My purpose is to show that if cultures are to end further acceleration of the climate change they are causing, then new ways of life must be found, which no longer cause it. Tinkering with improvements to our current ways of life is futile. We must each of us change how we live, or else be changed forever by our own effects.
Such new ways of life could be very much happier than the lives we live today. Philosophers from every age have told us that living on less is a recipe for happiness. In short, we must do without just about everything, which the power of fossil fuels has given us in the last hundred years. From now on, we shall be reliant on – not fossil mass, but biomass and all its diversity. What’s more we cannot burn that biomass and biodiversity, but must do all we can to become a part of the biological cycles, which provide our food, clothing, building materials, but not alas, our fuels. We need optimum biomass and optimum photosynthesis. By optimum, I mean the durable maximum.
The benign, almost infinitely-complex, but self-regulating life-cycles of the Holocene, which have enabled all that we call civilisation, are deflating – the gas of lost lives escaping, like wind from a punctured Earth. Instead of optimum cycles, we tend towards dead linear chaos – that is, the simple causes and effects of fossil-fuelled and bio-fuelled human cultures. The simple mind of Narcissus has inflated as his means of subsistence has withered.
Perversely, in consequence, he considers himself, newly powerful – a geo-engineer; cloud-seeder; genetic sequence-holder; ender of history.
The Anthropocene is not too grand a term. Our oil-powered actions have been monumental.
Images of a bloke sawing trunk-side of a branch he’s sitting on, or earnestly building a sea wall to protect his oil refinery are classic slap-stick comedies. The same plots are also tragic. Tragedy looks on with the heart, while comedy views it with the mind. The heart knows what is deeply true, but mind has the solutions. It can find tools to fight what breaks the heart.
The tragedy of a consumed Earth is too great to bear. Even comedy seems too glib; too clever by half… and so we shut down both mind and heart. We must somehow open them again. I’ve seen no signs of an opening yet.
There is a place where we may pass the deeply heart-felt between the humours of generations. It is old as human cultures. It exists. It is powerful, but is mostly unspoken. It is called the common. A clear-eyed comic revival will be necessary to find solutions to our tragedy. What is the common? – it is an inherited code for the good life. How much space can we take as an individual in larger society and as a species among all the other species?
There is a small chance that we can partially heal our punctured Earth and live convivial lives inside those self-sustaining living cycles. The odds are against it. We can only change the odds by changing how we live – by changing the causes of the Anthropocene – that is, ourselves. In developed economies, such as the UK, personal CO.2 budgets are long over-spent. We cannot undo that damage – proposed negative emissions are a sordid, escapist fantasy. And why lobby for carbon taxes to encourage what we must do anyway?
Banks, corporations, governments and their propaganda departments – newspapers, radio and television stations, such as the BBC persuade us not to do the right thing – to remain in their currently lucrative enclosures – to rely on marvellous, yet-to-be-devised technologies, combined with newly-presented, green consumer choices and the same elite’s similar “provision” of liberal democracy.
They tell us that all will be provided – each from its particular, specialist, rent-gathering enclosure.
This little book argues to the contrary. We can only change the culture by first changing ourselves and we can only find ourselves, by stepping onto the common.
If we think, in the ecomodernist manner, that we can devise “renewable” methods to power our currently-massive energy demands, then we’ve not a hope in hell. Biofuels for current levels of aviation alone, will require (per annum) 17 million sq. kilometres, or six times the area of all the arable fields in the world. That is, 68% of Earth’s total land area. A similar calculation would apply for timber-fuelled power stations (such as Drax) for electric aviation. Now, start apportioning the world’s forests… I had the above from Anna-Lotta Jadinge on Twitter, but the calculations are easy for anyone – back of an envelope stuff – use your own envelope. Her figures are UN figures. Next calculate for the family car, industrial machinery, domestic heat, light and air conditioning, commercial road transport, shipping, internet provision…
Ingenuity cannot replace resources. We will very shortly have consumed the Earth.
The Seventeenth Century English population (for example) was a thirteenth of today. Nevertheless, the land was stripped bare of trees for fuel, construction and ship building. The landscape was pillaged – truly desolate. Economic chaos was inevitable. Then, coal came to the rescue. In the centuries since, many millions of years-worth of sequestered photo synthesis have continued the rescue, but at a terrible, cumulative price. All the atmospheric CO.2, emitted from then, to now, remains – thickening the roof of the global greenhouse. We cannot thin the roof, we can only end further contributions to it.
Some woodland has been allowed to return – but not enough. From all its cropland, grassland and forest, English photosynthesis cannot match English CO.2 from English, ordinary ways of life, which fly upwards in a contrary and suicidal direction. That vertical sky motorway shows life loudly accelerating upwards as lifeless gas, while downward photosynthetic CO.2 lanes return more quietly towards terrestrial life. The human metaphor is appropriate. It describes the Anthropocene. Human fire swells and life (including human life) withers. I use England as an example, because the statistics are easily-gathered and that despot, the Westminster parliament seems to think only of England and her dependencies. Here, in Wales, a balance may be very slightly more easily achieved.
If we think that “wicked corporations”, or bad government are responsible for that CO.2, then we are truly deluded. We, ordinary people buy the services. We are the physics, which burns the fuel. Corporations and governments are but an abstract coercion. When did you last see a corporation? We burn fuel every day. This is personal.
FANCY AND IMAGINATION
Just as we can love an island set in a silver sea, not for the extent of its borders but for what it holds, so we can love our lives, not for the extent of their liberties, but for what they also hold. Any artist who professes to push boundaries has really not come of age. She remains locked in an adolescent resistance of parenthood, while neglecting the substance of herself.
Now, Fancy pushes at boundaries, while Imagination considers what she holds. A boundary is a thin line, which generates thin rewards, while what it holds, is of sights, scents, tastes, sounds… loves, friendships, many turnings and resting places… It is full of rewards.
Imagination – finds intelligence of changing physics as we sense it, married to the inner morality of who we are. Since we can neither deny that physics, nor the inner morality, imagination is the struggle to reconcile the two, so that who we are and where we stand become apparent. Imagination is a constant dynamo. It is a spring of happiness – it shapes us to fit the changes as new changes come. It eventually provides meaning, as we encounter unpredictable death, love, failure, success… Often, reality and our sense of self drift apart. Imagination re-joins them.
Fancy – is disconnected from both physics and that inner morality. It drifts out to those boundaries and dreams transcendence. It is not helpful. It provides excuses.
We can be as fanciful as we choose in an enclosure – we’ve a right to choose, so says our Fancy. We’ve a right to choose nonsense. We’ve a right to fanciful consumer choices, just to the limits of our spending power.
We cannot be fanciful on the common. Physics denies it and morality denies it. We’ve no right to choose the immoral, or even, amoral, and we’ve no right to choose the dis-physical – that is – we’ve no right to choose nonsense.
So, here’s a thing –
Commons define a right to the responsibilities of imagination – that is, they define moral sense.
Enclosure defines a right to irresponsible fancy – that is, a right to nonsense.
That is why commons have been enclosed by elites.
Should we not be allowed to lie back and dream frivolous dreams? – Of course, we should. Please lie back beneath spreading branches and whispering leaves, or listen to the inhaling and exhaling breath of waves on a beach and let the fancy roam…
But, should we be allowed to enact those dreams by right of our monetary, sexual, military, status, land, intellectual, or consumer properties?
Dear Reader, those fancies are the cause of such a change in climate that all fancies may soon end. Now imagine the extinction of species after species and also an unprecedented and widening chasm between rich and poor…
Elites are more and more violently holding onto their enclosures – that is, their accustomed and idle fancies – as physical evidence mounts against them. Enclosures, like fancies, have no sense of time.
Our battle is to reclaim the common. All evidence, and all justice stands behind us. Imagine that.
We reclaim the common, by reclaiming the guidance of our inner selves, combined with the evidence of our senses. The deeper we go, the more we are the same. Individuality lives in the shallows. Both depth and shallows are essential to the whole. That reclamation can only be achieved one citizen at a time, through her unique and lonely senses, combined with the power of imagination. Eventually, that citizen becomes Everyman. I am the species. Look what my species has done.
Even so, the sands are running fast.
AND WHAT OF THE ENCLOSURES?
In this book, there are two principle enclosures, that of land and that of status, which affect everyone directly and perniciously. There is also intellectual property, which is pernicious to all indirectly and to a few, directly.
All enclosures are selfish – anti-social, anti-economic and immoral. Those so called, “land improvements” could be equally applied to the common.
The most elegant solution to the economic drainage of land enclosure is still Tom Paine’s – a land tax, or ground rent, re-distributed to everyone by means of an equally-shared citizen’s dividend.
Similar solutions could be applied to other enclosures and monopolies. For instance, fossil fuels could be taxed at source (not at the pumps) and the revenue invested in the common good of renewable energy systems.
The now customarily extortionate demands for the status rent of GPs, dentists, solicitors and so on could be heavily taxed and re-invested in a National Health Service, in legal aid, or police and justice services.
Of course, John Locke, who witnessed the devastation of the enclosure spree of the Reformation (even after a hundred years) had a different proposition – property for all – that is a house and a field or two, for everyone. Seeing no way to do away with property, he sought a more just distribution of it. After all, most commoners had lost everything that recent ancestors had quietly held as right. Writers from the left often demonise poor John. Let’s grow more receptive and curious minds.
Most non-puritan writing of the time, is permeated by a half-liberated perfume of lost commons – the common, which dared not speak its name… I’d say, William Shakespeare’s plays are so quietly smoked in that unspoken scent, it lends a kind of ethereal form, or common, lunar sense to his writing. That moon shines on lost fields. Oh yes! – the common has fields. Meanwhile, unlike Thomas More and many others, he kept his head from the equally vicious Tudor and Stuart blocks. That goes for every other 16th, 17th and 18th Century poet besides… – even John Milton, alongside more obvious lost-commoneers cannot suppress those rising valedictory phrases. (though in tribute, perhaps to the same expressed in the eclogues of Virgil)
One problem with the regulation of enclosures is that unlike almost every other institution, they have no intrinsic moral structure. Thus, they cannot be reformed from within, but must always be disempowered from without. After all, the purpose of an enclosure is to remove the moral restrictions of the common. That goes for land, status and every other enclosure. Once we remove the moral, we remove the means of reasoned argument.
Status enclosure may well provide one reason for our personal lack of action in spite of universal evidence of cascading species loss and climate change. We believe that appropriate “experts” have the matter in hand. They do not. Enclosed “professions” no longer profess anything, but are taciturn, discrete and dignified – so dignified that the gathering of rents for that dignity have become their primary end. Those within an enclosure, seldom have much interest in those without. It is heart-wrenching to me, that the above is appropriate for the bulk of ecologists and so called “climate scientists”.
I’ve left another enclosure till last – money. What is interest? It is rent for the enclosure of money as property – not as a tool of exchange, but for itself as something owned. On the common, where money remains as a useful medium of exchange, money-rent is called usury and is not permitted.
Recent magic money-tree injections of money capital (money property) following the crash of 2008 (quantitive easing) have nearly all washed up in land property and further rent gathering for the already propertied. Of course, the debt-created, magic money-tree money, which is created by private banks is also largely spent into rising property values and further increases of rent. (It is nearly always created on the back of collateral land property.)
Just as land enclosure provides the right to pillage the soils one “owns”, but did not create, so money enclosure (money as capital) provides the right to pillage the real economy of natural assets, ingenuity/dexterity, wages and resultant social infrastructures of towns, villages, fields, woods and manufacturies. Rent is syphoned from that real economy.
Increasing rent from diminishing assets is not a good equation to contemplate. Status property (GP, lawyer & etc), money property and land property all demand rents from increasingly dry river beds of real economic activity. That activity has largely been powered by fossil fuels. Indeed, the flow of money should be directly proportionate to the flow of energy – that is the transformative power of what people do.
So, we have another fantasy – austerity – designed to keep the flow of rent from an energy-diminishing river. Restricted wages and restricted social spending are surprisingly thought to allow the sea level of rent money to remain the same.
However, the stupidity of elites should not be a surprise. It is ancient and universal. Personal ambition always has, and always will, remove reason. Enclosure provides the right to live without reason. However, it is only very recently that elites have had even the smallest hand in the goings-on of economy. Thus, we have unreason, even dis-reason everywhere. Now, that the last enclosures are complete and because elites hold almost everything, economic collapse is inevitable – I mean catastrophic collapse. Nothing can replace the massive powers of fossil fuels and nothing can sustain the related money flow.
Over here, on the common, as money and share/stock markets cascade; as unemployment soars; as manufacturing folds; as tax revenue withers; as social and infrastructure spending dries to a lost river bed…. – over here what can we do?
We can live as from ancient times, we used to live – the lord, idle in has castle/enclosure and we, on the land, in workshops and factories, trading each to each by means of villages, towns, market squares, harbours, roads canals, rivers… Churches, mosques, temples, libraries, meeting houses, pubs, theatres…. already stand by a common vision of what we are. In spite of cascading money markets, all those things remain, nestled among fields and woods –If we begin to divest as best we can from the amoral and immoral enclosures and reinvest each to each (moral citizen to moral citizen), it will be possible to form a real economy as the fantasies of the casino crash around us. Money is but a tool – a medium of exchange. At a pinch we can exchange skills and their produce without money, but money is very useful. We can make our own. Those with surplus can invest (as of old) in another’s venture, by means of non-tradeable shares – we partake in the adventure for better or worse – it is the bond; the trust. At the base of all transactions, however regulated, is trust.
I don’t see a springing up of alternative communities and eco-villages. I see the shadow of a proper economy everywhere, waiting occupation by the nervous system and metabolism of Everyman. Decayed towns and villages, drained by corporate retail park, entirely oil-powered suburbia and the falsely-egalitarian call of the internet, await the returning flow of ingenious, convivial humanity. Humanity will similarly repopulate market gardens and fields – returning man power for departing oil power. It’s a shame that I must interject that Man and Everyman are sexless terms.
But this is ever-so old fashioned, you say. Well, yes. That is why it can endure.
Patrick Noble’s new book can be ordered online here.
Featured image: moon. Source: https://www.freeimages.com/photo/moon-on-fire-1537514