COP15 Protests (Part II)

Today witnessed the largest climate change rally in world history with indigenous people at the forefront of the protest. Urgh. Excuse me for not subscribing to this inane brand of romantic sentimentalism with regards to the naturalistic primitivism of “indigenous people” (which in itself is a fairly relativistic term, but that’s perhaps another discussion).

To my mind, the pretense that native peoples enjoyed a “sustainable” existence prior to the arrival of rapaciously exploitative Europeans is nothing but a patronizing façade of laughable revisionism disguising some crudely idealistic form of communist mythology.

Make no mistake that life in native societies, while it may not have been solitary, otherwise it was, to borrow from Hobbes, most certainly “poor, nasty, brutish, and short”… And as for putative claims to sustainability, one only needs to look to the ancient Mayans to see a perfect example of systemic ecological collapse precipitated by a maladapted primitive civilization excessively devoted to organized religion and ethnocentric warfare.

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38 Comments

Filed under Environmental Policy

38 responses to “COP15 Protests (Part II)

  1. Navvy

    A good point Red. Even in Canada, during the first years in Quebec, Champlain wrote, with dismay, about the inability of the local native communities to feed themselves during the winter. They often relied on the young French colony for provisions, but never saw the need to actually put any of the food aside. Often resulted in violence and, ultimately, starvation.

  2. Navvy — The native tribes here on the west coast (Nookta, Haida and so on) were more settled than their nomadic brethren on the plains — hence their comparatively rich history of artistic output largely crafted during the grim winter months when they had stores of smoked meat and other provisions to tide them over to the next season.

    It could be argued that their lifestyle was “sustainable” but only to the extent of relatively small populations with an abundance of natural resources within remarkably easy access to their limited hunting/gathering technologies.

    To raise up such a model as an ideal in the 21st century however, is beyond ridiculous. Which isn’t to say that we can’t take some valid notes from their intuitive appreciation about the cyclical replenishment of natural resources, but the environmental economy of a few thousand indigenous peoples can’t be correlated to that of a modern system involving millions of people.

  3. MoS

    Red, I don’t think the point is a superiority of indigenous culture but the fact that the remaining, pre-industrial societies tend to be the communities being hardest hit by the impacts of global warming. Whether it be coastal Inuit or nomadic tribes of the sub-Sahara, it tends to be these indigenous groups that are most vulnerable to the impacts of drought, floods, the loss if sea ice and sea level rise.

    Sure we’ve all heard and dismissed their bullshit claims about sustainability, etc., but that’s not what this is about. This is about the disproportionate impact of AGW on the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable cultures and, in general, those do tend to be indigenous.

  4. MoS — Hmmm. Well, perhaps at the end of the day, these “vulnerable cultures” aren’t worth preserving at all.

    I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case, more just advancing a kind of Swiftian notion…

  5. “Well, perhaps at the end of the day, these ‘vulnerable cultures’ aren’t worth preserving at all”

    well, if we’re waxing mercenary, think of them as the canary in the coalmine.

    KEvron

  6. KEv — Good point. Their fragile dependency on the natural ecosystem could certainly provide a “heads up” indicator in this regard.

  7. MoS

    Red, that should be “is certainly providing.”

  8. Wow, this is a pretty mean-spirited post with some pretty mean-spirited follow-up comments.

    It’s hard to say how good people had before the Europeans arrived since they are pretty much gone. I guess we’ll never know whether or not their lives were nasty, nor brutish will we? It seems as if many aboriginal people in Canada and elsewhere would prefer going back to previous lifestyles or maintaining traditional ones than the current state of affairs. Gosh, I wonder why.

    One might dispute that aboriginal people lived Utopian existences before Europeans arrived–fair. Yet, to stand from our culture in supreme judgment is arrogant, misguided and downright delusional. The fact is that there is more hunger, more violence, more ecological devastation than ever before in human history. And the good lot of it is thanks to the destructive consumptive habits of the so-called enlightened west. Sure, we have civil liberties and all that good stuff here, but are we truly the ones to judge?

    We certainly showed them, didn’t we with our fossil-fuel dependent, “advanced” civilization excessively devoted to a religion of therapeutic masturbatory consumption and greed-driven maintenance warfare? Those “maladapted primitive civilization[s] excessively devoted to organized religion and ethnocentric warfare” could sure learn a thing or two from us!

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  10. Ryan — It wasn’t meant to be mean-spirited.

    It’s hard to say how good people had before the Europeans arrived since they are pretty much gone.

    As too are the European pioneers of the 17th century and beyond…

    I guess we’ll never know whether or not their lives were nasty, nor brutish will we?

    Actually, no. We can surmise such things from forensic evidence, archeology and anecdotal accounts of the time. The Arcadian mythology surrounding indigenous peoples is largely an invented fabrication of romantic philosophers.

    It seems as if many aboriginal people in Canada and elsewhere would prefer going back to previous lifestyles or maintaining traditional ones than the current state of affairs.

    As indeed they might, although I rather doubt they would seriously want to return to the “lifestyles” of their forefathers. Again, it’s a matter of contrasting present reality (which can certainly be pretty grim and awful in some circumstances) with an idyllic, romanticized notion of the past.

    Yet, to stand from our culture in supreme judgment is arrogant, misguided and downright delusional. The fact is that there is more hunger, more violence, more ecological devastation than ever before in human history.

    There are also billions of more people on the planet than ever before…

    I don’t presume to stand in “supreme judgment” and to impute such characterization to my opinions is a little unfair.

    And the good lot of it is thanks to the destructive consumptive habits of the so-called enlightened west. Sure, we have civil liberties and all that good stuff here, but are we truly the ones to judge?

    To some extent, we cannot help but make a judgment of sorts on the various events that preceded us — such is nature of historical reflection. As for our “destructive, consumptive habits” what would you propose instead? Computers made of straw perhaps?

    We certainly showed them, didn’t we with our fossil-fuel dependent, “advanced” civilization excessively devoted to a religion of therapeutic masturbatory consumption and greed-driven maintenance warfare?

    I’m not defending or advocating a “religion of therapeutic, etc.” but the fact of the matter is that our fossil-fuel driven civilization has given rise to innumerable innovations — not only scientific, but culturally adventurous.

  11. Grammin

    It is not mean spirited to make a note of the fact that prior to the arrival of Europeans, many aboriginals were constantly in conflict with one another, engaged in rape and pillaging (not to mention eating portions of their adversaries’ bodies after battle), and suffered from famine, in-breeding and a plethora of other problems that are just not politically correct to speak of.
    Yep……..many would dub one outright racist to suggest these things were true but they were. If you like, continue to dream of =Amerindians smoking salmon on the seashore in front of their totem poles, using every part of the once abundant buffalo herds that the evil white man killed off, or making nifty beaded crafts to barter with the other tribes with whom they all lived harmoniously beside. Those of us who have read a book (or several) and refuse to romanticize the culture of a lost people because they are now marginalized will continue to live in the real world.

  12. Navvy

    The fact is that there is more hunger, more violence, more ecological devastation than ever before in human history.

    I know one, and suspect two, of those statements are absolute hogwash.

  13. MWW

    “Europeans, many aboriginals were constantly in conflict with one another, engaged in rape and pillaging ”

    When it comes to hideous disgusting and atrocious slaughter of millions – Europeans win out over Aboriginals by a longshot… WWI and WWII ring any bells?

    To say nothing of the incineration of tens of thousands and slow deaths caused by Hiroshima and Nagasaki….

    To say nothing of the Forced Famines of the Ukraine – involving millions… or the Holocaust… or Mao’s Great Leap forward….

    Yeah… all these OTHER civilizations certainly have a LOT to teach aboriginals about “civilized” behavior.

  14. EM

    I’m with Ryan and Mww.

    I’d just add that the widespread lack of physical fitness and good health seems correlated to the ‘advanced’ consumptive habits mentioned.

  15. “We can surmise such things from forensic evidence, archeology and anecdotal accounts of the time.”

    The point is that we don’t really have anyone to ask if they were happy or not. We can “surmise” from our context, certainly. But we can’t really know. Only the dead know for sure whether life was satisfying or not. I agree with you on romanticization, and it’s probably due to a dissatisfaction with the present as much as an idealization of the past. But it goes both ways and we see our own culture through rose-coloured glasses, too.

    Yes, we have great innovations, much like the Mayans in their time. They were the cultural and technological giants in their area and era. In relative terms we could say the same about them as you’ve said of us. Yet, that example should say to us that the so-called advanced civilizations can fall as easily and as hard as the so-called primitive ones before us. Will we get out of climate change and energy scarcity or will we end up like everyone else?

  16. Will we get out of climate change and energy scarcity or will we end up like everyone else?

    Well, it’s estimated that something like 95% of all creatures that ever existed on planet Earth are extinct, so the odds certainly aren’t in our favour; but then, as a species we’re something of a radical exception, so who knows? We are quite adaptive…

  17. It’s no big secret, though not PC, to note that many of North America’s megafauna went extinct soon after the arrival of the native peoples 45,000 or so. The same can be said for the larger flightless birds in New Zealand (like the Moa) after the arrival of the Maori, 1000 years ago.

    I think there is much of native culture that is worth preserving, but I think it’s both revisionist history and rather patronizing both to Natives and Europeans to state that all was well until the Europeans colonialists arrived.

    What Europeans did (and what modern civilization is doing today) is up the scale of unsustainable consumption. Eventually that will catch up with us. I hope it doesn’t spell the end of the human race, but I have a feeling that life in the 22nd Century will more closely resemble life in the 19th Century than the early 21st Century.

  18. Dan — Perhaps, but I suspect there’s no way of turning back the clock and reverting to a 19th Century mode of existence. That said, I do think that our concepts of urban planning are in serious need of reconsideration.

  19. TofKW

    “I hope it doesn’t spell the end of the human race, but I have a feeling that life in the 22nd Century will more closely resemble life in the 19th Century than the early 21st Century.”

    Not an uncommon prognostication towards our future. There has been plenty written within the science fiction genre about futuristic agrarian societies, thanks to some great calamity that befell mankind due to his folly (like say, exponentially increasing the oxidization of carbon over the past 150 years and thinking this does not affect the environment).

    However, I am actually an optimist when it comes to these matters, and looking at past history only bolsters my views. I hate to get all Gene Roddenberry on everyone here, but I think he was essentially correct in his overall analysis of the future. In short, humans are smart and adaptive, (the sole reasons we even got this far as a species) and though their instinctive reaction to a looming danger is to stick their collective heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away, eventually they use technology to solve the problem, or at least work around it for a while.

    A case in point of this technology is the great strides being made in genetically re-engineering the algae which created the petroleum we drill for today (the daily science lesson for those who incorrectly thought it was dinosaur juice). The end result will be to drastically speed up the process which takes millions of years under natural conditions into to a matter of months, with the end-product is the same light sweet crude the oil companies salivate after. The beauty is any nation (with sunlight) would be able to create its own oil supply ending the ‘peak oil’ doomsday scenario, and best of all the process is carbon neutral as the algae will require massive amounts of CO2. There would be NO need to change technology or lifestyle if this is successful.

    Also, there are plenty of other technologies on the horizon should the algae go bust, for example cold fusion has quietly made some impressive steps forward over the past decade. However, we as a species need to understand the problem is very real, and only gets worse as we ignore it and delay our response …otherwise those novels about futuristic agrarian societies consisting of a handful of human survivors would not be that far fetched.

  20. MoS

    I think there’s some truth in TofKW’s arguments. There are things that we can be doing, technologies we ought to be exploring to reduce atmospheric GHG levels. That said, we also need to implement measures to adapt to what’s already coming – sea level rise, more powerful storms, drought and flooding.

    The way we get back to a 19th century existance is by default, by doing nothing effective in time. Whether indigenous people rapaciously consumed every resource they could get their hands on is, frankly, irrelevant to the climate change problems they’re experiencing.

  21. The problem with these technological fixes is that a) many of them require fantastic resources to accomplish, even “green” ones like the algae one mentioned and b) there is no telling where technology can take us, despite big dreams and c) the direction of our technological advances is, for the most part, in the hands of corporations and not directed toward necessity but of profit. The final point is not a tirade against corporations, but a mere acknowledgment that much of our innovation is fueled by what is in the best interest of these companies, and not us.

    We will not go back to the 19th century, as the Kunstler types have predicted simply because we have those new technologies such as the internet etc. The fact is that many of our solutions are already in our midst. Better urban planning, as was brought up is one. Another is permaculture and another would be decentralized energy. Another is producing things that don’t break after the 1 month warranty, and doing more by hand and for ourselves. Ending our destructive habits isn’t merely “not buying anything.” It’s making due with less and plenty of people have done it and continue to do it while living extremely (if not moreso than many of us) satisfying lives.

  22. TofKW

    Ryan, indeed I may be very wrong with my views towards our technology saving us. At the very start of my post I wrote I am an optimist on this matter, so I admit my bias. However never underestimate the power of technology, it is the major reason why the human population has gone from around the 1 billion mark at the start of the industrial revolution, to our current 6.7 billion. I do however share your concerns about global corporations controlling these technologies. This is a new wrinkle from just 25 years ago. For example, who would have ever thought of the possibility of copyrighting a DNA sequence?

  23. Heh. I immediately thought of Kunstler when I read Dan’s remarks. I’d certainly concur with all of what you’ve said there and as someone whose entire material possessions in life can quite literally be fit into a handful of boxes, I can attest to the fact that making do with less “stuff” (as George Carlin used to say) can be a very positive thing.

  24. TofKW — I prefer taking a generally optimistic view of our ability technologically radically innovate our way out of the predicament facing mankind. The prospect otherwise is rather bleak.

    I read somewhere that even if all the countries on Earth enacted all of the ambitious goals our politicians have nobly vowed to take in order to reduce their carbon emissions over the coming decades — which of course they won’t — it would still result in a rather alarming temperature rise of 3.5 degrees or so over the next hundred years, (with all of the dire consequences resulting therefrom) .

  25. I am not sure how global networks like the internet can be sustained without the vast amounts of energy needed to maintain and power it. I would expect the internet to be one of the first things to go.

    I don’t believe that the 22nd Century will be a copy of the 19th. We have accumulated knowledge, like germ theory for example, that will serve us well in a post oil future. (I don’t think we’ll be bleeding sick people like they did in the 19th Century). There are certainly plenty of other knowledge legacies that will put us ahead as well and no doubt there will be small scale energy projects that can keep the power on when it is needed. In many ways the present period has served us well.

    But I am not an optimist when it comes to the immediate future. It assumes a level of cooperation that, frankly I believe, is not part of human nature. When I look at the way the American healthcare debate has shaped up, it confirms it for me.

    Extending affordable healthcare to all seems like a no-brainer, something that would not only help individuals in need but make America more competitive. But the vested interests and sheeple make something that in comparison is relatively easy almost unattainable… again.

    A transition to a post oil economy is going to demand much more sacrifice. I think the rich and powerful will use every means possible to fight that.

  26. Dan — There are a lot of things that seem like “no brainers” that we’re simply unwilling to undertake for all sorts of asinine reasons. Imagine if the military budgets of developed countries of the world were devoted to rescuing all those around the planet less fortunate than ourselves who are starving and dying of easily preventable diseases, or providing them with the simple technology to pump their own water or provide them with electricity. Instead, countless billions of dollars are invested in weapons of mass destruction, cluster bombs, land mines, jet fighters, tanks, rockets, and so on. I know that may sound naïve and hopelessly “liberal” but it’s just sickening to me how completely fucked up our priorities are in this regard.

  27. Exactly. And that’s why I can’t be optimistic.

    I think our individual and societal capacity for self delusion is far deeper than we want to believe.

    Preparing for a post oil future takes sober self-reflection, present-day sacrifice for a nebulous benefit at some point in the future, and willingness to let go of what we have and value, in terms of possessions and status. I don’t believe human beings will have a mass conversion experience, be transformed and start behaving this way. We live in a culture of distraction, isolation (living in single family homes where many don’t even know their neighbours) and individualism/suspicion of others and of institutions that makes this even more difficult than it was at times like WWII.

    I hope I am wrong about this. Honest.

  28. MoS

    It’s astonishing how the world squanders its wealth on armaments. We don’t hear much about it but even India is engaging in an arms race with China. India, that has so many in abject poverty, develops and deploys its own “made in India” nuclear missile subs while it furiously expands its Blue Water fleet even as China matches them, ship by ship.

    Obama budgets $90-billion annually for his war in Afghanistan while the West pats itself on the back for promising $10-billion a year to help the poorest 49-countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. And we wonder why they view us with such anger and resentment.

  29. Dan — My depth of compassion is somewhat circumscribed by the highly selfish realization that I’ll be departing existence in fairly short order, so there’s little motivation for me to be seriously conservative in my consumption of energy for whatever time remains… In the meantime, I’d just as soon prefer to be comfortably warm rather than virtuously frigid, even if that luxury comes at the modest expense of future generations of quite probably despicable cretins.

  30. Trust me. I am not making judgments on anyone here. I am as guilty as the rest, if not more so.

    While I will probably also depart this planet before the shit hits the fan, I do have 9 and 11 year old nephews who will probably have to live through the explosion and clean up. I do worry about them.

  31. Good discussion.. but here’s my two cents worth..

    When we look at agrarian societies, or “developing” societies, and the suggestion is that we divert funding of, say, military funding to aliviate third world problems.. well, let’s say that we send enough money to food and cloth the citizens of Bangladesh, where some 20 million or so are currently living on flood plains, but, notwithsanding substantial over-crowding, and lack of food, they still have a birthrate far exceeding that of developed countries.

    Or, better yet, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Since 1996, over 5 million people have died from war, famine and disease. The country cannot come close the managing the needs of their population as it stands, yet, they have the highest birth rate in the world in the last five years.

    Do you suppose that if we send those countries several billion dollars that their brith rates will recede? Or, do you think, like locusts, the population will consume as much as we can provide.

    Don’t get me wrong – I think there IS a social responsibility to help those in need, but I think realistically, we have to also have regard in a very REAL (not romanticized)way about their own responsibility for their own difficulties at the same time.

    No doubt, the government of the Congo itself spent massive sums of money on their war machine while their people were literally starving to death.. such that the big finger pointing at the U.S. is perhaps slightly self-serving by many in the African continent.

    I think, the point is, that socities and people have to evolve or die. It’s that simple. And that goes for indingenous people, to a great extent represented by third world countries. Countries where traditional agrarian lifestyles have not adapted to modern economics.

  32. Guzzeuntite

    “When it comes to hideous disgusting and atrocious slaughter of millions – Europeans win out over Aboriginals by a longshot… WWI and WWII ring any bells?

    “To say nothing of the incineration of tens of thousands and slow deaths caused by Hiroshima and Nagasaki….

    “To say nothing of the Forced Famines of the Ukraine – involving millions… or the Holocaust… or Mao’s Great Leap forward….

    “Yeah… all these OTHER civilizations certainly have a LOT to teach aboriginals about “civilized” behavior.” — MWW

    Geez, Megan, who said anything about teaching the American Indians anything?

    We are all human and subject to our natures. The problem with ersatz “aborigines” like you and their PC cheerleaders is that they actually expect everyone to swallow this nonsense of American Indian numinousness. It’s racist nonsense on stilts. The Indians were (and are) as bloodthirsty as the rest of us and quite capable of committing great horrors.

    And this neo-pagan crapola about living in harmony with nature has been shown also to be the stink-bomb that it is. Read Mann’s “1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus.” It’s gripping stuff and quite without the political biases many of you might fear.

  33. Ti-Guy

    Go lynch a black or something, Guzzentite. I’m sure there are few nooses left over from a period that ended not so long ago in your wonderfully developed and sophisticated country.

  34. Guzzeuntite

    That’s a non sequitur, Ti-Guy. It was Megan who said the racist things, not I.

    Your evidence of my racism is quite limited … to roughly zero.

    Your problem, little man, is that you are so filled with bilious psychoses (to borrow an overused phrase) that you burp out these pro forma inanities like some retarded parrot.

    But thanks for the input.

  35. Ti-Guy

    Your evidence of my racism is quite limited … to roughly zero.

    Corresponds to my evidence of you being a sentient life form.

    I’ll try to live with that lacuna in my Ausbildung.

  36. Guzzeuntite

    You have no choice at this point.

  37. Ti-Guy

    That’s a non sequitur, Ti-Guy. It was Megan who said the racist things, not I.

    By the way, who’s Megan?

  38. Guzzeuntite

    It’s a misspelling of Meaghan, as in Meaghan Walker-Williams, self-proclaimed Indian activist, phony, faker, sock-puppet par excellence, and the genius behind the MWW Official Stamp of Indian Authenticity and Approved Thought. She is a nasty internet imposter, who until now I guess, has laid low and blessed us with her welcome absence.

    You asked.

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