June 28, 2009

Dismiss Gaianism

Michael Anissimov is guest blogging this month.

One of the many useful terms that George has popularized is "Gainism" -- "reverential desperatism and misanthropism that is now the all too familiar opium promoted by the deep ecologists." I love the environment, but I think that the insipid SWPL, New York Times-inspired environmentalism held so dear by the farmers market crowd is the wrong way to go about helping our planet.

The reason why is that individual conservation is ultimately a losing game and improving our industrial manufacturing, energy, and agricultural processes are the only ways to avoid spewing garbage all over our pristine verdant globe. The global population is doubling about every 40 years, and any conservation efforts undertaken by the First World (less than a third of humanity) are ultimately dwarfed by exponential population increase worldwide. It hasn't been since the 70s that the world has taken a serious look at the population issue. Why? It's simply become too large to handle, so people ignore it.

First, let's take a look at manufacturing. All manufacturing is tremendously wasteful. This means that the best way to be environmentalist is to be poor -- have a small house, drive a small car, buy few products, don't travel in an airplane or to another country. That isn't a sexy, yuppie, New York Times-worthy lifestyle, now is it? The poor college student that lives in a dorm and bikes everywhere is doing ten times more for the environment than the rich yuppie that has a big house with good insulation, a veggie garden, drives a Prius, and goes on "eco-tours" to Fiji. One has the accessories of environmentalism -- one is actually helping the environment by being poor. Not going on an eco-tour to Fiji has a much smaller carbon footprint than going on one. Using a bike has a much smaller carbon footprint than driving a Prius.

The way to be a good environmentalist is to talk about and invest in strategies that impact the environment less whatever people believe -- I'd rather have a planet of people who don't explicitly care about the environment but have little impact on it due to the structure of their society than people who profess care but still drive cars and take airplanes everywhere. For manufacturing, that means investing in molecular manufacturing, synthetic biology, renewable building materials, new materials in general, and other potential routes to cheap, low-waste manufacturing, not buying endless trendy electronic gadgets that deposit heavy metals into our landfills.

Look at energy. Even the biggest environmentalists are starting to acknowledge that nuclear is the way to go. The waste generated by nuclear power plants is very low per kilowatt-hour produced, and burying it deeply underground in secure canisters really is a solution, whether it invokes positive emotional affect or not. Eventually, we will be able to shoot it off into space, but I have the feeling that we will develop the infrastructure to bury it securely underground instead. The anti-nuclear environmentalists are living in a fantasy world where they want us to go back to "nature" (the Pleistocene), neglecting the fact that billions would starve and go cold without modern industrial infrastructure. We have to choose the least damaging path -- not pretend that we can meet all our energy needs through solar and wind in the near future.

Consider agriculture. As Jamais Cascio and others have pointed out, meat consumption has a tremendous carbon footprint. I have pointed out to animal rights ethics professors at leading universities that we can never, ever get any substantial majority of the population to stop eating meat, because it's directly connected to feelings of masculinity and dominance, and besides, it tastes good. However, whether meat eaters like it or not, soy products are starting to approach the taste of meat, and the ultimate long-term solution is in vitro meat, pioneered by Jason Matheny and his non-profit, New Harvest. Eventually, everyone will be eating in vitro meat, because it will be healthier and cheaper, and macho meat-lovers who desire the experience of snuffing out the life of another animal to add to their own life force (a primitive desire grounded in sympathetic magic) will just have to whine about it until they get exhausted.

Deep ecology reaches an unjustifiable fever pitch when it advocates things like "keeping Antarctica pristine" -- the entire continent is nothing but a frozen wasteland populated by microbes and nematodes, if anything. Only a miniscule percentage, the coasts, is occupied by any form of complex life. Why not cover the whole damn thing with heated domes powered by' solar satellites? If the continent could be covered in billions of happy people leading fulfilling lives, wouldn't that be a lot better than a featureless ice sheet? Speaking of which, environmentalists should be the foremost advocates of space colonization, because there are millions of totally dead planets out there that we could be seeding with trees and life.

Well, I think you get my gist. Environmentalism is cool, but the way that people are going about it is all wrong. Now, I'm off to watch Fern Gully.

Michael's blog: Accelerating Future.


Anonymous said...

A couple of things. One, while I agree with you that changing the structure of societies manufacturing is far more important, I think you dismiss individual efforts a little too harshly. Two, population growth is not necessarily exponential. As undeveloped countries become richer and more developed population growth will drop to more sustainable levels (this is a well established pattern). Finally, covering Antarctica in heated biodomes? You don’t think that will have some effect on the world eco-system?

Michael Anissimov said...

I think individual efforts are all right, which is why I point out that being poor (or at least spending very little on products) can help the environment. By "covering", I mean thousands or tens of thousands, that wouldn't have a big impact on the environment. It's one of those things where we would evaluate it as we go. Population growth is always exponential as long as the average children per couple is 2.0 or greater, the question is how big the exponent is. We will eventually require ZPG (zero population growth), or at least low population growth.

Barry Saunders said...

i like your point, but Antartica is home to penguins, seals, mosses, lichen, and many types of algae. You undermine your argument when you don't do your research.

Michael Anissimov said...

Barry, I know all about that, that's why I said "Only a miniscule percentage, the coasts, is occupied by any form of complex life." I have had an Antarctica obsession for over a decade and have written dozens of Antarctica-related articles for WiseGeek over the years. Those complex animals only live on the coasts, like I said, which is a "miniscule percentage" of the total continent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you for the most part but like the rest of the commenters I have to take issue with the last point. Don't you think that heating Antarctica for human habitation might have a larger effect of the weather patterns of the world? You can't just terraform one section of the globe, it would have larger repercussions. You seem to be advocating the idea that nature is here for our exploitation (which is the antithesis of your previous paragraphs) and we can do with it as we see fit.

David Golightly said...

I take issue with your article for precisely the same reasons I took issue with George's earlier post on the subject: namely, without providing actual quotes or names of people advocating the "Deep Ecology" position, you're essentially advancing a straw-man argument. It would be easier to decide whether or not I agree with them if I had some idea of what they actually think, as opposed to your interpretation of what they think. What are the chief organizations/who are the chief thinkers of this movement? Where can I find them? The only place I seem to hear about them is on this blog.

Roko said...

> "macho meat-lovers who desire the experience of snuffing out the life of another animal to add to their own life force"

- hey, it's perfectly rational for a male to be a macho meat lover and eat lots of steak. It makes you feel manly, which makes you more confident around women so have a greater chance of getting an attractive girlfriend.

When trapped inside a brain that behaves mostly according to hard-wired subconscious routines that evolution designed and you have no control over, it makes sense to do slightly odd things like doing "manly" things such as eating steak that are, rationally speaking, pointless.

Top article overall.

Anonymous said...

To David: It's not too hard to find info on the Deep Ecology movement, especially if you use this thing called the internet. You may have heard of it.

But in answer to your question: The Deep Ecology movement generally believes that humans are an intergral part of the world ecosystem, and as such are not above or superior to it. Because of this they do not believe that humans have any right to exploit the natural world for our own benefit. This seems (I say seems because I am not part of this movement and could be wrong) to often take the form of a belief that ecosystems can only tolerate a certain amount of interference and a desire to let ecosystems return to or remain in their natural condiditon.

David Golightly said...

@allaroundathelete -

Again, I would ask you to provide sources for your claims. I have no doubt that I could find all manner of (possibly specious) information on the internet, but when constructing a logical argument against a position, it is necessary to define that position with credibility. I see no credibility in reciting your opponent's position off the top of your head. You must provide quotations and sources of actual people who hold the positions you wish to disagree with, or you're simply not credible. End of story.

I have no bone to pick with the content of the article, except to say that the methods used to advance the argument are logically fallacious. That's it. I want higher standards.

George said...

@David: Check out the fine work done by Eric Pianka, particularly the Mims-Pianka controversy. There's also the work of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT).

More mainstreamish, James Lovelock has made numerous claims throughout his career that could be described as misanthropic. In his book Revenge of Gaia he writes, "With breathtaking insolence humans have taken the stores of carbon that Gaia buried to keep oxygen at its proper level and burnt them."

You should also check out Franz Broswimmer’s book, Ecocide: A Short History of the Mass Extinction of Species which is basically a rant against humanity.

There's also the work of Thomas Lough. Check out his article in Human Ecology Review "Energy, Agriculture, Patriarchy and Ecocide".

David McNight has tried to reconcile current population pressures with his version of ‘new humanism’, arguing that "creating a sustainable society based on human values will necessitate stopping the growth of human population and accepting limits on human material desire."

And there's the deep ecologists' objective of reducing populations, which was initially spelled out by leading ecologists Arne Naess and George Sessions in 1984, who argued that a "substantial reduction in human population is needed for the flourishing of non-human life."

I could go on but I think I've burned down your straw man.

David Golightly said...

George - thanks for following up with some sources. I don't doubt there are some nutty folks out there who believe some outrageous things, but when setting out to debunk them, it's important at the outset to make clear what the opposing position is, in the terms of those who advance it. It's not quite enough to come along after the fact with quotes showing as much, much appreciated as they are. I'd also like to see evidence of a connection between these authors and "the insipid SWPL, New York Times-inspired environmentalism held so dear by the farmers market crowd" (whoever that may be, and whoever might represent them intellectually - is that the same as these Gainists?) Mr. Anissimov seems to think that an entire, poorly-specified group of "the farmers market crowd" can all be ridiculed by poking holes in the nutty arguments of a few extremists.

Furthermore, Mr. Anissimov seems to think that "...individual conservation is ultimately a losing game and improving our industrial manufacturing, energy, and agricultural processes are the only ways to avoid spewing garbage all over our pristine verdant globe." Are there Gainists who advance the opposing position - that we needn't worry about "industrial, manufacturing, energy, and agricultural processes" because individual conservation will take care of things? I would presume that the authors you just cited probably have a different position, namely that all human industrial activity must cease - which is quite a different position than the one Mr. Anissimov seeks to refute, and would agree with Mr. Anissimov on the point that individual conservation is a losing game.

In short, if you want to persuade people who don't already agree with you, the place to start might be by making logically coherent arguments to advance the transhumanist position.

Barry Saunders said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barry Saunders said...

it may be the case that complex life only lives on the coasts, but you'd be hard pressed to cover it with heated domes without wiping out the endangered species that *do* live there.

Your bit about nuclear power needs more data as well. It's simply not the case that *the biggest environmentalists are starting to acknowledge that nuclear is the way to go.* Some greens have, but many still have strong reservations.

Similarly, investing in nuclear while the technology for baseload solar power generation already exists is poor use of investment.

djadvance said...

"Why not cover the whole damn thing with heated domes powered by' solar satellites?"

If you've written so much about Antarctica, you understand that melting parts of it would be terrible.

What's the rush to mess with it? We don't know enough about our impact on the environment to built heat domes on an ice shelf and expect everything to be fine.

The idea is exciting. But let's tackle the IMPORTANT issues first (poverty, anhedonia, animal rights) and worry about expensive flights of fancy second.

roboconcept said...

It's often easy with these kind of (admittedly accurate) points, one must be careful not to entirely disempower the individual, and remove them emotionally from the challenge at hand. I believe we have a massive problem on our hands that will require the emotional, mental, and physical investment of every strata of person on earth.

As for 'investing' in different types of 'friendly' manufacturing, isn't the most environmentally friendly type of manufacturing less manufacturing? By investing in cultural movements towards lifestyle change (anti-consumerism and socially responsible attitudes would be a start), perhaps a more meaningful impact can be made in the long term on this situation.

I think individuals and small groups are potentially powerful in this process, look at the actions of radical (Not NYTimes style, but more grassroots and anarchist-leaning) environmentalist groups like Earth First opposing infrastructure. This type of action, while controversial, is one possible route to discouraging population growth and encouraging lifestyle change.

Also, I will eat a veggie burger over test tube meat any day.

Great blog! Will keep reading.

Alvis Brigis said...

Popular Gaianism and transhumanism/singularitarianism appear to be opposing ideological/philosophical positions on the same coin, rooted mostly in subjective preference and habit. One side places faith in man as problem solver, the other places faith in the environment. Largely, both seem cruder by the day. The most likely path forward, imo, is probably a combination of both approaches that leads to ever better systems modeling, probably catalyzed by more agreeable memes than are currently being used to articulate and frame the positions.

Barry Saunders said...

Alvis: yes! I agree wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

The solution the "world's" eco-crisis will come from the bottom-up, not top-down, if history is much of a guide.

Every human culture I'm aware of throughout time has merely reacted to climate change once the damage was obvious and irreversible (I'll looking at your Clovis man and Easter Islanders). I see no evidence that we, as a group, are much better at planning for the future. Rather, I see much evidence that we still cannot plan for the future. Some recent evidence for this can be seen in the decline of the Atlantic Cod and the implosion of mortgage-backed securities. Both events were well-telegraphed with precursors, but still no action.

And let's be frank: the eco-crisis is really about sustaining human life on Earth at the current level. If you're willing to accept a dramatic reduction in the population, the crisis solves itself. Earth life is amazingly adaptable and will adjust to new norms (within certain tolerances).
Telling people to live like poor college students isn't going to work because there's no carrot inciting them to do so -- only stick.

Unfortunately, I believe the future will show that if humans survive on this planet, it was not due to a behavior change. I believe a future (human?) historian will note that when the climate changed dramatically, the ocean levels increased globally with the melting of all land-based ice. All of major coastal cities were destroyed leading to either a global war or massive misery that reduced the human population to more manageable levels.

The core problem is not technical, it's biological. Humans are not that far away from our primate cousins as our popular culture seems to think. We still have a lot of monkey programming in our brains and that's going to kill us all.

But that's no reason to stop thinking up ways we could avoid the obvious crisis already in progress. It's no reason to give up discussing this. I just share Einstein's pessimism about people.

Nebris said...

Part One: How about totally revamping the entire social structure? I've been working on a new construct: a Matriarchy of Transhumanist Amazons.

"Hypothetically speaking, with the coming advent of physically implanted miniature computers and physiological maintenance nanites, it could become possible for one woman to impregnate another woman in a sexual act and vise versa. It would require focus, so accidental pregnancies would be virtually impossible, but desired pregnancies would be virtually guaranteed.

Both women would have to be ovulating, but if they have lived together for any length of time, their cycles would be in alignment. They would engage in whatever foreplay that they enjoyed most, raising their level of sexual excitement, which would facilitate the process on several levels.

When they were both 'there' - a very personal and highly subjective state - the women wound get into the Scissor Leg position. The genitals would need to be freshly dipilated to a fine degree. The vaginal/vaginal contact would establish a 'lubricant bridge', which would create a flow of nanite interaction.

The 'impregnator' or Seed Mother would then direct her physio-comp to engage a preset program whereby her nanites detach a viable egg from one of her ovaries and guide it down the fallopian tube through the uterus into the cervix and then to the vaginal entrance.

The 'impregnatee' or Womb Mother would simultaneously direct her physio-comp to engage a preset program whereby her nanites stand by to receive the Seed Mother's egg and then guide it up into her uterus to fertilize a prepared 'receptor egg' that has been moved there from one of her ovaries.

The moment of truth is the hand off of the Seed Egg from one set of nanites to the other on the lubricant bridge. Some of the Seed Mother's nanites would have to be traded to the Womb Mother. [This would also bring the concept of hardware and software compatibility to a whole new level]

The results would be known almost immediately. If the hand off was successful, fertilization is highly probable and the Womb Mother's physio-comp would tell her."


Nebris said...

Part Two: "Mandroids were really just a type of cyborg, but since the majority of humans these days had some manner of cybernetic augmentation, a separate term had been needed.

Most Mandroids were grown in uterine replicators based upon modified porcine uteri, and were commonly called 'tank babies'. Y-chromosome DNA was used exclusively in that process and was extensively engineered to enhance inclinations and tendencies for the various subtypes.

Tank baby Mandroids were usually of a lesser mental capacity and heavily augmented, Guidance Mechanisms being implanted in the brain's pleasure/pain centers before they were ever hatched. That also solved the problem of 'socialization'.

Experience had shown that the isolating 'non-humanness' of the replicators tended to regularly produce sociopathic and psychotic individuals, which was one of the principle reasons The Sisterhood practiced the live birth of their daughters. Obviously, they did not bear any male offspring and they certainly had the tech to make sure that they never did.

The Sisterhood used a certain amount of purely mechanical/electronic robots, but overall, robots had never reached the level of functional and economic efficiency of Mandroids, either in manufacture or operation. Too many raw materials needed. Basic mechanics too complex and often unreliable.

But it was in 'brain function' that robots really fell behind Mandroids. Ultimately, it was far easier to downgrade the biological that it was to upgrade the cybernetic.

It was the UMR's Ministry of Service [Union of Matrilineal Republics] that designed and created every variety of Mandroid, and was not only their sole producer, but also their sole legal owner. All Mandriods were leased, not owned, by their end users under a Usufruct Contract and that included every one of them from a single domestic servitor to the tens of millions employed by Space Force from Dirtside to the Asteroid Belt. And the MoS's Rules and Regulations regarding Care and Utilization under that contract were well defined and rigorously enforced.

And so The Sisterhood had finally resolved the ancient and pernicious human problem of social inequality, and permanently solved the issue of Labor Supply, by creating a specialized working class, one which was always happy and productive, and whose members could be stored in a medical coma when not needed or when shipped on long distance runs off planet."


Much more elegant and workable than anything I've heard so far.

Nebris said...

PS I should note that I do largely agree with Michael's take on the Deep Ecology movement. I feel it is in many ways a ideological subset of the Human Extinction movement. Being an Aubrey De Grey fan, that would certainly go against the grain, eh?

ZarPaulus said...

And what does this "Matriarchy" have to do with Gaianism?

Nebris said...

ZarPaulus said... And what does this "Matriarchy" have to do with Gaianism?

What leads you to believe that it does not?

ZarPaulus said...

I see now that your idea has some similarity to the Human Extinction movement. You want half of humanity reduced to bioroid servitors, and I'm guessing you blame your gender for destroying the environment. Seriously, your Mandroids sound creepily like Warhammer 40,000.

Nebris said...

I see now that your idea has some similarity to the Human Extinction movement. In terms of some methodologies, I suppose one could say that. It means little however.

One can use a truck as a way to deliver milk and also as a way to gas the mentally unwell on your way around the block. Neither would reflect upon the 'moral nature' of the internal combustion engine like say the effect of carbon emissions which are actually part of both truck's nature.

You want half of humanity reduced to bioroid servitors, That would be a somewhat hysterical interpretation. None of humanity is 'reduced' at all.

The Servitors would be purpose grown to specific ends and would never know any other life. They would certainly be better treated than the vast majority of 'humanity' is at present.

And as for 'half', well, Servitors would outnumber Sisters by about 100 to 1 most likely.

and I'm guessing you blame your gender for destroying the environment. The Male Drive has built a magnificent civilization. But as I have said, “This drive has worked for us as a species for a long time, though the cost has been high. A brief review of history of history will quickly reveal the nature of that cost. Ramses III. Darius. Alexander. Caesar. Charlemagne. Louis XIV. Napoleon. Lenin. Stalin. Hitler. Mao. Tremendous strides were made, but the body count was huge and hundreds of cities burned.

Throughout all this, there were many tools and resources that helped our species to reach the point we have presently reached: a civilization both magnificent and monstrous. But old tools must be discarded when they have out lived their usefulness. Why use coal for urban light rail when we have electricity? True, many power plants still use coal to make that electricity, but we know that those must change too if we are to survive. It's a process of evolutionary adaptation.

The Male Body is the same. It is a tool that has been of great use to us - though with a cost - and now it must be phased out if we are to survive. It is The Male whose Ego is Paramount. It is The Male who wages war. It is The Male who invokes The Father/God and says, "Believe or Die!" and is willing - even happy - to destroy any and all to avoid even the possibility of being half 'wrong'.

Obviously, this has to stop...and it will, one way or another. We can simply allow 'things to run their course', which is a recipe for death and destruction on a scale heretofore unseen. Or we can work to mitigate this coming disaster as best as we are able. That is what I am trying to do, change our course through a construct that is both mundane and metaphysical. History shows that this is a necessary combination, or at least the one that is most effective in the long term.“

Seriously, your Mandroids sound creepily like Warhammer 40,000. A game designed for adolescent males. *laughs* You make some of my point for me. But if you reread what I said about Mandroids you'll see that the vast majority of them would be 'civil' in nature.

Something like this IS coming, like it or not. That you can bet money on. What it shall look like is being determined already. I'm simply putting some 'ideas on the table' that could make the ultimate outcome a bit more 'humane'.

ZarPaulus said...

Don't the stories you posted a URL to in your second post describe male POWS and immigrants to the UMR being converted into Mandroids. Granted the immigrants are described as being well treated and mostly made into pleasure models.

Nebris said...

Yes, the POW's who did this...

"The Sisterhood had compiled evidence of genital mutilation, impregnation rape, and foot amputation for the women who tried to escape before it took action.

Two Warnings were issued. Then came an EMP, followed by a Marine Drop Brigade. Mobile Tribunals did the mopping up."

Seems fair enough, eh?

In that tale most of those young males immigrated because they wished to become Pleasure Servers, just like some young males today wish to become live-in bondage slaves.

If you do not believe that, check out any BDSM dating site.