Up, Down, Ongoing, Addenda.
A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change by Stephen M. Gardiner. ISBN 9780195379440 or 0195379446, hardback, 512 pages, April 2011, $35.00 at Oxford University Press (USA); and himself at University of Washington (Seattle).
It was up front in the free part of the London Review of Books: What is the rational response? a review of sorts by Malcolm Bull. I was nonplussed by the cattiness in "... but it does not occur to him that the ‘tyranny of the contemporary’ of which he complains might be coextensive with democracy itself." What's that about (I wondered)?
The Toronto Public Library has a copy, so I asked for it ...
... and eventually it arrived.
I read the preface. His eight propositions do exactly as he intends - they 'pique' (compared with, say, the endless precious, precocious & pretentious 'premises' of Derrick Jensen which do not). That, despite the possibility that it will swallow up its own behind (implicit in Proposition 6 - Shadow Solutions, and the apologies in Chapter 2 notwithstanding). The acknowledgements just go on and on and on - but without any of those earnest thankyous to tireless editors and proof readers (this turns out to be an important clue gentle reader).
The book went onto the return-unread pile at the second paragraph of Chapter 1: "Climate change is complex problem raising issues across ... [sic]" - and that (I thought) is that.
But the return-unread pile happens to be on a chair next to the scanner, and having scanned and posted the preface (for some reason?) it seemed unkind not to at least check out whatever might be at the end of the final chapter. It is a short section (numbered 11/7 for those with a taste for women encountered in all-night convenience stores, Tarot cards, signs of the Zodiac and the like) titled 'Conclusion' - and the last paragraph has a certain winsome quality. You will have to read it and see for yourself.
He says, "In my view, prominent among these is the task of bearing witness to serious wrongs even when there is little hope of change." This is lame; this is not enough; this is a cop out (not quite); and this may just be nonetheless precicely what it ... is ... true and compelling.
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity," says Yeats - and they (and all those inbetween) are alive still (according to Yeats' tense): eating, belching, farting, shitting, pissing (as their prostates permit); occupying space and breath and grasping at any straw.
So it has gone back on the bedside table and a personal copy has been ordered (not on the Internet but from an actual bookshop). I would like to send copies to Elizabeth May and Mardi Tindal but I can't afford it - 40+ $CDN by the time you figgure in the sales tax.
Laying out the metaphors side-by-each: the prisoner's dilemma (in various colours and flavours) and the tragedy of the commons compared and contrasted with what he calls the PIP (pure intergenerational problem), and all of it wrapped up into a 'perfect' storm.
A barn burner! Who could resist? How could anyone put it down?
There is only ad hominem, nothing else really carries serious weight.
You can watch him here: Climate ethics roundtable discussion at NYU, October 28 2010.
One hears about the so called 'mid-atlantic accent' ... but the unevenness of his spoken word - apparently a cross (very roughly mixed) between Damson plums and the Bronx - echoes of West Side Story an' all.
And the unevenness of his prose, replete with typos and clumsy quasi-official bafflegab, but presenting fortuitous little jewels from time-to-time - just at those moments when the (500+ pages and somewhat heavy) tome is about to be flung against the wall.
There is something appealing about this unevenness but I can't quite think what it is; some coyote-swimming-upstream quality that has hooked me in.
So ... living and loving, bearing witness, whatever ...
Be well gentle reader.
Ongoing: ... maybe a few notes as I get farther along into it ...
a. He seems to fetch up on the shoals of precise definition around 'generation'. Doesn't (or hasn't yet) thought about the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren &etc. categories which seem like the naturals - maybe because there is no easy way to get to that 'pure' PIP state where there is no direct overlap & communication.
b. Aha! A clue! (towards penetrating that enigmatic statement by Malcolm Bull above). Fairytale. Two versions of the 1974 Pointer Sister classic ("Y'all like country music?"): live (a self-parody), and studio. On the generational side: Ruth 1946-, Anita 1948-, Bonnie 1950-, & June 1953-2006. (I will scan & post the relevant sections later on maybe, and look for some biographical details on the fellow - see where he fits.)
c. Once again one yearns for a Chris Alexander (see The Timeless Way of Building for example) style of hitting the high points (which would inevitably involve a more concise presentation). Our Steve footnotes his own points with ... more of his own commentary - which makes following the thread problematic. There will have to be a second reading when my copy arrives - where rude marginal notes will be permitted and may even be appreciated by whatever generation inherits my library.
d. On the other hand: many issues come into clearer and clearer focus thanks to Steve's good efforts. Notably: the changing viewpoints presented on the models he employs - Tragedy of the Commons, Battle of the Sexes, and so on; a view-from-some-height of Kyoto, Copenhagen, Cancun and the whole ridiculous UNFCCC fiasco; and, smaller (but essential) advances such as finally realizing why it is best to use Gt of carbon (despite the confusion with Gt of carbon dioxide) as the proper units for analysis and comparison. Wazizname ... Andrew Leach said as much some time ago but I didn't understand it then.
Now, why hasn't someone put up a web database (with a decent interface) containing accurate, timely, and back-referenced tables of emissions by type, time, nation and so on? This is a deeper question than it looks, including as it does the issue of intentional obfuscation.
Not rocket science. Not that expensive either. Put some of the damned pundits and politicos where they belong (hopefully on the defensive).
e. I am about at the half-way point. Sometimes the prose seems to 'descend into Chinese' (as we used to say) and like the night watchman in Visions of Johanna I ask myself if it's him or me that's in-sane?
Some of the paragraphs just do not computeç but I went looking for an example to include here and couldn't quickly find one - so very possibly it is me being a pig-headed bigot and nothing more.
One of the main clues, one of the opening leads out of (or into?) this Labrador icepack, is Gardiner's notion of 'shadow work' (it may not be strictly speaking 'his', I will check that later). I realized last night, in the middle of a Chinese patch, that I have already read about all he has to say on shadow work - for some reason I had it in mind that the second-last, penultimate chapter would deal with it in depth but I was mistaken.
Which kinda puts me back to wondering about motivations. What is he up to? Is it about self-interested attainment of tenure and a more comfortable life on the scholarly lecture circuit? Is a theoretical ethics something we really need? Is this witness or is it spinning out the time to one's own advantage?
I'm not sure; so I am going to set aside this topic while I plod on through the book. At least until my copy comes and I can read it again more carefully, scan some excerpts, maybe say some more then.
That's it. Done for now.
Addenda: (the long way round)
1. Fugue! Bring on Bach and that pipe-organ-tuning concerto of his.
Bring on Walt Whitman, "O Captain! my Captain!" ... "O heart! heart! heart!"
Bring on Lear, in from the heath carrying his Cordelia and wailing "Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stone."
An image that has stuck, from an Omar Sharif film The Last Valley, is this short clip near the end.
This seems to be the landscape we now inhabit - the internal/psychological closely mirrored everywhere we look. Men of stone indeed - trolls I suppose.
"She's dead as earth."
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves," says Cassius , and goes on with, "that we are underlings," (as he works his Wall Street calumny). We could easily turn it around, make it, "that we are overlords." One way or the other though, it is as Pogo said way back in '71: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Some 30,000 years ago someone made an image of their hand in the Chauvet Cave.
There are dozens of copies of it on the Internet; many slightly changed, retouched, lighted differently - but the original looks (I think) more-or-less like what you see here (click on it for an expanded view).
I have no idea what she or he was trying to say if anything - a 'mute testament' as they say.
There is a line beside it. Again, no idea if they were even drawn in the same epoch - but as linework goes it is ... eloquent.
I was coming along the eastern shore of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio one afternoon in a cab, and looking up at one of the highrises I saw a banner on the railing of the topmost balcony - BASTA in large red letters. There was a popular campaign against street violence at the time - groups would march along beside the Ipanema beach sometimes carrying such banners - so I thought ... one of the demonstrators must live there.
Later on I learned to write it the Spanish way ¡Ya basta! with an upside down exclamation point ("anyone lived in a pretty how town, with up so floating many bells down").
There is so much unnecessary complication, intentional mystification - 'setting out' becomes prolegomenon - but there is the odd bit of essential simplicity too: Frye distinguishes primary and secondary somethings-or-other; the primary being: food, shelter, sex (as I remember it - I will try to look it up) ... but ... hardly radical is it? Or hard to comprehend?
2b. (or not 2b.) Digression - Hidebound & Lotusbound:
I was in an airport, maybe it was Tel Aviv or maybe it was New York on my way there, and a group of Hasidic Jews were performing a ritual in the waiting room. A small box was strapped to someone's forehead and the leather thong holding it was wrapped round and around their arm (as I remember, it was a long time ago). This must be what they mean by 'hidebound' (I thought).
The lotus figures into official Buddhist symbology, a Pilgrim's Progress from mud to enlightenment. But it is some other kind of thing for me: that never-to-be-achieved orgasmic opening of the 7th kundalini chakra (or the handful of moments, no more than a very few in an entire lifetime, when the veils shift slightly in a spiritual breeze, cloud and zephyr); floating lily-pads (the white flowers full of flies) viewed as a boy with his chin on the edge of his father's canoe; a Buddhist phoenix bird rising out of ashes; Aung San Suu Kyi perhaps.
And then there are the lotus-like Bahá'í temples springing up in Delhi & Santiago - built on nines and multiples of nine, and light - "Architects are people who eat light," (thanks again Glen) - and lots of cash and intergenerational commitment one presumes. Not so unlike European cathedral building through the ages, or more recently, Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona 130 years into it.
And yet, just as the Pope is infallible, so is the Bahá'u'lláh's Universal House of Justice and his demand for obedience among the Bahá'ís - or else it's excommunication, takfir for the covenant breaker - no inquisition but shunning is ok. All good: you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs (though you could consider Hannah Arendt's take on it); you can't have a theology without orthodoxy and some kind of enforcement; but it seems fair to wonder at least about the quality of the light that is being shed. Isn't it?
What brought this on is a report in the NYT today about Tibetan Buddhist self-immolations, and in particular this photograph in which the candle flame resembles a ... lotus. (Even if it has been touched up a bit.)
The Han Chinese, like the MBAs of McDonald's Corporation or Tim Horton's, arrive to enforce global efficiencies; mystified maybe (and no more), bemused that some would rather burn than bow ... and I am horrified but not quite surprised. An extreme form of voting with your feet is it? There are exemplars: Childhood's End as the remaining souls depart, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, even the ridiculous "Who is John Galt?"
One fine morning glory by and by I'll fly away. They (whoever they are) may be expecting something magical, transcendental - or not, and may not even be disappointed when it fails to materialize. (Surely this will crop up somewhere in Stephen Gardiner's book. I'll let you know.)
2c. Complicity Again: Who are the 99% exactly? A question not an answer - but not a very polite question I guess; apologies.
Women live some half-dozen years longer than men on average. I'm guessing but I think many if not most North American and European widows currently in the 65+ zone (pre-boomers that is) have been provided with a substantial nest egg by their dearly departed, a portfolio; and I'm guessing again but I bet the bulk of these portfolios are managed with little selection by or interferance from the owners.
How many of the problematic corporations listed in the recent (May 2012) report by the Union of Concerned Scientists: A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy; are well represented in those portfolios d'you think?
The exercise (nothing more than gross innuendo) could be expanded to include pension funds generally - at which point I wonder how much Western economic 'growth inertia', how much clout, would be carried there by, say, elderly Miss Muffets sitting on their tuffets?
At the Probus meeting with a gold-plated Lelo Lily tucked discreetly between her ass cheeks; not being in the gigolo market for one reason and another, not quite in that 'bracket' maybe, but with a Golden Olga waiting at home nonetheless; and a clutch of receipts for donations to African charities jammed (wet with tears, crocodile tears) into any chinks in her ethical armour.
3. The Keeling Curve and an annual miracle:
Everyone knows what the Keeling Curve is, right? I used to wonder about the sawtooth profile of the annual oscillation - the result of carbon uptake in the relatively larger land masses of the Northern Hemisphere; Hawaii is north of the equator too, so there could be biasses, north/south differentials and what not, but it's close enough for the girls I go with, all good.
This year, I was surprised to finally realize (having only witnessed the process sixty or so times) that the mostly deciduous trees I watch out my window go from bare branches to fully covered with leaves in a matter of three or four weeks in April and May. Raising how many tons of material from the ground high into the air so quickly? A botanist could quantify it for us and tell us how much work is being done (in incomprehensible metric units) - but obviously it is a LOT of stuff to lift (if it was a government contract it would break the bank).
The pictures of 'my tree' were taken three days apart a few years ago - and there it is, clearly reflected in David Keeling's ongoing artwork. From here the meditation gets murky so I'll leave it to you.
A very clever Newfie, Andy Jones, (re)tells the story of Jack and The Queen of Paradise’s Garden in which occurs this phrase: "... which is three miles this side of the end of the world."
Being as we are just about there (three miles this side of the end of the world that is); and since the only antidote I can imagine is a serious slathering on of Good Samaritan energy (without any christian over- or under-tones beyond 'you dropped the ball y'arseholes and now t'anks be ta gawd! (if) someone else picks it up!'); I wonder if certain elements of the story are not amenable to being 'culturally appropriated' in a Newfoundland hijack?
"Fallen among thieves," for example: was this maybe not a man in jeopardy at all but a fallen woman? How far did she fall and into what? How long did this falling go on? Did she possibly consort? What happened between the time she fell and the time she was stripped, beaten and left for dead? Was (an early version) of the Stockholm syndrome in play?
Would the Samaritan's compassion be coloured at all, encountering a nubile young déshabillé? How might it affect Rembrandt's artwork?
There are a host of difficulties in re-writing the story of the Good Samarzitan of course; not least of which is preserving his essential manner of seeing.
In fact there are three Andy Jones titles available at Running of the Goat: The Queen of Paradise’s Garden, Jack and the Manger, and Peg Bearskin.
Darka Erdelji, the illustrator of The Queen of Paradise’s Garden is to be commended as well - for depicting a princess with hips.
5. PIB (Produto Interno Bruto), aka GDP (Gross Domestic Product):
Despite the best efforts of water seeking its own level, the pundits wring their hands over falling GDP. Moribund (or should be) as a concept, a goal, and a fact.
6. Cheap Shots:
Is there any other kind?
7. Lucky Seven (last but not least):
On 'World Environment Day' (another UN joke, quelle blague!) Dilma Rousseff announces a new national park (aptly named Furna Feia / 'ugly grotto'), a biological reserve, and progress on indigenous landholding (here and here in English).
So to the reader of news in El Norte the Código Florestal brouhaha all becomes 'He said / She said' (or acaba em pizza / 'ends in pizza' as they say in Brasil) and can be safely shoved to the end of the attention queue.
Marina Silva registers her opinion. A friend of mine, one of the few who still talks to me, thinks that because Marina is an 'evangelical' she can't be trusted, which notion, despite my bigotry around christians, I do not support. She calls it, "todas as maldades" / 'all sorts of badness'.