My name is Stone Lodge. My name is Bryan Walker. This is my coming out.
In Shoshone, the best I can figure, my name Stone Lodge is Nehweh Gahnin, which I also understand to translate more literally to “Rock House.” Having no native Shoshone speakers in my life, I hope I haven’t botched all that up; maybe one of my friends can set me straight on that one day. I didn’t ask for my name, nor did I choose it. Just like my other name, Bryan Walker. When I was named Stone Lodge, it was as much a surprise to me when I heard my name as it is to everyone else to whom I am introduced. I was offered a naming ceremony by a Shoshone grandmother, a former member of A.I.M. who was at Wounded Knee in ’73. She was aware of my work with obsidian (I knap arrowheads, knives, axes, and general kitchen tools), our families joined, and she honored me with that offer. I accepted.
For those who will ask, I am Coyote Clan. Coyote, along with Crow, are my principal walk-besides, as well. Anyone who knows what that means will tell you that it is interesting medicine. I can confirm that. Also for anyone who will ask, yes, I do have Indigenous blood. On my mother’s side, I have Cherokee blood, although I am not sure if that gift pre-dates or post-dates Oklahoma, from where my mother’s father came into my lineage. I do not know much about my grandmother, but I believe that she was taken as the wife of a long-hunter, a profession exercised by that part of my family since at least the Revolutionary War. On my father’s side, I am Nimi’ipu. My grandmother (along with her sister) was taken from a canal bank by the Indian agent Stickney and “adopted,” as so many Indian children were. No one bothered with records, of course, and so I can prove none of this. But these are the stories of my family, the one half of my family proud of our connection to the People and Turtle Island, and the other half scandalized by it. I don’t think I am alone in this; I suspect many of the Indian children stolen throughout our history by the European invaders have descendants just like me, some longing to know the truth, but stymied by the treatment of Indigenous, Blacks, and women and children generally as chattel. I look white, with blue eyes, and I was raised white, with miners, loggers and cattlemen far more numerous in my genealogy than First Peoples. Thus, I lay no claim or entitlement to being Indian, but by my deeds and my voice, I assert that the People of Turtle Island have my alliance always, my love, and my respect.
I am often asked to repeat my name during introductions, sometimes more than once. People have different reactions to my name. My favorite was the one I received from a beautiful Lakota woman, while standing together in the lodge of Buffalo Field Campaign on a cold February night in West Yellowstone. Her name is Cheryl Angel, and she asked me, “What do you do with your name?” I fumbled my reply, looking for justification for carrying that name. (She teased me along this error by telling me, “You white boys get all the good names.”) But Cheryl knew what she was asking me, and I listened and heard. She also gifted me with repose, a release from the unease with which I carried my name.
I do not reject the name on my birth certificate, the certifying piece of state paper denied to my grandmothers. I was born and named by my parents as Bryan Walker. I love my parents and my brothers, and see them often. I split and stacked wood for the winter with my father and brother a few days before I began writing this. They all know that I am also Stone Lodge, and they are peripherally aware that there is a world in which I carry that name and no other. But for them, I’m Bryan, and most of the things Stone Lodge thinks and does are not a part of a world they care to contemplate much. Which is another reason for carrying my name. It provides a separation for other people, and not simply me. Those separations are important in multiple ways, but one way is to permit very old familial bonds and friendships to continue, to retain the love and loyalty and familiarity with a people with whom I shared a culture for a life. I once believed what they still believe, and it is I who left that culture, it is I who has even turned back upon that culture, and so long as I keep Stone Lodge in the background, my family, as far as I can tell, pretty much perceives that I’m just an intense, overly educated guy with wacky ideas. All of that they can tolerate. But not generally what Stone Lodge does. So my name offers protection to those who need to separate what I know and do from what they must continue to believe.
The EarthFirst!ers use “forest names” when they engage in some direct action. The homeless people in my life would call it a “street name”. I vastly prefer the former, since I vastly prefer the forests to streets, but the concept is the same. In some sense, I have carried my name in this way. I have been Stone Lodge when I went to other places, other communities, as an identity for that effort or campaign or action, or simply to keep my story to myself. Until Cheryl asked me her question, though, I felt I was using my name in this way. I wasn’t, though. When I did this, it was awkward and difficult for me, but I was carrying my name when I was acting, when I was following my heart and my brain toward action and situations that felt right. I was doing good; I just hadn’t associated my name with my hands, my head, my heart, or the wondrous experiences and adventures I had wrought with them, even though that is where the call of my name Stone Lodge was heard. A few days after I met Cheryl, while glassing the vast expanses of the Gardiner Basin, counting buffalo, I finally understood. Stone Lodge was no longer a name I carried. Stone Lodge is me. If I could re-live that momentary exchange with Cheryl, I would say to her, “I am here.”
And so I am.
I was a United States Marine. I joined, like so many, because I was dirt poor and poorly educated. It was my ticket out. It was Dad’s ticket out. My grandfather’s. Unlike anyone else in my family at the time, I went to school after the Marines decided I didn’t like their orders enough. I graduated summa cum laude from St. Edward’s University, in Austin, Texas. Three years later, I added a juris doctorate from the University of Houston. I moved back to Idaho – my home country – where I practiced law for nineteen years, until I resigned my license in 2014. Thus I have been well and truly institutionalized. And it did what it was supposed to do. It kept me believing, quiet and obedient, lawful and respectful, and for all that I was well-compensated, financially and socially. Fortunately, and unlike the Marines, I decided I didn’t like their rules before they figured it out, and left on my own terms. I left a bunch of people scratching their heads.
I think some people perceive the resignation of my law license as an act, an event, something I could do in a piqued fit of unreasonable angst after a disappointment in trial, or some such thing. No. It was an agonizing four-year process, the first two of which I tried not to admit my destination. I had three gifts during this time. The first was my best friend, my partner, my wife, Cynthia Sage Tiferet. The second was an evil ex-wife, who taught me more than I otherwise would have learned, and who made it possible to deleverage, devolve, and disappear. The third was Occupy Boise, beginning in September 2011.
Most of the time I hear people refer to the Occupy movement, I just shake my head. People say that the Occupy movement (now referred to piously in the mainstream media as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement) failed to achieve longevity, or that it was “crushed” by the state (which is certainly true regarding some of Occupy’s actions, but not true of the movement at all), or that it failed to turn its momentum into political power. These statements conceive of the Occupy movement as a monolithic entity, a group of people without cohesive ideas for reform, a movement of the disaffected, unguided, directionless, and subsumed. Although one can find evidence to support any of those aspersions, none of that is in the least relevant to how I conceive Occupy. Occupy, in my world, continues to exist. I have called Occupy my personal Big Bang, and everyone I have expressed that to has agreed that it was for them also. I went from screaming into the void, to an explosion of an entire network of people from literally everywhere. Occupy was, in my experience, birthed by people living in close, cold, uncomfortable quarters, sleeping rough on sidewalks and lawns, fixing meals with portable stoves, washing dishes for all the world to see, dealing with their waste, and in every moment when someone else took those duties, conversing with those other people who were there. And getting to know them. And learning that among their number were intelligent, good, caring, frustrated people, people you could rely upon, and some lifelong friends.
Some people would call (and have called) me a “Doomer.” A Doomer, in short, is someone who is convinced that not only are our socio-economic systems approaching collapse, but so too is our very existence. Some Doomers, such as myself and others, such as Kevin Hester and Guy McPherson, are convinced that civilization itself is already in collapse, and our planet is in the throes of a great extinction event, one caused by homo sapiens, and one that will mark our disappearance as a life form on this Earth. If these are your conclusions and you have arrived at them rationally, by observing everything around you, you really are not going to easily find a lot of company with whom to commiserate. Nobody wants to hear that shit. It’s a major downer. At the same time, there is a compulsive desire to do just that. You want to speak to other people who see the same things, and perhaps a stronger compulsion is to “wake people up.” It’s not that any of us can do much, or anything, about it, but as we observe the exponentially accelerating destabilization of systems around us, it is natural to seek individuals and communities who can be trusted to learn and share and work together, rather than fight, in ignorance, over critical resources that no longer exist — which is where most people will shortly find themselves (if they haven’t already).
I am extraordinarily fortunate that my wife is ever bit as much a “Doomer” as I am. We’ve developed together, although in overlapping ways, not co-extensively. Cynthia Sage is about peace and love more than anyone I know, even while she’s a realist. She loves butterflies, and mourns their coming passing at a core level. She is crossing her fingers for a planet-killer meteor strike, so we don’t have to all go through the paroxysms of a drawn out, chaotic devolution. I would agree with her but for the fact that I maintain there continues to be value in witnessing this whole mess unfold.
Among Doomers, there is a ubiquitous thread of despair at the difficulty of finding communities just like that community that my wife and I found in Occupy. Certainly the mainstream media never got it right, nor political analysts and pundits. But that’s what it was for me: The sudden and all-encompassing creative expansion of relationships, and as a direct result thereof, of knowledge, wisdom, and love.
I was first-named legal counsel for Occupy Boise as it fought to maintain its encampment on the lawn of the old Ada County Courthouse, which it did, from November 5, 2011 until June 8, 2012. That case, U.S. District Court case, Watters v. Otter, 12-cv-76, D. Idaho, was my last case. And we won it, and I got paid, again, for being obedient. In my last declaration to the Court (the Hon. B. Lynn Winmill presiding), I expressed my outrage, in the subdued tones required of official judicial discourse, as follows:
12. In ¶ 25 of his declaration, Mr. Eppink addresses the media and public interest generated by Occupy Boise, not only locally, but statewide, nationwide and internationally. I would just add that Occupy Boise also gained the attention of the state and national legal profession, as well. I was interviewed by the ABA Journal, and quoted extensively regarding the instant litigation. “Occupy the Courts: The Nationwide Movement Has Left a Mixed Bag of Legal Results;” ABA JOURNAL, July 1, 2012, http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/articl/occupy_the_courts_the_nationwide_movement_has_left_a_mixed_bag_of_legal_res/
Notably, one point I had communicated to the writer when interviewed was edited out of the article. I told Mr. Hudson, “Certain common threads can be drawn from these disparate cases in the sense that they are addressing the parameters of protected political expression and assembly. Unfortunately, as important as that work is, it does not get at the central message of the Occupy movement, which is the undue influence of corporate and financial interests upon the formation of public policy. So far, the attorneys – including those of us with the National Lawyers Guild – have been fighting to simply preserve the rights of the Occupy movement to make their central message heard.”
It is an unfortunate reality that the grievances that informed and motivated Occupy Boise’s assembly are almost never going to be addressed in the judiciary. Indeed, all the State need do to quash dissent is to – as was the case here – attack the ability of the aggrieved citizenry to voice their grievances at all. Thus, Occupy Boise winds up fighting for the right to speak and examining the aesthetic priority
of grass, and the core message they sought to express is subsumed in that struggle, their central points diluted, diffused, and ultimately ignored by the political elite. It is in this way that the State, despite losing this lawsuit for their First Amendment violations, has prevailed in its central goal of suppressing dissent. And that realization has been the most difficult aspect of this case.
Para. 12, DECLARATION OF BRYAN K. WALKER IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFFS’ PETITION FOR FEES AND EXPENSES
I lost my objectivity during my representation of the good people of Occupy Boise. For that two years, I became my own client, more activist than lawyer, more outraged than strategic. There shouldn’t be any surprise about this, for when I attended the first General Assembly, I did not show up as an attorney. That’s not why I was there at all. Turns out, though, Occupy was quite effective at including and utilizing all manner of ideas and talents and training and energy. Bar certificates were valued, and I got enlisted, which is quite remarkable, when I look at it in hindsight. Occupy got me to bend to a task for which the state had lost my allegiance. In late 2011, and certainly when we filed suit in February 2012, I did not want to be an attorney any more. By the time the last pleadings were filed and the last arguments delivered, I wasn’t an attorney anymore. When I made the quoted declaration above, I was no longer an attorney. The State’s attorney general deputies were comical, expressing best wishes in condescending tones, feigning concern that such a talented attorney might need a “sabbatical”. But it was a nervous pleasantry, and deep down where they feared to visit, in that veil between dreams and fears, they knew that I wasn’t opting out. They knew that I was rejecting their authority entirely, along with that of the State itself, and of the Courts. Occupy permitted me to express that rejection in a way that the State not only heard, but passed many laws and rules in order to thwart. I could not have asked for a more beautiful going-away present.
One of the people I met the very first day, September 27th, was Ritchie Eppink. At the time, he was working with Idaho Legal Aid, but he is now the Legal Director of the ACLU of Idaho. This change happened during the Watters lawsuit, upon which Ritchie was always lead counsel, and the brains and talent and effort behind the suit. A Fulbright scholar, Ritchie can read the federal judicial civil rights landscape like no one else I’ve ever met. I say that not simply to give him his due, which he will probably make me edit out anyway (he didn’t), but because Ritchie is the very catalyst for this essay. We were traveling through the desert of southern Idaho, returning from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this past July. I was waking up from my sleep through Utah, and he was ready to talk. And what he asked me was essentially this: “When do I call you Stone Lodge, and when do I call you Bryan?” I was stumped. I tried to wing it, but it turned out I really had to puzzle that out, and my friends seemed willing to help. Of course, we didn’t figure anything out, and I’ve had any number of awkward moments since then with friends who knew me as Bryan for a long time, sometimes interacting with people who only know me as Stone Lodge.
So I’m puzzling it out, and you get to watch me do it. If you want to.
One of the things that popped out of my mouth during that discussion, at some point, was that Bryan was my system name. And that is absolutely true. It is more than that, but it is that. I was, under that birth name, a Marine, an attorney, and a debtor. I swore oaths in three states, for the United States, for the Constitution. Lots of trees were killed with my name signed onto the pieces of paper that signified my existence, my status and my worth. I’ve been married and divorced under that name, and arrested under that name. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve been fingerprinted. I have made enemies of governors and mayors, and the State Police captains know my name. Rupert Murdoch’s private security firm, hired to “secure” the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, obtained my information from the State Police, providing to the ISP my surveilled photograph, captioned as a “Person of Interest.” (I got that little gem in discovery during the Watters lawsuit. That picture hangs on my fridge.) I was a prosecutor for a time, and I have been the instrument for the deprivation of liberty for reasons I find abhorrent, and for reasons I find just. An officer of the court, a peace officer. Stamped, memorialized, and cataloged. I sometimes wonder how many bytes I’m responsible for. Bryan is not going away.
But that is not what I do now. Bryan was wasichu. Stone Lodge is atonement.
In 2007, I read about the plastic island in the Pacific gyre. At that time, it was about the size of Texas. Now, I’ve lived in Texas, and my family is from there also, and I’ve got a pretty good idea how big it is. This was shocking to me. Why didn’t I know that before? Well, I got right onto e-mail, and sent out a missive to my colleagues, friends and family, complete with embedded pictures and links. And I heard nothing. Not one word, except from Cynthia Sage. As the days went by, I sent a smaller follow-up e-mail with new information. Nothing. The silence dragged on, and I processed a lot. Anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness. I kept reading. This is when I “activated”, as Derrick Jensen puts it. (I wouldn’t discover Derrick Jensen until a few years later.)
For whatever reason, I swerved into economics first, and the more I read, the more I realized just how distorted our economy appeared. In 2007, I had a small 401k. I was hit pretty hard by the dot-com crash, so as we became increasingly concerned about the economy, I withdrew all funds from my 401k, which we set aside for other purposes. We took a 25% penalty, but that would be a lot better than what my colleagues suffered who left their money in the fund. I tripped across Charles Hugh Smith, the one who first hooked me on the potential or likelihood of collapse, the first one I recall talking about energy systems. I watched the lecture of Dr. Albert A. Bartlett titled Arithmetic, Population and Energy, and watched it again.
In November, 2008, Barack Obama won election to the Presidency. Just a couple months before that, Lehman Bros. went down, was “allowed to fail,” and that insolvency rapidly cascaded, taking out AIG and Morgan Stanley in short order, as the exotic instruments (credit default swaps (CDS) and mortgage backed securities (MBS)) unraveled, there being insufficient collateral anywhere to cover the losses the gamblers had suffered on their Ponzi schemes. The Bush administration decided to bail the banks out, as institutions everywhere, including giants Freddie Mac, Freddie Mae, and the FDIC failed. I was furious when he did that. I voted for Obama that year for that reason alone (as opposed to not voting at all). Immediately after his inauguration, Obama (through the Fed) bailed them out some more. And then more. And he’s been doing it ever since.
So I woke up. You know, I see a lot of social commentary that harshly belittles people with different positions, belief systems or ideas. As I transitioned from unaware and ignorant, to aware and learning, I delved into a lot of things that I do not now agree with or which were subject to mistakes of which I was unaware, often only partly so. I looked at Libertarianism closely, and while that quickly took me into anarchism, it taught me a lot that I am grateful to have learned. Also, not all Libertarians are the same. But one can identify some solidly defined “sects”, if you will, of this essentially political construct. You have the constitutionalists, most often arguing that the Constitution has been subverted (which it clearly has), and that the Constitution needs to be restored (which it doesn’t), possibly by armed revolution, but first by infiltrating the political institutions and voting. There are your fundamental christians, and a lot of these are constitutionalists, but those who are not simply apocalyptic have mental sugar plums of a Christian Republic (often white) expressing their vision of the world. Ayn Rand (who I read while in the Marines) is a favorite of theirs. And then there are the financial/economic Libertarians, who are particularly ignorant about a lot of other stuff beyond money. Libertarians are, generally speaking, weak on climate and ecological matters, race relations (including Indigenous), and they’re mostly horrible capitalists. It is common that their biggest complaint is government interference with their mining/drilling/polluting of the commons. And yet, there are huge numbers of Libertarians who are aware of our precarious circumstances, particularly in the economic realm, and they increasingly oppose militarization of the police, and are questioning the role of the military. (These are the ones who are not in the little club guiding the military-industrial complex.) They actually know economics better than the anarchists I know personally. They are often into natural healing, against Big Pharma, against gun control, and they build communities effectively. They can tell you how to garden without tilling, or how to collect rainwater, or teach you how to shoe a horse. They might trade you (as they have with me), a quarter of their home-raised, grass-fed beef (no hormones or antibiotics) for a referral. The long and the short of this is, I identified as a Libertarian at one time, and I value, as people, Libertarians I know now. Everyone who is chiming into our social media circus is at some point or another in a vast web of complex information and misinformation. No one sees it all, and what is in front of you is not all you think it is. So, just be kind to each other. I might not agree with you, and I might tell you that, but I hope I am always addressing the concept we differ on, and not you, or me. (I admit getting somewhat impatient with some of this election bullshit.)
Learning that shit took me awhile. I kept thinking the financial system would crash soon, and it kept not doing it. But I also kept learning the mechanisms they were using to achieve this magic. All of a sudden, with Obama’s lock-step continuation of what I thought was Bush’s game plan, I was presented with the perfect demonstration of the dichromatic character of the American political system: The Blue-Red paradigm. I learned that there is virtually no substantive difference between Democrats and Republicans. They are the same thing. It’s like everyone in America has those 3-D glasses on, with one blue lens and one red lens, and everything looks cross-eyed unless you’re in the theater, where they then overlap the picture so it looks 3-D. That’s the media fixing things for you, so instead of seeing red or blue, you see red, white and blue, and everything’s in hypnotic tune. But if you’re wearing them around the house, pretty soon you find yourself squinting and looking through either the red lens or the blue lens, but not both or you’ll puke. You really have to take the glasses off to be able to see straight, and the only way to do that is to learn, and accept the truth, even if you feel disoriented by it.
Now, if you draw a line from Obama back, arguably to the Revolution, you will find continuity if you always look to see who benefited, and how they did it. Our political parties are meaningless in America. At least for those who believe they are represented by them. The elites, however, are very fond of those parties. Those parties have the magical power to create, if you’re looking through the right colored lens, moral blindness. If it’s blue, you can’t see it through the blue lens. So Obama gets a pass for all of his crimes from all the loyal Democrats and liberals. And Hillary Clinton gets a pass, too, because their crimes are blue crimes. What crimes? And of course there are the red crimes, too.
This election cycle has been particularly rich in examples of efforts to direct Americans to focus on, and believe in, the political process. Recently, a Facebook friend asked me this question:
“Stone Lodge: In your opinion, why would a vote for Stein be worse than not voting? I dislike the idea that not using my voice at all would be better than an attempt. ” The following was my response:
I hope you don’t mind a thumbnail-sketch of an answer, because that is all to which FB is conducive. If this election were between Jill Stein and Gary Johnson (maybe), then perhaps this would look like a real election. But that is not reality. You are not voting for a candidate or a set of principled policy choices. You are voting for, and thus legitimizing, a system, and that system exists not to further the rational policy sets of an informed citizenry, but to further aggrandize power and wealth to a small sub-set of the larger society. So many “leaders,” even those who themselves furthered that system, have warned us about this: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, and Jimmy Carter, along with numerous generals, journalists and many extraordinary thinkers such as Orwell, Thoreau, Trudell, Goldman, Beard and Chomsky. If a person ascends to the highest political offices who frustrates this cabal, the cabal will — literally — kill them. (This is something Americans never seem to get. If our government will employ its military to overthrow governments and kill leaders who frustrate the profits of multinational corporations, why can they not understand that no method (crime) is out of bounds to maintain their power?)
You can vote for Stein. Go ahead, and then let me know how satisfied you are afterward. Let me know how far you believe your voice traveled. Frankly, by your excellent posts on social media and through your influence and education of those around you, your voice carries far far more weight than by casting your illusionary ballot.
The very reason for not voting is to remove your support of that system, to disclaim the legitimacy of the cabalists. You are not going to address climate concerns, human rights or problems of civil society by continuing to participate in the illusion that has been erected to funnel your outrage and dissatisfaction into allowed outlets for expression. The vote is not there to give you power, but to remove it from you. The only way you can claim and employ your power is to resist and oppose the structures designed to blunt it or sever it from your own agency.
The very purpose for the American political parties is to channel attention toward ends that have been decided by the wealthy and powerful long ago. The mechanism for doing this is the mainstream media, which, as it turns out, are owned by the wealthy and powerful. You are told what is important, why it is important, and all you need to do is vote and stay cool. Oh, and send your children to their wars.
Those of you who know me from Facebook are aware that I follow geo-politics fairly closely, although I’m a bit of a Europhobe, aside from Greece, who I really really feel for, and Ukraine, which is the most blatant crime so far in the 21st century. I follow the Middle Eastern wars. I was a marine, and marines do that, especially when they’re also Poli-Sci grads. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, and daddy Bush invaded him back, I was sitting on an assembly line next to friends from Lebanon, Nicaragua and Nigeria, who worked to keep me seeing straight on that. Astoundingly to me now, it was difficult for me then to understand the oil angle, but I never forgot it.
The wealthy and the powerful, such as Vice-President Joe Biden, send their sons to be the finance ministers for governments they’ve installed through coup d’etat. But Joe Biden is not the moving force behind the overthrow of Ukraine’s legitimately elected government. Halliburton is. And Exxon. And Raytheon. JP Morgan Chase, and Citi.
My point is that your so-called political leaders are not in charge, and if they’re not in charge, do you think you are represented by those who are in charge? One can look no farther than Standing Rock, North Dakota, to know the answer to that. There is one reason and one reason only, that we have been in perpetual wars in the Middle East and Africa: resources. It is the defining moment for civilization, its ultimate conclusion always, conquest and theft, force and wreckage, the results on display for all who will just quit being mesmerized. Wake up, the movie’s over.
Before I get to the bad news, and while we’re talking about oil, let me say that my greatest conceptual leap forward, in my opinion, was when I began to study energy depletion, sometimes referred to as “peak oil”. It was then that I learned the importance of the exponential function in assessing “growth” claims, and all the normative wagons that get hooked up to those claims. If you haven’t already watched Dr. Bartlett’s video (linked above), I cannot recommend more strongly that you do. Over the past years, it has been those cranks most concerned about the ecology, the climate, and the imminent collapse in energy and of society itself, who have raised this simple, compelling point: you cannot grow infinitely on a finite planet. There is nothing controversial about this. Many people have written about it, in one way or another. Looking at just the top right shelf beside me, I can count these people who have expounded on this: James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Jared Diamond, Noam Chomsky, Derrick Jensen. If you understand the exponential function, if you truly get what growth means, then you can start to de-mystify the barrage of propaganda to which each of us is subjected every day. Here’s the Cliff Note: Growth is no longer possible. We have reached our planetary limit, in terms of population, in terms of resource extraction and degradation of all major Earth systems, and now we get to contract. Radically. One of the best alliterations of this concept has been done by Derrick Jensen. But all of those other authors I named above are pretty much in agreement, and there are many more people in agreement, and the consensus is that we are at the tail end of an extinction event. And we get to watch it all unfold right before us, in our lifetimes. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the last one to go, though.
I haven’t meant to jump into expositions of economics or peak oil or climate change, or ecological collapse in this essay. That is not my purpose here. But it is important to know that all of these various disciplines, and cultural structures, and the explanatory bodies of work about our historical circumstance … these all inform me and interest me. The conceptual frameworks surrounding these seemingly disparate social studies tend to be insular, often even exclusive. Economists do not usually spend much time or energy on climatological studies, and peak oilers are derided by the oil industry (which knows they’re right) and the (particularly clueless and predatory) world of finance alike, and pretty much ignored by everyone else. This happens because the individuals engaged in these discrete endeavors must build their belief boxes in order to justify their actions, and they wall off narratives that challenge the moral worth of their efforts. They reject, ignore or simply do not comprehend critiques of the destructive aspects of their life work. Sometimes this is done consciously and with intention, but more often automatically, which is to say, not consciously and without intention, but rather from behind a filter that discards as valueless those critiques. And, worst of all, this allows them to just not care. Caring about the valueless is insane, right? This is a critical and formidable block to holistic understanding of our current circumstances, because all of the factors studied in these areas are all inextricably linked. They are connected, both historically, and in their present effects, and if you want to understand our situation right now (many do not), then the first thing to understand is that you can’t ignore any of it.
I did not reach my conclusion regarding our imminent extinction until fairly recently. As I said, I had to study a number of things and begin understanding their interconnections as parts of a system before I could begin to connect the dots. I watch the economy closely, not because its collapse would hasten our extinction (it could actually make extinction less likely or more prolonged), but because it will mark the beginning of the great dying. I watch energy depletion because the economy is built upon cheap oil. Our food is grown and transported with oil. Much of our modern environment is made of polymers derived from oil. Everything metal was mined and refined and defined using oil. The rare earth minerals in your windmills and cell phones, same thing. And the tar sands is the glaring message on the wall, the neon billboard that most everyone ignores, telling us that our oil bonanza is done. From here, it gets more and more expensive to do anything, not in dollar terms (which is always manipulated), but in terms of the energy we are able to put in to a system in exchange for the energy we receive from it. That equation is, right now, far less favorable than it was for hunter-gatherers, and the only way it was possible was through wholesale resource exploitation and extraction, and through debt. And, it turns out, all those resources, including debt, are themselves finite, and we also kill incidentally in the process of extraction and exploitation (such as, for instance, the genocide of indigenous peoples sitting on top of those resources). Right now, as I write this, hundreds of oil companies have gone out of business, marine shipping is faltering, pipelines are being desperately thrust through lands and rivers they should never touch by financing (debt) created to put consequences out to the future, and the United States is descending into militarized totalitarianism, attacking Native Peoples protesting the destruction of our sources of water. When the debt Ponzi comes down, when the collateralized debt obligations turn out not to be collateralized, when the letters of credit are no longer accepted, then the ships don’t unload, the trains and trucks don’t move, and the grocery stores become empty. It can happen in a day, or at least seem like it. When this happens, the authorities will strive desperately to maintain “control,” and they will do it violently. This is already portended, as anyone who honestly observes American policing and foreign policy can attest. But if you’re paying attention, you know all of this is already in process. We’re just waiting to see what the trigger is.
But let’s say the economy is just hunky dory, and all those great jobs numbers and growth statistics aren’t just fabricated bullshit. Let’s say that your job and 60” LCD screen are working just fine, that your kids are doing okay in school, and those people getting hit with tear gas and rubber bullets are “them over there”. Guess what? Things don’t go on, because we’ve killed our oceans. We’ve changed the chemistry of our atmosphere, and dammed our rivers and laden our waters with wastes and heavy metals. Some have proclaimed the Great Barrier Reef dead. We’ve burned and plowed the lungs of Mother Earth, for palm oil and coffee and timber. We’ve destroyed our seeds by genetically modifying them so they will not reproduce, to protect patents! This past September there was concern it would be the first ice-free Arctic Ocean in recorded history; ice minimum occurred on September 10th, and the Arctic ice pack has been building since. But the trajectory is that we will have an ice-free Arctic Ocean soon, maybe next year, or the next. Polar bears, orcas, whales, seals, sharks, tuna, oysters, they are all going away. And so even with your great economy, you’re fucked anyway, because within most of our natural lifetimes, our food systems will collapse, and as they do, desperate humans will spread the collapse in a cascading failure that would, alone, cause the extinction of nearly every life form that humans consider “complex”. But even without humans eating everything in sight, there are the global methane releases, increasing rapidly as the waters warm, and souping up the atmospheric greenhouse effect by magnitudes. It’s going to get HOT. Your crops won’t grow, and your livestock won’t live. Neither will you. Neither, by the way, will your religion.
And did I mention the 402 operable nuclear reactors globally (http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/The-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2016-HTML.html) that all rely upon oil and highly skilled technicians and engineers to keep running? When the oil stops, when the ships stop, they all go Fukushima on us, except a lot of those plants will be a lot worse than Fukushima. (“Under practically all criteria, the Chernobyl accident appears to be more severe than the Fukushima disaster: 7 times more cesium-137 and 12 times more iodine-131 released, 50 times larger land surface significantly contaminated, 7–10 times higher collective doses and 12 times more clean-up workers. ” Ibid.) Think 1,000 Fukushimas, all at the same time and for millennia afterward, all over the world. Think we’ll still be eating sushi?
Sooo … that’s the bad news. We’re all gonna die. What are you going to do about it?
Me? I’m gonna be Stone Lodge.
Love each other. We haven’t got very much time left.