Mindful Ecology: A Way Forward

Mindful Ecology: A Way Forward

As promised, the book dealing with the subjects of this web site is now available. The book form allowed me to develop arguments and ideas in more depth as well as providing a more permanent form of the objection we are making to the insanity of business as usual.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the IPCC said in a new assessment.”

The IPCC report currently in the headlines is timid, in my studied opinion, yet even so is enough to strike terror into the hearts of those capable of absorbing its message. May those hurting in these days of dark news find their way to the healing fountain of joyous gratitude and learn once again to play. . .

Read more about the book here.

Come Play

Stop the Presses! Hold the Phone!

Loving Eurogames

New Book Now Available

Just in time for the Holidays!


“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
Emerson, Journals, 1834

Throughout my presentation of Mindful Ecology I have tried to emphasize that it is a path towards some happiness and sanity for our individual lives. Today I invite you to celebrate with me one of my life’s finest sources of pleasure. For more than 30 years I have found delight in playing games with my wife, family, and friends. Not just any games, a very particular type of game first developed in Europe after WWII.

Little else has stood the test of time as well as the satisfactions we derive from having learned how to play together. I think this is because these Eurogames are an exercise in ecological thinking and mind training cleverly packaged as entertainment. The people of our generations, as opposed to the Ostriches, respond to such things.

Mind Training – Players learn to win and lose gracefully by mastering the emotional roller-coaster they experience as fortunes rise and fall.

Ecological Training – Players learn to use limited resources wisely, carefully shepherding what is valuable to achieve what is most important.

The result of such training is to slowly shape our characters – for the better.

In a Well Played Game everyone wins because everyone has had fun. This happens when the dramatic competition for the win is never allowed to eclipse the larger context of joyful interpersonal cooperation. This is not a bad lesson for people to be exposed to in our time of hyper-capitalism and hyper-divisive politics. It might even show a way forward for the rebuilt communities that lie in wait for us on the other side of the Era of Cars.

All of this and more, is packaged in a humble game. How wonderfully ironic.

Can learning to play the Well Played Game teach us how to live the Well Lived Life?
Read Loving Eurogames: The Quest for the Well Played Game and decide for yourself.

Blame Ecology or Ecologists?

“A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is going on?” he asked.
Pope Francis angered by America’s ‘mother of all bombs’ name, BBC News


I believe that if we learn to use our words, we can avoid using our fists. Is ecology the problem or is it the ecologists? That pretty much sums up what is lurking in the background of most public conversation and policy making in America these days.

Shred the EPA, bully on through protests around pipelines, discard rules around dealing with corruption in dictatorships to allow the last big oil deals, and seal it all with a Judas kiss to the people who worked and protested for decades to bring ecology to the attention of policy makers. Give corporations a huge tax break, strengthen prisons and arrest protestors; it is rather clear which side of the authoritarian divide is calling the shots these days. It will be interesting to see how the seeds sown over the last few months look come harvest time.

I, personally, am wondering how long it will be before we start seeing the roll out of the new patriotism propaganda. That is the worst. I love my country enough to want to see it deal realistically with its actual problems. The propaganda version of patriotism though, well that is little more than using the flag the way a magician uses a handkerchief to misdirect where you are watching, so they can pick your pockets dry and spill the blood of your loved ones on their fields of profits..

Pretending there is a future for our hyper-consumerism is becoming more difficult of late. The justifications are wearing thin and the blowback is becoming embarrassingly difficult to hide. Though the misdirection of the mass spectacle has been perfected, here and there some folks still look away from the screen and out the window. Those folks see a world very much unlike the one being peddled in the public square.

The petroleum industry assures us we can power past impossible. Their latest marketing campaign, unveiled during the 2017 superbowl, gives away the whole show. The engineers working for the oil companies know more than anyone how the investments in new discovery have not kept up with the needs of projected demand. They know more than anyone that the reserves remaining are not large enough to keep international trade and industrial infrastructure powered as we are accustomed to for much longer. They also know better than anyone that the carbon that remains in those oil reserves should not be burned anyway, if there is going to be a crying chance for our children to have a climate conductive to regular crop harvests. I think it was the engineering side of the house that told the marketing side of the house, “impossible.” It is impossible, from an engineering point to view, to continue powering Homo Colossus with oil. Marketing, as marketing will do, called the engineers sad sacks and immediately came up with their own solutions. The guys over on the sales side of the house knew they could sell the last drops to fools if they could only get enough momentum to jump over the facts, and viola, the new marketing phrase for the petroleum industry was born: Power Past Impossible (.org).

Would you like some twinkle dust with that?

We are doubling down on religious wars and faith in the magic of capitalism. That magic, borrowing money from tomorrow to fund productivity today, has long ago lost its luster. Financial shenanigans are more common than production for bringing investors their required returns, and when production is occurring it is likely to be of poorly made yet overpriced gizmos that serve no human need, but do supply their owner with some token status they are denied in every other aspect of their lives under the big dogs of petro-dollar capitalism.

It turns out big oil and big capitalism were not the kind social guides their spokesmen had made them out to be. It is hard to imagine any course of events that could have shown the world their true colors more clearly than those of the last few years. The ecological evidence in that time has become solid enough to be damning to the faux innocence and naivety by which our overdeveloped countries are conducting their business – the business of big oil and big capitalism.

While we warm up the nukes and double count the ammo, this might be a good time to take a moment or two to reflect on just what it is that is happening to us. We have lost the ability to see a bright future at the end of the consumer rainbow. Those of us who have studied ecology seriously have also lost any easy transitions to an alternative tech future, it is far too late. So we keep smiling and faking it, as if we did not know our way of life has become a disaster for the planet. Meanwhile the anger grows day by day. It is being driven by our survival imperative: you cannot take the species’ future away from it.

Who is in charge here? Certainly not the puppets of history, they are just dangling on the ends of strings more powerful then they could begin to comprehend. Certainly not the ideologues and demagogues who claim to know what these nightmare-level social breakdowns are really about but prove themselves time and again to be clueless. Certainly not some invisible supernatural fallen angels, demons, ghosts or ghouls. No, what ails us is all too visible since oil is in, or involved in, just about every object we touch. The only invisible factors are those of our human psychology.

This is not about preaching to the choir, this is about sketching a picture accurate enough to be of some use. Courage uncovers phobias and airs out the claustrophobic fears by daring to talk about them. Traumatization makes absolutes out of relative facts, so talk is able to puncture their false infinities. Besides, knowing where our temptations are, perhaps we can steel ourselves against their seductions. One of our greatest temptations just now seems to be a willingness to entertain ourselves to death, literally. We want our world leaders and world events to be big and flashy, we want our world to be as exciting as a summer blockbuster.

Goodness lacks the flash of evil. It’s appeal is closer to intimate sex than to violent rape. The quite of contentment and contemplation may seem to lack the drama we have become addicted to. There are no sub-machine guns to mow down a classroom full of children with kindness. There are no love knives we can use to slit the throats of pregnant woman. There are no electrodes to hook up to vulnerable body parts to shock people into caring about what happens to their fellow man. There is just the power of kindness in the honest love between people. Is it going to be enough?

That is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

You should know that there are some who have decided, evidently, that it is not going to be enough. Love is not as sweet as power for these folks. They are itching for a fight, itching to take back what they feel they are entitled to but have lost. Learning to get by with less holds no appeal for them, at all.

Welcome to the war between two world views. Times are getting hard and people are looking for the cause. One world view recognizes the role ecology plays. This view understands that the expansion of giant industrialization is running into the limits of what is possible. Ecological limits to growth is what is ultimately behind the hard times and what we should be adapting to. The other world view denies that and finds the cause of the hard times to be the ecologists – it is an over regulation of business that has driven manufacturing offshore and placed unfair burdens on corporations competing in a global market.

Times are hard and getting harder. Loss is in the air. How will you react? That too is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

I would like to suggest that as you decide between these conflicting world views, that you make your decision using the most careful reasoning and critical thinking you are capable of. Then you will understand why you take the position you do. You will be able to articulate it when necessary, and not be easily persuaded this way or that as the crowd sways first one direction and then the other. That transparency of reason, built carefully using both logic and values, will serve you well – whatever the fates may have in store.

Truth Above Utility

Post-truth (def.) “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

“Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak… For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not… At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish…
Many news organizations have turned to native advertising as a source of revenue. By definition, native advertising tries  to sell or promote a product in the guise of a news story. Native advertising makes it difficult for unsuspecting readers to know if and when there is an ulterior motive behind the information they encounter…
More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words ‘sponsored content,’ was a real news story.”
Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning (pdf),
Stanford History Education Group

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,
when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked


We have an amazing capacity to play fast and loose with the truth. For some reason it is not at all difficult for us to hold passionate opinions concerning just about everything, and in the process to allow ourselves expansive editorial freedom to cut and paste facts and fictions as we see fit. It should not surprise us that a coalition of climate change deniers have taken over the reigns of government here in the US. This type of denial is often a reaction that takes hold just about the time the crisis society is denying breaks out ferociously.

The time has come in which we must think very carefully about the circumstances we find ourselves in. The confluence of industrialized civilization’s ecological blowback and political populism denying it, looks to me like nothing so much as the cognitive dissonance we all suffer writ large. Remember, cognitive dissonance arises when one part of the mind holds something to be true that another part of the mind knows is not so. Climate change science has a very, very simple message: stop producing these outrageous amounts of carbon dioxide pollution. The message is almost too simple, it’s hard to wiggle out of the obvious implications.

The most obvious implication confronts each and every one of us every time we step outside our front doors. We know what society must do, and soon, to stop the climate from becoming hell on earth: we need to stop driving. On the other hand, this is something our societies simply cannot do. Survival is linked to driving just as driving is linked to oil. Of course the problem is larger than just driving; most all our life support infrastructures need a petrochemical energy source to power them throughout their supply chains.

For an individual these two facts create some degree of cognitive pressure: I need to stop driving for the future health of the planet and I need to drive today to procure what I need to survive. It really is this simple, there is no escaping these reasonable inferences. Since both of these statements are true they create a cognitive problem. The human mind needs to provide a consistent picture of the world and a rational explanation for our behavior in it. It becomes an interesting question, both for individuals and all of us collectively, to ask how we are to deal with this simple information and still feel ok about ourselves.

Part of what psychology has learned about cognitive dissonance might apply to the type of collective mind we find in our social interactions. The theory that coined the term was first presented in 1957 by Leon Festinger in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. In that work he presented research to show how holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously is painful and how individuals react to lessen that psychological pressure.

We avoid cognitive dissonance by remaining conscious of the opposition but using it to drive action. Staying with the painful awareness of these truths provides an energy that can inspire you to work towards whatever reconciliation of them in your own lifestyle you are able to bring about. Mindful Ecology hopes to support these types of changes by showing that they are meaningful because they are based in truth. Note that while it is painful remaining aware of the issues around driving, it is not the pain of cognitive dissonance since both of these conflicting beliefs are true. It is when we seek to escape this painful situation by denying the validity of the statements themselves that we run into the more troublesome psychological difficulties associated with cognitive dissonance.

There are two other ways to lessen the pain of conscience our ecologically informed generation must sense around driving. The mind can deny that one side or the other of these truths are actually true. It is frighteningly easy for us to make something up that is more congenial to how we want to see ourselves and our place in the big scheme of things. Once we have made something like this up, we then place our faith in the delusion and simply assert either that climate change is not happening or, if it is, our driving has nothing to do with it. Now we have entered the realm of cognitive dissonance.

Here is what to watch out for. As events provide evidence that the delusional faith is in fact unreal, it is not uncommon for those holding these beliefs to double down. The more evidence proves their belief to be false, the more their blind faith in it increases. Those who point out the truth while these conditions rule are branded as heretics, blasphemers persecuting the embattled minority of true believers.

In the case of driving, ecological evidence concerning its dire consequences lead to the CAFE laws that were designed to increase engine efficiency. More efficient fuel use was thought to address both the problem of a diminishing world oil supply and the problem of overwhelming the atmosphere’s capacity to act as a pollution sink. What was the response to these laws that were meant to alter the way cars are manufactured and sold? The introduction of the SUV. The laws applied to cars and the SUV was classified as a small truck, exempt from the regulations. The public responded to the advertising message that confirmed the true believer’s delusional story. The thought train must run something along these lines, ‘I’m basically a good person and choose to drive this oversized vehicle, therefore, either climate change science is a hoax or driving does not cause it.’ The convoluted logic of magical thinking has replaced the pain filled awareness of a difficult moral issue with the fake simplicity of a fairy tale.

Please understand this is only being used as a concrete illustration. There are a thousand other reasons people chose to buy SUVs, many of them noble such as concern for the needs and safety of loved ones. Similarly, dealing with climate change is speaking only of the most well known of the frighteningly large family of ecological breakdowns heading our way. We are discussing driving as its cause because it is the most obvious confrontation with our ecological madness most of us encounter every day.

There are others, equally obvious simple steps we need to take. The steps are simple, taking them, however, under the existing set of beliefs is all but impossible. For example, engineering investigations of the capacity of renewable energy sources are unanimous in saying that society will need to use less power. We could use less power today. It would require we prioritize hospitals and schools and de-prioritize, say, the excess light displays in New York City, Las Vegas, Shanghai and Tokyo. The fact that for most people on the planet such an idea seems nihilistic defeatism (a sin against progress!) and absolutely not ever going to voluntarily happen, shows just how committed we are to our delusional beliefs.

It might be easier to believe that with the magic of a bomb vest you can live forever, than that your life will be one of struggle in a poisoned, poor and violent world. It might be easier to believe that with the magic of a renewed trade deal you can restore fossil fueled industrialized civilization to its glory days, than that our economic options are now severely limited by resource constraints. It might be easier to believe that the magic of a little solar and wind power will wash away the oil stains on our future, than that the real road forward is one of using a whole lot less energy altogether. It might be easier to believe the ecological crisis unfolding everywhere around us is really not all that bad, than that these are the days of nightmare and mourning. It might be easier, but it is not going to help.

The ecological message, that business as usual has no future, fights to be heard in our time of globalization promoted by a mass media dominated by quarterly profit driven corporate interests. The ecological message is fighting an upstream battle each and every day. This ceaseless fight can drain the energy and enthusiasm of even the most passionate lover of earth. The one thing that can sustain people who are so outnumbered, unpopular, and shunned, is their conviction that what they are saying is the truth. No one wants the dismal analysis of the industrial world’s devastating impact on the viability of the earth’s ecosystems to be right. The picture that unfolds from an acceptance of the ecological facts is one in which the human population will wither, the land remains poisoned for centuries, abandoned cities become little more than sources for recycling materials that can no longer be manufactured, and predictable climate is a thing of the past removing food security from food harvests. No one wants this. The people, like myself, who insist on talking about it are doing so because we have come to believe this is the most probable truth.

Truth is more important than utility by my way of thinking. It might be easier to get through the day believing self-driving cars and Mars terra-forming are just around the corner, but it does nothing to help stop the juggernaut that is poisoning the air, water and land on which all future life depends.

This then is our next boulder of simplicity: we need to value truth above utility.

We are better off staying with the original pain of our opposing values than letting them drive us into the blind alleys of cognitive dissonance. Only in this way can we avoid the allure of the Pied Pipers, the ones external to us and the ones we have internalized, as they pipe temptations designed to exploit our gullibility.

We Know

Our time is overwhelmingly one of ecological disaster. Not one informed person on this planet has any doubt that the human ecological footprint has become huge. Some think its still not large enough to be causing as many serious problems as I do, but even these skeptics agree that the scale of our modern industrialized technology’s impact on natural resources is enormous. We are not all eating Tilapia instead of Cod for no reason. Our public conversations about our ecological predicament, however, are wholly lacking in a rational response to the circumstances. We lack the courage to face the facts; our story failed us; we have not the nerve needed to steel ourselves for embracing the truth. We are fighting maturing by denying the deep disappointment in our growing disillusionment with technological progress as a road to a better world.

The environmental movements have been coming from the position that people are not well enough informed about the ecological facts. They design marketing messages to persuade people to live with some semblance of proper concern for the health of the planet. I have come to suspect that this approach fails to recognize the social situation for what it really is. People are not lacking in ecological knowledge. People do know we are in an ecological crisis, they know it viscerally. We are not failing to talk about it, let alone act rationally in response to it, because we are ignorant. It is because we are numb with shock. The news is so bleak and so huge and so unchangeable that it has been necessary to repress it in order to carry on with the day to day chores that sustain our survival, such as it is.

We are doing the best we can.

We have known the true state of things since sometime in the 1970s. The strains on our societies since then have been enormous, yet so far international relations and market driven Main Street have not broken down. There is reason to believe that may not remain the case much longer. It is hard to see any way business as usual can continue in anything like its present form for another generation or two. It is unlikely to make it another decade or two if we are interpreting our ecological data correctly. Our institutions proved to be too frozen in their ways to adapt to the new reality. The authority of those institutions drew upon the shared mythology of the societies in which they functioned. All throughout the world this psychological symbiosis is breaking down.

Until we speak with straight words about the reality of our ecological overshoot our societies will remain prey to pied pipers. Some will claim the elite are to blame and if only we could get them to pay their taxes all will be well. Some will blame everything that is no longer working well on foreigners, immigrants and ethnicities in the tried and true march towards the sacrifice of the scapegoat. Many will be enthralled by the dark simplicity of apocalyptic fundamentalism and, certain the time of their god is near, perpetrate all manner of atrocities. Colorful cults will rise up here and there promising all kinds of cosmic trips into the inner worlds as an escape from the dismal, shabby, crowded and violent environments we have made for ourselves.

It goes without saying that none of these predictable responses will be designed to have the slightest impact on the real causes of our problems. But they will. Every one of the social madnesses just described will also have an substantial impact on the environment and its populations. Through it all the reality will remain the ecological facts: overshoot due to reliance on the phantom acreage fossil fuels provided. Societies that begin to include straight talk about our constrained position may also find themselves better prepared to make choices that have a good chance of actually helping their people deal with the changing circumstances. So much for societies, what about as individuals? What does accepting the ecological critique offer us? Individuals who use this simple analysis might be able to resist the pied pipers and even convince some of their neighbors not to sign up with the latest cuckoo de jour.

Eventually some disaster of failed infrastructure or diplomacy will be large enough to tip the majority of the population of one overdeveloped country after another into a configuration more in keeping with the resources that are actually available within its own borders. Resources, it should be noted, sorely abused by the reckless and frankly brainless way in which they have been exploited for the last few hundred years.

Accepting the truth is hard. It does however bring with it more than a few blessings. It provides clarity about what we need to change. We have to relearn to be gentle. We need to walk on the earth more lightly. We will do so when we walk among one another with less fear.

Our greed is born as a consolation prize for the emotional and physical security modern life has removed from the human experience. For our long evolutionary history our species thrived, one might even say delighted, in our extended family arrangements. We were assured that there would be someone there who cared about us, to watch over us when we were sick, and to bury us when we died. Those same people had watched us grow up, marry and work as the years of our lives went by. The extended family was not the only feature of our long evolutionary history modern societies have unmoored themselves from. Living on the scale of villages and tribes, the extended family had a relationship with the place in which it lived we moderns no longer comprehend. The land and its flesh supported one another directly. The relations and community offered a context in which the provisioning of life’s necessities and the celebration of its stages was a shared phenomenon. Modern societies have all too often replaced this human touch, which nurtured us and gave our lives meaning, with faceless bureaucracies where an individual is little more than a number. And now our numbers threaten to destroy us.

Our greed is also as a consolation prize for the cognitive and spiritual security modern life has removed from the human experience. Naked spirit is exposed to the infinite universe of our space age cosmology. TV and movies arose to aid us in clothing the nakedness of our spirit with images, the language of the soul, in such myth making as Star Wars. In our rockets today our Icarus dreams mock us as they fall back to earth on the back of limited resources like fallen angels. None-the-less the technological peak of achievement they represent is something we should take great pride in. The Hubble telescope and what it has taught us alone is an accomplished fact with truly cosmic implications – we have gazed upon the heavens. Even so, we should not allow nostalgia for what was not meant to be, this space age vision of endless technological progress in space, “the final frontier,” to sicken us of the future we do have. The question before us now is not whether or not our children will be able to survive shooting from star to star but whether or not they will be able to survive right here on earth.

Can we live knowing what we know? Let’s take a mind healing metaphor. We are somewhat like a patient in analysis who has recognized the truth of formerly repressed material. From now on their view will include the new realization, often one that is very painful. We say the process has irreversibly expanded their consciousness. Mankind has long been facing Epicurus’ Atoms and Void view of its place in the big scheme of things. At times this wholly naturalistic view has been more repressed than at others, equivalent to the individual patient’s varying degrees of consciousness. I think most educated people would agree the sciences have advanced a picture of our place in the grand scheme of things that has now become impossible to dismiss out of hand. We have currently been forced to hold a number of astonishingly unexpected revelations in our collective consciousness. It is an open question whether or not we will be able to maintain this degree of awareness or not.

Consider a few. Quantum mechanics has taken pictures of the atoms, settling once and for all the debate that has rang out around Epicurus observations for millennia. We live in the world remade by chemistry, the molecular manipulations we have crafted atop the quantum nature of nature. Evolutionary theory uses the chemist’s molecular world’s ability to create a molecule capable of reproducing itself with variations to explain the diversity of life throughout the biosphere. The animal making all these theories finds itself situated on one branch of this enormous history in which 99% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. Even so the variations of adaptations throughout the biosphere, the living 1% that is here right now, simply strains credulity. This 1% is time’s cutting edge where all that has gone before is currently being expressed. We locate ourselves within a biological vastness. Ever curious, we also turned to the stars and found it was turtles all the way down; a molecular universe every direction we pointed our instruments. Astronomers also took a hint from the chemists. The Periodic Chart had established that there are only about one hundred elements, only a limited number of basic building blocks available to build a universe with. Reading the chemical signature of stars confirmed it, even as it opened our eyes to a host of phenomena stranger than the wildest speculations of our imaginations – quasars, black holes, and even whole galaxies other than our own. With the Hubble Space Telescope the universe became infinitely larger once again, unfolding a vision of billions and billions of galaxies surrounding us in every direction. It is against all this, and more, that our species now finds itself confronting the results of our ecological ignorance.

This is what I mean by our spirit is naked before the cold light of the stars. There is no escaping the revelations of ourselves as yeast’s close cousin. And like the therapeutic revelation, knowing has brought pain. Yet we have also awakened to our place. Can we take our seat? Will we find a way to incorporate what we know with how we see ourselves and conduct our affairs? The old ways of explaining the human experience are buckling under the weight of these new revelations. The seals have been opened on the final scroll, as it were.

To live through all this feels so traumatic since little is assured and much is likely to be lost. We are understandably still in a bit of shock. It will take time to learn to live with what we know. It helps, I think, to look at the whole thing from the perspective of thousands of years to respect the gravity of what we are discussing. How might this nugget of demonstrable understanding of our place in the universe, as revealed by our technological sciences, evolve within our ever adapting traditions? It is a particularly interesting question now that the industrial foundation of those technological sciences is coming undone.

We should be gentle with ourselves. To carry the precious gift of human consciousness within this vast and grand universe, while living on the planet of the apes, is not easy. It is not easy at all. It is, however, inexpressibly. . .