Bare Bones Biology 105 – Economics of Happiness II

Many of you watched the movie The Economics of Happiness that we showed in several venues locally. If you have not seen it, talk with Donna, she has a copy, or go to The Economics of Happiness web site (you should do that anyhow) and buy a copy for yourself that you can share with friends. Last week Bare Bones Biology aired the first part of an interview by Helena Norberg-Hodge, who produced that movie, and now you are about to hear the concluding part of her little interview, in which she gives us the Bare Bones version of a solution. I hope this energizes you, as it did me, to take advantage of her wisdom and experience, and fact check her suggestions and then participate in an effort to nonviolently dethrone the corposystem. Here is Helena:

“If we could just get the message out: wait a minute, we don’t need to continue deregulating. In order to produce food and feed people and to produce the building materials, and to produce all the needs that people have, we do not need to embark on continuing to deregulate, or globalize, economic activity. If we can get that message out, so that the call is from the occupy movement, the call is halt that deregulation. This is more strategic than focusing on finance reform or on personhood, because the action, where these companies have gained so much power, has been in these international trade agreements. That’s where they’ve been able to pressure governments to give them more power. They say: If you don’t give me lower labor prices, if you don’t give me lower regulations, I’ll go elsewhere. That mechanism has ended up ratcheting down everything we care about.

“That mechanism is how it is that governments are in debt to banks. And credit agencies are telling whole banks: Sorry, you can’t afford to look after your people, you must instead pay us a whole bunch of money. It’s a mad situation, and I really believe if we can understand the structural difference between globalizing and localizing, we will be creating an interlinked, global movement linking environmentalists with all those people concerned with unemployment and poverty, and then we’ll have a real powerful movement for change.”

I wish I could name for you the impressive list of people who spoke at The Economics of Happiness conference, that included for example Joanna Macey, Manish Jain, Carol Black, and so many others of equal caliber. In the cross disciplinary group were speakers on the subjects of: breaking down the old economy, from global to local, small scale to large scale, envisioning an economics of happiness, and local futures. And there were workshops around each subject. You know what I found the most exciting – nothing was finished and settled. There’s room for new ideas and new approaches to strengthen the mix, and I left just itching to tweak the educational ideas that were presented.

Mandana Shiva and Bill McKibben were present by video and one of those internet communication processes. The entertainment was – have you ever heard Scoop Lisker describe the evolution of life on earth? And a stunning final improvisational performance by Nina Wise. All in all, one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended.

Next week, I will bring you the keynote speaker, Richard Heinberg, from my other favorite web site, the Post-Carbon Institute, who gave an interview just for us.

That’s the end of the transcript. If any of you want a podcast of the complete interview without my commentary, I can make one for you.

Listening again to Helena Norberg-Hodge reminded me of the words of Arundhati Roy:
“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.”

And then there is my view that arises out of my professional understanding of how the ecosystem functions to stay alive. The corporate revolution will collapse ANYWAY, because the corposystem is trying to harvest more food energy from the earth than the earth has to give (this is not sustainable), and in the process is killing off millions of different species whose function in living is to maintain the health of the living ecosystem (thus reducing resilience of the system). So, the corposystem is killing itself.

Our job is to reduce the suffering this causes – and more importantly, our job is to remove the root cause of the suffering, which is growth beyond the capacity of the ecosystem to support One cause of growth is described by Helena Norberg-Hodge above. That is deregulation. (I call it decriminalizion of the corposystem crimes against the ecosystem). And to find a way to infuse our technologies with wisdom so we can do this with compassion. The other major growth problem is in our human populations (that is all of us, not only some other place). I strongly suggest that you watch the movie Mother the Film, that describes this difficult reality in a kind and compassionate context.

There is a time when all opinions cause pain, and that is the time to stop drawing our lines in the sand and get together to find a way to reduce the overall pain – individual suffering, populational suffering, and suffering of the living ecosystem. As HH The Dalai Lama said: “Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.”
(per Upaya newsletter)

Unnecessary suffering is foolish, and usually causes more harm than good.

Bare Bones Biology 105 – Economics of Happiness II
KEOS 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
An audio copy of the “transcript” portion of this
blog can be obtained at

Trackback and recommended references:

For the first part of Helena Norberg-Hodge’s interview see Bare Bones Biology 104:

Arundhati Roy. I strongly recommend her (March 22) interview on Democracy Now

Collapse by Jared Diamond
Or you can get Collapse as an audio book


Bill McKibben

My approach to telling people what to believe in our current biological crisis has been to not tell, but to explain the biology so people can see for themselves what to believe. After all, in an argument between me and FOX, people tend not to believe me, especially when FOX is pretending that science is evil and FOX is willing to lie while I am not. The advantage of my approach is that the solutions to problems are immediately obvious the minute we understand the problems (as opposed to evaluating them according to who said what). HOWEVER, if you want the short, clear, true reality, I urge you to read Bill McKibben’s current post on TomDispatch, below. The advantage to that approach is that we can begin to deal with it now rather than wait till it is too late.

Please go to the original that is posted above after you read the below (or before) because, as is always the case with posts on TomDispatch, it is extremely well referenced with links. Then, if you disagree, please send me your data and explain why we should not worry about this BIOLOGICAL problem that basically impacts the survival of the living earth ecosystem as a place where your grandchildren can survive with a reasonable quality of life. I keep hearing that we have another ten years. No indeed we do not, because what we do (or do not do) TODAY will determine what the world will look like in ten years. And twenty.

I understand the corposystem. What I don’t understand is US. Not caring. How old are your children? When will they be coming on the job market?

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It In for the Planet
Posted by Bill McKibben at 9:39am, February 7, 2012.

The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard
By Bill McKibben

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”
In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.
Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.
If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead. To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.

What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.

Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben

Yesterday at the Peach Clubhouse

Yesterday we showed the movie “Bhutan, Gross National Happiness” as a follow-up to “Economics of Happiness.”  Both these movies describe different ways of organizing our lives around community values, but the examples they give are primarily drawn from Eastern cultures.  Another such effort, that is flourishing in the Western world, is the Transition Movement that began in England and has spread rapidly.  Rob Hopkins’ “Transition Handbook” describes the basics of organizing a community around local resources.  This book is available to read at the Peach clubhouse, and you can also find Rob Hopkins on UTube.  We also have Bill McKibben’s book “Deep Economy” in the Peachhouse library, that I think describes a year living outside the Corposystem.

But of course the real reason for the clubhouse is to gather everyone together to bring me ideas – either to add new ones to the idea-pool, or to squeeze out old ideas that I didn’t know were in there.  And yes indeed ideas abounded yesterday.

1- Lots of good input for the new series of podcasts and vidcasts.  What is life?  What do we need to live a good life?  How can we get it, right under the noses of those who are dedicated to destroy the good things we have grown together?  (If you doubt that see the last three paragraphs of Chomsky’s recent article on TomDispatch.)

2- What is the deep meaning of Miyazaki’s latest film “Carried Away?”  I’ve been trying to figure that out ever since I got the thing last year.  Miyazaki’s films always hit you with an important meaning (three of my favorites are Kiki, Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke) and now I think I have the key to Carried Away and will add it to our Tuesday night schedule, probably in June.  Carried Away is about the weakness of the Corposystem.

3- Why do I get so upset when people bring our popular “aint-it-awful” mantra into the Peach Clubhouse?  Well for one thing, I got the Peach clubhouse as a way to get away from toxic mantras, but — why so upset?    Because I want not even for one moment to support the myth that the Corposystem has the ability to keep from me the really good things that we have grown together in this country.  Ritualized chanting of anything engrains that thing into our subconscious.  We all know that.  Ritual chanting of “we can’t do – – –  “  results in — weakness — and what is worse, it offers up our personal power on the altar of the Corposystem.  This blog and this house are all about our personal responsibility and power – not weakness.

Everybody – please read “Powers of the Weak,” by Elizabeth Janeway.  You can get it for seventeen cents on Amazon.  What a bargain.    And it’s on the shelf at the Peach Clubhouse.  Chapter 11 discusses the first power of the weak.  Disbelief.  Not to believe their propaganda or our cultural acquiesence without first examining all the alternative routes toward the common good.  The second power is in community.  There are plenty more that fly along under the radar.

This afternoon (Friday) at 3 PM, in the meditation room at the Peach Clubhouse, the Brazos Insight Meditation Society will meet for meditation followed by discussion over a cup of green tea.  You don’t have to sit on the floor.  I usually don’t.  But you can.

Tomorrow, Saturday the 23rd, is work day at the Peach Clubhouse.  Goal is to get that workroom cleaned up so we can start making vidcasts.

Next movie is really quite amusing.  Tuesday April 26 at 6 pm, a Dalai Lama Renaissance, in which a group of powerful movers and shakers goes to visit His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala.  The month of May will be a bit off schedule, because I am going to at least SEE the Dalai Lama in Arkansas.

So the first Tuesday night movie will be on May 3.  The title is “In the Land of the Free,” and it is quite a grim story of three people who have been kept in soliary confinement for most of 30 years each, for because they tried to stand for their civil rights.  More about that later.