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Zombie Civilisation: Fossil-fuel powered life and thermodynamics

Are humans individuals with personalities or are we simply portions of a greater whole, with little claim to individuality? Some thoughts on cellular arrangement and the end-game thermodynamics of progress ideology. The tension between a glimpsed view of living wholeness and the steady extrusion of deadness that is crushing around and upon us. I wonder how many other people see this?

Life support systems

The appearance of being discrete individuals fully captures most people's perception and belief. In reality however, our form is a fleetingly arranged and fluid part within a basically cellular, holistic global life-form. The shape and content of this overall form shifts and changes over time as and when factors vary within it and around it. Matter and energy flow through and around it like tides and rivers. Life continues as it must in accord with the prevailing conditions. We come and go within this cadence, and are always entirely and imminently recyclable within its constantly alloying form, as individuals, as clans, as a species. Doubtlessly though we do have the very considerable power to engineer the early disposal of ourselves and much of the living infrastructure around us. We could perhaps trigger the reductive disappearance of entire biological classes and perhaps even phylum. What extent of planetary upheaval would be required to take life back to a bacterial drawing board? Would a combination of extreme climate change and thermo-nuclear resource wars tip such regressive imbalance?

Dualism and civilisation

Our sense of separation from the dynamically creative whole is due in very large part to our mono-theistic training, inculcated widely and intensely over relatively recent times, to assist our tolerance of and compliant function within the development of large, hierarchically deep socio-economic systems. This social format is most commonly referred to as 'civilisation', a somewhat benign euphemism considering its essential function of metastasis upon surrounding societies, their resource bases, and within life itself as a whole unit.

Progressive Self-Destruction

Characteristically this form identifies with an existential purpose of 'progress' along a notional linear direction. This view is very militantly at philosophical odds with the comparatively 'aimless' existence of 'uncivilised' society and its accord with, and deference to, repetitive natural cycles. This linear path heads to a destination that is not clearly defined, and is certainly not objectively measured, anywhere within the 'civilised' project. The destination is given various names such as heaven or utopia. It is also embodied in various allegorical forms such 'the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow', which is almost self-deprecating in its inherent impossibility. Materially the pathway equates to a relentless and ever expanding extraction and depletion of natural planetary resources. Properly recognising this core function within the linear pathway of progress, the destination's objective definition can really only be eventual expiration of 'progress' and collapse of the socio-economic project, amidst crushing resource depletion.

Fossil-fuel-powered religion and secular delusion

Modern times, and the intoxicating experiences afforded by abundant fossil energy, have seen the traditional theistic mechanism translated into some variously powerful secular forms. Humanism and capitalism are two of these. Capitalism and its omni-present, omniscient, omnipotent Market-god now reign supreme within the modern global zeitgeist. In its superiority it is quite ecumenical toward the lesser theistic forms. Intense delusions of personal freedom are a central seduction toward common self-imprisonment within and supplication to the Market order. Capitalists can readily include humanism or any of the traditional religions to add flavor to their state of imagined separation from all other living things. The sense of separation is the vital function that is uniformly maintained. It is what enables us to perceive the accrual of individual benefits from the progressive destruction of our own living form.

The Expanding Dead Zone

Accordant with all of this, I am struck in particular by the way we surround ourselves with dead things. We turn life into death and then form the detritus into myriad shapes and mechanisms that we use to facilitate and adorn our lives within our delusion of separation. This constructed dead zone then further obstructs our view of life, it better reflects our illusion about ourselves, and thus it better enables us to wreak even further and more rapid decimation upon our global life-form in a deranged perception and pursuit of our expanding 'needs'.

Zombie Economy

We animate our dead things with a rich fossil energy stream, distilled from many trillions of days of ancient sunshine and now drawn down to nearly half its extent in just over one hundred years. This animated array performs a zombie caricature of real life and real life systems. It instills us with a loin-stirring sense of an invincible power to prevail over any challenge or circumstance. But these machines and constructions are just dead things. They're doomed to stillness and utterly fatal deficit once their immense hunger for the expensively manufactured energy stream overwhelms its limited supply reserves. Our marvelous dead things then become our graves and our tombstones.

Zombie Dreaming

I acknowledge that I'm surrounded with dead things of my own choice and accumulation. I'm complicit in the fabrication that deludes others and which anchors my own delusion. Accumulated doubts and insights have rent many small tears in my inherited cultural fabric. I can peer through this perforated curtain and grasp part glimpses of the total living form that pulses beyond its stifled confines. I can sense the wholeness of this vast organism and can begin to wonder at its profound function. I can feel deep joy and strength flow from this immense beauty however I simultaneously feel viscerally injured by the senselessly violent and rapacious destruction being wrought upon it.

My perception flickers between this glimpsed view of living wholeness and the steady extrusion of deadness that is crushing around and upon me. The shifting, variously composite view between the two states poses a variously decorated, essentially lonely and potentially crazed schizophrenia. I wonder how many other people see this?


I think the only way a normally intelligent , reasonably sensitive human can come to terms with or disregard the damage from converting life and diversity into relative monotony and death, beautiful though this creation may be, is to see nature as vast, almost infinite beyond the creation of the dead zone. To distort in our minds the scale of what we do in comparison with what is available to us to convert is a way of avoiding cognitive dissonance or discomfort from our actions. By the way this is a beautifully written article and in some way reminds me of the writing of Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre however lived at a time when he could be more self indulgent than can a writer on current issues.

I agree with you regarding the problematic condition of losing our useful sense of reality amidst a scale of consideration that is too large for us to comprehend, and certainly too large for us to respond to. However I think this condition has been insinuated upon us rather than it being one that is natural to us or one that we necessarily choose for mental/emotional relief.

Local knowledge, connection and autonomy has been significantly stripped away from us and replaced with a largely national and global view of politics, sport, celebrities, etc., delivered via an increasingly corporatised and centralised media and marketing structure. Even the notion of looking after one's backyard has been vilified as selfish and small-minded. Whenever we might cite and pursue outcomes upon local concerns we are likely to have the relative global conditions pushed upon us, either through the lens of a notional 'greater good' that our parochialism is compromising, or in a context of the inherent hopelessness such grand challenge.

Thus we are cultivated to perceive events at a scale that overwhelms our senses and disempowers our impulse to respond. Co-incidence. I don't think so. Nonetheless many people certainly do welcome the evasion of accountability and narcotic relief such perception enables.

The world is an enormous patchwork of myriad backyards. Global health is the sum of the health of each of these backyards. If enough people commit to the well-being of enough of them, the world at large will become better. The only people who have the power to affect global-scale outcomes have been hopelessly corrupted by their journey to that level of influence. We are all doomed if we rely upon them for salvation.

Thanks for the compliment on the writing. You're right that it's too long for most in today's hectic treadmill. Hopefully though there's still some room left in such a busy world for diversity in approach.

[Apologies for poor expression below, but I lost this post three times on account of stupid keyboard shortcuts on a strange computer.]

I personally have little faith in the current approach to climate change, which piggy-backs on this refocus from local to international. In this way we leave the fate of the earth in the claws of corporations, bankers and bland government representatives of greed. By awarding trust to this distant mechanism, we take away from the much greater importance of the efforts of locals to stop far reaching changes at local level.

At a local level we could be so much more effective than we can ever be at international level on environmental problems that cause or mitigate climate change.

The removal of trees causes loss of transpiration and alters storage in water tables and water output from treetops. This impacts on heat and water exchange between earth and atmosphere. Densification of suburbs increases hard surfaces and run-off and decreases water storage in the earth. Both the removal of trees and the increase in hard surfaces cause the formation of heat islands in built up areas. There can be no denying that these factors increase overall warming of the surface of the earth. The natural, traditional way of government was for people to make local decisions based on their experience of local conditions, notably limiting building permits in line with local water catchment, environmental ammenity, preservation of food production areas and common areas. It is obvious at local level that removal of shade increases local heat. It is obvious to locals that removal of trees causes water to rise upwards, bogs to form, then for the water to evaporate, leaving salts and heavy metals on the surface, to run in every direction at the next rain. Objections on social grounds were also part of the parcel, with the community able to decide whether to admit a person permanently. Permission might be refused, for instance, when that person's business threatened a well-established and well-liked business. If these rights had been preserved in Maleny, Queensland, for instance, Woolworths would never have been built.

The loss of these local rights means that we are powerless where it really matters. Wider rights depend on delegation from local areas. The corporates that have overtaken our governments have seen to it that most people have been educated to believe that they are spectators to the doings of greater beings. The 'greater beings' are the oafs that currently sell off our public assets for cash prizes and who authorise suburban development in the place of forests. In a society where people controlled their social and physical environment, most of the major players in our governments would be in prisons and no-one would take them seriously.

My experience tells me that the complexities of carbon taxes will only be used as a way of channeling taxpayer money and other charges to corporates, without any true mechanisms for stemming climate-impactful activity. Indeed the real focus of anti-climate change intergovernment strategies seems to be to guarantee growth at any price, the cost to be footed by individuals with the normal rights attached to their citizenship much reduced. The aim of big business is to sell to more people at greater cost per unit. Big business and government are organising to continue and encourage population growth as a guarantee of corporate profit growth. Big business aims to produce more, not less and they are using complex climate-change agreements to formalise this.

Addressing climate change is something we should do. However, the carbon tax will achieve little to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It will help us feel good about doing our bit, and our Government will say they put in the policy framework to cut our emissions, but when it doesn't achieve the desired result, they will be able to blame market forces. With an economy based on growth, profits and consumption, unless the fossil fuels are replaced by renewables, then legislation will do little. The "big polluters" will pass on their carbon tax costs to the consumers - already rising due to the costs of infrastructure that growth demands.
The carbon tax would be more embraced by the community if is was sincere, and we all were required to share the "pain". However, there are so many glaring anomalies in government direction, it's simply nothing more than window-dressing.
The densification of our cities means something like a doubling of our per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, yet this is the direct being hoised onto us through population growth. As MP Kelvin 'Thomson says, while we may be able to reduce our individual carbon footprints, our government keeps adding more feet!
Green-house gas emissions from animal farms are a major contributor to global warming. Enormous amounts of water and plant food is required to produce meat. It is estimated that about 100,000 litres of water, 100 kilogram of hay, and 4 kilogram of grain is required to produce just one kilogram of meat. While the "elephant in the room" of livestock industries are exempt from the carbon tax, it's insincerity is exposed. Governments know the power and economic dependencies on livestock and won't touch it, or our meals.