Nature Bats Last
By Guy R. McPherson
10 September, 2009
I'm driving from Tucson to the mud hut, taking a circuitous route that currently finds me staying in my wife's childhood home in western Nebraska. Along with my spouse and dog, I'm covering 4,300 miles while crisscrossing 11 states and all 4 time zones in the continental U.S. We'll circumambulate Kansas, and at one point we drove close enough to spit on the state. But it didn't seem worth the time or the saliva.
We're driving slowly and stopping often, primarily because the Obama administration's Keynesian approach to saving the industrial economy necessitates throwing money at the highway departments of every state in the country. The attendant "shovel-ready projects" are clear examples of the lengths to which industrial humans will go to sustain the unsustainable, maintain the immaterial, and generally restore the irredeemable for a few more months.
The many miles and frequent pauses reveal to any sentient animal the sheer lunacy of the living arrangements we've built for ourselves. Within the span of a couple generations, we abandoned a durable, finely textured, life-affirming set of living arrangements characterized by self-sufficient family farms intermixed with small towns that provided commerce, services, and culture. Worse yet, we traded that model for a coarse-scaled arrangement wholly dependent on ready access to cheap fossil fuels. Then we ratcheted up the madness to rely on businesses that use, almost exclusively, a warehouse-on-wheels approach to just-in-time delivery of unnecessary devices designed for rapid obsolescence and disposal.
Simply ingenious, wouldn't you say?
The entire region, formerly abundant with a multitude of edible crops, currently is brimming with a single commodity: #2 corn. It's Roundup-ready, at that, just to throw a bucket of insulting acid into the face of reason. Roundup-resistant weeds are popping up throughout the region as we bring Farmageddon to the heartland and eventually to the world. Most of the corn, which is essentially inedible until it is processed (i.e., pummeled with inordinate quantities of fossil fuels), is watered with the last remaining drops of the Ogallala aquifer, brought to the surface with the same finite fluid used to power our trucks and cars. Verdant fields of ethanol dreams are interrupted occasionally by a field of soybeans; without rotations of legumes, the soil would be so depleted of nitrogen by king corn, it wouldn't support even the great corn desert. The corn fills our bellies with death-inducing faux sugar. But we willingly trade some of that "food" for fuel because the associated dependence on automobiles allows us to burn off the final inches of life-giving topsoil to promote our culture of death in rapid-transit, individualized death-traps. Who could pass up a deal like that?
Obnoxiously ubiquitous cell-phone towers line the edges of the cornfields adjacent to the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System ("Celebrating 50 Years, 1956-2006"). Each of these completely unnecessary towers of mortality -- which serve only to duplicate extant infrastructure -- kills 5,000 to 15,000 birds each year. Yet every imperialist has a cell phone, regardless of the death to songbirds. Don't even get me started on the col-tan in the cell-phone batteries mined from the Congo, because I'd rather not think about the brutal lives and tortuous deaths of the Congolese women and children we treat as collateral damage along our imperial path.
Seemingly every tenth cell phone marks a casino, yet another ubiquitous structure we'd be far better off without. These businesses extract money from the poor as they pursue the something-for-nothing goal upon which our culture has become based during the last few decades.
If it's not a casino, it's a distribution center for this country's rapidly waning commercial sector. We no longer make much of anything in this country, but we move around ton after ton of cheap plastic crap to the Targets and Wal-Marts that have displaced family owned businesses in every town and city in the country while exporting disaster capitalism throughout the world.
Finally, then, we come to the most ludicrous part of the entire endeavor: suburbia, filled with McMansions. This not-quite-country, not-quite-city living arrangement requires people to buy one of everything for every house -- except cars, of which we need at least two -- to live far from work, far from play, and far from the things we "need" to buy. Hundreds of acres of shoddily constructed, castle-like symbols of self-indulgence are separated from equally coarse-scaled places we use to grow "food," conduct "commerce" in our "service" economy, and otherwise live civilized lives. As has often been the case, today's symbols of gluttony are tomorrow's death traps.
As usual, I'm quick to point out the silver lining in this otherwise disastrous narrative: Better days lie ahead. How could they not?
In the near future, we'll return to a durable set of living arrangements. Since we need about 50 million additional gardeners to support the 300 million people in this nation, and because nearly everybody in the industrialized world would rather push electrons in a cube farm than push a shovel in a garden, I don't foresee us voluntarily returning to the agrarian age. Not only are a majority of people unaware of the predicament we face -- thanks to the media, every level of government, and our own self-absorbed preference for the bliss of ignorance -- but there's simply no leadership in the industrialized world as we face an inevitable but unprecedented economic contraction. As a result, I suspect we'll bypass agricultural pursuits and plunge right back to the post-industrial stone age. Once again, daily life will be characterized by a finely textured, life-affirming, durable set of arrangements characterized by respect for each other and reverence for the land, and accompanied by a solid dose of self-sufficiency.
The point of my circuitous route to the mud hut: a wedding on the in-law side of the family. The newlyweds are twenty-something Army officers, and the event fittingly provided the perfect example of the malevolence needed to maintain civilization. Held in a venue designed and constructed to celebrate American military prowess, the reception allowed the guests to enjoy flight simulators between bouts of gorging on meat, fat, sugar, and alcohol. Each of us was allowed to "fly" a fighter jet and blast the enemy. I was a tad disappointed, though: I didn't get to bomb a children's hospital in the name of bringing democracy to a poverty-stricken, oil-rich country.
For those readers who would like to impress upon me that I'm an imperialist, too, or that "freedom isn't free," don't bother. In a heartbeat, I'd give up every aspect of the industrial economy, even if it cost me my life, to know western civilization was dead and gone. And for those who believe we're really free, take a look around. See the security cameras. Notice the listening devices. Pay attention to the monitoring devices that record and report every transaction you complete. These tyrannies are among the thousands of minor costs we pay for "freedom" from terrorists. The larger costs are borne by non-human species and people in non-industrial cultures every minute of every day.
I took a break from the festivities to spend a little time outdoors as darkness was falling. In a few minutes, I was able to observe far more beauty than marked the cultural ceremony or the route along the way (so far): the cry of a red-tailed hawk drew my eye to two hawks flying low over the treetops. Shortly afterward, a brilliant harvest moon scaled the eastern horizon.
Hope springs eternal in, and from, the natural world: There's still something worth saving from the ravages of civilization. But is there world enough, and time? And, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, are there enough of us who actually care about saving the living planet?
Guy R. McPherson is Profesor Emeritus at the University of Arizona. Educated in the ecology and management of natural resources, his early scholarly efforts produced many publications of little lasting importance. In mid-career, he began to focus on development and creative application of ecological theory, primarily with an eye toward conservation of
biological diversity. Currently, his scholarly efforts focus on social criticism, with results that appear most frequently on newspaper op-ed pages. In addition, he facilitates research by students and he prepares synthetic documents focused on articulation of the links between (1) environmental protection, social justice, and the human economy and (2) science and its application. These efforts have produced more than 100 scholarly papers and nine books.
Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
School of Natural Resources & the Environment and
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Biological Sciences East 325
Tucson, Arizona 85721