The Last Decade

It’s hard to shake the feeling of dread as we cross over from 2019 to 2020, and not just because our base-ten arithmetic conditions us to place emphasis on every decadal shift. It feels momentous, the crossing of a Rubicon of sorts… From the hopeful past to a hopeless future… a place where we once expected to find world-changing technological advancements, free energy, flying cars, and cities on mars. Instead we arrive in a world of social, political, and environmental collapse… a world where unprecedented anxiety and easy propaganda stems from systems of connection that monetize the darkest aspects of human nature…. where dogma and lies are elevated to national discourse… where reality itself is the subject of heated debate… where the shadow of catastrophic war and destruction and even the extinction of all life hangs over our heads and the doomsday clock ticks ever closer to midnight.

Those of us who wear the mantle of Cassandra are compelled to document this dark future that we see humanity careening recklessly towards, knowing that it will be unappreciated and ultimately lost to the wreckage of time.

Still… we bear witness…. the last prophets of the last decade.

The Disproportionate Effect of Climatic Disruption

History has a certain rhyme to it, as Mark Twain once said, never quite repeating exactly, but tending to emerge from particular themes time and time again.

One of those themes that has consistently emerged over time, especially as a result of capitalist focused economies (though certainly not limited to them) is the gradual accumulation and concentration of wealth at the top, exacerbating the disparity between those who have, and those who “have not”.

Despite history’s lessons on how this ultimately ends in collapse for the wealthy and poor alike, our modern civilization seems oblivious to the danger, as those at the top of the economic pyramid continue to accumulate wealth, extract resources unsustainably for profit, commandeer the political process for their own benefit, and externalize all of the negative costs and pollution on to the world’s poorest.

As mankind continues to despoil the planet under the banner of “growth” like a cancer, these converging problems threaten to undo all of the progress made in the last 200 years on human rights, according to a new UN report, with the largest share of the effects of climate change placed on the backs of those with the least. What happens when millions of people have no access to fresh water? What happens when rising sea levels inundate poor countries? More refugees, more xenophobic reactionaries, more destruction, more death, more chaos.

What I think the wealthy few fail to fully realize in this scenario is that the disruption and societal chaos unleashed by their refusal to change their behavior or to take responsibility for it will ultimately destroy them along with everything else. As failures cascade up and down our complex and interconnected systems, there will be no safe haven, even for the rich.

And so we continue our blind march towards extinction.

American Plastic is Killing You, and the Rest of the World

These days, you don’t have to wander far to trip over yet another story that fills in some of the picture on our pending environmental collapse. Many scientists familiar with the reams of data projecting overshoot in numerous areas (soil erosion, water use, pollution, etc.) have even posited that our prolific tendency for doing things that will eventually kill us may even be an answer to the Fermi Paradox.

In western capitalistic nations, the solutions to some of these problems have focused on the individual. What can “I” do?

Because the narrative of capitalism relies on the idea (or myth, rather) that the individual has the ultimate power to drive the system, for three decades now we have been sold on the idea of “going green”. Driving electric cars, taking public transport, using solar power, giving to environmental groups, and yes… recycling.

While all of these efforts are needed, they are all largely “feel good” initiatives that only make a small dent in the problem without being bolstered by co-operative organized efforts by the world’s governmental bodies.

One aspect of our “feel good” environmentalism that is rarely discussed or even viewed in all of it’s gory details is the recycling business. Fortunately, the excellent journalists over at The Guardian have taken the time to dig in to this story.

In the process of doing my own research recently into the development of sustainable raw materials and plastic replacements, the seriousness of the problem has become more and more apparent. While there are many advocates for switching to bio-plastics, and there are other new technologies being implemented at very small scales, the bigger problem is how to deal with the materials already in the environment, especially for the numerous consumer products that have mixed plastic components. (For example, polyester fabric, which usually includes either PU or PVC backing to strengthen it and to improve water resistance. These materials are used extensively for luggage, backpacks, and other carrying bags.) Mixed plastics are not really recyclable, certainly not at the scale needed to whittle away at the problem.

The more I read about and consider the scope of all of these problems, the need to change our consumerist lifestyle and economic system are clearly the only answers that can address these issues for the long term.

If we don’t, as Christina Lai, a Sungai Petani activist quoted in the Guardian article said: “One day this land will be taken over by rubbish and not humans.”