Smugth

Days often begin with a meaty email message from John, always spiky with pithy observations, lively questions, pointers to interesting sources and resources. Following up on his links is just the beginning of the day’s fun, because there’s always a trickle of blog postings coming through as well (sometimes tucked away for later viewing, sometimes sucked right in, and maybe passed along to others), and often enough the various messages complement each other.

Today John pointed to Sarah Miller’s Annals of a Warming Planet (“The millions of tons of carbon emissions that don’t exist”) in the New Yorker. Some of the trenchant bits I wrote down:

wood pellets marketed as “sustainably sourced biomass”

“…counting biomass as carbon-neutral…”

est. 60,000 acres of trees burned every year
to supply the growing pellet market

…It takes between 40 and 100 years for a new tree to pay down the carbon debt
racked up by logging and burning an old one…

supposedly “residue from the timber industry, made out of scraps and sawdust…”

but trees harvested in US and Canada to make pellets for export

supposedly “sustainably sourced forest thinning and low-grade wood”

“…if a government or private entity cuts down a forest but doesn’t redevelop the land,
it has not officially engaged in deforestation”

no one has figured out how to capture and store enough carbon
to make any difference

The problem is “the economy”, which is required to produce profits
and reproduce itself, and which requires large energy inputs to do so…

The truth is that if the economy is not entirely remade,
the debates over the folly of biomass, over what counts as renewable,
over whether or not a tree can grow back faster than it burns
—all of it will vanish into a great silence.

John goes on to note the Smugth with which he piloted a biodiesel car for a decade, shudders to think about other things done or considered, and observes:

I’ve been struck during the pandemic that everyone draws their own line of what is a reasonable precaution and what is an unwelcome intrusion, and there are people who staunchly defend their particular stance along the spectrum of public health (collective gain) vs personal liberty (and economic gain). The same spectrum is clearly in place on the environmental plane…and I see the mixture of cognitive dissonance and preachy self satisfaction at work in myself and in so many others.

Other things that rolled in today:

A week or so I was wondering to myself ??What does one do when one recognizes that one is caught in a Contradiction? When one realizes personal implication in something that one deeply deplores? ?When one wishes to at least be consistent… ?? …which of course happens all the time, trivially and grandly. When one reads about water in the San Joaquin Valley and learns about the structure and depradations of the almond industry, is it thinkable to keep buying almond milk? And what about that 2 cord of wood we burn each winter, just how much better or worse is it than, say, propane in our wall heaters… and so on. Such thoughts are pretty small potatoes in comparison to the Big Delusions of our society and culture, our nation, our species…

the in-built addiction to Growth that underwrites pretty much everything we do, and that we have been pretty much constantly reminded of since The Limits to Growth (1974; 2004 30-year update), which I’m starting to re-examine.

And this all in the context of reading Edward Tufte’s fifth book, Seeing With Fresh Eyes: Meaning, Space, Data, Truth

A sense of the relevant is the ability to identify and detect
those things that have consequences beyond themselves.

creativity is connecting things

spaces and linebreaks create poetic meaning

Photography is alright, if you don’t mind
looking at the world from the point of view
of a paralyzed Cyclops
—for a split second
(David Hockney)

models sanctified and celebrated by insiders
can evolve into uncontested, lucrative, congealed
monopolies/specialties/cartels/cults/disciplines
—which in time become self-centered and selfish,
more and more about themselves, and less and less about
their original substantive content.

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