We do love England. Stuffy sometimes and royalist to the core; the fog-laden wind blowing the opposite direction bucking trends in politics or culture product of the good-humoured orneriness of the Britt. Safe, quiet vales and hollows away from the ravages of Europe.
Never was this more true than during the French Revolution; guillotines and angry mobs barricading Paris, hunting house-by-house for their hated nobles to lop their heads off to the bizarre gleeful elated cries of the madding crowds. Across the channel and over the impenetrable safety of the white cliffs of Dover, the English could only look on in dismay. There they go again, the “Frenchies”. England as safe haven; England as a land of Anglo-Saxon order from the basement of time, proud that they (mostly) have weathered the madness of the mainland.
That is what “Scarlet Pimpernel” is about – an English noble who makes it his mission to help and save the hated nobility of France from their executioners. A cat and mouse game between the Pimpernel and Chauvelin, the French Republican Government inquisitor keen on assuring nobody escapes the sharp end of the knife.
This is a fun read, well written and fully English, in the best of all ways.
It’s impossible to force yourself on others. That’s the trick, isn’t it? The only way, is through control of the levers of government – which is why the fight for those cavemen’s clubs is so vicious, the better to beat each-other with.
And so what do we have, instead – bereft of the club, or any desire for it? The work of our imaginations, thrown into the void in the hopes of making a difference. Empathy – that is the greatest casualty of our age of unrest. It was murdered upon the sacred altar of, oh maybe we’ll call it the eternal quest for victimization.
But your victim is somebody else’s oppressor.
Apropos of that, my best work – “I, Charles, From the Camps” is the story about a young man who joins the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Written in first person, my way to empathize with those who have so few options in life.
Last week Uganda had elections again – and Chairman Norbert Mao (former Governor of Gulu District, birthplace of the LRA and somebody I consider a friend) lost, again, to the dictatorship of Yoweri Museveni. The quasi-eternal frustration of those who would challenge dictatorship; but you’d never know it. Mao has charm, humor and aplomb as he fights his tyrant. Would we were all possessed of the same character.
Here’s what Mao said of my novel:
“I have read through the book, I Charles. It is very well written. I take this as your wreath to honour our people who perished in the tragedy visited upon us. Thank you for writing this heart wrenching story. Yes, heart wrenching even for those of us who saw it all. I lived through this dark episode in our country’s history and can testify that this book is painfully honest. It tells the kind of truth that can only be told through fiction. The bizarre story of human cruelty and the triumph of man’s soul over evil is emotionally and intellectually captivating. Addressing you personally, let me say this also. To me this is a continuation of your mission to shine a bright light on certain events that some people want hidden. This is a story written in blood. It is a lyrical lament and a testimony crying out for a verdict from an indifferent world. A gem of a book…witty, wise and rueful. It is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful. It outrages as it teaches. This is not just a book. It is a testament. Nobody should miss a chance to read it.” Norbert Mao, former Chairman of Gulu District, former Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Party of Uganda
So I invite you, buy my novel and find a way to make common cause with the trials of people an ocean away and living in desperate poverty. I can’t force you, nor would if I could because it would not change you, if I did (isn’t that refreshing, in these days of the cavemen’s club). And anyway heck – what will it cost you – for a dose of empathy; $4? Price of a cup of coffee, or half a beer? Compare that to what it cost me. I lived in Africa for 10 years, fighting to stop five wars; and the novel took me years — to write down what I saw for you too to experience it. And my friend Mao? He continues to fight on. I feel like $4 is a fair exchange for that all that and what is, quite simply, my best work which just might change your life. It certainly did mine.
Its easy to think of Europe as we know it today. Boring and dull. Sticky cheese and over-priced wine; but oh so comfortable. Old and nostalgic. Its that way on purpose, because the first half of the 20th century was so fraught. The 2nd industrial revolution had created new economies, that nobody understood and sprinkled wealth and opportunity around enough to cause the scramble for it to become violent. And the backlash against those who were rich and powerful by those who could not seem to get ahead led to a new world order which lasted for the better part of a century. Communism – I wonder if communism would have had its appeal if not for the fascists. Sure, the Soviet Union arose because of the wickedness of the Tsar. But it was the fight against fascism that gave international communism purpose and drive. This book is about that. About a German Jew who was a communist and became the Cold War’s greatest spy because of her drive to fight Hitler and the fascists. Anti-fascists, is what they called themselves – to not have to call themselves communists (though that is what they were). Its what they still call themselves today, pretending they are against something or something else; but anti-fascism is not a new phenomenon, harkening back to the day when there actually were fascists to fight.
The part that makes me laugh about this story – the same for Arthur Koestler (also a Jewish communist, for a season, though he had the smarts to reform himself when he saw that the system was as wicked as the one he was fighting), was their love for England. England does prevail, doesn’t it? It weathers the mayhem, its rolling hills and pub-dominated villages providing continuity in seasons of turmoil. To be loved and give peace, even to a soviet spy sending nuclear secrets to Stalin.
There’s nothing that highlights the coming financial debacle like the news I read this morning: Costa Rica is considering open-pit gold mining and deep sea fracking to cover the epic, yawning, gaping hole in their finances.
Um, say what???
Now, I lived in Costa Rica, on and off. When I was one (my parents were there learning Spanish); in 2004 for regional work – I bought an apartment there that I owned for several years, to have a place in the sun away from the mayhem of everywhere and everywhere else. I consider Oscar Arias as one of my heroes, I even met him once when I was working on freeing Venezuela from the Chavistas (one of my many failures – not the meeting, that went swimmingly – the efforts to avert a suicide that is still playing out). Costa Rica, a land of firsts. The first (only) Latin American country to abolish their army, ending the banana cycles of thugs (from the right and left) periodically upsetting democratic and economic gains. The first to join the International Criminal Court (whatever you think of that institution, the search for justice is something we’re all for). Setting aside 25% of its national territory into national parks. The first to vie for carbon neutrality (whatever you think of that newest propaganda agenda of the redistributionist left, and I don’t think much of their base politics, who can object to trying to be better to our little planet? Read ‘Apocalypse Never’ before you scream at me). Now, they’re gonna dig and frack. HELP!!!!
And like Costa Rica, so many others. A 10% increase in global public debt – to 103% of global GDP this year. To say nothing of private debt, a way that China and the USA and Europe (and everywhere else) camouflage our fiscal insolvency pretending that our explosion of ‘private debt’ is not a result of bad government; in systems which have neither been ‘communist’ or ‘capitalist’ in a long time – but something in between, the brainchild of Moreau’s island.
This is the damn cycle. Bad governments come to power – and rack up stupid debt (entitlements to buy votes and corruption to buy leer jets and mansions in the Swiss Alps). They are then overthrown or voted out, with good governments coming in and taking steps towards being responsible (Macri in Argentina). Fiscal discipline and sound financial management meets the partisans of the previous bad government, the good government is overthrown product of the hangover after the excess, and we start again – only deeper this time. This example is so commonplace as to be boring. Argentina, of course, is the poster child. Nigeria. Brazil. South Africa. India. In USA we haven’t had a fiscally responsible government since the ’90s. Too big to fail, except we are – that at least is heartbreakingly apparent. Nigeria spends more than 60% of its revenue on servicing its debt. USA’s debt servicing costs between 500 and 600 billion dollars. Want universal healthcare? That would pay for it.
So what should we do? There is a concept in ancient Hebrew law, specifically the Mosaic codes of Leviticus – the year of Jubilee. Every fifty years, land was to be returned to its original owners (or their children); indentured servants were to be set free – debt was to be wiped away. The ancient Hebrews knew what we also know, that the powerful use money and debt as tools to cement their position and those who suffer the most are the poor. No, I’m not a communist – sounds sort of Karl Marxy, I know, but its true. The pandemic, at least, has showed us that – the elites in America made new-billions and the desperate poor got a $600 check. How the elites got rich (I for one am grateful for Amazon, if not for Bezos himself. Oligarchs should be excluded from politics… Oops, there I go again) is not ignored, nor is the fact that our new Aristocracy has taken inter-generational elasticity in America to its worst point ever. As Angus Deaton writes, the rich have “raised the latter as they ascended” – and some of this is through debt; debt they benefit from, as the first to have access to the newly printed money.
“But this will benefit the rich!!!?” the socialists will say. “This will give those no-good lazies a pass on their own irresponsibility” the other side will respond. “Maybe we should just set up a voucher program,” somebody will suggest. “Naw, we can just send them a check for $600, like, perhaps every month. That will calm them down!” says another, licking lobster juice from her fingers in a restaurant beside a beautiful old bridge.
STOP!!! ALL OF YOU!!!
Because that is the whole point – for the Bible also says “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike” – whoever your just and unjust are (and your opinion is probably different than mine), a jubilee does not discriminate between human opinions of each other. Therein lies its power. It eschews social engineering – and isn’t that what has gotten us into our mess in the first place? But… But… what about?? I mean, shouldn’t they… It’s the fault of…
Just let them go, the “…stock of commonplaces, prejudices, cigarette-ends of ideas or simply empty words which chance has piled up within (your) minds.” (Yes, I’m talking to you). Let them go, its OK. Embrace the ‘local knowledge problem’ that confounds all economists, surrender to our extraordinary spontaneous order, and above all eschew your efforts at planning – they fail. You’re not smart enough.
Let’s start over. Lets wipe it all away.
Now, my economist friends will object. They, who pretend they are ‘scientists’, will talk about their curves and their models and their inflations. But isn’t it they who have brought us to the brink in the first place? Playing politics with the lives and livelihoods of others – Paul Krugman playing the role of Iblis, as he tests God again and again?
Because what they forget, is the nature of money. For what is money anyways, the repayment of which has resulted in the hobbling of nations? It is a store of value and a unit of measure. It is a means of exchange, the best of your mind for the best of mine. It allows a potato farmer and a computer designer to interact with each other across boundaries and over oceans – because the potato farmer needs accounting software and the computer wizard wants a curly fry. An intercourse ruined by toxic debt. Without debt, what will remain? Productivity. Productivity which will be set free; whether in the unruly slums of Lagos or the soy fields of the Pampas, those who can create will do so and those who can only engage in usury will find themselves powerless, at least for a season. And the alleviation of debt can even allow now-strangled countries to free money to pay park rangers, or invest in nuclear energy (the only solution to our global energy demands).
But how do we stop our downward spiral from happening all over? Well, first of all, we don’t. The Hebrew jubilee happened every fifty years; and the national (granted rural) economy adjusted for it. They knew that humanity has a tendency to repeat stupidity over and over in a cyclical race to the bottom. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage,” said Alexander Tytler. And that is not only true of a democracy, as our modern world has shown us.
But specifically, we could start to engage in real governance. Perish the thought!!!! Things like balanced budget amendments to our constitutions. A new Bretton Woods which denies loans to countries who do not balance their budgets or who go off the rails (incidentally this works well – take as example Mali in 2012, denied ECOWAS currency until the coup-captain was ousted. The ‘dictatorship’ lasted only a number of weeks, deprived of money). A return of real competition – not over greenbacks and who can print more but on who can make the best appliance or the cleanest form of dense energy source (renewables lack energy density, which is why they are a fad, not the future). Maybe these are the moments for bold, non-partisan ideas to be batted around. And why not??
For, lets be honest, the current debate is stale and boring indeed.
Towards the end of his life, and after more than 25 years of silence, Leo Tolstoy returned. He had something, one last thing perhaps to say. “Resurrection” was Tolstoy’s reflections upon a long life in Tsarist Russia. The book is revolutionary – so much so that the Tsarist censors cut more than 2/3 of it when he first tried to print it in Russia (as in a lot of literature in Russia, both during the Tsar and then during the communists, it has to be printed elsewhere – Paris or New York or Berlin – only to make its way back to Moscow when the author is dead and the dust has settled). “Resurrection” is, however, not revolutionary the way that the Bolsheviks wanted us to believe (or that the Tsar feared). It is non-political, in the same way that Jesus was non-political (despite the now-Pope’s desire to make him a mean politician).
“Resurrection” should probably have been titled Redemption. Because that is what the novel is about. It’s the story of Prince Dmitri Nekhlyudov who in his youth gets a young peasant woman – Katyusha – in trouble, pushing her down a path of perdition. He goes along his merry way, rediscovering her a decade later when he is called to sit upon a jury for a woman of the night who has been (falsely) accused of poisoning a customer in a house of ill repute. And his attempts to save her. Katyusha represents for Nekhlyudov – for Tolstoy – the entirety of Russian peasantry and Nekhlyudov the archetypal noble.
The thing that struck me about this book is how bone-weary Tolstoy came across. A man of tremendous talent and extraordinary character, the novel Resurrection is his final lasting indictment of Russia’s political system. It is full, pages and pages and pages full of the digressions into the stories of this or that prisoner, this or that peasant, this or that broken commercent unable to provide for his family. It is a tour of all the social ills of a Russia that refused to change; and the system (feudalism) which kept it so. It is full of disgust; maybe even cynicism but one that still has pity.
It’s no wonder at all the Tsar hated it.
However it is not a call to revolution. It does not end with the murder of the Tsar and the call to violence. In fact the end surprised me quite a bit, for it ends with Nekhlyudov in his small hotel room reading from Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all else will be added to you” as the single solitary recipe for “social justice” in a broken world.
For those who love medieval literature – Chaucer or the Brothers Grim – for those who love faerie tales from Ireland – you will love Apples of Immortality. Stories that come from the olden Armenian traditions, handed down from father to son (or more probably grandfather to grandson); tales of giants and the devilish Divs who abduct fair maidens and the wicked kings who steal babies and the fights of the knights or the peasant heroes against injustice. In this rendering, Leon Surmelian – Armenia’s arguably greatest (English speaking) writer brings his characteristic style to the retelling of the lore of his ancient patch of earth nestled between the seas, above Persia and below Colchis along a ridge of mountains that is still rising, the meeting-grounds of worlds. Buy this for your medieval collection; read it to your little boy (as I did, editing out some of the saltier stuff – the world 1000 years ago was a rough place) and use the stories to answer his question, “What’s the lesson from this story daddy?” ‘Three apples fell from a tree: one for the listener, one for the teller of the tale and one for he who heeded its lessons’.
Literally, in fact. For Christmas this year, marked by really quite a bit of hate and bitterness, give the gift of empathy.
“It is Charles that is speaking in the first person. This I found to be an important distinction. It is not Joel D. Hirst talking. It is how Charles is talking about how he feels. It is his passion and his black and white views we meet. Indeed, Joel. D. Hirst gives Charles a powerful voice. We get to know Charles, identify with the way he interprets things. Especially we identify with his love of reading! Charles, however, is not a character that causes great fondness and admiration. That is not attempted. Of course not, one might say. Yet Charles makes an impression in your heart. He is a prototype. You know that this fictional character exists in multiple forms in the real world. And circumstances make a difference. They matter. Luck too.”
Then, buy the book for somebody you care about this Christmas. Because 2021 is gonna be a rough year for those who are from the camps; learn to see the world through their eyes, the precursor to doing what you can to help.
Sometimes you stumble across something that is majestic. That’s what happened with “Farewell Aylis”, by Azeri novelist Akram Aylisli. Specifically, of this “Non-Traditional Novel”, the second short story – Stone Dreams. Stone Dreams is a story of an Azeri man who is assaulted in Baku after attempting to protect a group of Armenians during the Sumgait Pogroms in the early 1990s. And his deliriums and dreams as he passes away. About his town, Aylis, in Nakhchivan, a tiny enclave of Azerbaijan on the west side of Armenia beside Turkey. A place that, before the genocide 100 years ago, was a place where Azeris and Armenians lived together; and the tremendous destruction of Armenian property and heritage and lives by the Turks and their Beys during the genocide.
This book is special, because Aylisli is an Azeri Muslim and was Azerbaijan’s most important novelist. I say was, because after the publication of Stone Dreams Aylisli was stripped of his honors, his books were burned, and he was put under house arrest. His crime?? Empathy. Daring to make common cause in his imagination – in his literature – with the Armenian “enemy”. “Stone Dreams” bleeds, it is a tragic lament of a man who recognizes what hate has done to his society, and how while the stoking of that hate might be good for politics, it represents only lasting harm to the civilizational aspirations of his co-citizens.
Stone Dreams is an extraordinary short story — a novel to die for.
One of the things about a pandemic, of which I hope you are taking advantage (as I am) is the ‘free time’ to read. Without our long commutes, with workloads somewhat reduced (so much of my job is meetings and trips, which have been cut down and cancelled, respectively) and with much, much less time “on the town” – I’ve found myself with more time to read. I catalogue my reading here, at Goodreads mostly which includes a reading challenge that helps keep up the peer pressure. This year, aside from finding great literature (I’ll get to that in another post), I found three books which will change the way you think about things you thought you were convinced about. They are a must read for winter and would make great Christmas presents. Without further ado:
The Human Rights “agenda” is suffering from a period of what might be called “Rights Inflation”. People have learned, if you want to advance a component of your agenda, couch it in the narrative of “Human Rights” and you will find yourself virtually unopposed. For this reason, our rights discussion has degenerated to a laundry-wish list of opinions and preferences including the right to housing and right to health care and right to culture and right to live a life un-offended and a right to do virtually whatever it is that each of us thinks is right in our own eyes. True human rights have consisted of only three, and have never changed: life, liberty and property. Everything else are negotiations within a ‘social contract’ of the role of the state in society. This is because all rights place duties upon a state, duties which must be paid for and therefore place corresponding duties upon citizens. Because the state does not have its own money – and everything it does it must pay for by stealing, borrowing or printing. “The Debasement of Human Rights” is about this, about how we should return to an orthodox discussion of Human Rights, if our agenda to better human life is to have any meaning at all.
Prevailing “wisdom” is that the world is in the midst of a population crisis, that we are headed for a Malthusian breaking point due to overpopulation and our plant will not be able to cope. The truth of the matter is that population growth maxed out a few decades ago in terms of percentages, and in real numbers will max out in the next decades. The truth is that the planet is experiencing a moment of tremendous aging. Median ages are going towards 40 years old. Many countries (Russia, Japan, South Korea, Italy) are already undergoing significant population declines, and the rest of the developed world is close behind. China, our latest “red scare” country will reduce its size by half in the next years; it is not a global hegemon, but instead a gerontocracy which very soon will have to put the tremendous totalitarian power of the state at the service of bed-pans and Hometown Buffet lines. The only developed world countries growing – US, Canada, Australia, UK – is due to immigration (one reason Asia is in real trouble is that they suffer no immigrants). This decline is existential for our capitalist economic model, predicated as it is on constant growth. With fewer people, and those who exist getting older and casting aside the purchase of the newest I-Phone and a larger house, instead downsizing and spending more money on health care and food than on the latest gadget, our entire economic model will change. Look no further than Japan today, and you will see what our world will look like in the coming decades. We maxed out. We did not destroy the planet, we did not run out of food. 21st century is the discovery of tremendous change and solutions to address those changes – we’ve already started with COVID, and it will continue. “Empty Planet” is about this:
Back to Malthus – the “prevailing wisdom” says that we are destroying our world, and its due to greenhouse gas emissions. Renewables is the only answer to the catastrophe. The realities are that in many ways the environmental degradation brought about by our rapid industrialization was brought to an end a few decades ago. Slowly, we’ve made our productivity cleaner and our energy more efficient. Trees are being replanted and – as our populations urbanize and decline (see previous book) – the Neo-Malthusians predicting environmental apocalypse were wrong. Now, we certainly need to focus on stopping the rampant overfishing, find a solution to eliminate plastics in a safe way (though plastics themselves have been the greatest savior of the animals, and to a degree responsible for our tremendous prosperity), protect the amazing biodiversity of the planet and begin to reseed the world. There is no sixth great extinction. As our world gets smaller and older, all this will get easier. As our economic model changes to less consumerism due to aging, this also will help. The real problem is assuring economic growth for those still suffering (read Africa) – because wealth is more environmentally friendly. “Poverty is the greatest polluter,” as Indira Gandhi once said. Yes Africa is indeed in a rough way. But it can only be saved by provision of steady, cheap power – and this cannot be by using “renewables”. There is no leapfrogging over the energy dense materials we used to power our own growth. Barring any major scientific breakthroughs (cold fusion anyone?) we know that coal is better than wood, LNG is better than coal, and nuclear is better than all of the above. A tremendous source of steady safe energy for which all the waste can be literally dumped into a cement tube and – if we want – fired into space. Apocalyptic Environmentalism is, like communism 100 years ago, a utopian death cult which must be replaced with reason based, science based solutions motivated by love for ourselves and our amazing planet. And “Climate Change” as an “agenda”? – a bait and switch, for politicians to scare you and steal your money. “Apocalypse Never” is about all this:
Does the sight of a dolphin make you sad? Does the gentle lapping of the sea only make you think of the plastic water-bottle in your hand? Does a sunset fill you with fear and panic? Do you look at the world around you and in the place of wonder see only death?
You might be suffering from apocalyptic environmentalism – the world’s newest secular faith, which is also a death cult.
Arthur Koestler once wrote of socialism, “Every period has its dominant religion and hope, and ‘Socialism’ in a vague and undefined sense was the hope of the early twentieth century.” But that was then, a century ago. The new religion is apocalyptic environmentalism. “Environmentalism today is the dominant secular religion of the educated, upper-middle-class elite in most developed and many developing nations. It provides a new story about our collective and individual purpose. It designates good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. And it does so in the language of science, which provides it with legitimacy.”
But socialism, that great hope of the masses, was wrong. After all the marching and the philosophizing, they couldn’t make the math work and it died in the bread lines. So too “apocalyptic environmentalism”, because they can’t make the science work – but will they destroy the world in their attempt to square the circle?
In that spirit, what if everything you thought you knew – that was screamed in your ear all day long and filled your Twitter and Facebook and your browser, what if all of that is wrong? Because that’s what Michael Shellenberger is telling us. And it goes for both sides – the apocalyptic environmental death cult as well as those who say not a care need be given to the world around us (but I am of course focusing this review on the former, because they are the audience to whom Shellenberger is directing his extraordinarily well researched book). Did you know plastics saved the turtle, and the whale and the elephant? Did you know that power density is the only possible solution to our energy crisis – and the greatest density is found in nuclear, the only source of energy where all waste is literally put in a cement bucket and stacked in a (relatively small) cave? Even more – the great power unleashed by nuclear could, with the expansion of breeder reactors double the capacity of our fissile material and reduce the waste to a tiny amount of plutonium; yes weapons grade perhaps (“But what about the terrorists?”), however in such a small quantity we could just shoot it into space. “But what about the aliens?” – now you’re just being silly. Did you know that the use of renewables cannot power Africa – and without power, Africa will continue to burn her forests? Did you know that the wildfires you care so much about are a result of putting houses too close to the forests and of allowing underbrush to build up without proper care and maintenance? Did you know we are not paving paradise – in fact all of construction in the world covers only .5% of the world. Land for agriculture use is going down, land for cattle grazing as well – due to efficiencies. And the deforestation? Global deforestation is being reversed, global population growth is on a decline, global land use is receding dramatically as our world urbanizes.
Why don’t we know these things? We all suffer from confirmation bias. We carefully prune our twitter feeds until they deliver us only a fire-hose of half-truths, but they are our half-truths!!! I have already been yelled at by a friend for putting a Shellenberger quote on my public FB page (I no longer have a FB account, and my wife manages my public author page – for exactly this reason). I interrupted my friend’s perfect waterfall of self-confirming half-truths; and he called Shellenberger a stooge of greed, attacking not his work, which he has not read, but his integrity. This is what Koestler in “The Invisible Writing” called a “closed circle” or what in Washington DC is half-comically and half-sadly referred to as a “self-licking ice-cream cone”. Where we fawn over an ignorant 13 year old girl, and throw invective at a consummate intellectual like Michael Shellenberger.
So what is the problem? “You’re saying everything is just fine. You want to destroy the world!!” You might be saying. Far from it, for I am an environmentalist – not of the quality and character of Shellenberger, alas, but I do love our world and the beauty she holds. I’m raising my son to be a scientist (he wants to be a marine biologist), we do our best to reduce waste and to recycle plastics. My “environmentalism” has taken more the form of human activism, specifically trying to end the wars (mostly in Africa). Because while countries are at war with themselves, destroying their infrastructure and murdering their citizens, they cannot even begin to solve the epic problems that the use of low-density energy has pushed their environments into. And I wish I could do more. Because we have a lot to do. Overfishing is the worst problem. Only 8% of the oceans are protected, for example. Plastics – though they don’t last a million years, in fact probably only decades because though they are not broken down by bacteria they are by the sun – are still produced in too great of quantities. Rwanda has banned them altogether. We must recover from our terrible 20th century, because though we cannot “leapfrog” past denser energy forms which are the motors of development (coal is better than wood, LNG is better than coal, nuclear is better than LNG), we must find a way to help Africa develop without the mess that the 20th century did to Europe and the western world.
But we can’t do that by subjecting the poor to poverty, it is not only immoral but impractical, for Africa’s population is still growing out of control, the only part of the world where that is the case. And correspondingly that ancient of places is being burned down to create charcoal over which the famished fishermen cook the last minnows they have pulled from the desiccated lake, before they pack everything into a plastic bucket and march with it on their heads to the camps. For let’s be honest with ourselves, “sustainable development” failed. The only path to prosperity is the one we took – and we must not deny the Africans that opportunity.
Because poverty is the greatest polluter, and wealth, the greatest environmentalist.
Unlike the apocalyptic environmentalists, Shellenberger in “Apocalypse Never” gives us an alternative. “Environmental humanism” he calls it, a return to a love of the wooded spaces, the gloriously tall trees and the deep blue oceans – our love of our wondrous world. And out of that love, the desire to protect and to preserve the natural places for ourselves, because they fill our hearts with joy. “Happily, nobody saves mountain gorillas, yellow eyed penguins, and sea turtles because they believe human civilization depends on it. We save them for a simpler reason: we love them.”
Yes, things are tough and we have a lot of work to do. So read this book, and then let’s get busy! Let us all go, with joy, eschewing irrational fear – and glory at being gifted with such an amazing planet and an opportunity to enjoy her as we serve her.