It has been great to re-live the Apollo 11 Moon Landing’s 50 th Anniversary. What a monumental achievement and tribute to human intellectual candlepower, endeavour and above all courage. I was a Year 9 student at the time; like other classes we downed tools to watch it unfold. Our teachers were just as astonished by the audacity and precision of the Landing as we were. I – and I think most of the people who I talked with or heard from at that time – had a very rosy view of the future. Yes we were involved in a stupid war in Vietnam, but I thought the Second World War and the Holocaust were so wicked and so evil that we’d learned from that, and that there was a very strong worldwide appetite for peace. I thought that war and conflict would become a thing of the past.
I also thought that we were learning from our environmental mistakes, and that the public interest and community action groups springing up to oppose air pollution, water pollution, toxic pesticides and habitat destruction would see us lift our environmental game. In short, I thought everything would improve.
But to reflect on the Apollo 11 Moon Landing raises the question for me – what has actually happened to the world in the last 50 years?
The most striking global phenomenon of the past 50 years has been population growth. It took us the whole of human history to get to the 3.6 billion people we were in 1969. It has taken just 50 years to more than double that, to 7.7 billion now. Australia is no exception – back in 1969 we were 12 million; now we are 25 million.
The impact of this growth on wildlife and the environment has been catastrophic. The latest World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report says that since 1970, 60% of the population of all mammals, birds, reptiles and fish has been lost.
60% in 50 years. It is a disgrace. It makes an absolute nonsense of the idea that we’re decoupling growth from environmental damage; that we can continue to grow, and our wildlife won’t disappear. Let me repeat – in the last years our numbers went up by over 50%, and the world’s wildlife went down by 60%.
Co-incidence? Hardly. As has been noted by The Overpopulation Report, the total weight of vertebrate land animals 10,000 years ago was – Humans 1%, Wild Animals 99%. Today it is Wild Animals 1%, Humans 32%, Livestock 67%.
And the population doubling in 50 years has not just been catastrophic for our wildlife and environment; there have been many other consequences too. Back then Australia had negligible unemployment. Now we’ve got unemployment, we’ve got underemployment, we’ve got job insecurity, we’ve got no wage growth.
Back then we had virtually no homelessness and much lower levels of mental health problems and drug addiction. Now we have homelessness and beggars in the streets, our young people have mental health problems. Ice used to be something you needed to keep the beer cold. Not any more. We have housing unaffordability. In 1969 Australians not only owned their own homes, many Australians had a holiday home down by the beach as well. Not any more. In 1969 there was no such thing as traffic congestion. Now the traffic congestion is terrible. We have road rage (unheard of in
1969) and Melbourne is on track to add over one million extra cars in the next 20 years. How will we go with another million cars?
In 1969 we did indeed take a giant leap forward. But it’s the increasing size of the foot, and our footprint on the earth, that the past 50 years will be most remembered for in time to come. The next giant leap for mankind will be the one that moves us from using “growth” as our measuring stick, to using “wellbeing”, and which enables us to put into effect the lesson of those beautiful photos of the earth taken by the astronauts – that we’re all in this together.
With her 1962 book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson got DDT and other synthetic pesticides banned and saved bird life. Today it is humans who are directly threatened by technologies designed to extract the maximum profit at the lowest private cost and the maximum social cost from natural resources. Once abundant clean water has become a scarce resource. Yet, in the US ground water and surface water are being polluted and made unusable by mountain top removal mining, fracking and other such "new technologies. Ranchers in eastern Montana, for example, are being forced out of ranching by polluted water. http : / / www . youtube.com/watch?v=lZiAV6fU2NM&feature=player_embedded#!
Offshore oil drilling and chemical farming run-off have destroyed fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. In other parts of the world, explosives used to maximize short-run fish catches have destroyed coral reefs that sustained fish life. http://aquatek- california.com/coral-reef-destruction/ Deforestation for short-run agricultural production results in replacing bio-diverse rain forests with barren land. The "now generation is leaving a resource scarce planet to future generations.
Nuclear power plants are thoughtlessly built in earthquake and tsunami zones. Spent fuel rods are stored within the plants, a practice that adds their destructive potential to a catastrophic accident or act of nature.
The newest threat comes from genetically modified seeds that produce crops resistant to herbicides. The active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide is glyphosate, a toxic element that now contaminates groundwater in Spain and according to the US Geological Survey is now "commonly found in rain and streams in the Mississippi River Basin.
In 2011 Don Huber, a plant pathologist and soil microbiologist, wrote to the US Secretary of Agriculture about the unexpected consequences of GMOs and the accompanying herbicides. He cited adverse effects on critical micronutrients, soil fertility, and the nutritional value of foods. He cited the impairment of metabolic pathways that prevents plants from accumulating and storing minerals, such as iron, manganese, and zinc, minerals important for liver function and immune response in animals and people. He cited toxic effects on the microorganisms in the soil that have disrupted nature's balance and resulted in large increases in plant diseases. He cited livestock deaths from botulism, premature animal aging, and an increase in animal and human infertility.
In an interview, Huber said that the power of agri-business has made it almost impossible to do research on GMOs and that regulatory agencies with the responsibility of protecting the public are dependent on the industry's own self-serving studies and have no independent objective science on which to base a regulatory decision.
In short, in order to secure bumper crops for several years, we are destroying the fertility of soil, animal and human life.
1493, Spanish silver and Chinese floods
Mankind has been destroying the world for a long time. In his fascinating book, 1493, Charles C. Mann describes the adverse effects on the environment, people, and civilizations of the globalism unleashed by Christopher Columbus. These include the international transfer of human and plant diseases, deforestation, destructions of peoples and empires, and the impact on distant China of Spanish new world silver.
Mann provides a history lesson in unintended and unexpected consequences resulting from the actions of elites and of those that elites dominated. The Chinese government fixed taxation in terms of the quantity of silver, but the importation of Spanish silver inflated prices (decreased the value of a given quantity of silver) and left the government without sufficient revenues.
A successor government or dynasty evicted Chinese from the coast in order to deprive pirates of resources. The displaced millions of people deforested mountainsides in order to sustain themselves with terrace agriculture. The result of deforestation was floods that not only washed away the terraces but also the crops in the fertile valleys below. Consequently, floods became one of China's greatest challenges to its food supply.
Slavery and mosquitoes
The first slaves were conquered new world natives, but the "Indians had no immunity to European diseases. The second wave of slaves were European whites, but the Europeans had no immunity to malaria and yellow fever. By default slavery fell to blacks, many of whom had immunity to malaria and yellow fever. Thus, a black workforce could survive the infected environments and newly created wetlands in which to raise sugarcane, wetlands that were ideal homes for malaria and yellow fever bearing mosquitoes. Mann, of course, is merely reporting, not justifying black or any slavery.
Mann points out that the lowly mosquito had a large impact on American history. The Mason-Dixon Line roughly splits the East Coast into two zones, the South in which disease carrying mosquitoes were an endemic threat, and the north in which malaria was not a threat. In the South, a person who survived childhood and grew into an adult had acquired immunity. Northerners had no such protection.
This had enormous consequences when Northern armies invaded the South. Mann reports that "disease killed twice as many Union troops as Confederate bullets or shells. Between the summers of 1863 and 1864, the official annual infection rate for what was called "intermittent fevers was 233 percent. The average northern soldier was felled more than twice. In one year 361,968 troops were infected. Most of the deaths from malaria were indirect. The disease so badly weakened the troops that they died from dysentery, measles or strep infection.
The mosquito was the South's most powerful ally and so prolonged the war, despite the vast numerical superiority of the Union force, that Lincoln was forced to take action that he opposed and declare emancipation of slaves. Thus, Mann writes, it is not farfetched to conclude that blacks were freed by the very malaria mosquito that had caused blacks to be the preferred workforce.
Mann shows that long before the birth of capitalism, greed drove men to barbarous treatment of their fellows. He also shows that policies, whether driven by greed or by well-intended socio-political design, inevitably had unexpected consequences. His multi-faceted history well illustrates the old adage, "the well laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
The old world's colonization of the new world devastated new world peoples, but the new world bit back with the spread of the potato blight to Europe and Spanish and European inflation.
Environmental destruction resulted mainly from deforestation and soils washed away by consequent floods. Prior to modern technology and toxic chemicals, the planet survived mankind.
Externalising costs and corporate influence on governments
Today the prospects for the planet are different. The human population is vast compared to earlier times, putting far more pressure on resources, and the disastrous consequences of new technologies are unknown at the time that they are employed, when the focus is on the expected benefits. Moreover, these costs are external to the business, corporation, or economic unit. The costs are inflicted on the environment and on other humans and other animal life. The costs are not included when the business calculates its profit and return on its investment. The external costs of fracking, mountain top removal mining, chemical farming, and GMOs could exceed the value of the marketable products.
Businesses have no incentive to take these costs into account, because to do so reduces their profits and could indicate that the full cost of production exceeds the value of the output. Governments have proven to be largely ineffective in controlling external costs, because of the ability of private interests to influence the decisions of government. Even if one country were to confront these costs, other countries would take advantage of the situation. Companies that externalize some of their costs can undersell companies that internalize all of the costs of their production. Thus, the planet can be destroyed by the short-term profit and convenience interests of one generation.
Chronological 'progress' illusory
The main lesson that emerges from Mann's highly readable book is that people today have no better grasp of the consequences of their actions than superstitious and unscientific people centuries ago. Modern technological man is just as easily bamboozled by propaganda as ancient man was by superstition and ignorance.
If you doubt that the peoples of Western civilization live in an artificial reality created by propaganda, watch the documentary on psyops at http : / / www . youtube.com/watch?v=lZiAV6fU2NM&feature=player_embedded#! The documentary does a good job despite wandering off into a couple of side issues on which it takes one-sided positions. It is a bit heavy on blaming the rich, and overlooks that Stalin, for example, had plenty of propaganda and wasn't looking to make himself a billionaire. Not all the rich are against the people. Billionaires Roger Milliken and Sir James Goldsmith fought against jobs offshoring and globalism, which increases the powerlessness of the people vis-a-vis the elites. Both spoke for the people to no avail.
US Propaganda and Terrorism laws
The documentary also blames the Constitution for limiting the participation of the mass of the people in governing themselves without acknowledging that the Constitution restricted the power of government and guaranteed civil liberty by making law a shield of the people instead of a weapon in the hands of the government. It is not the Constitution's fault, or the fault of Founding Father James Madison, that the American people succumbed to propaganda by Bush and Obama and gave up their civil liberty in order to be "safe from "Muslim terrorists."
The documentary shows that propaganda is a form of mind control, and controlled minds are indeed the American predicament.
In 1962 Rachel Carson caught Monsanto off guard and thus gained an audience. Today she would not get the same attention. Ready and waiting psyops would go into operation to discredit her. I just read an article by an economist who wrote that economists have decided that environmentalism is a religion, in other words, an unscientific belief system that preaches "religious values. This demonstrates what little importance economists attribute to external costs and the ability of externalized costs to destroy the productive power of the planet. Thus, the question, "silent spring for us? is not merely rhetorical. It is real.
Dr. Roberts' latest book is Economies in Collapse: The Failure of Globalism, published in Europe, June, 2012.
I live in a community of right-brained people with innumerate minds full of New Age mush, devoid of logic and antagonistic to science. The shibboleths of 'compassion' and 'caring and sharing' prevail over dispassionate analysis. The medieval mentality of Tibetan Bhuddism combines with the prescriptions of soft-green environmentalism to produce a brew of 'thinking' that is toxic to comprehension. It is a community where people will pay $50 for a psychic reading or a quack medical therapy but balk at paying the same amount of money to fix a leaking kitchen sink or a subscription to Science Daily. I wrote this almost 5 years ago, and despite the development of our much acclaimed "Community Garden" and a local "transition" initiative, I can think of no good reason to make more than one amendment----even we do grow a backbone and a "hard edge"---a local 'fortress' would not indefinitely endure. We are hopelessly dependent on the outside world in ways that we have not yet contemplated. Our deficiencies will only become apparent, I think, when our "Long" emergency becomes a permanent one.
“We like to think that moral progress has made us nice people. We've heard that our distant ancestors were mean and cruel and ruthless, and we can't imagine that we would be such people - but we're nice mainly because we're rich and comfortable. And when we're no longer rich and comfortable, we won't be as nice." Robin Hanson, economist
“Katrina helped us realize that the veneer of society is very thin and it doesn’t take much to peel that veneer back and what you see underneath it is quite ugly, quite nasty”- Kevin Reece, Defense Consultant
What will the Dalai Lama say when the oil runs out? Will his words feed my children? Will they appease the starving marauders who threaten to take what little is left to go around? Is universal love a prescription for dealing with universal scarcity? When survival dictates that we must first defend our homesteads, then our community, then our nation from desperate outsiders too numerous to accommodate? When the oil runs out will Jesus appear to distribute loaves and fish to the hungry billions and save us from stark choices?
When affordably accessible oil runs out, food cannot be sufficiently produced or transported. There are no “green” alternatives that can be scaled up to our needs. Five billion people will die in less than twenty years, and as Dale Pfeiffer concluded, one third of America’s 300 million people and more than one third of Canada’s. The idea that we could feed ourselves is a quixotic notion that doesn’t bear up to scrutiny. We’ve already covered 20% of Fraser Valley farm soil with buildings and lost a similar proportion of arable land nationally to urban growth, which will only continue unchecked with current immigration rates. When you remove fertilizers, chemicals and fuel-run machinery with a power-down, the required land per person for food production skyrockets.
A study done of London, Ontario, a growing city of 460,000 surrounded by farm country, revealed that it simply could not be fed without fossil fuels. It would need to use 200,000 animals and conscript half the labour of the city, posing logistical problems for their commute or the commute of their school children. Storage for the food could not be found and if it was, it could not be kept from freezing in the winter time. And this is for a city that might have enough arable land in proximity. Other Canadian cities would not have that advantage.
“Relocalization” in Canada is a pipe-dream. Without oil, we’re cooked. Those Californian vegetables and fruits will not get here-- the Americans will not have a surplus to export and if they did it certainly wouldn’t be delivered to us by electric cars. The last hurdle in our island community would be the Quadra ferry. Without fuel it is not operational and virtually everything we need could not be acquired in meaningful quantities. In three days or less the shelves of both of our stores would be empty, and those with hunting rifles would make the local fish-packing plant release everything they had at gunpoint. Needless to say, the vegetables grown on Quadra would not suffice to feed 2700 people. The Community Lunch would be faced with thirty times its normal patrons but with no food to give them---it would be cancelled. The Churches would open their arms but not their empty refrigerators. It is then that we would find out about our much vaunted community spirit.
History tells us how people behave when they go hungry. The better angels of our nature often do not prevail over the desperate instinct to survive. Even in normal times, social psychologists report that more than 80% of us fantasize about murdering people we don’t like. Growing your own food is one thing. Stopping other people from taking it is another. One day we will regret our restrictive gun laws.
During the Second World War, Vancouverites living on rations made the long 40 mile car trip up a narrow road to beg for butter and eggs from farmers like my parents whose neighbours typically carried rifles to fend them off. One day my folks came back from a shopping trip to Mission and found ladders up against all the trees in their orchard with the fruit stripped off them. And these thieves were only motivated by deprivation, not starvation. By contrast, in Leningrad during the 900 day siege people were dying of starvation in the tens of thousands every month. Leningraders not only dug up the freshly buried corpses of starving people to eat them, some even resorted to cannibalism. When you are only getting 10% of your caloric needs, it’s amazing what moral precepts go by the wayside. Morality, you see, is not much use when you are dead.
So what then, of love and compassion? In my moral universe these hypocritical Christian pieties offer no help in an environment of too many people and too few resources. “Love” must co-habit with cold calculation. Empathy begins at home, and extends outward with prudence and caution. As the airplane sign instructs, if you experience a loss in cabin pressure, first secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.
The kind of compassion needed in the coming collapse, be it resource depletion or ecological in nature, is the kind shown by a ship’s captain who orders that a few crewmen be jettisoned from an over-loaded lifeboat to save the rest from drowning. It’s the kind of compassion that will deny medical care to me in those times because folks my age cannot be allowed to siphon off scarce resources from the young who must survive if any portion of humanity is to survive. And it is the compassion required to save our nation and its environment from the tens of millions who will look to board our lifeboat and sink it.
Sometimes compassion would require that I shoot a beloved horse with a broken leg. Or, when medical help is unavailable, that I amputate the leg of a beautiful young woman with a gangrenous leg. Or that I assist in the suicide of a brother who suffered the indescribable nausea and pain of terminal cancer---- in defiance of Christian morality.
True compassion is not the compassion of Christianity or Buddhism or of any the major religions. It is not the compassion which would dispense development aid to African nations so that their populations explode and misery and starvation returns at an even greater level. True compassion often means saying no.
True compassion comes with a hard edge.
April 12, 2007
Article, A century of famine, was kindly reposted here as a comment by its author, Petter Goodchild. It has been re-posted here as an article. - Ed
If we are to survive, we must give up two core beliefs. One is the belief that we are qualified to be wise planetary stewards, and the other is that there will always be technological solutions to the problems that were created by previous technological solutions.
Technology Embraced With Religious Fervor
Technophilia is described in various sources as a strong enthusiasm for technology.
But what many members of our species display goes far beyond enthusiasm.
Starry-eyed technophiles go on animatedly, in what appears to be quasi-religious rapture and hyperbole, about a banquet of opportunities apparently afforded us by our technologies. All the while, they blindly ignore the fact that the horrendous problems we face were created and enabled by technologies in the first place – dead zones and enormous “islands” of plastic in the oceans, soil depletion and exhaustion, massive consumption and overconsumption of resources, emissions and air pollution, hundreds of sites on the planet and specifically in North America contaminated by radioactive waste, and the list just goes on and on.
Persistent Love For Nuclear Power A Prime Example
The last item above is a typical illustration. Nuclear power, originally hyped as being safe and "too cheap to meter," is still heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and is still creating problems for present and future generations to deal with. Recent disasters aside, there are tonnes of “legacy” waste we have yet to deal with properly, as well as the increasing contamination of the North American Great Lakes and other bodies of water by radionuclides from mining and power generating activities.
Yet we delude ourselves, as Neil Postman says in “Technopoly,” with “the catastrophic idea that in peace as well as in war technology will be our saviour.” Postman goes on to say that technophiles “gaze on technology as a lover does on his beloved, seeing it as without blemish and entertaining no apprehension for the future.”
Our Sorry Record Is Proof That We Cannot Predict Consequences
And, when it comes to the future, we have already demonstrated clearly that, while we are a clever little species when it comes to inventing things, we have a very poor record in predicting the long term consequences, let alone the unintended consequences. We, in Einstein’s words, “thoughtlessly make use of the miracles of science and technology, without understanding more about them than a cow eating plants understands about botany.”
In a lovely little act of anthropocentric circular reasoning, we claim that human cleverness and intelligence are the main criteria for the job of planetary stewards, and that our technology is evidence of our suitability for that job. Then we claim that, by gosh, we’re the only species which exhibits those qualities (apparently) so we must be the natural stewards of this planet. We fake the qualifications for the job in our favour. And our performance on that job is so dismal that we should have been fired long ago. We are, after all, the only species to bring the planet to the brink of nuclear winter, runaway climate change, and collapse of ecosystem supports necessary for our own life. We are the only species to spread toxic and persistent poisons around the entire planet. We are the only species that has caused one of the “great extinctions” of other species on this planet.
We Must Move Beyond Our Infatuation With Technology And Self-Image As Planetary Stewards
Technophiles might argue that it is not technology, but the inappropriate use which is the real problem. That is a facile and denial-ridden response, as the evidence clearly demonstrates that the problem runs much, much deeper.
And all we hear about in glowing color is that more technology is the solution to our problems – the sort of thinking from the past that has created our problems in the first place. Solar panels will be our saviour. Wind power will be our saviour. Better fuel efficiency in transportation will be our saviour. Recycling will save the planet. And so on. Another quotation often attributed to Einstein sums it up nicely: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” We must move beyond our obsession and infatuation with our own technologies, and beyond the idea that our role on this planet is one of stewardship and control. We must, in Lovelock’s words, “realize more than other green thinkers the magnitude of the change of mind needed to bring us back to peace within Gaia, the living Earth.” We must plan and execute a “sustainable retreat” from where we are.
Overcoming our own smugness and arrogance about our cleverness and about our place on this planet – overcoming our narcissistic technophilia - would be good first steps.
February 22, 2012
Originally posted at http://www.greenparty.ca/blogs/9600/2012-02-21/narcissistic-technophilia and re-posted here with the Rick Shea’s permission
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Scroll down to see the effect of modern development
Unless there's economic growth, we're not making progress
Unless the trucks rumble along the roads, we're not making progress
Unless the engines of industry are turning, we're not making progress
Unless the factories and mills belch out smoke, we're not making progress
Unless our armies are on the move, we're not making progress
Originally published as "Community must ask who bears the cost of progress" by Dr Mark Copland of the in the TooowoombaChronicleof 5 Jan 10 (URL of article unkown).
This story first appeared, along with the koala photograph, in the Toowoomba Chronicle on 5 January 2010. Story written by Dr Mark Copland
Acland - a town on death row
Late last year I took a short drive and visited the town of Acland. It was a haunting visit. Like a town on death row -- or a community on life support -- except they've already started ripping the drips and sensors from the veins before the patient is even dead. The Acland story is like the Australian movie "The Castle" -- except this one doesn't have a happy ending. It left me full of uncomfortable questions -- with far too few answers.
As people we are good at opening things. We bring in the politicians, the brass bands, the plaques and all enjoy a very civilized morning tea as we bask in the warm glow of progress. One of the many questions sitting with me as I left Acland was, "How do you close a town?" How do you honour the memories, the lives lived, the countless hours of voluntary community building given by loving citizens? It's a bit embarrassing and so we mumble something about progress once again and then just move on.
Environmental Impact Statement farce
In this process, mining companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on expert consultants who create very large documents telling us why the mine must go ahead. There is barely even the illusion of independence. The average citizen with no resources is given a few weeks to respond. The question is not will the mine go ahead -- but how can the mine go ahead?
I met one of the last men standing in Acland. Glen Beutel. Glen isn't ready to move on. And I don't blame him. Us Aussies love the glorious defeat -- Gallipoli, Ned Kelly etc. And Glen is in this tradition. By staying - he is shining a light on the farce that passes as the Environmental Impact Statement process. In this process, mining companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on expert consultants who create very large documents telling us why the mine must go ahead. There is barely even the illusion of independence. The average citizen with no resources is given a few weeks to respond. The question is not will the mine go ahead -- but how can the mine go ahead? The key word for the proponent is mitigation - how to respond to government regulations and possible community complaints. And the company gets its money's worth. If you read one of these things you would almost believe that the local environment will be enhanced with an open cut coal mine, which if all goes to plan will eventually engulf the town that once was Acland.
Koalas in Acland
I met somebody else on the road to Acland. The guy in the picture above. Last Summer our hearts went out to image of the koala burnt in the Victorian bushfires. In 1995 furry friends like this one helped to bring down the Goss government as proposed roads in South East Queensland were believed to be destroying koala habitat. And while there are even fresh water tortoises that call Acland home -- there won't be a Mary Valley Turtle to bring a halt to things a la Traveston Dam. I wonder if finding this bloke and his friends a new home is part of the planned expansion of the Acland mine. No doubt the plan will be buried somewhere in the Environmental Impact Statement.
Acland like Pandora in Avatar - Who pays for 'progress'?
A few nights ago I sat with my 3D glasses on watching the blockbuster movie Avatar. The plot is thin -- but familiar -- a colonizing power wishes to remove some Indigenous people to rip a precious mineral out of the ground. It's Hollywood where the good guys win and the baddie gets his just desserts. All the while I was watching it I had Glen Beutel and my Koala friend sitting somewhere on my shoulder. One of the serious questions that Avatar leaves the viewer with -- "Is it always necessary and right to take things out of the ground, and use them -- just because they are there?" I am sure when the Acland mine was first proposed there was never any mention of closing down a town. For me the sadness is not just the passing of the town -- but the way that it has been done. As a region we must ask the question, "What price progress -- and who will bear the cost?"
Avatar is a remarkable movie, about a fabulous world and an old story with some great new twists and perspectives. This is an exciting and skilled 3D graphics state of the art creation which puts the viewer on a new planet in the skin of an alien tribe. We discuss this experience and the political message of the movie.
Avatar is a remarkable movie.
It is remarkable for its art and special effects and its ability to make the audience feel a part of the movie and identify viscerally with an alien population of hunters and gatherers. It is remarkable for its creation of a beautiful planet with no machines and a strangely sculpted pastel menagerie.
Most remarkable, perhaps, is how a 20th Century Fox blockbuster exposes the colonial ideology that all undeveloped peoples are crying out to have their environments transformed by 'progress and development' and the capitalist brand of 'democracy'. It tells the truth about deforestation and why it occurs.
Forest warriors, take heart!
Colonisation - the theme
The Masai, the Australian Aborigines, the American Indians, the South American Indians, the Maori, the Zulus, the Fijians, the Hawaiians, the Irish, the Irian Jayans - all these tribal people resisted being 'civilised' by colonials who wanted to expand their empires. Was there ever a people that still had land which was happy to hand it over to the historical waves of expansion by Romans, Normans, Muslims, Hispanic, French, German, British, Indonesian, American, Chinese, Indian colonists?
And yet, to this day, we of the 'developed world' are told that we are paying for the expansion of capitalism to bring 'democracy' to the 'undeveloped' or 'unfree' world. And when everywhere is 'developed', the story goes, there won't be any overpopulation or poverty or injustice ... Unfortunately this isn't true. Development is what starts problems in steady state economies and populations. You wonder why more foreign aid people don't wake up to this. Perhaps many stay in the business to try to make the process less awful or simply because, like most of us, they have no land and therefore need their jobs, however awful.
In this film the indigenous are humanoid and their appearance and rituals are perhaps most reminiscent of Africa - a land of immense abundance and variety with fantastically varied peoples, economies and fauna - attacked mercilessly by colonial processes from the industrial revolution of the 1750s. (Viewers might be interested to know that currently, on Earth, Africa is being subjected - along with other lands - including, possibly, Australia - to yet new waves of colonisation - by Chinese and Indian agricultural corporations this time - which are taking over remaining tribal land and 'remanaging' it. We hear so little of this.) 
Resettlement of the indigenous in special areas, where they were put to work, was practised by the Romans and the approach is the same today. Move the indigenous, get rid of their leaders, disorganise them, and make them work in the new economy. The business excuse (typically used against the Arabs by the British who displaced them for the Zionist diaspora) is that the people being displaced don't use the land efficiently, because they don't mine it or farm it. Or, if they do mine and farm it, they don't do it efficiently enough. Or if they do it efficiently, they aren't putting their goods on the international open market, and they have to be made to do so. Mess up a country badly enough and soon you can go in and save the starving and place a military presence there to protect your international charities. Coincidentally the country next door usually turns out to have oil or rare minerals or presents a corridor to oil and rare minerals (Somalia).
Avatar is a story about this process in the future, reaching out now into outer space.
In 3D it is absolutely rivetting, and I found myself ducking when missiles came towards me.
The third world has now extended beyond our solar system as the US mercantile spacefleet tries to keep shareholders happy. This involves negotiating the rape of an incredibly beautiful planet with indigenous people who, like most indigenous people, have everything they want and need and don't want colonisation.
"We don't have anything to offer them," says the hero.
"Just go in and negotiate," he is told.
One author in candobetter pages was struck by the plausible ruthlessness of the conquerers in discussing moving the blue native people on. They agreed with one another in such a "civilised" way. To them - the blue people were just an obstacle to the main game...and one instantly saw that this is how forest people and forest animals are regarded by invaders on Earth- something to be brushed aside or bulldozed.
Another candobetter writer said, "This seems to be what they are doing in Queensland to the ordinary Australians in order to go ahead mining coal in agricultural country."
The armed conflict in the pursuit of greed motif in the film is also reminiscent of the US war on Iraq.
This is a planet filled with fabulous rainforest, not really much different from real old rainforest in Australia, but a bit bigger. The creatures in it are huge, of triceratops size, and the flying animals are reminiscent of pterodactyls. The muscle and organ structure of the animals makes it obvious that they are of a different world.
Every species in this world is connected, as indeed are we on this world, but the phenomenon is more obvious here because different species can physically connect to communicate. The ecology of the world is explained using mystical and religious icons, which stand in quite well for a kind of biological ecology.
It was a psychologically clever thing to make the indigenous people so much taller than the humans. Usually the indigenous people, however patronised in movies, are the same size as us or smaller. To get the superiority of these peoples' ability to live within a naturally integrated environment, instead of one like ours, which is disconnected, you need something to convince the audience immediately. Big is usually read as better and these are very large, therefore superior people, with enormous eyes, which convey intelligence. Whilst incredibly gracile, like the Hereros of Namibia, with somewhat similar hairstyles without the red mud, these people are immensely strong and agile. They use the huge tree trunks as paths for running. They are open to the signs of the environment around them and the expression of all the other living things. This is obviously how hunter-gatherers used to live. The way they would have enjoyed life and the knowledge they would have had in the best of societies and environments is well-conveyed here.
And surely the obese children, teenagers and their parents, who go to see this film will wonder at the strength and fitness of the forest people and want to be more like them.
Technology has solved no social or ecological problems
Although set well into the future, we see that more technology has solved nothing fundamental.
Neither has growth economics and globalism.
The US system still has unaffordable health-care and the crippled marine hero in Avatar cannot afford the medical treatment he needs, even though the technology to make him walk again is available. He also needs a job and is expected to perform as well and work as hard as a person with no handicap.
Presumably the population has continued to grow on earth because there are so many marines available to go to outerspace, who need jobs, and are willing to risk their lives.
Instead of sharing the wealth we find that money is still being spent to keep some shareholders happy. And industry must find new minerals to invest in to keep on growing that bottom line.
The machines look as if they are still being powered by petroleum, so the fossil fuel problem must have been solved, although this is not discussed. In fact humans are never going to go to outer space en masse unless they find something completely new to power their vehicles. (This isn't discussed either, obviously.)
It looks like a high-tech oil-war like the one in Iraq is still going, but it has moved into outer space, seeking to expand its influence in the pursuit of materials and energy. Although we only hear what goes on in the colony, one assumes that the folk back on earth are told that this is all to bring democracy and wealth to the undeveloped worlds out there.
I was interested to observe the faces of the people who live in Melbourne where I saw this film. A lot looked shocked, unused to questioning the whole notion of progress, yet almost certainly emerging from close to three hours of intense identification with a hunter-gatherer tribe, hoping that Earth's progress would be halted.
I hoped that the many people who see this film will actually retain something useful to help them resist the media and government propaganda that are used to destroy forests and people and to grind the rest of us exceedingly small in a vast commercial con-job.
Of course, with every new exploitation, we are always told, "Now we are modern, it will be different."
 On foreign aid, Michael Maren, The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, Free Press, Simon and Schuster, 1997 ; Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty, Atlantic Press, 1989
 Recolonisation of Africa by China and India: See, for instance: "China and India Battle for Influence in Africa: Part 4" (although this one lets India off lightly); Exploiting Africa [history]. You can also find multiple business and foreign aid articles saying how great it is that foreigners are renting vast terrains in Africa and employing the villagers who once managed them. You have to look quite long and hard to find out that most of the Africans initially resist this loss of power over their own territory. If Africa is to feed China and India, it will be sucked totally dry, but, hey! there will be a few jobs along the line.
Whilst I am a great fan of Tim Murray's, I feel the topic and the opinions expressed need further investigation.
Tim Murray's article, The Record of Indigenous North Americans raises the issue of whether non-capitalistic or less complex cultures were as unethical or worse than modern industrial societies. Since the initiator of the debate, Tim Murray, hails from Anglo-Canada and talks about North American Indians, I will proceed as if we are mainly talking here about Anglo-capitalism. I don't want to be accused of cultural-cringing because of my own precision of 'Anglo' capitalism, so I will precise here that the system of capitalism and industrial society originated in England and colonised itself most typically in the English-speaking settler societies like the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and, I think, South Africa. Other capitalisms have different relationships with fossil fuels, democracy, and land-inheritance systems. They incorporate other organisational, economic, social and political blends, although industrialisation is heavily affected everywhere by Anglo-capitalism.
I think that the imbalance of romanticism almost entirely favours fossil-fuel based Anglo-capitalism. I agree with Michael Creighton about environmentalism as a religion in that, clearly, some environmentalism is religious. Corporations, spin-doctors, the mainstream media and advertising (the latter three being parts of the same thing) rely on this uncritical faith by the public in symbols and banners. Religious environmentalism ritualises and promotes 'environmental values' in the same way religions push various other ethical values, without the rituals having much if any practical application to Energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) and preserving biodiversity, any more than a politician's or Corporate CEO's swallowing wine-soaked bread from a priest (taking of the Eucharist) necessarily affects their real-life conduct of business.
The same religious approach is often present in defenses of the superiority of industrial society and of what passes for democracy in Anglo-capitalist societies. I would also say that people believe naively in the value of their governments in the way that children believe that their parents are essentially good and loving even when they are cruel, dishonest, niggardly and abusive. To seriously challenge the idea that your country's leader ultimately has your country's welfare at heart, upon which your welfare utterly depends, is in practice as unlikely as a pre-schooler losing faith in his mother or a priest losing faith in the God the Father. Although it does happen, populations have to be pushed to the limit and to have little left to lose before they seriously challenge outrageous governments. The tendency is for the worshipper to seek in themselves the explanation for bad behaviour in a leader, a parent, or a deity. The first person the doubter approaches is the parent or the priest, who reinforce the dogma of course. In Australia the tendency is to write to one's member of parliament or to the editor of a mainstream newspaper - with predictable results. The last person we tend to rely on for verification is ourself.
There is abundant evidence of steady-state hunter gatherer and herding cultures lasting many hundred and even thousands of years. They had to get along with the other species in their environment because they depended upon them for survival; they could not afford to to damage or scare them all away. Those cultures which did break their environments also broke, died back, and often did not survive. The societies which survived for long periods got it right.
A recent book which tests theory on the durability of such cultures is Fikret Berkes & Carl Folke (Eds.), Linking Social and Ecological Systems, Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience, Cambridge Univ Press, 2000.
Only if we equate material abundance - an accident of fossil-fuels permitting complex technology, starting in England and producing ghastly inequities and sufferings there which then were globalised and continue to burgeon - with some kind of evolutionary progress of the species (which I find an absurdity) - could we pretend that the amount of waste and destruction in our culture was justified. That is, however, a widely held belief, marketed as an excuse for grossly interfering with peoples' rights in non-industrialised countries.
My view is by no means some kind of cultural cringe about what was imposed on my ancestors; it is a political view I have formed through the experience of testing Anglo-capitalist associated democracy and trying to make the system live up to the values that Tim believes it embodies. The capitalist Western Culture simply doesn't actually follow through on the democratic and kindness values that it markets itself under. The only reason a shrinking proportion of those under its sway still believe that it does is because they have not tested those values and because they happen to remain a part of the shrinking circle of beneficiaries. There are many countries out there which are actively revolting at the cost they bear for provisioning Western capitalist culture Inc.
This comment is also not some kind of defense of communism or socialism, which, as far as I can see, had their roots in an opposition to capitalism and classically attempt to operate on the same dehumanising scale. It looks as if Western capitalism is now going the same way as Soviet communism, but now Russian capitalism is on the rise - and for one reason only - fossil fuel possessions. As Western fossil-fuel sources deplete, Russian and ex-Soviet sources are still comparatively well stocked.
I think there is a conflict in the anti-population movement between those who have not sufficiently explored the fossil-fuel connection between wealth, technology and mass propaganda and those who look at thermodynamic underpinnings of culture and social systems.
With regard to Michael Creighton (a favourite author of mine) and his comments about the Eden myth and popular romanticism of less complex cultures, my own opinion is that Creighton romanticises his own complex culture. I think he has bought the commercial myth that all our ancestors laboured in misery and cruelty until the industrial revolution brought them out of their torment. That's the myth of Industrial Eden. I look forward to Creighton writing a new science-based novel on the role of fossil-fuel reserves on capitalism and the relationship or non-relationship of capitalism with democracy.
By the way, Creighton's ideas for strengthening and depoliticising the funding of scientific research are very interesting. Take a look here.
I would be interested to see Tim Murray look into his Icelandic origins to find out more about the traditions of kindness, responsibility, altruism and friendships with animals there. As I have probably made clear, I think that capitalism simply stole kindly ethics from herding and other cultures and now wears those ethics like a false badge.
Murdoch's Queensland Courier Mail has long been in the business of marketing unacceptable development, but the April 9 2008 editorial read more like a medieval sermon on the benefits of floggings.
“Full story needed on big projects” began with some newspeak and then descended into arguments so crude that one suspected that lack of internal conviction was snarling up logical expression.
The editorialist started off by conflating ‘growth’ with ‘progress’, thus giving the concrete entombment of Brisbane a positive spin. Towards the end, in a kind of third-word medical metaphor for torture, s/he crudely compared undemocratic development with medicine and going to the doctor for an abdominal operation. We were not expected to like what we are told is going to happen, but it is clear that we must accept it. To object to being slashed open in order to …what?... would be unreasonable, apparently.
“Progress will sometimes hurt, but like an unpleasant visit to the doctor, it will hurt less if you are warned in advance of what to expect, rather than having a line drawn through your torso and told this is where the operation will happen.”
Shock treatment without a muscle relaxant would seem a little more congruent to the situation than abdominal surgery. Unless this is some kind of medieval operation to remove our persistent ‘bile’.
The writer (or the mad doctor) tells us that ‘We’ all want progress. It isn’t too clear what progress is, from the editorial, and the doctor seems to be hedging about the outcome of the operation, or its reason. Nonetheless, we must suffer for this abstract thing.
If, like most of us, you don’t want to suffer, and you aren’t sure what progress is anymore, you might feel that you are the only person in Brisbane who feels this way and you probably won’t dare raise your voice to protest.
BANANA is even worse than ‘selfish’; it means Totally Unreasonable, maybe even certifyably insane; certainly indefensible. BANANA stands for, “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”
The charge is that Queenslanders are objecting to nearly every development that goes up.
Well, Mr Editor-doctor, the fact is that Queensland is very densely populated and developed, so it is pretty difficult to find a place to develop which isn’t close to something else. And, with all this development, why should ‘we’ need, let alone ‘want’ more? We don’t like it, so we are protesting.
Brisbane has far less green space left than Sydney and Melbourne. It is obviously overdeveloped and overpopulated:
“ o•ver•pop•u•la•tion (vr-ppy-lshn) n.
Excessive population of an area to the point of overcrowding, depletion of natural resources, or environmental deterioration.”
We are suffering all three of these symptoms in Brisbane. Why can't we admit we have a problem and stop the cause rather than just trying to manage the effects! (Jennie Epstein in Victoria, slightly paraphrased.)
The editorialist-doctor sympathetically admits: “No one wants a freeway, chemical plant or a new power station at their back door …“but,” (s/he concludes harshly informing us that we cannot escape the symptoms of the progressive disease, or curse) “… these things are a fact of life if we are to cater for the needs of a rapidly growing state.”
The dishonest implication, from the main newspaper, the Murdoch voice of authority in Brisbane, is that Queensland’s extreme population growth is some kind of irresistible Brisbanite fate, like Sysiphus’s was to push a stone up a hill every day, except that, in Queensland, that stone gets bigger every day, and so does the propaganda we have to swallow.
What must Queenslanders have done to the Gods to provoke such punishment as
“freeways, chemical plants and new powerstations at their back door; transport corridors and dams which endanger the environment and destroy local communities ...”
... which the editorialist identifies as our inescapable fate?
The editorialist tells us moreover that many of us may be economically inconvenienced or have airports expanded on our “comfortable backyards.” (This was only to be expected, apparently, and we should have moved somewhere else if we didn’t want our surroundings to degenerate into overpopulated slums. Quite a few of us should perhaps have enquired more carefully before being born here.)
Incredibly, the editorialist equates these sufferings with “our very comfortable 21st century lifestyle.”
And that is not the end of our sufferings: No, we must endure dispossession if we are to avoid dying of thirst in the short term. Nevermind the long term.
Our water security is threatened by population growth, which for some reason we cannot question. That population growth was brought upon us by the developer-serving Queensland Government, which advertised far and wide for it, interstate and overseas. Now we have to put up with the ‘solutions’ for water security which the government that made our water insecure tells us it must foist on us.
For stealing fire from the Gods and giving it to men, Prometheus was chained to a rock. Every day an eagle came and tore his liver out and ate it. During the night it would grow back, only to be torn out again.
Was that the operation?
How bad must it get? It could get a lot worse if our progress takes on the shape of India’s or Africa’s or Chile’s. But, as that dear old man, Augustus Pinochet once said, “Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood.”
We can be sure that we will be told that it is good for us when that happens.