At Erasmus University Rotterdam, there appears to be a gap in the official rule about smoking on campus. This environmental pollution from littered butts is an indicator of both the environmental and health costs of smoking. Right behind the building where I work, I found thousands of cigarette butts two years after all universities in the Netherlands were supposed to have gone smokefree.
So what’s going on? Is this just a matter of poor enforcement? Or is this a matter of insufficient norm change? Our taxes on cigarettes too low? Are antitobacco countermarketing messages simply absent or not enough?
Why are smoking rates in the Netherlands still so high even after some recent bold policy innovations? Which branches of the government are still complacent and protecting the tobacco industry allowing tens of thousands of Dutch to die every year from smoking- related illnesses?
We all know that cigarettes serve no social function and people only smoke (as a way of self-medicating) because of slick marketing in our movies and other media by the industry. And obviously it seems as if the environmental consequences of smoking have also failed to reach young people on this salient point. Here countermarketing could be a successful tactic as has been used in other places like California, where the smoking incidence is less than 8%. Tax cigarettes additionally in order to denormalize them with slick countermarketing. Let people know about the environmental and health costs of cigarettes.
Also, ban the butt – filters provide absolutely no health benefits, but were part of the ‘filter fraud’ created in the 1950s to placate people’s worries that cigarettes were causing cancer. They are a cosmetic accoutrement, nothing else – and yet, because they are made of cellulose acetate, they don’t break down, but persist in our environments, hurting birds, fish, children and other animals who eat them.
If you’ve been keeping up with my work, I’m into upstream solutions. Here’s an example from The Ocean Cleanup which is a very necessary, but very downstream solution.
While I applaud such actions, why do these get so much airplay (and funding)? While getting rid of fossil fuel non-biodegradable plastics is not proportionally advanced as the priority it is?
The Interceptor Trashfence in Guatemala’s Rio Motagua Basin, home to what may be world’s most polluting river, did not stop this particular trash tsunami.
But this is just one of tens of thousands of such polluted waterways, and instead of putting trash fences across every river, let’s put a trash fence on our hands, on our eyes, our mouths, our noses, our grocery stores. Geofence that stuff, making it impossible to sell plastic, like Kenya did with plastic bags. It’s been working. Supply side solutions work. Anything else is just a pipedream.
End of line solutions are feel good, and inefficient. They trick us into believing band aid symptoms are enough, ignoring treatment of the root causes and sources of gross pollutants. The communities upstream, because they are not held accountable, exculpated and exonerated for their indulgences by lo-tek environmental cleaning, will continue the culture of ‘out of sight out of mind’ never really reducing the pollutant loads.
A different tactic would be to cease direct (drainage) connections to waterways, by decentralizing, distributing and applying source control storm water management approaches. By creating EPR – extended producer responsibility, this would propel manufacturers to create their own circular economies for materials and supply chains. When every piece of trash has a maker – and therefore owner, every manufacturer must take care of its trash, or pay steep fines, steep enough to put them out of business if they opt to cut corners.
There’s a new Handbook of Anti-Environmentalism, which is a new term to me. It seems it should be commonplace. For it articulates the madness which we have experienced in the 20th and 21st centuries, descending on us like a dark, inarticulate cloud. The delay and denial of anti-environmentalism is like the squid’s ink, which serves to obscure and conceal. Rather than being an accident, a casual gesture, anti-environmentalism is a paradigm, a research program, and an ideology, centered on retaining power over others; in short, domination.
Of course, anti-environmentalism, while the term is new, is not new as a concept. It borrows heavily from Proctor’s agnotology, the merchants of doubt, and the study of denial and the systemic spread ignorance. Ignorance as a disease vector could be seen as a form of industrial epidemics. Disease is the outcome of externalities, which are baked into certain types of processes, which deny that the externalities are intrinsic parts of the processes of extraction.
In other words, anti-environmentalism is a form of slow violence, but one that compounds. The slow violence of anti-environmentalism doesn’t just poison the earth as us inhabitants, but also infects us with self-covering-up brain worms that prevent us from even being aware of what we no longer are aware of or deny. This is the looping property of agnotology, that we are not even aware of what we are not aware. Becoming aware of this vast expanse of knowledge would threaten our entire worldview, thus sending us into either ego death, cognitive dissonance, or conceptual chaos. We would feel as if our previously held beliefs were false, and thus our previous goals, projects, aspirations, desires, and actions were inauthentic, based on a lie, and hence perhaps even counterproductive. Such a realization is too much for most mortals to bear, as there is much pain involved in these revelations.
Like Hannah Arendt writes in On the Origins of Totalitarianism about bureaucracies, anti-environmental countermovements are made to be like onions, with one shell group inside the next, with nothing of substance at the center, only air that will make your eyes tear. Anti-environmental countermovements, and frontgroups in general are usually collusions between self-interested individuals controlling public and private groups in order to keep their mafia work going, to keep oligopoly alive, and to make domination total again.
The term itself ‘anti-environmental’ is a timely and powerful antidote to the staid news reporting which fails to include the insidiousness of anti-environmentalism. To wit, in a recent New York Timesarticle announcing the $1.1 billion gift John Doerr gave to Stanford University to create the Stanford Doeer School of Sustainability, the inaugural dean of the schooln Arun Majumdar insists: “We will not go into the political arena,” he said. “That’s a very slippery slope for us.” To not go into advocacy for environmental issues when environmental issues are 99% political is to prove that this big billion donation will shoot itself in the foot, and perhaps even be counterproductive. But it gets worse:
Mr. Majumdar, who currently holds a chair at Stanford named for Jay Precourt, a businessman who made his name in the oil business, also said that the new school would work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies.
“Not all oil and gas industries are on board, but there are some who are who are under pressure to diversify, otherwise they will not survive,” Mr. Majumdar said. “Those that want to diversify and be part of the solutions, and they want to engage with us, we are open to that.”
This kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry, making those responsible for the problem, and the very worse and heavy-handed anti-environmental tactics, is courting the devil. Co-optation of the school, even if it had pure intentions, will ensure that any actual environmental agenda gets hijacked and hopelessly diluted, or worse, sent into cloud cuckoo land of geoengineering, techno solutions, and more indulgences to let the fossil fuel industry keep on polluting.
Anti-environmentalism has brought us enough hair-brained schemes that have focused on CO2-reductionism at the expense of blocking and stopping continued ecocide. That a new monstrously funded school of sustainability will likely actually be a school of unsustainability the moment it ‘partners’ ‘strategically’ with the merchants of doubt, will create yet another anchor of ignorance in our society, all the while believing to be upholding righteousness. This gaslighting will be unbeknownst most of all to those participating in it, and most palpable at the frontlines of the worsening environment from the continued pollution for which such an institution will be running interference and apologetics.
You would think that at Erasmus University, that those trolls wishing the end of the world so that they don’t have to examine their own lives would have the good sense to keep their mouths shut. Unfortunately, that seems to be an unfounded belief.
The me-first trolls, who are slaves to their own desires, ressentiment, and smallness, understand very well that it’s easier to tear something down than to build something. So, the transnational industries hire science trolls to nitpick meaningless typos in studies in order to discredit them, while bloviating about their own swisscheese riddled studies as ‘sound science.’ This is status quo maintenance culture.
We environmentalists are builders. We create anew. We follow the logic of Buckminster Fuller who remarked that we shouldn’t waste our time tearing down the old, but just build a more attractive alternative, and people will naturally flock to it.
To the purpose of this post. After writing our original article in Erasmus Magazine, the independent news service of our university, Erasmus University Rotterdam, a troll comes along and is given royal treatment to bloviate.
There seems also to be asymmetries between the prominence of the two articles.Erasmus Magazine put the most pukey of pictures on our article, while had an artist make a nonsensical but artistically well-done graphic for our troll. There’s also no linkback on the trolling to Ginie’s and my original article, a misstep for EM, and bad journalism which decontextualizes the trolling.
Our original articlegets a response, because for every step forward ecologically, we have to take two back, according to the logic of capitalism. They didn’t even link back to our article in the troll response.
The economist has no background in climate, behavioral economics or anything having to do with the topic. But, because clickbait rags like EM are addicted to fake controversy, they let some clueless enraged dude have the floor. But please, that’s hardly pro-science. It’s like giving equal platform on covid topics to QAnon. Thanks, EM!
Love me some reactionaries. The troll writes in conclusion:
“I feel that such an [libertarian] approach is much more effective and better reflects Erasmian values than enforcing veganism and pointing the finger, regardless of the actual impact and the opinion of students and staff.”
Anytime someone says – regardless of the impact on the world or opinion of others, I’m going to do whatever I want and will advocate for others to ignore respectability and decency as well – you might not want to be in the same organization as that sociopath.
These are precisely the sort of people who have never sacrificed for anyone else and think that they have earned their position in life. Yes, it’s the entitled class: mostly men, mostly white, but regardless: displaying a craven disrespect for being part of a team. These are dinosaurs of a bygone era, proud of their excesses (Aristotle would hate them), immune to growth and evolution.
It’s quizzical that Erasmus Magazine feels every time there’s some movement vaguely environmental in their issue, that they have to publish something from an angry libertarian who has no background in the subject of the environment, just to be “fair and balanced” like Fox News.
This is actually called “false equivalency” (please google if you don’t know what it means). Pretending that two opposing positions are equal but opposite – in this case, greed and smallness versus willingness to give up a teeny bit of comfort for the good of the whole (in this case, all life on earth) – is an industry created brainworm. As I’ve been hunting the tobacco and fossil fuel industries for over 16 years, I’m not naive about this.
For equal platforming of trolls, Erasmus Magazine ought to rethink their approach. In addition to being counterproductive, it’s also criminal, if the effects are stochastic harms of making our school go under water faster.
Belgian journalists have cordon sanitaire against platforming fascism. Maybe it is now time for the Netherlands to institute one against platforming climate denialists (also known as stochastic terrorists).
Stochastic terrorism is where people say things that will kill people, but the utterance does not determine which people will cause more violence to whom. It is gross aggregate violence, rather than paying someone to assassinate another person. It is diffuse, rather than precise. It is violence nonetheless. And it is related – especially in its ecological varieties – to what Joan Martinez-Alier and Rob Nixon call ‘slow violence.’ In terms of actual outcomes stochastic terrorism is little different than outright direct killing of people, it just makes causality less direct, giving criminals an easier out to deny culpability.
Erasmus University Rotterdam is a top university worldwide for a reason. But our Impact Rankings are woefully behind. As long as our university and associated organs continue to platform climate denialism – what should really be called stochastic terrorism, as it creates a planetary holocaust in slow motion. We need to stop being in denial about our organization’s contribution to ecocide, genocide, and war – due to the rotten core of unsustainability in our system.
We can’t afford to grieve in our contemporary culture. There is literally no space, time, or network to allow for us to process the wrongs done, to atone the righteous rage we feel at a degraded earth and the waste of our own lives. Without the capacity to grieve, how can we authentically rejoice? Maybe that’s the newfound attraction to virtual realities – they are subdued, under our control, and can’t really hurt us (nor elevate us). Joy has become dialed down to entertainment. We’ve become content with blah. Because we can’t grieve.
Pat McCabe, Weyakpa Najin Win (Woman Stands Shining) of the Diné (Navajo) Nation describes the difference between lighting a fire by hand, versus with a standard plastic or metal lighter: “the machine takes out the tenderest part of feeling.” It’s not as if nothing is lost – it makes it harder to connect with the yearning for the thing that occurs. The miracle of the product – the creative spark. When we mechanize, technologize, automate, or routinize the creative process – which is not just originality, but production and reproduction – we lose the depth of longing. We lose the densities of prayer. The threads of the hologram.
So, I came across this brilliant comedian on Facebook the other day, and Facebook, in all of their infinite wisdom censored it from me, according to their factcheckers (who have done absolutely nothing to curb climate change, by the way).
Toni Bologna claims Vanguard and Blackrock own the world – and it turns out they do. Only they do so with a few of their friends, according to ‘fact checkers’.
Their article goes to pains to show that Toni Bologna is in fact correct in her assessment, but spin it by the letter of the law rather than the spirit. This is spin doctorism at it’s most wall street shamanic.
It is narrative control while admitting wholeheartedly to the open conspiracy of a few corporations controlling virtually all capital.
What is striking is this is not a video getting millions of views, and telling people to overthrow their governments. No, it has been shared less than a thousand times, with probably as many watches. So why pick on small fry? Especially when there are real misinformation artists out there with weapons and deadly intentions? Maybe because these “false” by-a-technicality claims are directed at the very platforms and factchecking funders themselves?
For simplicity’s sake, I’ve reposted AAP’s entire article below. See if you can point out how they both admit to the truth claim while spinning it as if it was false, when really, they are saying they win on a technicality.
Global corporate monopoly claim dances on edge of reality
AAP FactCheck March 18, 2022
A video shared on Facebook claims two companies own most of the world’s corporate giants including competing firms Apple and Microsoft, and Coke and Pepsi.
The social media user makes the claim in the video while performing an interpretive dance.
However, experts have told AAP FactCheck the two companies she names, BlackRock and Vanguard, are investment managers which in most cases “own” less than 10 per cent of shares in the corporations and have a negligible influence on them.
The video has been posted on Facebook accounts such as this one (archived here). The post’s text says: “Want to know who REALLY runs the world ?? Everything is owned by the same people, and I’ll admit. Their strategy to conceal it, is clever.”
In the video, the woman says: “Since the 1970s, two corporations have gobbled up most of the earth’s companies – Vanguard and BlackRock,” (video mark 6 sec).
Later she says: “These two mega-corporations own all the smaller corporations so we have a monopoly inside of a monopoly. Vanguard and BlackRock own Coke and they own Pepsi. They own Apple and they own Android, i.e. Microsoft. They own American Airlines, they own Delta. They own oil and they own solar. They own eBay and they own Amazon,” (video mark 50 sec).
It’s true Vanguard and BlackRock are major shareholders of many corporations she names, strategically investing their client’s money in order get a good return.
At the time of writing, Vanguard is Apple’s major shareholder with 7.33 per cent of stock, while BlackRock is third at 4.14 per cent. Vanguard is also Microsoft’s major shareholder at 7.80 per cent; BlackRock second at 4.45 per cent.
Vanguard is Pepsi’s major shareholder at 8.44 per cent; BlackRock second at 4.73 per cent. Vanguard is Coca-Cola’s second major shareholder at 7.55 per cent; BlackRock third at 4.13 per cent.
But they are not alone in dominating the shareholdings.
He told AAP FactCheck that because there are large money market funds or institutional investors in most developed countries, there is a degree of common ownership, but that isn’t a monopoly.
“It just says they (BlackRock and Vanguard) might each be the largest shareholder in a large number of businesses, but that large shareholding is likely to be in proportion through the relevant index – so they might be the largest shareholder because they have seven per cent of the shares,” he said in a phone interview.
“Occasionally they get to 10 (per cent), but that doesn’t mean that they control that business. It doesn’t always mean they influence that business.”
Dr Nicholls says Vanguard and BlackRock are not “owners” of corporations in the sense depicted in the Facebook video.
He says investors who want exposure to the stock market can purchase an exchange traded fund, a passive investment that buys shares in proportion to market capitalisations – but someone has to actually buy the shares that build the funds and that’s the role of Vanguard and BlackRock.
“So what you tend to find is that large businesses, because of their market capitalisations, tend to have the larger institutional investors as significant or major shareholders – and indeed so significant that on disclosure listings the likes of BlackRock and Vanguard appear to own everything.”
“Even the largest of the index funds (e.g., Vanguard) will have very small absolute ownership stakes (around 5%) in Australian companies,” Dr Casavecchia said in an email.
“While such holdings could influence proxy voting or firm governance matters it is difficult to imagine how a single institutional investor with a small percentage holding would have the motive and influence (or capability) to push corporate executives to engage in uncompetitive practices across an entire industrial sector.”
Adam Triggs, research director at ANU’s Asian Bureau of Economic Research, also told AAP FactCheck it’s inaccurate to say Vanguard and BlackRock own many of the world’s largest companies.
“They invest money on behalf of other people and (are) not the beneficial owners themselves,” Dr Triggs said in an email.
“They are the largest single shareholder in many publicly listed companies but this is not the same as ownership.”
However, Dr Triggs says there’s evidence common ownership of competing firms, such as Coke and Pepsi, reduces competition and has argued this can cause anti-competitive outcomes.
The claim two companies own most of the world’s major corporations is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck that Vanguard and BlackRock are two of the world’s biggest investment managers and appear among the top shareholders of many corporations, without actually owning them or having a major influence on how they are run.
Vanguard and BlackRock are also not exclusively the major shareholders. Investment companies State Street and Berkshire Hathaway also appear among the top shareholders of many large corporations.
From Eric Holthaus’s newsblog interview with Ketan Joshi in The Phoenix:
What I’d love to see is a major company, instead of buying offsets and greenwashing us, is to be up front and unambiguous and say: “We are not going to fully reduce our emissions right away, but we’re going to cut them as much as we can. We added all our emissions up, and here they are, here’s the numbers. On top of that, we’re going to fund Indigenous people to protect this piece of land.”
I’ve got a new blog in the Environment & Society blog loosely connected to my 2021 paper in their journal.
It builds on my interest in environmental history, particularly having read Fabian Scheidler’s The Age of the Megamachine. “Before colonizing the world, Europe itself had been brutally colonized,” Scheidler writes.
I focus on phosphate mining on the island of Nauru, and how this unnecessary practice emerged from a break in the biological circular economy, what Marx called “the metabolic rift.”
Environment & Society do a real service to the academic and public communities, and it’s always a pleasure to work with them. Their articles and content is exactly the sort of research that needs to be done to connect history, community agency, environmental acknowledgement, and policy change.
Environmental philosopher and public health scientist Yogi Hale Hendlin will discuss the relationship between climate and viruses during this webinar and argues for a drastic change in behavior instead of treating symptoms. Is our relationship to flora and fauna not partly to blame for the current crisis? Which insights from climate research offer a perspective for the corona crisis, and vice versa? And how these two pandemics – one infectious, the other chronic – intertwined?
One of my old colleagues, a lawyer at UCSF once said that the tobacco industry finds loopholes in the law and exploits them until someone closes them. And then moves onto the next one. Our new Open Access paper in Tobacco Control discusses some of these problems. https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/31/2/222
“Moving targets: how the rapidly changing tobacco and nicotine landscape creates advertising and promotion policy challenges,” led by UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education Director Pam Ling, discusses the rise of synthetic nicotine to evade regulations.
As cigarettes became déclassé in mature markets and volumes and revenue has dropped, the industry has swooped in just in time to rescue their profits with a potpourri of heated, electronic, and nicotine tobacco products. The strategy is hooking new recruits (kids).
“Make tobacco cool again” could be the industry’s slogan.
Think tobacco’s bad? We’ve got synthetic nicotine for ya! Think smoking will kill you? We’ve got heated tobacco products (with that familiar tobacco taste). Don’t like smoking? Try vaping, or nicotine salt pouches!
The hustle to make a deadly product blend in with the background of consumer items is not new for the tobacco industry, but their recent tactics are even beyond the pale for this morbid industry. Candy flavors and colors and add ons are meant to attract kids. Why do we allow this blatant predation? Because of the always delayed promise of helping inveterate smokers. We sacrifice reason to baby smokers who might switch to slightly less deadly products. Quixotically, the tobacco industry’s raison d’état is now to coddle addicted smokers, as their official party line, in order to cover up the fact that really they are much more interested in recruiting kids to continue their legacy of pollution of the environment and human health. The industry would be all too happy if smokers continued smoking conventional cigarettes, and children and young adults uninterested in smoking would think their new technologized gee-whiz products are cool and harmless – becoming lifelong ‘customers’ (addicts) in the process.
The use of the term ‘pharmaceutical grade’ nicotine to describe recently developed nicotine products and the acquisition of NRTs extends the tobacco industry’s embrace of pharmaceuticalisation —producing products that appear like medical therapeutics conferring perceptions of safety.”
As I’ve always said, the NYT is 5-10 years behind the times (their feedback loop doesn’t extend beyond New Yorkers making 5M+). This has been a subject psychologists have been dealing with for at least 20 years in the west, and non-western versions of psychologists have probably been dealing with since colonialism.
There are probably lots of really great resilience practices grounded in local traditions and meaning-making that could be of use for us in western declension as we confront the shadow side of ‘civilization.’ For example, SF native Ethan Watters has an excellent book called Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche that gives 4 detailed case studies of the DSM messing with local grief and trauma rituals.
Point being: Krishnamurti once said “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Perhaps our collective illness – physical and mental – is not something that can be individually “cured” as long as we still are creating the problem (continued pollution and disrespect for people and planet). Maybe our mental and physical health as now a species (finally reaching the imperial core) will continue to degenerate as we double-down on ignorance (see Proctor’s agnotology). And fighting to remain exceptional to our zeitgeist will just take more resources and energy away from those who need it most (after all, the poor and oppressed “deserve” “therapy” far more than those with so-called first world problems). In the words of David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous, as long as we don’t confront our root unsustainability and disregard for the complexities of life and our biosphere, we’re just shifting disease around (there, not here) rather than actually regenerating or healing the cause. Climate grief is a symptom, not the core problem.
Thus, perhaps what we need most is a collective therapy – a political and economic and social therapy – recognizing that in a biopsychosocial model of disease, we’ve yet again, predictably, neglected the social context which is cannibalizing us all slowly.
Of the academish books I enjoyed the most in 2021, these are among my favorites. Most of them have to do with systemic modes of looking at intractable or wicked problems, suggesting that wicked problems themselves are wicked only because of those factors or assumptions we refuse to bargain with. In other words, these books confront “sustaining the unsustainable” by making independent variables dependent. By removing, say, the sanctity or immortality of the corporation as an Archimedean point around which all policy must rotate, wicked problems don’t seem so wicked anymore, at least in the technical sense. Instead, the generative questions of how we build collective resiliency, and design our lives so we can organize with others to further decide what sort of practices we encourage and which we discourage, provides breathing room and empowerment to stop enabling ecocidal ideologies/epistemologies/theologies.
In no particular order, here are some of the books that helped me in my process of writing my own:
All We Can Save (edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson) – (behind the plant)
This book is feminist environmentalism done right. It’s like coming home to that place beyond boyish techno-optimism or doomerist despair. It is paced, firm, and caring – for the earth, for each other, for the regular joys and tribulations of being alive during these times of megamachine-driven semiotic, social, and ecological breakdown. Both a sensuous and deeply personal and philosophical book. With the handy glossary modality it uses (underlying, dots, etc., to give you a full understanding of insider speak), it’s a great reference book too.
The Dawn of Everything (not pictured, by David Graeber and David Wendgrow)
This book I liked so much, I decided to launch a reading group on it (also as accountability to finish the thing). It’s main thesis is that the Enlightenment was indigenous-made, and that the Enlightenment in many ways was a counter-Enlightenment to deal with the philosophical issues of colonialism, and the novel arguments (to Europeans) of why European ways of domination were/are whack. Our received western idea that freedom isn’t free (to paraphrase a South Park movie), and that we need to accept various unfreedoms and lack of democracy to have democracy and freedom, the Davids show simply isn’t true. It’s a lack of imagination to think that politics, consciousness, and freedom develop monolithically in a way requiring structural (state and corporate) violence.
The Red Deal (by The Red Nation, an indigenous collective of anonymous scholars)
The Re(a)d Deal is the indigenous response to The Green (New) Deal, which never mentions indigenous rights nor the problem of corporate power. It is a treatise on decolonialization, written in a dense style, but at pamphlet length. It is raw, and doesn’t hold back; and, is one of the most sensible documents on what is necessary, and how to do it, to ensure a just transition away from domination/ecocide.
Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism (by Julia Watson)
In a world of cocaine-fueled hi-tec solutions, the careful architect Julia Watson scours the world for climate adaptations by indigenous communities. Necessity is the mother of invention, and indigenous peoples have already been enjoying for millennia ingenious ways of dealing with the extremes that climate change (or rather the megamachine) has rained down on us. Instead of high-flying dreams of hi-tec solutions that fail and then are abandoned, making habitats even less habitable (hello? World Bankprojects?), Watson documents, in this beautiful book, living bridges, floating villages, and other indigenous applied science and architecture which would make whiny tech bros envious.
What’s Up with Assholes (by Jeremy Sherman)
This funny and heartfelt book tries to grapple with the question of how to live in a society with rentier-seekers without becoming one. How do we create society and not fall victim to the paradox of tolerance? And how do we discern assholes from people we don’t like? A punny, quote-worthy, but also serious exploration of how to deal with trolls of all sorts, from presidents, to billionaires, to bigots.
We Keep Us Safe (by Zach Norris)
Director of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Zach Norris’ book is a masterstroke, alone with the title, but certainly in view of the years of dedication and learning he has put in as a community organizer. Safety doesn’t come from above, or without, but through trust, care, intersectionality, and personal relationships. More social workers (properly coming from within the community working for and vetted by the community), less police killing kids! A great case study of how this actually works.
Ecocide (David Whyte)
Corporations are like giant squid. They eat everything they can get their hands on, spew ink everywhere to cover up their tracks, and lurk in the depths. So goes Whyte’s well-written and lay-accessable introduction to ecocide and corporate crime. A provocative title, but also a good read. We must change corporate structures and incentives – a rehaul of what we take to be corporations and the purpose of businesses – if we hope to translate all that empty rhetoric of CSR and net-zero by 2050 into a livable world.
Enflamed (Rupa Marya and Raj Patel)
Having worked with Rupa at UCSF in the Do No Harm Coalition which she started (with others), I was delighted but not surprised to see the breadth, depth, and radicality of this book. It addresses root causes, going through the entire body and our environments (the social determinants of health) through the trope of inflammation as a physical symptom/cause and righteous indignation at the causes. A must read for all those studying planetary health and decolonial health.
I also wanted to mention Iain McGilchrist’s new books – but I have not read them yet. Both are tomes of considerable heft (literally and figuratively). I intend to dive into them over the summer.
Also, a shout-out to Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future. A considerable achievement. Especially the first half of the book I found enthralling, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story, imagination, iconoclasm, and worlding.
For my 41st birthday, my family went skiing at La Rosiere, in the French Alps. Today, I got to go skiing into Italy and back – no passport checks necessary! Truly a unique experience!
I hadn’t gone skiing for years, since I was visiting my friend Josh in the Austrian Alps a few years ago, and he lent me some equipment and we got 10€ lift tickets on a very snowy day.
In contrast, today it was blazing hot. It hasn’t snowed here in over 3 weeks, in January. And this is top snow territory for the French Alps – we’re within sight of Mont Blanc. This is just one more sign that things are out of whack climatically.
Despite the shortened seasons, threatening the livelihoods of those working in the ski industry, I see tons of cars everywhere; petrol fueled snow mobiles, helicopters, and tour buses; meat as the main offering on every menu. So far, I haven’t seen any public transportation (gondolas from the train station up the mountain, or electric buses) that would cut down on the air pollution here in these beautiful mountains. It’s car-centric, even in the mountains.
Clearly, the understanding of what constitutes ‘environmentalism’ is skewed towards denial, displacement, and sustaining the unsustainable. The idea that ski lifts and resorts are actually re-glaciating mountains with ‘snowguns’ (their word, not mine) is ludicrous. If people (like me) weren’t cruising around in cars (and others flying in) to sit on (likely nuclear-powered) electric ski lifts rammed into the rock of the mountain, maybe the mountains would have bit more snow, dontcha think?
I know that mountains are harmed through ski-lifts, artificial snow making makes things worse (even if they think it makes it better). I face myself as an ordinary human, not meaningfully destroying the environment, nor as some eco-saint. I am aware of the contradictions of living in a compromised world, and the absurdities even of downhill skiing (as opposed to cross-country, which is as far as I can see, a totally amazing, challenging, but eco-neutral activity). And yet, I indulge, just like some people who are effective and ardent environmentalists still occasionally choose to fly, or eat meat. I’m not an abolitionist, nor an austere monk punishing myself for having desires. I attempt to reflect on my desires, their cultural creation, the interplay of external and internal desires, wants versus needs, and balance to live a full and flourishing life dedicated to the flourishing of all life – which necessarily involves killing and damaging those I care about. I see this realism as part of a trauma-informed perspective on life minimizing ideology.
And that is why I implore and encourage all those organizations and companies and governments I interact with to do better. To design our choices better, to open choices, and to choose differently than dead-end necro-industrialism.
For example, La Rosiere spends about 1% on replanting trees that directly or indirectly were lost from their activities compared to their new Club Med resort, which they mislabel as sustainable development.
Of course, it is a good thing that La Rosiere gives a 15% discount on lift-ticket for taking the train. It’s a great motivator! But removing cars and asphalt from the streets in their little resort town would do even more. Except for the physically disabled, there’s no reason why people can’t take a train and then have an electric powered bus pick them up from there and take them to a carfree town up the mountain.
On some of the pistes, I saw trash. It would be easy to start a plastic-free norm by simply not selling any disposable plastic in the town, and with good signage about please, no gum wrappers, aluminum, sandwich baggies, etc. Of course, with wind and velocity, these things will find their way into the natural landscape, getting windswept off the mountain and onto protected grounds.
Another environmental commitment La Rosiere can make is going meatfree. Right now, the vast majority of food options are meat-heavy. Even just offering more tantalizing vegetarian or vegan options could have a significant impact of La Rosiere’s environmental footprint.
In the end, I’m really glad I went. My family got to go skiing for the first time, and much joy was had. We’re grateful for the experience. And we hope that it can become more sustainable in the future, setting a good example for all who visit.
When we farm fish, do we think that, perhaps, we’re being farmed as well? If not? Why not?
When we bind life to fulfilling one function: delivering to us what we think we need; do we ponder whether our life also is bound to what someone else desires?
When we subordinate another, do we think that in this same process we are also being subordinated?
These are not idle thoughts, but the fruits of different ontologies. If we believed, for instance, in the Kantian Categorical Imperative – popularized as the ‘do unto others as they would do unto you’ Golden Rule – perhaps more advanced cultures, such as various indigenous peoples and cultures that still venerate wisdom, sophia, might understand it thusly:
It is not just wrong to make another your instrument (your tool) because it takes away their autonomy and agency and cheapens their life and does not develop their capacities not enable the universe to experience more flourishing which could lead to morphic resonance of higher echelons of joy for all – it is because when we involve ourselves in instrumentalism, we become tools.
Hegel basically said as much in his Master-Slave dialectic in Phenomenology of Spirit. When we outsource tasks, we also lose our ability to do things that might again become necessary. By commanding, we also become dependent. It’s like the modern white collar worker who can make you an excel spreadsheet but can’t change his own tires. That’s why when we outsource the growing of our food, we become slaves (or addicted, or susceptible) to the machinations of oligopolists providing our food. They can do anything they want, and unless we’re willing to seriously challenge their power, we’re helpless.
But the thing about instrumentalism which is so rich, is that in a relational ontology/cosmology, you are what you eat eats, to quote Michael Pollan. It’s not just that you do something and get away with it or not according to cosmic laws, but that depending on how you care for and treat yourself and the world, the laws governing reality (for you) themselves change. And when enough people make certain decisions, to enslave and instrumentalize, the planetary oversoul, or noösphere itself reflects the shared practices, calls in attractor energies, and signal boosts them.
This is part of why the relativists and constructivists are on to something. Reality does morph and transform according to how we relate. But that doesn’t mean that you can just do whatever you want with impunity. To the contrary, it becomes very clear that just the opposite conclusion is warranted. The fabric of the responsive universe (Meeting the Universe Halfway, thanks Karen Barad) folds to amplify and feedback our impulse. We have creative direction to alter – but not dominate – the relationship of the circuits of fate and possibility. So, it really matters if our heart is kind, our mind is unperturbed, and our body is feeling at peace, so that we can radiate in our thoughts, emotions, actions, intentions – extensions of these frequencies, rather than ones of rancor, hate, resentment, ressentiment, shame, guilt, regret, not-being-good-enough, imposter syndrome, etc.
In conventional reality, none of this really matters. The rules of the game are given by either nature or culture (natural law or positive law) in a fixed manner. They don’t change. So all you have to do is to learn them and stick with them. And then once you get good and getting consistent results, you can learn where you can cut corners. And as you cut more corners and cheat a little bit, you can notice where in your life the ripple effects of karma from such actions supersede on your mission, or not. Are all cheats just boons, unqualified goods? Or, does such ‘cleverness’ kick you in the but, destroy your sleep, keep nagging worry and anxiety eroding your quality of life? Or worse: do the thinks that you care about start crumbling around you, and you don’t know how to cope, so you just double down on extractive behavior?
These are things we should ponder, and get clear from the outset. This should be the first question we ask of each other before we shake hands.
Planned Obsolescence is just the verso side of perpetuating fossil fuels. GM’s buying up and then sitting on patents for electric cars in the 1960s is but an example of how the fossil fuel industrial complex has retarded energy evolution.
The fossil fuel industry and its frontgroups are the real luddites. They have put incredible, superhuman effort into slowing the eventual economic and efficiency take over of renewable power.
It is precisely the dystopia of kumbaya hippies without energy or the modern conveniences of ‘civilization’ that is one of the boogiemen the fossil fuel industrial complex conjures up to scare us into thinking that we still need them. Like in an abusive relationship, we would be nowhere without them, and by cutting off our access to others, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But the fossil fuel industry are the real luddites. They prevent innovation on less ecocidal energy sources; they gaslight us into thinking there are no real alternatives (ahem, gas hobbs are lame, not cool as big oil pays it’s influencers to tell us); and they fear change.
Any change in energy policy that favors innovation, big oil fears, like a superstitious pearl-clutcher. All they know is their fossil business. They have sunken costs. They don’t want to innovate, even if they are bringing about the end of the world. It is the globalization and monarchy of the most pathologized.
If FF brass were really leaders, they would say, “game on! This is capitalism, it’s a free market – we can do this transition thing. We’ve got tons of capital, and can roll with the times. Let the best capitalist win.”
Instead, the fossil fuel companies are so busy puppeteering the rules of the game so that they still get spoon fed their subsidies and lock out every other innovation (to the extent possible: nothing can resist an idea whose time has come – plus wind and solar now being cheaper per watt hour than coal, oil, or gas).
While planned obsolescence makes it so that for non-fungible goods (clothes, furniture, heck, even houses, but electronic goods are where this practice really shines) they are as crappy as possible, you’re stuck in monopolies and closed non-interoperable formats (hello Apple), and they break or become useless quick enough that you’ll addictively buy another one, corporate ludditism throws the wrench at competition.
The myths of free markets, or corporate transnationals somehow loving capitalism is sheer bullocks. These guys are like mafiosi: they thrive off of oligopolies and violently defend their turf. It’s not about the best products; it’s about preventing better products from reaching consumers.
Rather than competition, the biggies spend a good part of their time, energy, and coin rigging the rules and smashing competition so that they can be the devilish totalitarian rulers of their particular slice of the consumer universe, and more often than not (Google, Apple, Amazon, Disney, Facebook) like well-trained colonialists, are not content until they are drilling into every other aspect of our reality, too.
Corporate domination is the name of the game. One company to rule them all. Will it be Tesla? Will it be Amazon? Who knows? Let’s get some popcorn and watch as Goliath vs Goliath goes as it. Corporate hegemony is the new Monday night football. But with consequences worse than concussions.
This push/pull of corporate hegemony means that nonfungibles become fungible and fungibles (like a particular energy source) become nonfungible. A shortage? No switching allowed! We’ll metabolize our oil into plastic, if that’s what it takes for you to continue buying! Profits up! Stiff upper lip! No exceptions!
So we are dealt austerity on both ends, coming and going. The stuff we’re supposed to buy in locked-in and fast flowing (and breaking). Freedom from such rackets, however, is fiercely defended against. Gaslighting us that we’re addicted, when better alternatives exist, is an elementary powerplay; one that evidently our governments are too dense or greedy to refrain from going along with.
Buckminster Fuller said it best: instead of battling these dinosaurs, we’ve got to create a better alternative. And then vigilantly not let grifters pretend to sell knock-offs of the real thing. Having a strong YES to eco-innovation (socially-understood) and a strong NO to those rentier-seekers aiming to pawn off fakes for the real thing to siphon off business to their old hegemonies, is what will bring us deliverance.
In many ways, this is predictable enough. We need more police power, more data, more panopticon. Not better education, better prosecution of high up officials who goaded the failed coup d’etat, more social cohesion. No, that would actually achieve the end. But the end isn’t the end, viz., the goal is to accrue more power and legibility, not to actually stop terrorism. This cycle of reactivity, to only use the tools of violence, rather than reassessing social engineering and design, is exactly how you get more coup d’etats. On a logical level, it’s almost funny, if it weren’t for the dire consequences, and world-historic mess-ups.
Right now, the US Democrats are part of this treason, doing everything in their power to let voting be corrupted, districts gerrymandered, and terrorists win. There is no authority in the Democrats – they do nothing to staunch the bleeding, but only through gaff after gaff make themselves less potent to represent those they are elected to represent.
It is end times for traditional politics. The right and the left are no longer so clear cut. The long slide towards dictatorship is almost complete – and the mainstream hasn’t noticed this whole time. Those sounding the alarm for the past century have been marginalized, outside the meticulously kept Overton window of acceptable discourse.
There are no winners in this folly. Such inaction now – according to Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance – assures much more intolerance and violence in the future. The system is gearing up for mutual dehumanization, increased deliberate misunderstanding, and a complete meltdown (which is already occurring in not-so-slow motion, if you’ve been watching). Social-ecological-political-economic meltdown is already happening and has been happening for those most marginalized, discriminated against, and materially compromised. Now, it’s beginning to happen to the rest of us. But right now, unless we actually see coordinated, organized leadership in the US government, we’re digging the country’s own grave.
My recently published paper in Environment & Society“Surveying the Chemical Anthropocene: Chemical Imaginaries and the Politics of Defining Toxicity,” draws on Sheila Jasanoff’s notion of “sociotechnical imaginaries” to describe how chemicals become cultural artifacts as much as material ones. This means that the flows of toxic chemical exposures are not impartial to the fears of contamination of the powerful, nor to to the racist, classist, sexist, gendered, and xenophobic preexisting constructions which have legitimated systemic forms of discrimination. Those who can, remove themselves from the toxics gradient, those who cannot suffer what they must. But such inequalities structurally create ignorance, and an agnotological deconstruction of the methods of how industries prey on preexisting biases to circumvent public feedback and accountability is an oroborous of legitimized harm.
In the article, I deploy Michel Serres’s optic of “appropriation by contamination” to indicate the colonial aspects of toxic chemical manufacture and exposures. Contamination renders necrotic land, flesh, and other areas of materiality, so that they cannot be used for anything else except further contamination. According to Carolyn Merchant, Fabian Scheidler, and many others, such scorched earth chemical and mining practices have been occurring for many hundreds of years, first in Europe, and then in other areas of the world.
In accordance with the infamous World Bank memo by that rational racist Lawrence Summers, once Europe got rich enough and had kicked the pollution of industrialization into high enough gear that it was killing a high enough proportion of its upper and middle classes, it simply virtualized the pollution, not by actually cleaning up the chemical industry’s act, but by shipping it overseas. Thus this wave of chemical imperialism I describe, ends up first poisoning the capital centers, and then once they succeed in regulating such practices, these same industrial processes – unchanged – move overseas. The failure to learn any lessons from the human health harms, the inability to flinch and reflect, before outsourcing our pollution elsewhere, is part of chemical colonialism.
We live in the middle of a chemical soup, created by the ambitions of companies and governments locked in an arms race through the competition of markets and the zero-sum game of market share. There is a huge asymmetry between the testing of chemicals and the invention and deployment of chemicals. Less than one percent of all chemicals produced in 25,000 pounds or more per year in the United States have been fully tested by the EPA’s Chemical Review Program (Krimsky 2017). Yet institutions and companies are under tremendous pressure to roll out new chemicals every year, at an ever increasing harried pace, as part of the Verschlimmbessernpolitik of ‘solutionism‘. Furthermore, 40% of chemical (including pharmaceutical) regulator income comes from the companies themselves, so bureaucrats have a vested interest in keeping the chemical treadmill running and not falling afoul of the cancer-causing gravy boat.
In the conclusion, I discuss that until we get focused on biomaterials, and get away from extracts and synthetics, chemical reduction in our lives or #chemicaldegrowth is necessary. But I don’t shy away from the obvious fact that this means that we can’t have all the nice cheap stuff we have. We need phones and computers that last for 20 years with tiny little pieces we switch out (what the FairPhone and Framework try to do, but better). We need robustness standards on all of our electronics, we need a maintenance culture, rather than an innovation culture. Just like the Manifesto for Maintenance Art, it is the culture of maintenance, or of care, that our epoch requires. In an essence, this is a move away from the macho idea that I am stronger than the chemicals I’m exposed to (or like a good Social Darwinist I deserve to die if I’m not), to honoring and listening attentive to those with chemical sensitivities as the canaries in the coalmine we’re making of the planet. Instead of ridiculing and gaslighting those who have more refined and deeper sensing abilities than the average chemically-intoxicated person, responsibilizing their problems, we should see that we perhaps have just been dulled down too much already through contamination to realize what’s going on.
They say that our capacity for change is inversely proportional with our sadistic willingness to suffer. Maybe it’s time to realize that sacrificing ourselves before the captains of industry to keep the cogs running has diminishing returns, and that the time has come to inventory, reduce stock, and close down shop of the most toxic businesses despoiling biology’s unique promise of intelligence and agency.
In an Earth Day issue of Time magazine (April 26/ May3 2021), we have an advertisement from the RJ Reynolds (or Reynolds American) tobacco company “Natural” American Spirits proclaiming “in more ways than one, bees are worthy of our love.” Yes, we ought to love the bees, and smoke cigarettes made by BAT (the owner of Reynolds), the #2 largest tobacco company on earth. This is what we call “bee washing,” and companies use it because it works.
“Beewashing” is using “save the bees” pleas to sell more product.
It resonates with people because for some odd reason, just like early Christian monks organized their monastery on the beehive, we know deep down that the fate of the bees and our fates are intertwined. As Einstein quipped, if bees disappear from the earth, humanity soon follows.
My paper looks beyond the rational reasons for why humans seem to be so captivated by bees – why we are willing to act for them, despite their puny size and relatively difficult to anthropomorphize characteristics (charismatic microfauna, they have been called).
I look at the documentary #QueenoftheSun and novel #FifthSacredThing by Starhawk as depictions of human-bee interspecies relationships based on love & reciprocity as indicative of the spiritual undergirding driving our defense of bees, and suggest such goodwill travels to other contexts. I conclude that connecting with people’s more theological and cosmological orientations is a successful way to motivate falling in love with the earth again, and attending to those aspects of the world deemed expendable in meeting our needs through industrial means. Such care and connection is not without it’s own illusions and perils, but remains an inextricable thread to solving our global climate crisis of meaning as well as material mattering.