Young Voices–Generation iDontCare

by Monsieur le docteur Ralph (un nom de plume)


Our university has an eccentric, bow-tied math professor who is extremely fond of the quote from Piet Hein, “Problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by hitting back.” He uses the phrase to scold students who give up on a math problem simply because it seems difficult. After surviving a fair number of quantitative courses, I have felt the type of mental bruising that accompanies more worthy assignments and the satisfaction of defeating them. The realms of blackboards and quad-ruled notebooks also make fairly safe battlegrounds, but as much as I like to hide in that world, the Real World tends to find me anyway. That reality seems to be defined by its most immediate crisis – a never-ending stream of problems. These problems have always hit me, but I generally decided I was not equipped to solve them and surrendered to a ruse of apathy. Recently, my studies have exposed me to new people and ideas, and I have retreated from current issues less often. I still feel unprepared to deal with most global problems, especially those about politics or economics. They have become divisive to the point that calm discussion tends to be uncomfortable if not impossible. I have decided I am most concerned with and optimistic about environmental issues because society is already actively developing potential strategies and solutions, but I am frustrated by the collective indifference common among my peers.

Whenever I mention sustainable energy to other students, or anything related to current issues, the response varies between disbelief and apathy. I think the root of these reactions is actually fear, and it is a very understandable reaction. The knowledge that the Earth’s resources are finite is not a new revelation, and various organizations have issued a call to arms for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, many movements to incite action attempt to do so through emotional appeals to fear, anger, or guilt. Even the opening chapters of Limits to Growth seem to carry the grim message that we have sealed our fate and are facing imminent extinction.

http://www.freakingnews. com/ Dali-IPod-Pictures- 49095.asp
Madonna of Port Lligat, 1950, Dali

Living in an age of communication, we are being constantly bombarded by information of all forms, and there should not be a single person in the industrial world who has not heard some form of environmental plea. I used to think flooding society with these messages was a positive phenomenon. Ensuring people are knowledgeable about an issue seems like an effective strategy to encourage proactive discussion and planning. I now believe it has had the exact opposite effect. People have grown numb to such messages, learning to selectively filter out what they don’t want to hear, like we do with so many other appeals thrown at us. The other extreme reaction to this bombardment appears to be outright denial. Nothing catastrophic has happened yet; therefore, there is no danger – a very convenient belief, as that means we do not have to change anything. Change, especially the kind that may ultimately entail sacrifice, frightens us.

The reason I give environmental issues, specifically sustainable energy, more precedence than the others is not just because I feel informed enough to discuss it. Energy and resources are more fundamental to our survival than foreign policy, or even the economy. If we are struggling to get necessities like food and water (and probably electricity with our current dependence), other issues will immediately drop several levels of global priority, and so begins our decline. Furthermore, any strategies we currently apply to address problems like sustainability or global climate change will take a significant amount of time before society sees any benefit. Waiting until these problems become a genuinely critical issue, would be a truly fatal mistake, and we would have no immediate way to mend it. To be even more negligent and pretend such problems will fix themselves, as some people will still pretend, is unthinkable. Sunrise on the Beach

As easy as it is to rant about the consequences, it is always more productive to discuss possible solutions. The fact that there truly are ways I can actively attack this problem is the other reason I care so much about it. I can allow myself to care because it does not strike me as being a completely hopeless cause or beyond my understanding. I spent most of this past summer in the university library, hiding as usual, among books about science, math, and logic, and I found an entire wing dedicated to the topics of environmental conservation, global climate change, and sustainable energy. This opened my eyes to the fact that an extremely large academic community is making dedicated efforts to discuss these issues. The same scientists that send out Mars rovers are developing more cost-effective solar panels for the benefit of our planet. This discovery instilled more hope in me than yet another colorful poster of giddy teenagers planting trees. I also have the added benefit of attending school in a state that prides itself in having what is left of the world’s untouched wilderness. The approach our campus has towards encouraging sustainability is honestly similar to methods proven effective with small children. Positive actions such as planting a garden or volunteering to gather recycling are positively reinforced, as opposed to emphasizing negative consequences. I believe this is producing more effective results than streams of statistics and doomsday predictions.

I clearly remember a time in my life when I would have considered this sort of optimism naïve, even a sign of delusion or ignorance. I adored the message of Voltaire’s Candide, fully believing it was stupid to think “anything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” with its flaws and pointless striving. I wanted to tend to my garden, mind my business, and work hard solving worthy problems, safely removed from the chaos beyond the world of lab coats and test tubes. I now think that view was just a way of coping with the fact that I felt powerless; there didn’t seem to be a point in caring, let alone thinking or trying. I am starting to care though – and think, and I am beginning to decide which problems I want to spend my life solving. The problems that hit hardest belong to the entire world, and these problems are also the worthiest.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of opinions and reflections of the younger generation who will inherit this world. I teach a course called Limits to Growth Revisited. This student essay was in response to the assigned questions below, adapted from Jon Cooksey’s affective video project at


How do you FEEL about the way things are going in the world now?
What do you think are the biggest problems facing the world now?
What is your vision of the world fifty years from now?
Do you think there’s hope?

Header art: Geopoliticus Child Watching The Birth Of The New Man, Salvador Dalí (1943)

  • How do you FEEL about the way things are going in the world now?

    “Feel” is such a strange word. I feel terrified and relieved, just as I did when my mentally-ill partner of fifteen years said she’s leaving. I thought we’d been working together for a sustainable future, but it turns out her mental illness (Borderline Personality Disorder) had been for some time blaming me for all that is wrong with her, including numerous psycho-somatic ailments and a lifetime of physical pain that somehow travels around her body. Not to mention her moody abuse of visitors that sent anyone who could have helped us packing.

    This has turned out to be such an example of what is happening in the larger world right now. If you look at the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, you can see it so plainly in the world at large:

    1) “Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment” — by fossil sunlight! I include electric cars and nuclear fusion research in this category.

    2) “Unstable and intense relationships, characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation” — just watch political parties and even nations re-align themselves, seemingly at random.

    3) “Unstable self-image” — just watch the two presidential candidates over a few days or weeks.

    4) “Impulsivity in areas that are self-damaging” — don’t need to explain this one! But GMO crops come to mind and a self-damaging impulse, unfettered by logic nor science.

    5) “Suicidal behaviour or self-mutilating behaviour” — the self-mutilating part seem clear, as those who need resources the least are bailed out, while those who do the actual work are sucked dry.

    6) “Instability due to marked reactivity of mood” — hey, anybody noticed that it’s election season yet?

    7) “Chronic feelings of emptiness” — so just take a pill and go to the mall. And then let everyone on Faceplant and Twitter know about all the empty things you do.

    8) “Inappropriate, intense anger, and difficulty controlling it” — again, just look at the quadrennial circus we’re going through.

    9) “Paranoid ideation or dissociation” — sure looks like some of the Tea Party platform to me!

    What do you think are the biggest problems facing the world now?

    In my personal world of pain, I think the biggest problem facing the world is that we’re forgotten how to really work together on long-term issues, choosing instead to focus on our immediate cause of pain.

    Oh sure, people “work together” in corporations, but only from direction from above. Truly working together means having significant input to planning and strategy, which I don’t believe any more than 1% of the population feels they have at this point.

    We keep trying to get people to “work together,” and they eventually go off on their own way. This is the path to an Orlov-Level-5 collapse. Find someone to stick with and work with!

    What is your vision of the world fifty years from now?

    My fifty-year vision won first place in a peak oil writing contest. It’s only a few years off in tracking things fairly closely.

    Do you think there’s hope?

    There is a thing called “hope,” but do I think it is useful?

    No. “Hope” is a focus on — or perhaps even an obsession with — the future. The only impact we have is on the now.

    “Hope” causes people to go about their lives, “hoping” that “someone will do something.”

    “Hope” allows people to relax when they should be striving.

    “Hope” comes from green-washed corporations with lovely, focus-group-tested ads showing children romping in pollution-free farm fields.

    “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Then, you can just start putting one foot in front of the other in the right direction.

    If you want to put your feet in front of ours, we could use some help.

  • Jan, thank you for your feelings, comments and analogies. I’m sorry about your loss–unstable, intense attachments are difficult to untangle from. I really like your mental illness analogy for different scales–I just did the same on (excerpted below in quotes).

    “One last analogy–this is a global economic depression that we are entering. Are we going to give the world a pill for its depression? Maybe feed it some more greenbacks?Situational depression is a sign that something in your system needs to change. In an individual who has had a loss, that sadness means s/he need to adapt to a situation where something within the milieu is missing. If one loses one’s spouse, for example, many changes will have to occur. Medication without adaptation in that circumstance is inappropriate. But that is the state of pyschotherapeutics in western medicine as it is currently practiced.We will treat our global depression the same way. Continue motoring on on the same course we’re on, since any change at this point in overshoot is dangerous to the status quo. We will look for economic medications to whitewash (greenwash?) the problems. That denial will just makes things worse, since adaptation is what is required here.”

    Addiction to a relationship could be very similar to being addicted to oil. We can take it further. On self-multilation, consider the resource extraction industries as emergy yield declines towards zero. Oil wells drilled at great depths causing blowouts, which causes massive degradation to oceans. Natural gas extraction requires drilling and
    fracking, with production drying up before enough resources are extracted to
    pay for the costs. Nuclear plants are put on life support to keep them going, as they start to have accidents, leaks, and meltdowns. And we dissociate cognitively, as attempts to gain clarity are gaslighted by the media, our politicians, and the corporations. Our American self-image does not allow for wrong-doing, requiring splitting and black and white thinking to project our bad feelings about ourselves onto other political parties or countries as terrorism, or “who’s got the bomb,” or human rights issues. We manipulate situations to our advantage through the petrodollar and financial derivatives. Stressful events related to our oil addiction lead to more likelihood of self-harm through desperate attempts to avoid abandonment. Inability to control anger, leading to frequent picking of fights. Feelings of emptiness leading to other addictions (promiscuous sex, excessive spending, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving). LOL-that list describes Americans pretty well. And so on. Medicating the disorder does not help.

    That is a great story you wrote about the future. You may have missed it on Canada though–they are looking just as regressive as the US these days. The idea that the US could annex Canada scares Canadians. Alaska is vulnerable to China’s needs, too.

    Your ecovillage looks wonderful. And congratulations on your new 3500 ft. hoop house!

    Edit to add: Torture–I forgot torture as one of our mass projections. The champions of the oppressed become the oppressors.

  • Doug Salzmann

    An interesting and provocative post, Dr. Ralph.

    “Energy and resources are more fundamental to our survival than foreign policy, or even the economy.”

    In the longer term, and on a planet-wide/species-wide scale, that is undeniably true. But, for most individuals and human groups, it doesn’t *seem* to be true (doesn’t “feel” true or relevant), and it isn’t immediately meaningful in the context of dealing with daily life. Those of us who have the luxury to ponder the possibility of sustainable society in a world of permanent energy and resource constraints are a tiny fraction of the population, even in rich and privileged places like the U.S.

    You may also find (I think it’s likely) that the forces that drive us (collectively) to lay waste the whole Blue Marble while defiantly ignoring the evidence of our carnage are inextricably interwoven with the economy, and that our collective “foreign policy” (more broadly, our relations with the neighbors across town as well as with the governments and factions of, e.g., the Middle East) arises from the same tendencies — and that for many it absolutely trumps energy and environment as matters of pressing concern.

    “If we are struggling to get necessities like food and water (and probably electricity with our current dependence), other issues will immediately drop several levels of global priority, and so begins our decline.”

    In the way I think of “us,” a majority is *already* struggling (in different ways and in varying degrees) daily for just such necessities, and has been for, at least, a very long time. In many places on the planet, including the Golden West, the struggles have become more common, frequent, frustrating and debilitating in recent years. I would venture to assert (without having assembled my data — bad Doug!) that matters of energy sustainability and resource limits have already fallen rather farther down priority lists, personal to international.

    “. . .and so begins our decline.” Indeed, Mr. Dr., indeed. Or, “so it continues. . .”

    My wife has a casual friend here in our very privileged Marin County town, a father in his 40’s working at both a Mexican restaurant and an auto parts store, along with other work when he can find it, in a tiring, discouraging and stressful effort to *barely* keep his family from crashing and burning (for instance, by not being able to pay the electric bill or buy gas for the clunker. One bad break or false step and he’s in real trouble, along with kids, wife. . . I doubt we will ever be able to convince folks like this fellow that the environment is more important than the economy — at least until the environment intrudes unmistakably into his life in a manner that shows him clearly how it is linked. If we want his buy-in, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to package the approach to an environment of descent in an economically and politically attractive wrapper, and work to implement it using skilled, practiced and focused political strategies.

    I’m in my 60’s and a student of our history, and I think it was probably ever thus. My mother was a bright woman with limited opportunities for filling gaps in her educational background who, by — say — the 1960’s, had a pretty good conceptual notion of the mess we were making of the planet. Still, it would have seemed ludicrous to her to spend too much energy on such speculative and distant matters. She had to come home, often late at night, from her waitress jobs and count the tips in the pockets of her black nylon apron, to figure out what we could eat the next day and whether any bills could be paid. If you’d wanted to recruit Phyllis into an army of champions of the environment, you’d have had to convince her that the changes that needed making would also provide her with a little security and relief from endless anxiety, and a chance for similar benefits for her children.

    If working class Americans have been resistant to adopting our priorities, the even-more stressed and distressed workers of much of the rest of the world are hardly likely to do so. And about three billion of the seven billion humans now gracing this rock with our presence are living on the equivalent of US$2.50/day (2005/purchasing power parity). For these folks, sustainability of food, shelter, etc. is measured in periods ranging from minutes to days. Who, living in the vast swathes of Africa where life expectancy at birth is 50-ish and infant mortality exceeds 10%, could be bothered to worry about anything *but* economic matters (unless someone’s “foreign policy” includes drone and cruise missile strikes on the local market)?

    By comparison, I suppose the challenges faced by your fellow students seem modest, but I don’t think they *feel* that way. You are a member of an American generation that faces extraordinary obstacles to following the path “they” told you would lead to success: hard work, good education, etc. It turns out that, for many, tuition and fees are terribly burdensome, classes are difficult to schedule, courses of study are selected (more than ever before, it seems) primarily for occupational advantage. . . and when you get past all of that, you may still have little chance of finding secure, rewarding work and financial security — and may be stuck with usurious student loans (benefiting bankster giants). It’s been some time since I’ve been in your shoes (and the world was not nearly as tight and forbidding, for us, then), but I can easily imagine that, on top of worrying about having to move back in with the parents and either flip burgers or bounce from one contract job to another, until nobody wants you anymore at all, I might not want to hear that I was facing a future of restriction and privation. I would guess that your contemporaries, also, will need to feel that buying into the Save the Planet Project will provide real benefits for them and their communities.

    The Owners and their political minions and corporate and government agents are hardly going to lead this charge. This is a segment of humanity so addicted to accumulation of wealth and power that they are totally blinded to physical reality and human decency. There just isn’t much they wouldn’t do, or allow to happen, in exchange for *more*. And trashing the Earth is a time-honored way to get more and more and more.

    That leaves politics, of one kind or another (or many kinds), as the only conceivably effective modality for treating our otherwise terminal condition. At the moment, in this nation, most state and national questions are determined by flows of money so gigantic as to be barely imaginable. We can’t really play in those leagues. But we can still be effective at the community and local levels and, ultimately, that’s where the really crucial choices will be made and the necessary new structures created.

    “The key to organizing an alternative society is to organize people around what they can do,
    and more importantly, what they want to do.” ~Abbie Hoffman



  • Monsieur le Docteur appears to be busy with schoolwork, as he should be. So I’ll comment, Doug.

    In the US, where we purchase 25% of the world’s oil with a petrodollar backed by military might to provide a complex society for 4% of the world’s population, we are blind to energy. In this course, for five years I have asked the students where the energy that illuminates the room comes from. The students cannot provide the answer. Energy is the background, the wallpaper that we cannot see, the air that we breathe, and thus do not understand. It is only in relatively resource-poor countries that the nature of energy and resources is readily apparent. How did Joni Mitchell put it?

    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot

    Energy limits and sustainability are part and parcel of our economy. We see the effects of energy limits in our economy. So while many may never interpret hard times and poverty as energy limits, the two are the same process, inextricably intertwined. Without energy, economy comes to a screeching halt. The good news, is that as the economy worsens and people have to fall back on growing their own, they will start to understand the ecological connections a la Wendell Berry, and start to value clean air, soil, and water. I agree that we are disconnected and eco-illiterate currently. The complexity at the top requires a huge amount of entrained energy, and the information storm whirling in places like Wall Street will just fade away along with the petrodollar. Then we’ll see what Americans are really made of, from the ground up.


  • elnura

    The inscription under the picture of Salvador Dali: Salvador Dali Fragment “Geopolitical child watches the birth of the New Man.” The prediction of the birth of Salvador Dali “New Man” in Azerbaijan.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    We received an unexpected and very important information about the amazing facts and events related to the mission and work of the famous Spanish painter Salvador Dali, which indicates this mission has continued.

    At 2 am on January 23, 1989, the day of death of the famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali, Jesus Christ and Mother Mary visited some Azerbaijani artist namely Imran Noor Ali.

    The meeting, which took place at his home, they said to Imran one very important message addressed to all of humanity. Implementation of this mission is assigned to the 4 artists, the first of which was Salvador Dali, who on that day was taken to another world. But now is the time of the second artist.

    They also revealed to him the secret of three prophetic paintings of Dali and the second artist, which is destined to continue the mission. They have stated to him that the woman depicted in the painting of Salvador Dali “Geopolitical child watches the birth of the New Man,” shows exactly the birthplace of the new man – the second artist, and this place is Azerbaijan.
    Jesus and Mary have stated Imran to give to him the mission as a second artist. It was also said that he should announce it in December of 2012.

    Now Imran Noor Ali is going to speak at a press conference to be held on November 19 of 2012, in Baku, in the Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Azerbaijan, on the occasion of the 20th November next solo exhibition of his work.