consider
>ourselves to be activists and concerned citizens?   


>Currently, activists are split up into hundreds of different causes.  


>Each separately is trying to influence public opinion and exert political 
>influence.  But none of these causes separately is strong enough - they can 
>bring only stones against the fortress.  

It has become my thesis that over the last 150 years we have seen a massive
shift from the social commons to the economic commons.

Most of the talk 150 years ago was agricultural. People had a "social
commons". With the advance of technology and the rise of economic capital
people became more and more specialized. Today, it is doubtful that, even in a
single field, people share common knowledge. A cardiologist probably has next
to nothing in common with a neurosurgeon. The consequence has been a vacuum
in the social commons that has been filled by the economic commons. 

That is the reason that social activists are "split up into hundreds of
different causes".

In June I attended a "World Order Conference" in Toronto. The split in the
social activists was painful to observe. There were no conversational
exchanges of ideas, just opportunities to monopolize the conversation with
your particular point of view. I didn't understand at the time but now, upon
reflection, the almost total lack of a social commons amongst activists is
depressingly clear. Everybody had their own hymn book.

Today, in Ontario, we have a group of right wing demagogues extraodinare who
have been elected to a second consecutive term in a province whose entire
history has been one of compromise and compassion. They are without effective
opposition and we have a socially pathological Premier who openly boasts about
his refusal to listen to "special interest groups". It is my conclusion that
this sorry state of affairs is a consequence of the collapse of our social
commons and that the corporatists have taken over by default.

However, the corporatist enterprise is in serious trouble. When there was no
more room to invest its excess capital in the "technological" states, it
invaded the non-technological states. It built factories and found that it
could enhance "productivity" by paying workers a pittance. When the factory
"investment" had run its course, the corporatists put their money into real
estate in these "newly technological" states. When the Asian flu developed
they immediately fled to their ultimate refuge, monetary and stock market
speculations. It is here that they can self-inflate their "worth" without
reference to any form of physical capital and it is here that they, and many
of us, will meet our doom.

Their "fortress" is starving the very people who feed their
productive/consumptive empires. The analogy to an American "gated community"
is exact. The gated community depends on the "rest" of society functioning in
order to provide food, fuel and clothing. It can only survive on top of a
functioning society. The corporate fortress is equally dependent but it is
ruining the very social foundations upon which it stands.

That the corporate fortress is desperate can been seen in its "humanitarian"
bombing in Yugoslavia and its continuing depraved sanctions against the people
of Iraq. The corporate empire's production expansion is faultering and it is
turning more and more to an economy based on military consumption.

However, there is a third commons - the physical commons. It is here that our
greatest problems lie. Both the economics of consumption and the growth of the
human population are depleting the physical commons.

Two possibilities exist. The economic commons collapses before the physical
commons collapses or the physical commons collapses before the economic
commons. Insufficient time remains for the Titanic to come-about by
re-investing in the social commons. As you have so rightly observed the social
commons is in complete disarray.

If the physical commons collapses first we will be in truly desperate
straights because our means to rebuild society will have been lost. If the
economic commons collapses first, there will at least be some remaining
readily accessable physical resources from which to rebuild.

We must plan for the collapse of the economic commons and prepare to refill
the social commons as fast as we can.

Somewhat ironically but not surprisingly, the greatest pools of social commons
capital are in the "non-technological" countries. These countries will be the
first to recover from a collapse of the economic commons. One only need look
to Ontario to understand why.

Also ironically but not surprisingly, there is a large gender gap in the
remaining social commons. The world's remaining social commons capital is
largely held by women.

Our best bet is to convince the women of the world to reject the consumptive
materialist ethic. We also have a pool of indigenous peoples who have yet to
embrace the corporatist ethic. They must be supported. Finally, the world's
religions must become far more active in protecting the physical commons and
restoring the social commons. That includes, perhaps first and foremost,
finding a way to bury the hatchet amongst themselves. Northern Ireland would
certainly be a good place to start.

Is the writer a left wing rabid socialist? Nope. A very pessimistic small
businessperson engineer who tries to be a hard nosed realist and who is
consoling himself by inventing a computer language and writing a compiler for
it. In Ontario today there don't seem to be any social opportunities, even the
left wing party is trying to retain its labour support by being corporate

It is utterly clear that the political voices have all been silenced by the
corporacy's dollars. It is not readily apparent that the churches have not
suffered the same fate. The devastation of a depression may actually be the
lesser of two very dismal prospects because the planet is now sending out an
undeniable SOS.

Paul Isaacs
from Jan: Part of my reply to Paul follows:

Dear Paul,

I find you put things very well.

Maybe I am a bit less pessimistic than you about the social commons for I
see people doing some excellent work on this here in Nova Scotia.... I
wonder if I ought to try to write up a description of how some of this is
happening for the RN list... At the same time, I see that while many
activists are making links and working together where they might not have
worked together before (partly becasue e-mail makes it easier to link up,
partly because we know we need each other to get our own causes
forwarded...) I also see that most people still live with an outdated
pardigm, which totally ignores the value of the phyical earth commons we all
rely on.

all the best, Jan

>PS You mention the need for a "global plan" to prepare for disaster. ...
>Actually, I guess I think the best plan is to work to build community
>locally. (Len Desroches underlines the importance of community-building as
>well, in his book, _Allow the Water_.) But this local work should be done
in conjunction with more global community building as well, so that we keep
stretching ourselves to see the connections (eg. connections between
companies we can invest in
>here and the destruction of village life in Indonesia say, the connection
>between the struggle for community-based mangement of local fisheries here
>in Nova Scotia and the struggle (successful!) in India to keep big draggers
>(joint ventures) out of the waters off India, connections between Canada's
>military, also our arms industry, and human rights violations elsewhere, etc.
>When you speak of a "global plan" what sort of thing do you have in mind?

Here is part of Paul's reply:

On locality.

As a species we are today not able to embrace locality without staggering
human cost. Billions of people are now dependent for their survival - food,
either directly or indirectly through fertilizer and fuel dependence - on
non-locality. However, non-locality is also, today, itself dependent on non-
renewable fossil fuels for both production and transportation. Part of any
humane global plan would inventory those non-locality dependencies and make
best efforts to retain them. Without such a plan any economic collapse will
also be a death sentence for billions of people.

Locality must be rebuilt but the reality is that it will take decades of
concerted effort to get the human population distribution to a point where
non-local dependencies are down to a dull roar.

One must also be careful of romanticizing locality. Neurosurgery and organ
transplants are definitely non-localities. Do we want to retain them or not?

An ideal world would see the bulk of humanities needs met by the local
environs with only exigencies being non-localized. However, I think that
realistically such a world would not have air ambulances. There is a price to
be paid for locality. However, it seems that, currently at least, it is
trifling compared to the price being paid, and yet to be paid, for

On a "global plan"

I think that the major portion of any "global plan" is to get people thinking
about preparing for a sudden end to the status quo. If more people believed
that is was necessary to plan, that would automatically call into question the
continuing viability of the current economic produce-discard regime. The
thousands of local micro-plans that would flow from a "need to plan" mindset
would automatically form "the plan".

{ snip }


Paul Isaacs