This is my computer’s desktop image!
There are many like it but this one IS mine!
(dawn, in the fields between Banbury
and Hanwell, February 2013)
About Paul Mobbs & MEIR:
Phase V, 2017–, ‘planetary hospice worker?’
If you want to be effective you need to anticipate the ‘next big thing’; on new issues, that means spending half the time arguing with you own ‘side’ who don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
To that end, what follows is a prologue to the next inevitable argument I'm going to have…
What I failed to mention earlier was that between being an ‘apprentice’, then giving up full-time employment and going self-employed as an ‘investigator’, a little event had taken place in my life – one that today has great relevance for my future work.
Pluto and Dido, the Harwell materials testing reactors, ~1988/9
1989 was a mad year; admittedly, for a lot of people!
At the big scale ‘peace’ broke out in Europe (allegedly).
My research on Harwell’s nuclear testing reactors – following the House of Common’s Energy Select Committee’s consideration of what it also called, ‘The Mobbs Report’ – had forced major changes on the Atomic Energy Authority’s management.
Work with other groups on landfill and incineration, and training people to work on waste and pollution issues, was going well too.
At the same time though my every-day week-on-week-off engineering job, while fun to do, was beginning to conflict with the experience I was having on my week off.
Then in February 1990, Harwell announced all their nuclear reactors were closing for ‘economic reasons’; nothing to do with safety. I was, to say the least, pleased.
Then a few days later, Nelson Mandela was released – which, as a long-standing supporter of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign, was great. In Russia too, the Communist Party had just voted to dissolve its hold on state power.
Then the day after that my world went black. I was taken into hospital with meningitis – which it would take a further three months to get over, the first six weeks of which were in the dark because of photo-phobia.
During my recovery, I read early coverage of the international agreements that were to go before the Rio Earth Summit in 1992; and it was during this time, of thought and reflection, that I decided to leave my work and do something more constructive – which is where the story resumes in ‘Phase I’ of this series.
In the second week of November 2018 I had spent a week in Wales, working and writing. Then I came home. Next day my left eye went black. Two days later I was in hospital in Oxford, and after emergency surgery my right eye decided to ‘go walkies’ in sympathy with the left one – meaning I could see very little of anything.
For the next ten weeks I had to keep my left cheek pinned to the bed while the back of my eye knitted itself back together. I didn’t leave the house on my own again until the end of January 2019.
Getting up early to see the dawn on the 2nd day of my backpacking trip – Old Bath Road, Avebury, 1st May 2019
(click image for route information)
For the first time in 28 years – since my last enforced confinement – I had a chance to do some serious thinking: Deep thinking; long, silent thinking; the sort of thinking where you have uninterrupted time to put an awful lot of things into perspective.
One of the audio books I listened to during that period talked about John Muir having had a serious eye injury and spending time in the dark. Later, having healed, he decided to travel West to (ultimately) The Sierras and Yellowstone in order to understand in what he ‘saw’ during his time in bed.
I think that’s where I am now.
During those ten weeks a phrase kept visiting my mind from a public event I went to back in 2009 – the last time I was searching around to decide what to do with myself, but was ultimately ‘distracted’ by fracking later that year.
Let’s review the past three decades of progress in the world of the environment and human development – ever since those heady days of 1989 when people believed that the world’s problems could be easily tackled by bureaucrats making global agreements:
- There is ample evidence that humanity has, in a multiplicity of forms and complex patterns of ways, ‘broken’ our ecological support system;
- The justification for this is ethereally called, ‘progress’, or politically it is called, ‘growth’, but in reality it is just the pursuit of more, ‘stuff’ – much of which these days doesn’t actually exist any more because it is ‘virtual’ (though it still demands large amounts of energy and resources to support this ‘virtual stuff’ through the operation of the global data networks which enable ‘The Internet’);
- Most people tacitly know that to solve the broken environment, they have to reconsider both ‘progress’ and ‘growth’, but don’t feel they have the power to do anything about that because its requires systemic change;
- Even many affluent people who wish to change cannot, because they too feel trapped by the inflexible system their affluence holds them within – and so they furiously search for one easy consumerist solution or another, to avoid the ultimate reality of what the physical laws of the natural world mandate… having ‘Less’.
- No progress is made because people cannot step out of the their ideological or consumer straight-jackets, which ultimately means the collapse of the thing we call, ‘Western civilisation’ while these current trends continue unabated (quite probably during, what remains of my lifetime).
In short, it’s not necessarily the ‘end of the world’, but it’s definitely ‘the end of the world as we know it’.
To make progress, you have to accept that your current lifestyle cannot continue, and let those pieces of your life which obstruct progress – which, for most people, they’re really attached to and happy with – ‘die’.
It’s not that the ‘people’ in the West must all die to solve the ecological crisis, although that is in reality what will happen if significant changes are not made.
The fact is that to preserve any measure of freedom and autonomy in their existence, it is necessary for them to let go of affluence and consumption as the defining parameters of lifestyle and identity – which, for many, is not unlike a ‘death of the self’.
This isn’t my unique discovery.
For almost a century philosophers have been musing on the interactions between humans and their technological constructions, and debating which controls which (e.g., read the Herbert Marcuse quote in the blue box):
It is not just that Marcuse, Jacques Ellul or Lewis Mumford were particularly prescient with their descriptions of how technology advanced, restricting people having a direct connection to their environment.
Or the fact that, unlike their modern-day counterparts, the Eighteenth Century founders of economic had no problem with the equivalent of the modern concept of The Limits to Growth.
You could even say society’s inability to deal with the ecological crisis, and the failure of green consumerism, is succinctly described within the Gospel of Matthew.
The reality is that ten to fifteen percent of the human population consumes half the resources of the Earth, and in doing so affluence has created a self-fulfilling dominance, generating the institutional inertia which prevents systemic change.
The immediate question you may have is, “why say ’die’, why not something more positive and nice, like ‘evolve’?”
That’s simple: In the context of the modern economy, there are no positive ways to express this!
During my ‘deep think’ after eye surgery, I kept returning to a talk I went to in September 2009 in London. In his concluding address the writer and academic Alastair McIntosh said, “We are all planetary hospice workers now”.
Or, to reduce that to a more practical framework:
- There are no easy, ‘win-win’ solutions to the environmental crisis, only imperfect ones because we no longer have the time for gradual or incremental measures;
- Whether we like this or not, and many probably will not, this is what objective reality dictates for the future of society due to the failure to allow less painful changes earlier;
- We need to accept what that means for our lives if we are to pass through this time with some measure of civility, and the ability to choose from the imperfect options available to us; and, as a result,
- That means we must do our best to minister to the world and to its people during their time of need, to support each other through this difficult time.
To give a more spiritual analogy, he used Jung’s story of The Rainmaker to illustrate his point. If there is a problem, it is because we are not “living in the Tao” – or to express that in a more ‘sciency’ way, within the relatively stable ecological balance of the last million years over which humans evolved, only to unbalance the biosphere in the last one thousand years.
If we are to have any hope of having ‘a future’ of some (even unwelcome) description, what we each have to do is reclaim that deep understanding, that balance implicit in the idea of The Tao, within the pattern of our own lives. We have to focus on the ‘now’, the space we are in, and adapt that to support us in the simplest, least damaging possible way.
Of course, people will inevitably want someone to ‘blame’ – as in this way they can recuse themselves from any fault in their own conduct during the last half-century of inaction. For example, today campaigners call people ‘climate criminals’, and talk of ‘ecocide’, rather than accepting that collectively society will have to bear the punishment as much as the cost.
In the face of this reality the human propensity to attribute ‘blame’ it pointless. What is, is; and no possible vengeance it is feasible to deliver can change that outcome.
This is the other side of the transformation; forgiveness. If we spend time worrying about who to blame, or about seeking vengeance for the perceived mistakes of the past, we will waste precious time and resources.
It is not a matter of simply letting go of ‘stuff’; there has to be a concomitant letting go of any blame or retribution, a reconciliation with ourselves and those around us, so that we can all move on to find the most pragmatic solution given the urgency involved.
This is the difficult, immediate, and imperfect choice we are all faced with: A ‘less’ material future; or, unmanageable chaos as nations and (as nations dissolve) groups of people try to maintain their presumed ‘entitlement’ to affluence in the face of ecological collapse. Vengeance against any one or any group will not alter that fate; nor will trying to bargain with it through half-measures. The Laws of Thermodynamics do not negotiate!; they just ‘are’.
After long reflection, I have decided that I am no longer an ‘ecological futurologist’.
On current trends the Earth, or rather, the human species currently occupying the Earth, has no viable future under what they consider to be, ‘normality’. And in a world with no future it is fatuous to be a ‘futurologist’!
Instead I have chosen to become a ‘planetary hospice worker’.
My role is to help people accept that a part of their life ‘must die’ – that reductive, ‘Western’, ‘refined’ part of themselves and their lifestyle, divorced from the natural world around them by a sterile and inhuman technology that clings like a parasite to their existence. This idea works at many levels, from our relationship to food, to the tools and mechanisms which we choose to include within our lives.
Of course, like any ‘death’, this is not collective; it is a deeply personal moment of transition – and the available solutions, and the options chosen to move towards your ‘death’ must all be personal too. This means there are as many unique answers to the ecological crisis as there are people on the planet.
Like any hospice worker my role is to explain the processes behind that ‘illness’, and provide support while people resolve themselves to that reality; allowing them to plan their path towards, and past the point ‘consumer death’ into something new.
I’m still writing this; now. Hence the specifics are still sketchy. An advance warning though: There will be camping involved!
Recent changes to the way I work are all focussed to that end. Where that goes will be revealed in the coming months as I develop and research these ideas further. If you would like to participate, there will be public events at some point.
The Rollright Stones, a 3,500 to 5,500 set of ancient standing stones near Banbury
– a Stone Age to early Bronze Age native British culture we can only speculate about,
but who were arguably the last group of people in Britain to consciously live
in balance with their environment.
As far as the complexities of the ecological crisis go, if it is our end then that is what it is, since humans are obviously incapable of changing that outcome.
Irrespective of that, we will only make that end have meaning by living what we believe – irrespective of the denial, madness, and mayhem happening around us.
If you accept that, then the best place to start is to help others realise the same; to be a, ‘planetary hospice worker’.