Welcome to Radio Ecoshock. This week's program is about schizophrenia: the state of hoping the system will crash before it kills the planet, while counting on all the usual creature comforts of home, jobs, and a well-stocked supermarket.
Yes, I know the Western world is hanging in suspension. We're waiting for the shopping to resume, for the economy to rebound, for the good life to return. Most politicians and the mainstream press promise that it will all go back to the normal process of chewing up and spitting out the last of the planet's goodness.
Meanwhile we go to movies like 2012, slurping up scenes of the destruction of everything. Part of our secret selves hopes it all goes down in flames, or floods. Even while we worry about our children having a decent life. You see how it goes?
I know you are worried about the economy. Maybe even your own job or home is at risk. Despite the propaganda, we'd be crazy not to worry about it. I've been told the general formula for every speech and radio program goes as follows: we paint the grim picture, but always, always end on a positive note. Give humans solutions, or they'll just go numb and do nothing.
Sorry. This week we violate the rules. Lately Radio Ecoshock has run a series about greening our cities. A couple of listeners have written back, saying cities can never be sustainable, as Derrick Jensen says. Have I fallen into the camp of false good cheer?
We'll start out with one of the most promising solutions I've heard about lately - a dream of new economics coming from a British government advisor, Professor Tim Jackson. He's got a new book out "Prosperity Without Growth".
Then we'll head into more pessimistic territory with Dave Cohen, an analyst for ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. Having written the American Empire is now obviously in decline, Cohen asks "Now What?" We talk more about the economic crisis, Wall Street bull (and bears) - and the energy crisis.
Along with James Howard Kuntsler, and our recent guest Richard Heinberg, Cohen says normal consumption is never coming back. We might as well prepare ourselves for very hard times.
We'll trash smug Canadians a bit, since real estate north of the border is just as stupidly over-leveraged as the American market. Then we'll notice Australia melting in the heat, while they push even more coal. A big Canadian company has just bought into the dirty Aussie coal market. Aren't we proud?
In the end, I wonder, is hope just getting in the way of dealing with the limits of reality?
This show is peppered with audio clips, including shorties from Max Keiser, Jeff Buckley's song "The Sky Is A Landfill", Bob Holman's "We Are the Dinosaur", and of course ending with the show title "Dinosaurs Will Die" from NOFX. We open with "Times Is Hard" by Loudon Wainwright III.
Addiction to growth hasn't worked. The rich just get richer, while the rest of us get poorer. Not to mention the abject poverty of the majority of the world's people, living outside the golden net of Western power. We've paved over the best farm lands, and we're still not happy.
Tim Jackson says we can remove the cancer of growth, and still survive with a new idea of what prosperity really is. He's one of the brightest of the new economists, and a top level advisor to the British government. Jackson's thick report to the UK, full of econo-talk, has been boiled down into a new book for the rest of us, called "Prosperity Without Growth" We're lucky to get him on the phone, for an interview from Britain.
Then, breaking the mold, we'll head into the swamp of despair, hopefully with a nervous laugh or two.
Let's start with Tim Jackson.
My thanks to Earthscan books for making Tim Jackson available. Even Jackson admits the challenges of major change seem so impossible, it's tempting to run for the hills. Find a link to that amateur video of Tim Jackson's book launch in London, here.
This week I also chatted with Dave Cohen, an energy writer who thinks it's all downhill from here. You can listen in.
Dave and I don't agree about everything. At times Cohen's been so concerned about a coming energy collapse, he's called for offshore drilling and even more nuclear power plants. That's not my view at all.
Yet Cohen seems dead on when it comes to the paralysis of big governments, and big populations. James Howard Kunstler, has pointed to the same thing. In his weekly Monday morning diatribe of November 9th, Kunstler writes:
"In [the book] The Long Emergency (2005, Atlantic Monthly Press), I said that we ought to expect the federal government to become increasingly impotent and ineffectual - that this would be a hallmark of the times. In fact, I said that any enterprise organized at the colossal scale would function poorly in years ahead, whether it was a government, a state university, a national chain retail company, or a giant Midwestern farm. It is characteristic of the compressive contraction our society faces that giant hyper complex systems will wobble and fail. We should expect this.....”
Our recent Ecoshock speaker Professor Bill Rees agreed, suggesting that cities are the place where survival changes will happen, rather than malfunctioning national governments. He sees the development of city states sited in bioregions. Scientific American magazine has an article out November 11th, titled "Can Local Governments Solve Global Warming?" Find that link in my blog.
- the end of civilization is approaching, and that may be a good thing. Check out dieoff.org for a sample of the desirable darkness.
SHORT CANADA? IS A REAL ESTATE CRASH COMING TO CANADA?
Oohh, and I promised a kick in the pants for Canadians smugly watching the economic demise south of the border. Blogger Mish Shedlock has collected a bunch of figures showing Canadian real estate poised for an American-style collapse. Actually, he's quoting from Jonathan Tonge's entry in the America Canada Blog.
Right now, real estate prices and sales in Canada are hitting another all-time high bubble. In Vancouver, the average detached home costs over 800,000 dollars. No hope my kids can buy a house. It's $600,000 in Toronto.
Almost every home mortgage in Canada is backed by an arm of the Canadian government, called the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the CMHC. So if the market crashes, the Canadian tax payer is on the hook, just like their American cousins under Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and their ilk.
Canadians firmly believe their banks are better, and their mortgages are sound as the beaver. Mish Shedlock points out that big American companies like GE Capital wrote a slew of shaky mortgages, all guaranteed by the government Crown Corporation. Even AIG managed to lobby their way into the same 0 Percent down, adjustable rate, 40 year mortgages for Canadians - that helped the U.S. market crash.
Oh yes, Canada, you're set to go underwater as well. Of course that's all in the past, isn't it. Nope. I'm still seeing ads for mortgages with 3.5 % down. As Shedlock notes, once you figure in various grants and costs, it still works out to a 100% mortgage for Canadians. “No equity” lives and breathes.
One blog commenter points out its far cheaper to rent in Canada, than to buy anything. And as the market soars into unreality, Canada's manufacturing industry is melting away. Government revenues are dropping like a stone, just like American cities and states. The slashing is about to begin, the jobless are up... does this sound familiar? Maybe the smug Canadians should be stashing cash and long-term food.
Some Canadian companies are doing well. The tar sands giants are selling themselves to foreign companies, from China and Korea. The former Bronfman colossus, once called Edper but now renamed Brookfield Asset Management and Brookfield Properties, under new ownership, has just purchased over a billion dollars worth of Australia's Babcock and Brown. That's the company controlling Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal - one of the biggest coal exporters to China and points East. Way to go Canada! Now you've got a stake in the other biggest carbon polluter on the planet, Australia's coal industry!
The Australians themselves seem oblivious to wrecking their own environment, as they sweat out another record-breaking heat wave. This past winter down-under was a real hottie, and now Spring turns out to be sweaty as the coming Summer, along with the usual drought, fire risk down South, and floods in the North country. Climate problem? What climate problem? We've got to keep shipping out the coal! The Aussies have a profitable climate denial industry as well.
The English speaking world is basically energy insane. Nobody is immune to the fossil disease, no matter how green the talk. The realities of Peak Oil eat away at the suburbanites and the financial capitals.
Bleakers like Richard Heinberg, or maybe "realists" is a better word, are facing up to the possibility there is no good way out, other than blackout or die off.
Heinberg is bringing out a new book with author Jerry Mander. It's called "Searching for a Miracle: "Net Energy" and the Fate of Industrial Societies."
Here is a short burst from Heinberg's November 2009 Museletter, quote:
"A more comprehensive statement of our choice might be this:
· Dead planet and dead economy (if insufficient effort is mustered toward reducing carbon emissions, population, and consumption)
* vs. crippled planet (so much climate change, and so many species extinctions are already in the pipeline and cannot now be averted, that a healthy planet is just no longer a real possibility, for at least the next many decades) and sharply downsized economy (if we do reduce carbon emissions, population, and consumption, that will constitute a form of economic contraction that will mean the end of prosperity as we have come to think of it).
That, friends, is a dilemma. Yes, the second option is still mightily preferable, as it is our only realistic survival option; but it's a very tough sell for policy makers at every level, and for the general public as well."
To address the least damaging options from this ugly dilemma, Heinberg is part of a team of people re-vamping the Post Carbon Institute with a star-studded cast of experts in the many fields needed to asses and address our situation. Watch those developments at postcarbon.org, and try Richard Heinberg's regular email blog, called The Museletter.
The world leaders agree they can do nothing about climate change in Copenhagen this December. Finally an agreement on climate. We'll "extend and pretend" as Dave Cohen says.
Personally, I can't give up. My own life has been so rich, I must give back. And my children expect something better than a well documented funeral speech. We're full circle back to Tim Jackson. He says that impossibility is a logic that we can break. To stop trying, is not an option.
Coming up: the angry generation, inheriting the mess we've left. Young people have been punked.
I'm Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.