Monday, November 25, 2013

What is Worth Protesting?


Not everybody in the world is an asshole.  There are a lot of sincere and concerned activists out there working hard doing what they believe is right.  Protesting against Monsanto, the fossil fuel industry, austerity policies, wars, and animal cruelty are all good things.  And fighting for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, a fairer tax rate, easier access to education and legalized cannabis all show that their hearts are in the right place.  However, without aiming for the root causes of these problems there isn’t any real chance to achieve what they want.  A lot of them don’t even seem to know what they want, only what they don’t.  We’re facing a highly complex predicament that most busy people don’t have time to fully investigate, thanks partially to the assault of propaganda from vested interests in a misinformed public.


I want to discuss why these protests have been so ineffective but first let’s look at the effect all these changes would have if activists were successful.  Imagine that the tax burden increases for the rich, the wealth gap narrows a bit, enough jobs are created for everyone to stay employed, minimum wage is raised proportionally to inflation (which is the least any worker should accept considering that if adjusted to match worker productivity as well would be around twice that), renewable energy is subsidized and the price of emitting carbon is raised closer to its “true cost” giving incentives to businesses to create more energy efficient products and to consumers to buy them, employers are required to pay women as much as men, farms become organic, wars cease, and everyone has access to free healthcare and higher education and permission to buy medical marijuana if a doctor gives the ok.


What that means is that the upper class is now funding the corruption that the lower classes were before, more money goes to people who spend it quickly as opposed to those who have more than they know what to do with (those who hoard most of it), more products are produced and consumed stimulating the economy, women are further encouraged to pursue a career in the same dispiriting and destructive industries that mostly men have been subjected to so far, “our resources” remain in foreign countries forcing recycling to become as close to zero-waste as possible (probably not very close),  more people attend brainwashing universities and over-medicate themselves to a zombie-like state, anyone can buy small amounts of an easy to grow plant at exorbitant prices and anyone who accidentally burns their house down while trying to secretly grow it inside (it’s still expensive enough for people to kill each other for it) won’t have to flee the scene for fear of arrest.


Well, I can’t say that wouldn’t be an improvement.  It’s kind of like taking the long, winding route to the dentist’s office.  And even that might be too kind an analogy.  It might be more like taking the normal route while receiving fellatio from the passenger and listening to a New-Age mantra repeat itself on the radio the whole way.  “I am a great person.  I am a great person.  I am a great person…..”  Basically you feel better even though you’re headed for the same outcome.  The easiest way to elucidate what I mean is to point out that a thriving green economy as envisaged by mainstream liberals is basically just consumers buying twice as many gadgets that each waste half as much energy.  It’s hardly worth the effort.  What they’re missing is that an economy which depends on growth is inherently unsustainable no matter what the energy sources are or how equally wealth is distributed or even how happy and nice everybody is.  Limits still apply.


In my last post I described the need for degrowth in some detail.  To summarize, we have a dangerously stressed ecosystem that the world economy pretends it can live without.  The natural resources that become our products are diminishing and pollution and greenhouse gases are threatening our habitat.  Part of my conclusion was that our money system, which necessitates growth by loaning money into existence as interest-bearing debt, and the capitalist system, which encourages growth by rewarding those who are most productive, have to go.  This needs to happen for any of the other changes that protesters focus on to have any real effect.  That means that this needs to happen first.  Yet, hardly anybody even dares to bring the idea up for discussion.  As a result, the majority of protests are just congregations of people delaying the damage of problems that they will ultimately fail to stop.  This is because even they still depend on these problems existing.  Remember all the iPhones in Occupy?  And look at me, typing this on a computer and posting it on the internet to be read by other computer users. 


You can’t have less consumption, less pollution, and less military conflicts with a perpetually growing economy providing more jobs, high-tech medical procedures and a higher standard of material wealth for everyone every year.  Therefore, my first proposal is to protest the growth imperative itself, realistically focusing on fractional reserve banking and not so much on capitalism yet.  Whether that takes the form of End the Fed or Transform the Fed, the idea that growth isn’t desirable just needs to be drilled into the majority’s heads.  I was actually hoping that this would be what the Occupy Movement decided to focus on when they started trying to limit their demands.  It never really became the focus of more than a few fringe groups though.  The emphasis remained on things like student debt, corporate personhood and increasing taxes on the rich.  Again, all good things but impossible without addressing the root problem. 


I can’t honestly say that I believe a new or updated form of the global industrial economic model can be made sustainable.  I’m trying to focus on what I think can be accomplished with protests though.  Charles Eisenstein, David Graeber and others have some alternative economic ideas worth looking at, most with rosy names like Sacred Economics, The Economics of Happiness and The Circular Economy.  Transitioning to one of these models, or more likely some perversion of one, could at the very least buy some time for more pillows to be thrown in front of the brick wall ahead of us. 


One pillow that I think could soften our crash, and least controversial of the few I want to propose, would be an improved education system.  Yeah, not exactly a new idea but let me be more specific.  I’m not concerned with buying a computer for every desk, new football fields or the like.  What we need are new ideas.  We need to stop treating education like job training for office work and industries that have no future.  This could be as simple as adding a permaculture class to the curriculum or updating the textbooks of all classes so they no longer glorify technological progress and globalization over everything else (even dictionaries demonstrate subtle forms of propaganda).  I’d rather see high school education greatly improved and businesses required to provide their own training than college education more affordable.  For the vast majority, there shouldn’t be much need for college.  Like I said before, most of the industries kids are being trained for have no future and would never have existed in the first place if our culture actually had respect for anything.  The future depends on people being more self-reliant, meaning able to provide more of their necessities without money, so that’s what kids should be prepared for.  Without addressing the growth imperative though, good luck bringing this change about in a world that wants the complete opposite.


Second, I recommend putting pressure on the current agricultural system.  Protests need to go beyond labeling GMO’s and switching to organic.  Organic agriculture has been eroding soil and emitting carbon into the atmosphere for thousands of years.  It’s the main cause of many of the world’s deserts.  This is an issue as vital as stopping the use of fossil fuels and, like degrowth, it rarely comes up.  We can’t afford to let so much land desertify, which is exactly what will happen if we keep this dying system on life support with chemical nutrients and water from depleting aquifers.  Transitioning to a perennial polyculture model will require many more workers on farms but trying to sell the idea as a way to create jobs would be kind of disingenuous.  Creating these new jobs threatens those who are currently employed producing and selling chemicals.  So I’ll say it again, degrowth is a prerequisite.


Third, and without a doubt the most controversial proposal, is land redistribution.  We need to reverse the trend of urbanization.  There’s no such thing as a sustainable city.  When people live in population densities higher than what local resources can feed, clothe, heat and shelter they have to use extra energy to import those resources from far away.  They require extra infrastructure that isn’t necessary for those in lower population densities, such as sewage treatment.  They also disconnect themselves from the impact they have on the land that those resources come from and therefore lose the ability to make good decisions.  There needs to be incentives and opportunities for people to leave cities.  The perennial polycultures that farms must transition to in order to survive are the infrastructure that make a truly sustainable existence for the human race possible.  They make it possible for us to get our food, building materials, heating fuel and clothing fibers locally.  In my last post I went through the statistics of land and population, showing that if farmland was parceled out to those in cities they could all provide for themselves with less land than we use now (due not only to the distance between resources and consumers but also to high consumption lifestyles and the inefficiency of large-scale farming).  It’s unlikely that most people would choose to live that way themselves and there are some good excuses, like the toxicity of the chemical residues underfoot, but they should at least have the option.  The way things are now, self-reliant people are a threat to corporate profits and growth.  However, people who support economic growth are a threat to all life on this planet.  With how hard it is to get people to change, when someone wants to give up their high-tech crap and give the simple life a try, it should be seen as a blessing.  It should be encouraged and facilitated.  Realistically this would start as workers living on the land that provides their necessities in exchange for doing more labor than they need to do just to take care of themselves.  I’d like to imagine that someday farms will have transformed into self-sufficient eco-villages that aren’t required to provide for anyone else or pay taxes to the state.  That may sound like wishful thinking but I honestly don’t think it’s that outrageous an idea.   We may not have such an easy time getting there but if any humans are alive a couple hundred years from now, they are going to be living this way and they’ll only exist because we acted to preserve their habitat. 


So there you have it.  Those are my basic suggestions for activists out there.  I could throw some other stuff in there, like decommissioning nuclear plants but I don’t think I’d really be offering any new ideas.  And I was tempted to criticize what I’ve seen from feminists and anarcho-primitivists, particularly the rhetoric they use to explain their views to the public.  Anti-civilization and the matriarchy/patriarchy dichotomy don’t exactly resonate with most people.  When people don’t have the time to look into all the arguments, you have to at least speak their language.  I just feel like without changing the message they could use terms like “anti-empire” and “dominator societies” to reach a wider audience.  And articles titled “Why talking about healthy masculinity is like talking about healthy cancer” aren’t exactly helping gain support for your cause.  The goal shouldn’t be to preach to the choir or to ensconce ourselves into some cult so we can feel like a part of something.  I think I’ll just leave it at that though because I really just don’t want to get into it right now.  Maybe that can be the topic of my next post if I do one.  To be honest, I’m kind of hoping that by the time I get the urge to write again, there won’t be any good reason to.

extra doodles


Monday, June 24, 2013

If I was dictator

It’s often joked that the world would be better off under the rule of a benevolent dictator.  Democracy doesn’t work too well with an ignorant population, especially when they vote mostly with their dollars and wealth is so polarized.  Also many recognize that the complexity of our civilization acts as a speed bump, or even a road block, to the changes that need to be made.  Nothing can be adjusted without countless organizations getting in each other’s way first, except perhaps the creation of even more unnecessary organizations.  Even when problems are simple, solutions are obvious and matters are urgent, change comes slowly if at all.  This is one of many reasons complex societies fail to adapt to the problems they face, which is a common theme in the history of civilization. 

It’s extremely unlikely that a wise, selfless ruler will ever acquire total power, and equally unlikely that the people under his or her control would respect this leader enough to do as they’re commanded despite the sacrifices and hardships involved.  Our current system doesn’t reward the types of values that can be attributed to benevolence.  Lip service is paid to these values, sure, but when it comes to who actually rises to the levels of power where they can make significant changes to the world these values clearly aren’t their most prominent.  In order to earn the resources that allow you to do good things you have to be someone who won’t.  I don’t think anyone will argue with the idea that those who most desire money have shallow values.  Caring about others and the environment is inimical to success in most high paying fields.  Consequently, the vast majority of those who can afford to build a house on a good sized piece of land choose large lawns, chlorinated swimming pools, and fashionable adornments.  The few interested in cob, passive solar heating and cooling, rainwater collectors, fish ponds and food forests usually don’t have the resources to make it happen, or they have to participate in destructive industries to pay the startup costs at the very least.  Which of the two would have a more positive impact if given land to work with, and which one usually gets it?  The idea people have that we deserve whatever we earn from working in the capitalist system is completely backwards.  It doesn’t matter if you think things were intentionally designed to favor certain behaviors over others.  That just is how it plays out.

Imagining that this unlikely scenario does come to be though, that every human on the planet is unquestioningly following the commands of a benevolent mastermind, it would indeed facilitate positive change.  Considering where we are, where we appear to be headed and how quickly, this would probably be the best chance humanity has of avoiding serious catastrophes in the near future, as well as ending the conflicts that are currently underway.  It’s therefore my opinion that if our species does make it to the next century, there are going to be some major struggles involved.  This little thought experiment isn’t about what I consider likely, and I’m not suggesting that we actually give anyone absolute authority over everyone else (especially not me!).   In reality, power always corrupts.  As a species, we have a serious weakness for it.  As I try answering the question “what would you do if you were dictator?” I’m going to give ideas of what I think needs to be done to make the world a better place for all of humanity, as well as the rest of the life on this planet.  If I was being totally honest, however, I might start with a list of people I’d have tortured and executed (Bill O’Reilly comes to mind) or which female movie stars would be conscripted to my harem (Sophie Marceau, Jessica Biel, Scarlet Johansson, Milla Jovovich, Rosario Dawson, Michelle Rodriguez, Salma Hayek…).  I think this is why all the popular writers on the subject of collapse tend to shy away from this question.  They know it isn’t practical.  They know it doesn’t matter.  Proposing a plan for everyone else to follow into what you consider an ideal future hardly qualifies as a realistic strategy.  It’s more a fantasy than anything.  This attitude, while basically true, ignores the influential role that fantasies play in shaping the goals and values of the majority.  Don’t you ever wonder how much support scientists would get for developing invisibility cloaks, robotic insects and Mars rovers at a time when half the world is starving if movies like Star Trek and Alien were never made?  Even knowing full well that these “advancements” will never benefit our lives we continue to get excited about them.  Why?  Well, to put it simply, we think they’re cool.  We’ve dreamed about these things our entire lives.  These dreams were instilled into us by Hollywood, videogames and entertainment in general.  And similar to Evangelicals giving unconditional support to Israel and the general destabilization of the Middle East, which doesn’t benefit them, we are attempting to self-fulfill a prophecy while pretending that this is just a natural progression. 

Before science-fiction came to influence us, people had different fantasies.  They imagined the tastiest fruits growing in abundance.  They imagined the animals they hunted being easier to find.  They imagined equality, security, leisure time and beauty.  Not surprisingly, many past cultures did a pretty good job of creating places that had these things.  Early accounts of the Americas, Australia and other areas inhabited by what were called savages describe environments not much different from the Biblical depiction of Eden.  These places weren’t “pristine wildernesses” with opportunistic hunters wandering around aimlessly killing any critter that moved.  These were environments designed by sophisticated human occupants who intentionally managed the flora and fauna in ways that made their lives easier and allowed for a larger population than the land would otherwise support.  This is the difference between people who dream of thriving on Earth and those who dream of battling aliens on other planets.  One fosters the values of a culture of stewardship.  The other serves capitalism by glorifying novelty and domination. 

When people ask “what would you do?” they usually seem to mean “what do you want the world to be?”  “How would we get there?” is more of an afterthought.  Other times people ask the question as if to say “check mate!”  It’s an attempt to end the discussion, expecting whoever they’re talking to not to have any answers.  Well, I do have some ideas that I think are worth discussing, even if they’re not likely to ever be attempted.  By describing what I would do as dictator I hope to show that this vision, however unlikely to happen, isn’t impossible.  In fact, I hope to show that the more popular visions of the future are impossible.  My view isn’t based on blind faith in nascent technologies or fictional saviors.  The only things that really make my vision questionable are its popularity and the time constraints of avoiding ecological disaster.

Most dictators, probably all in fact, use their power to acquire more power.  As a benevolent dictator it’s my job to act as a concerned parent would when their kids are choosing videogames over homework.  As children we’ve all been told something like “you’re in la la land.  It’s time to prepare for the real world.”  Of course “real world” meant a job for some business that’s contributing to the destruction of the planet, or participating in what’s commonly called “the economy.”  When I say real world, however, I’m referring to a finite planet that has limits to growth.  It’s worth noting that the word “economy” originally meant household management or frugal use of resources.  A system that encourages and actually depends on constant production, consumption and wasting of resources has no right being called an economy and certainly shouldn’t be thought of as the real world.  The word “cancer” is a more accurate label. 

So before getting into solutions let’s first describe what a planet with cancer looks like as well as the proposed treatments that have no chance of curing it.  The growth imperative of our money system, caused by loaning money into existence as interest bearing debt, is the most obvious contributor to this malignancy.  There’s also the incentive capitalism promotes of rewarding people for producing salable goods, meaning those who convert nature into products and relationships into paid services.  That’s essentially what growth is, taking something that was once free and finding ways to make people pay for it, or just making them want more of it than they used to.  And there’s no counter-incentive to stop when people are satisfied with what they have or when nature has become dangerously stressed.  In the early 1900’s there was concern by capitalists that production would exceed demand as factories picked up the pace of manufacturing.  They came up with 2 solutions to this problem.  The first was extensive advertising, convincing people they needed things that they didn’t feel they needed before.  The second was planned obsolescence, making it common practice to produce less durable products that would need replacement much more often, as well as constantly updating styles to encourage replacing things that didn’t need to be replaced.  This of course leads to enormous levels of ecological destruction due to the increased mining and harvesting of materials, industrial pollution and discarded “obsolete” products in landfills, resource wars and so on.  This behavior, although obviously not a good thing, translates into increased GDP and is therefore “good for the economy.” 

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that pollution, disease, military conflicts and all sorts of other problems related to over consumption are on the rise since they correlate perfectly with increased GDP.  To business minded people, such problems are just opportunities for more growth.  They represent a need for more jobs and further profits.  This is becoming such a blatant problem with the current state of the environment that I no longer believe ignorance to be the problem.  It’s certainly A problem but people who should know better at this point continue promoting policies that any 10 year old kid can see are wrong.  The way I see it, the biggest obstacle to the changes we need is dependence, a condition corporations and institutions have worked very hard to create.  Conservatives, Ayn Rand fans and business leaders can bad mouth the supposed “nanny state” all they want but they know that when they say they want people to take care of themselves they don’t really mean it.  They love the infantilism of the populace.  It’s sharing the wealth that they have a problem with.  If the people were truly capable of taking care of themselves profits would plummet, power would wane and the system as a whole would collapse very quickly. 

Now you can probably guess what my first priority as dictator would be.  How can I reduce the dependence people have on all these destructive institutions?  What would free them from this system and allow them to take care of themselves?  These aren’t questions any world leader will ever ponder over, except maybe to prevent such things from happening.  After all, how would I retain power if I created such conditions?  I wouldn’t, and that’s fine.  As benevolent dictator I’m not concerned with losing power over time.  I’m worried about humanity destroying what they need to survive: the phytoplankton that produces over half the oxygen they breathe, the soil micro-organisms that allow their crops to grow, the forests and grasslands that regulate climate, clean sources of fresh water, the real economy.  Preventing this will require immediate reductions in fossil fuel emissions, industrial development and production, and essentially all “economic” activity.  Basically, people must learn to, and be allowed to, take care of themselves.  On day one I redefine progress and declare that growth is over.  Money is no longer what coordinates human labor.  I am.

Compare this with what our leaders tell us today.  It’s amazing that they still have us toiling to create more jobs and stimulate the economy, as if we’re really just not producing and consuming enough.  Clearly we’re over consuming as it is.  Shouldn’t our biggest concerns be the exhaustion of resources, pollution and social instability caused by the growth imperative?  Some countries have acknowledged this to some degree and are experimenting with subsidizing businesses so they can pay the same salaries to their employees for less working hours and hire more to lower unemployment rates.  Even though this isn’t a total solution it is a baby step in the right direction.  There is plenty of work that needs to continue so these types of methods would be necessary during the transition phase between industrial global capitalism and nonindustrial bioregionalism, which is the goal I have in mind.  Farming, delivery, transportation, medicine, education and communications can’t just be shut off over night without alternatives in place.  We also need people to safely power down nuclear plants and store their wastes (it’s pretty interesting how much needs to be considered when dealing with something that remains toxic for 100,000 years.  At Onkalo, a nuclear waste repository site in Finland, they’ve considered using scary statues instead of warning signs because they don’t know if our languages will still be in use.  Will this just excite their curiosity?  Maybe it’s better to leave it inconspicuous and just expect no one to find it or to have the high-tech tools needed to dig this shit back up anyway).  Other jobs I’d cut instantly.  These would be things completely unnecessary to our survival such as amusement park maintenance, space exploration, production of junk food, plastic toys, military weapons and the like.  These people won’t be left to starve.  They’ll just be given something more beneficial (I nearly said more productive) to do.  Even letting these people be bored for a little while is better than keeping them working in such industries.

My general plan for addressing these problems would involve degrowth, reruralization, localizing economies, deindustrialization, and reskilling, all happening simultaneously.  In real life, where I don’t have absolute power and the loving devotion of every single person on Earth, this would require some serious brainwashing and military intimidation.  Like all other dictators I’d need to take over education, implement a massive PR campaign using the media, entertainment and even religious leaders, and create incentives to promote behavior I approve of and disincentives for those I don’t.  For this little thought experiment we’ll just keep it simple and assume the whole species agrees to go along with every crazy thing I say.

I’ve already mentioned the main problems with growth and the reasoning behind that should be pretty self-explanatory.  Localizing and deindustrializing are necessary for weaning ourselves off fossil fuels.  Contrary to what we’ve been sold up to this point, alternative energies won’t be a perfect replacement for oil.  They won’t allow for the same level of transportation and manufacturing, and solar panels, wind turbines and all the others require fossil fuels to be built, put in place and maintained anyway.  We need to just accept that these energy-hungry lifestyles we’re used to aren’t sustainable.  If we continue on our current path, localizing and deindustrializing will happen on their own but more damage will be done, potentially making the Earth uninhabitable, if we don’t make the decision ourselves.  I used to think peak oil and other resource limitations would force us to change before things got that bad, that we just wouldn’t have enough energy to pass the tipping points of climate change.  Looking around though, I’m not so sure anymore.  Those who want this system to continue are willing to take some pretty desperate measures to keep their lifestyles going as long as possible.  As if tar sands, fracking and biofuels weren’t bad enough they’re now trying to extract methane hydrates from the ocean, which there’s quite a bit of unfortunately.  Waiting isn’t an option and walking away isn’t good enough.  There are no preparations for that outcome, only consequences.  If it’s up to me people will commute, transport, produce and consume as little as possible.  People shouldn’t feel a need to travel someplace better for vacation but will instead make the places they live better.  Reskilling will obviously be necessary for such a different lifestyle.  Without being able to rely on corporations and supermarkets, we have a lot more to learn than just how to grow food.  We’re practically infants again.  We’ll need education on everything from keeping our teeth clean to wiping our asses.  And it won’t all come from classrooms.  Living will be learning.  What sense does it make to separate students from firsthand experience?  And how stupid is it to spend all day at a job to earn the money to pay for food, membership at a gym and sessions at a tanning salon when we could just do some physical labor growing crops with our shirts off?  In the future I see, work will be exercise, education and even play.  Traditional cultures were very inventive at turning chores into games.  We can be too.  Nature will be the amusement park, grocery store, the shopping mall, and the bank, our true store of wealth.  This is what a sustainable culture looks like and that is what I aim to create.

Those concepts shouldn’t be too controversial for anyone paying attention to these problems but the need for reruralization is still ignored even by a large portion of the peak oil crowd.  Many still tout cities as the more sustainable habitat for humanity, mainly because of the decreased need for personal cars.  The logic goes that with public transportation, walkable communities and concentrated settlements urbanites require less fossil fuels per capita.  There is truth to this based on how non-urbanites are currently living.  However urbanites have the least potential for lowering their current fossil fuel requirements.  The population density of cities makes it impossible to survive without importing food, building materials and fuel from outside.  Their large buildings and sewer systems require constant maintenance and there isn’t much chance of them living without those.  Areas with a lower population density, and that actually have soil, on the other hand, can make adjustments that potentially allow them to live without any oil at all.  This is exactly what we need. 

In my opinion, so many people give in to the green city concept because so many people currently inhabit cities.  People have an interesting habit of believing what they want to, which usually coincides with whatever justifies their lifestyles.  Let’s go through some statistics to show how obvious this should be.

Using New York City as an example, their population is over 8 million in an area of nearly 200,000 acres.  That means the average population density is roughly 40 people per acre.  For them to provide their own needs is pretty unimaginable.  Sustainable agriculture methods can’t feed much more than 10 people per acre (this is Martin Crawford’s estimate for potential production from maximum-yield permaculture gardens).  I’ve seen some ridiculously exaggerated estimates for urban food production, getting over several hundred per acre.  When you consider all the inputs involved there’s no way they can be done sustainably, if they can be done at all.  Some, such as vertical farms (skyscrapers full of aquaponics and LED grow-lights) only exist in the imaginations of techno utopianists.  And if the enormous quantities of resources necessary to build these things are ever allowed to be wasted in such a way, they’re going to regret it.  They’re basically trying to solve the problems of an energy crisis by increasing the energy requirements of their system.  I really hope I don’t need to expand on that.

A little more realistic are methods like those used by Will Allen’s Growing Power in Milwaukee, which claims to produce over a million pounds of food annually, including 10,000 fish, on just 3 acres.  This is accomplished by using intensive aquaponics in greenhouses.  It’s admittedly an impressive setup and will be usable for some time but it can’t be maintained without fossil fuels and an industrial infrastructure.  Producing the glass, steel, plastics and other materials is too energy intensive to be sustainable.  And cramming so many fish into such a concentrated area isn’t exactly ideal from an animal rights perspective.  Even for our own sake, making creatures live in stressed conditions promotes disease, necessitating treatment with antibiotics and other medicines that affect our own health.  Most of the plagues of the past were results of our own inhumane practices.  There’s actually something beautiful about that concept, that nature itself could be opposed to torture and subjugation.  Anyway, compassion for tilapia aside, how many people can this feed?  Assuming that his numbers aren’t exaggerated, that people need 2 pounds of food per day and his crops are proportional to a balanced diet, which they’re probably not, this would be a little less than 500 per acre.  Based on this number, in order to feed New York’s population would require 16,000 of their 195,000 acres (over 8 % of the city) to be covered with these huge greenhouses.  To add some perspective to this number, central park is 778 acres.  Contrary to what optimists say, if central park was converted to a food forest it would not feed the city.  In fact, as the above numbers show, it would take more than 20 central parks using a system 50 times more productive than any sustainable method to do this. 

Did I mention that people only believe what they want to?

It’s scary that I even feel the need to explain this but if we were to convert to any system that isn’t sustainable, no matter how much better than current practices, it will only delay the inevitable.  Sustainable doesn’t mean less destructive (and “less destructive” isn’t the same as “good for the planet” by the way) than what’s conventional.  It means it can continue indefinitely.  Unsustainable means it cannot.  Aquaponics greenhouses, although better than aquaponics skyscrapers, require too much industry to be a long term solution.  And these “window gardens” touted as a solution by eco-trendy urbanites, which can grow “a full salad per week” are a complete joke.  Such things are the epitome of feel good solutions.

Here’s one more way to look at it.  Imagine the full 195,000 acres of New York City are completely devoid of concrete.  There are no buildings, no roads, nothing.  Imagine every square inch was designed as a food forest centuries ago.  Every tree produces fruits or nuts.  Chickens and goats wander around converting the things people don’t eat into fertilizer, meat, milk and eggs.  All water flows clean and full of fish.  Taking this fairytale even further, the weather is perfect.  There’s no need for heating or even clothing.  The canopy of any tree provides sufficient shelter from the elements, for New York is now a literal Eden.  Pushing this even further still, the inhabitants of this “city” are the least industrious on Earth.  They feel no need and no desire to produce anything.  They’re perfectly content listening to the birds and napping most of the day.  They produce no art or jewelry or ornamentation of any kind.  They eat the bare minimum to survive and don’t even cook their food.  They play no games and waste no unnecessary calories.  What I’ve just described is a 195,000 acre piece of land with the highest human carrying capacity it could possibly have.  And how many of these truly economical people could this paradise support indefinitely?  1,950,000!  Less than 25% of New York’s current population.  Sorry to those of you whose identities are tied to cities but land can never sustain a population density higher than the amount of people per acre it can feed.  Period.

Urbanites generally don’t realize how serious a problem this is because they can’t see their full impacts.  Living in a 100 square foot apartment doesn’t mean you live only on 100 square feet.  It just means you don’t have any land to grow your food and fiber or gather your heating and cooking fuel, and that somebody else has to do these things for you and deliver them to you.  This is why the most sustainable living arrangement will always be to live directly on the land that provides your necessities.  When you see your own impacts and are the one most affected by them, it’s impossible to ignore carrying capacity and limits the way they’re ignored now.  It’s that simple.

Now for a few statistics about rural areas.  In the United States there are over 400 million acres cultivated for crops and another 600 million acres used for grazing livestock.  That’s a full billion acres in total, which is more than 3 acres per person in the country.  I mentioned before that small-scale food production can produce enough to feed 10 people per acre so we’re not exactly using this land very efficiently.  According to Geoff Lawton, 3% of the energy used by industrial agriculture is all it would take to produce the same amount of food with small-scale methods.  In other words, the 10 calories of fossil fuel energy that are used to produce 1 calorie of food could be replaced by less than a third of a calorie of human energy if things are reorganized in a way that actually makes sense from an ecological perspective.  Without reorganizing they’ll either try to use the same system by replacing machine labor with human labor, which results in starvation since they burn 10 calories for every calorie they get back, or the system is just abandoned, again resulting in starvation for all those who still depend on it.  Considering how much damage agriculture has caused the planet (the single most destructive human impact) there’s no reason not to embrace this change.  Loss of soil fertility and deforestation from agriculture both reduce the planet’s ability to sequester carbon, which is part of the climate change problem that deserves the same attention as fossil fuels.

The United States also has over 40 million acres of lawn grass and over a million acres of golf courses (and probably over a million acres of cemeteries but I won’t go there.  It is amazing how we can’t even die without causing more damage though and how we continue having a negative impact long after death).  That alone could potentially produce enough to feed the current population.  Some suburbs are better than others but many of them could be totally self-sufficient if retrofitted.  A good portion of rural land could be left to rewild or be ecologically restored and the rest of it could easily support the population currently in cities.  Contrary to the pro-city argument that if we want to protect nature we need to stay out of it, leaving cities could actually decrease the amount of land used to provide for our needs.  I’m going to repeat that since it sounds so counter-intuitive the first time.  Leaving cities could actually decrease the amount of land we use to provide for our needs.

I’m sure most people reading this are now thinking “you can’t just force that many people to move?”  To that I respond, “why not?”  How many people were forced into cities by development projects?  How many people have fled their homes as a result of the war on drugs and NAFTA, and how many of them were later forced to go back to those homes?  Do the words “trail of tears” mean anything to you?  This isn’t anything new.  It’s just your turn to realize that the leaders of the world don’t give a shit what you prefer.  I have an agenda and I’m going to make it happen.  Also, coastal cities are going to be experiencing some serious flooding issues in the decades ahead.  Tons of resources will be wasted trying to hold back the rising waters and that will only make urbanites even more utterly dependent on technology and the continuation of industry.  Even a benevolent ruler has to make people hurt a little bit unfortunately.

I present this information not in an attempt to call shenanigans on the doomers but to show what it would take for our current population to be sustained, which, despite what the rest of my aspiring primitivist ilk say, I believe is a possibility.  I certainly don’t consider a population over 7 billion to be ideal.  And it is true that we are greatly over carrying capacity for the planet in its current condition.  However, as I’ve shown, by lowering our material requirements and improving the land’s productive and carbon sequestering capabilities, which are both very possible, I see no reason why a population this size needs to be a problem.  All it would really take is for Oprah, Dr.Oz, and those whores on Fox news to all start advocating this concept and things would change very quickly.  Although, if people are still listening to those bullshit artists, no matter what they’re saying, I guess you could argue that things haven’t really changed very much.  It would be a start though.  My point is just that our opinions are malleable.  The truth is those in power could make the majority believe that eating their own shit for breakfast is the best way to start their day, and they’d do it!

So having hopefully presented a pretty good case for reruralization, let’s get back into my kingdom and see where things are going.   I’ve shut down pointless businesses and extravagant science projects, commanded the powering down of nuclear plants, and kept farmers, truck drivers, and some others working while everyone else is trained in permaculture and sustainable living in general.  Suburbanites are on their way to self-sufficiency, retrofitting existing structures with rocket stoves, hand pumps, trombe walls, rainwater catchments, compost toilets and the like.  Existing solar panels have been allocated to help with the transition but people will know that they have to learn to get by without electricity as things break down since industry is gone for good.  Their yards are transformed into food forests and paddocks for livestock.  A lot of property becomes shared to allow animals to migrate around the neighborhood, a different yard each day in a planned grazing system.  Those with pools stock them with fish.  Those without dig ponds.  Machines can be used to help speed this up but again, nobody can rely on them for new projects in the future.

All farmers transition from their chemically treated large-scale annual monocultures to organic perennial polycultures.  There are many who have made this transition already and have shown that farmers can plant trees and shrubs in their fields without sacrificing several years worth of crops while they wait for the first perennial yield.  This is commonly done using a method called alley cropping, where the perennials are laid out in rows leaving spaces where the annual crops or pasture can remain.  Over time the perennials take over, making it more challenging for farmers to harvest with machines on a large scale.  This is the best time for those from the cities to move in and start harvesting their own food.  The crops from the polycultures are diverse enough to support balanced diets, even providing fuel, building materials, and fiber for clothing.  They can build simple dwellings directly on the land and start living self-sufficiently, assuming they’ve had excellent training and pretty much know what they’re doing.  Although the farms are now organic, they’ve been sprayed for decades and the ground water won’t be safe for some time.  Rain water catchments will be necessary for a while.  They’ll have to be built durable enough to last however long it takes for nature to detoxify.  It’s a huge adjustment for everyone and some struggle to adapt but my people believe in what they’re doing and the vast majority eventually acclimate.

With the farms now parceled out into small-scale homesteads, basically transformed into eco-villages, and the suburbs supporting themselves, all of humanity is living in the ideal population density (probably around 1 or 2 per acre, allowing a good buffer zone for bad harvests from inclement weather and personal mistakes) and in simple communities lacking specialization.  There aren’t farmers and scientists and students and teachers and construction workers, just people who grow food, experiment, learn, teach, and build as needed.  They are no longer a species of experts at almost nothing but a species that is pretty good at everything they need to do to provide for themselves.  At that point my job is done.  Each region will make their own adjustments as needed.  They’ll know better than I do.  How else could I possibly help them?  Make up a religion?  Or ban the ones they already have perhaps?

As much as I dislike organized religion, if it was somehow wiped out it would eventually be replaced by new superstitions.  In fact, those who expect science to prevail over faith would likely be horrified if they could see a century into the future.  The scientific method may survive but many discoveries and breakthroughs will be lost and forgotten in the post-oil age.  And I’m not too worried about it.  Knowledge of black holes, the structure of atoms and quantum physics can all be lost to oblivion for all I care.  The scientific community has been on its own religious crusade, commonly called progress, to figure out how everything works in an attempt to prove all religions wrong.  Although business plays a role in that process as well, it’s the competition with religion that turned science into a cult of its own.  This has had consequences at least as destructive as those of superstition.  Frankly, both sides promote arrogance.  They say “I know everything and can therefore control the world as I wish.”  The most well balanced cultures are those who allow some mysteries to remain unexplained.  Mystery is the magic of the world, and besides being interesting, it promotes humility.  The humble know their place and don’t try to transcend it.  They use stories for inspiration without dogma.  Understanding this, what ideas would benefit the future if they were perpetuated through something resembling a religion?  I’ve thought for a while that if the afterlife scenario expressed as most likely was reincarnation we’d see more responsible behavior.  Besides that, are there commandments anyone could give that would prevent mistakes from being made?  If I was to leave recommendations for all future generations I guess I’d say “With every deliberation, always consider the impact on the future generations.  Respect all living things by imagining yourself in their position and imagining how they’d wish to be treated.  Never require trade for your survival.  Accept nothing on faith.  Appreciate diversity.  Give back from where you take.  Don’t allow power to accumulate in few hands.”  That’s basically an amalgamation of other faiths that weren’t able to prevent fuck ups.  So I guess I consider it better to just accept that shit happens.  There isn’t really any good reason to expect humanity to ever have a spiritual consensus anyway.  Nature abhors conformity.    

I’m sure this supreme ruler approach to problem solving comes across as overly simplified.  Part of the reason I decided to write this is that I see so many people making complex arguments for things that really shouldn’t be so complicated.  When you ignore all the political BS, economic theories, historical trivia, ideological philosophies, dogmas, conspiracy investigations, irrational identity-based preferences and all the technological possibilities that would exist if we didn’t have limits, you should be able to see the fundamental truths that are undeniable.  I mean, the problem isn’t lack of data.  We already have mountains of information distracting us from what matters most.  How much does anyone really need to know to live responsibly?  Humans are capable of peace, equality and remaining in balance with the environment without a full understanding of the origins of the universe and the inner workings of atoms.  We did a better job preventing disease before vivisection labs.  I mean, do you need to hear anything beyond “our economic system depends on perpetual exponential growth” to realize that the economic system isn’t sustainable?  If the entire political spectrum is concerned with maintaining such a system then they deserve no legitimacy.  That’s all you have to know.

And my proposed solution most likely seems extreme to most.  Well, any time you try to sell something it’s better to start with a higher price than you want and expect to haggle.  In this case we already see that the bare minimum approach to preventing ecocide isn’t working.  Scientists told world leaders we need to stay under 350 parts per million CO2 and that clearly hasn’t happened.  A responsible adult response to such a warning would be to try to stay even lower than what was prescribed, however being the children our leaders are, their reaction to such news is to try not to go too much higher than that (or make little token adjustments so it appears that they’re trying), which of course results in positive feedback loops that will force that number to climb much higher.  And honestly, I’m not sure that my solution really is more extreme than necessary.  Based on my research there are many who don’t think it goes far enough.  I didn’t force my people to reduce their numbers.  I didn’t ban all forms of domestication.  Advocates of primitivism generally agree that those two things are necessary.  In my opinion a full return to a hunter-gatherer existence would be ideal.  It would be my hope that reruralization would create the opportunity to choose rewilding at some point.  In its current condition the world can’t even support the hunter-gatherer population it once did, certainly not 7 billion amateurs.  As the world heals from the afflictions of industrialism and civilization though, and as permaculture creates ecosystems with higher proportions of human food than natural forests, who knows?  Maybe one day they’ll decide to limit reproduction voluntarily and knock down the fences holding their livestock captive.  Would it be wrong if they did remain sedentary horticulturalists though?  At what point does “not ideal” become “morally wrong?”

The sustainable cultures of the past that primitivists commonly emulate demonstrated some gray areas of their own.  Aboriginal Australians systematically burned the landscape to promote the fresh growth of grasses that kangaroos preferred.  This essentially allowed them to drive their game from field to field in a manner nearly as reliable as shepherding.  Writer Bill Gammage describes pre-contact Australia as “a farm without fences.”  The animals were managed by the human inhabitants while retaining an illusion of freedom that farm animals lack.  You could argue that Aborigine hunting techniques were just a more subtle and humane way of keeping livestock, a surreptitious form of domestication.  If so, does that mean that the admiration of their culture by aspiring primitivists is undeserved? 

When you really think about it, is anything truly free?  All creatures are obligated to search for food, stay near water, keep warm or cool, foster their offspring and avoid predators.  They all follow a genetic programming and are at the mercy of the whims of their environments.  This is what “we are all connected” really means.  Everything influences everything else.  We all have social responsibilities.  We all have to respect the opinions and needs of those around us to some degree in order to avoid reprisals.  Our choices are limited (if free will even is a reality).  We all have things we have to do in addition to those we want to do.  Contrary to the dreams of techno utopianists, we can’t do anything about that.  However, the two can be made to align with each other so that what we have to do is what we want to do.  In a lot of ways that’s what my dictatorship set out to create.  I want to see humans walk away from a destructive culture inundated with shallow thrills and build a new one where we can enjoy and take pride in our daily chores.  Nothing else will ever make us more free.

One more criticism I expect, one which I actually get pretty often, is that I’m a hypocrite for using a computer.  I have two responses to that.  First, what has a more positive effect, my refusal to use a computer or my using a computer to try to spread information?  I don’t want to still be using this thing 10 years from now.  However, at the moment it seems like a necessary evil.  If I just stop using it and go build a tipi in the woods, that would have no effect on anything.  If the majority is to change their ways, people need to be reached and I feel like I have a better chance of reaching people who use computers on the internet than in a cave.  It wouldn’t make sense for me to tell Richard Dawkins and Michio Kaku that they’re hypocrites for not living in a techno utopia.  It isn’t any more possible to live in a primitive friendly world than in the world they advocate because neither exists at the moment.  One did exist and the other is thought to be possible by people who don’t understand ecology.  Second, what difference does it make if I am a hypocrite?  Does that make my arguments invalid?  It’s like being a passenger in a car and the driver says, “Hey, we’re going to crash if we don’t turn and I’m not planning on turning.  You should probably jump out before I speed up, which I am planning on doing.”  Do you just ignore his warning because he ignores it himself?  I’m open to criticisms on what I say but ad hominem attacks are just cop outs.  If anyone thinks they have a better answer to the question “what would you do if you were dictator?” I’d love to hear it.