How to Boil a Frog


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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Road to Shangri-La

Ever notice how the solution to all our problems is always just over the next hill?

No, no, on the other side of the castle. They have a buffet and cable TV!

One solution you may have heard of is called “carbon capture and sequestration”, or CCS. This means grabbing CO2 on the way out of the smokestack or gas well or whatever it’s pumping out of, liquefying it, pumping that liquid to somewhere else, and putting billions of tons of it back into the ground in such a way that it will never come back up or poison ground water or cause earthquakes or explosions or any of the other things that could happen. Simple!

Next JJ Abrams movie: “The Day the Earth Burped”

Unfortunately, the test project for how CCS would work on a large scale, called “FutureGen”, just got cancelled by the DOE, after the Bush Administration spent 7 years promoting it as the answer to global warming. It’s the old Chinese proverb at work: “A lame duck needs no political cover when he is building his presidential library.”

I got two books saved up already. And Laura can be my librarian!

But don’t worry! The good news is, the next solution is already lined up! It’s nuclear power, that good old Cold War power source that’s going to make electricity too cheap to meter any day now. Don’t worry about terrorists flying planes into the containment buildings, or the fact that there isn’t enough uranium left to make it through the 21st century even at current rates of use, or the fact that it takes over a million tons of cement to build a nuclear reactor…and manufacturing each ton of cement puts out over a ton of CO2. It’s all going to be fine. In fact the shining city over the next hill looks so good they’re calling it a “Nuclear Renaissance”.

Yeah, right.

Well, okay, it’s a bit of a problem that we don’t have anywhere to store the radioactive waste already lying around, and probably never will. But don’t worry! There’s corn ethanol! You say it’s driving up food prices and puts out up to 420 times as much CO2 as gasoline? Don’t worry! We’ll use soybeans! You say that causes deforestation and increases the output of CO2 while displacing indigenous people? Don’t worry! We’ll use switchgrass! Algae! Leprechauns!

You’ll be havin’ to fight to put me in your gas tank, laddie.

Okay, so there is the problem that we’re either already eating the stuff we want to turn into fuel, or Nature is already using it for something else, like regenerating soil fertility, feeding friendly bacteria, or bringing pots of gold to Irish lumpkins who haven’t heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for”. But don’t worry! There’s probably some technological fix right around the corner! Something will be invented that will allow all 6.7 billion of us to live in big houses and drive our cars everywhere and not turn the planet into one big Earth-flavored Pop Tart!

Oh, hell. Okay. Worry.

You are anyway. It has a name, y’know. “Eco-anxiety.” The feeling that you really should’ve taken the train to Wal-Mart instead of driving, that your vacation to France probably drowned 27 people in Bangladesh, that the frigging compact fluorescents you bought to save energy are probably going to end up in a landfill leaking mercury that will turn your future grandchildren into hideous misshapen freaks.

For God’s sake, people, take those bulbs to the recycling center!

Everybody worries in their own way, of course. The so-called “millennials” are practicing their fatalism. Why move out of the basement and get a job in a cubicle when you can lie on the couch rent-free and play Wii all day while waiting for society to collapse? An increasing number of those in middle age are taking much more decisive action – by killing themselves. Old people, meanwhile, are just having a lot more sex.

We’re outta here. Good luck with the planet!

Of course, there are many things Society could be doing about this. Therapists could be revising DSM-IV and recognizing that many of their patients’ symptoms might have something to do with the fact that the newspaper is filled with terrifying articles about how the Artic is melting and Australia is drying up and penguins are imploding, or whatever. Government leaders could be acknowledging their own feelings of fear and confusion about how to balance caring for the earth and caring for their citizens’ well-being. Schools could be changing their curricula to prepare children to grow their own food, make stuff, and generally get ready to live in a localized, low-carbon future – the only future that’s possible at this point. But, well, we have to prioritize.

Oh my God! He’s right outside! Red alert! He’s….oh. Well, he’ll probably be outside tomorrow.

So if Society isn’t gonna take care of this, what are you gonna do? You may have already thoroughly explored the “think about it a lot and resolve to do something later” option, and found that it doesn’t actually have any effect in the real world. The real problem with changing your life is that you have to change your life. And frankly, you’re too busy trying to hold your present life together to even think about changing it to something else. And what the hell would you do anyway, that could possibly make any difference?

That’s a good question. And don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t.

What you’re going to do is learn about the big picture. Global warming isn’t the problem. Peak oil isn’t the problem. Overpopulation, extinctions, dead zones, warming oceans, starving people, the imminent collapse of the credit default swap market, China painting mountains green to make their country pretty for the Olympics – none of these things are the problem. They’re all symptoms.

And I don’t even have health insurance!

The real problem is, very simply, overshoot. Too many people using up too little planet. And the solution to that has to be either fewer people, or less using. Because there’s only one planet.

So any solution you hear about that doesn’t fit into that, isn’t going to help, and in fact, sooner or later, will turn out to make things worse. But anything you do that does, is a solution. A real one.

Will doing something that fits into that, any small thing, change the world? Yes. Because the only thing that ever really changes the world is somebody actually doing something, and then somebody else asking them why they’re doing it. That’s it.

Where do you start? Start with How to Boil a Frog. Watch the interviews and movies you haven’t seen, read the books and articles you haven’t read. Those things will lead you other places, and something wonderful will happen. The world will stop being just a crazy bunch of random stuff, and start making sense. But before you do anything else, find yourself a video camera, a webcam, a cell phone cam, or, if you live in the UK, just walk outside and you’ll be on one of the 4 million surveillance cameras they’ve installed to keep an eye on you. Introduce yourself (first name only), say what city you’re in, and then talk about how you feel about everything that’s happening.

Our patron saint.

If you’re mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore, say that. If you feel like this is all a bunch of hooey foisted upon us by eco-aliens from Niburu, say that. If you feel despair, say that. If you feel energized and joyful, it could be your medication, but say it anyway. Then put it up on youtube per the directions on our site, and send us the link. We’ll put your link up, and you’ll become part of the People’s Video Project.

Because the biggest solution of all is for us to form one great big community, and to do that we have to talk to each other. There is a Shangri-La, and it’s us. Get to work.