The failure of our Planet Centred project
Although this site will remain open, the Bulletin copied in below explains our present position, including the refocusing of energies.
THE FAILURE OF PLANET CENTRED FORUM
Planet Centred Forum emerged as a sub group or concern centre within Population Matters less than a decade ago.
In common with all PM members and associates we were dismayed and shocked at the denial of the effects of massive and often growing human populations, both worldwide and in densely populated regions of the world such as England.
Most distressing, then and now, was that this denial seemed often most complete from those professing environmental and ecological concerns.
Despite this strong support for the core mission of Population Matters there were some issues. The total emphasis on lowering the human birth rate had several consequences.
First, it focussed attention strongly on Africa where some of the most explosive population expansions were taking place. Despite efforts by PM supporters and allies to emphasise non-coercive and benign policies – education of women and girls; encouragement and increased availability of family planning options – this was seen by many critics as a patronising, colonialist and even racist approach.
Second, the call for population reduction was experienced as extremely negative by those cultures and peoples already alarmed by their falling indigenous populations.
Third, it distorted the emphasis of the critical I = PCT equation ((total human impact is the product of population, consumption and technology)) from consumption to population (despite protestations to the contrary), since the impacts of high consumption on our planet arise mainly from the so-called First World. The effect has been to underplay our collective role in planetary burn out – providing ammunition for opponents of facing the population threat.
Another imbalance in the Population Matters approach has been the total focus on the human birth rate to the neglect of the death rate, at a time when more First World humans were living longer than ever. This imbalance has to be combined with high First World consumption – structural (NHS, defence and so on) as well as personal.
As Planet Centred thinking evolved, statistically supported charts were presented at a PM Conference demonstrating that First World longevity probably contributes a massive 20% to equivalent world population (factoring in consumption). The response to this hard information was to ignore it. The shocking realisation was that PM was as willing to airbrush or underplay truths unhelpful to its core message as any other campaign.
Perhaps more fundamental than all the above was the early recognition that Population Matters was at its heart human centred: the consequences for humans of unlimited world population would be dire. This included degradation of ‘their’ environment. (In fairness there was always a concern among PM supporters for wider and wilder nature, though not for precedence over the essential human will to live.)
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Against this background advocates of valuing the Planet for its own sake and on its own terms – even to the extent that humans as we are now may not be helpful to its richness and diversity – were from the start challenging a great tide of sentiment and conviction.
Now for some of us an inspiration and a vision were provided by the thinking of Paul Shepard, especially his last book: ‘Coming Home to The Pleistocene’. This outlined the last anthropological eras in which proto-humans and humans (modest then in numbers and impact] were in balance with a broader nature, part of that nature.
Subsequent developments in human evolution were to see those values trumped by very different values, leading eventually to our modern human centred and human dominated world. Not the empowerment of individual human beings: in most cases we are now at the mercy of greater forces within the global system. This can be seen as a ‘superorganism’ beyond individual control – despite illusions of democratic accountability.
So Planet Centred Forum and its allies have always seen the underlying issue in terms of this conflict of values. The series of books on this values theme – published under a Devolve! Imprint – have sought to explore and explain the transformation of values from those of our Pleistocene ancestors to those dominant in today’s Global Society.
Within this series the pivotal role that Enlightenment Science has played in validating modern attitudes to nature has hopefully been made clear. (Challenges to this dominant rationalism from traditional peoples and from the Romantic tradition – including Goethe and Blake – have been brushed aside in the confident march of science.)
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So why is Planet Centred Forum failing just at the time when the signs are becoming clearer – especially to many of the young – that the dominant values model is a road to catastrophe?
It is not that many ecological and environmental radicals do not share these concerns. Rather, they look for transformations and adaptations that can respond to the crisis from within a human – anthropological – perspective.
This tension has existed among the moderators (guides) of Planet Centred Forum itself. Not so much an ‘us and them’ problem as an ‘us and us’ problem. The truth is that pro-human instincts – protect the human – run so deep in all of us that ‘there has to be a way’ to overcome the challenges we face without simply getting out of nature’s way.
Perhaps one example of this is in climate change predictions. Of course these do not address the many other issues related to the human population/consumption onslaught on the natural world, including habitat loss, resource depletion, pollution and contamination, ‘last man standing’ conflicts over resources and power, and – less tangible but possibly our ultimate nemesis as a species – mass psychic breakdown.
John Guillebaud, Professor Emeritus of Family Planning and Reproductive Health at UCL, is a gynaecological doctor who throughout his professional career specialised in contraception, on ecological grounds. He emphasizes evidence that global fertility falls whenever rights-based services deliver easy access to effective contraception methods: primarily by removing numerous barriers to them – which may be tangible (e.g. cost) or intangible (cultural or religious) – combined with education of women and girls (in particular). [Project Draw Down – check their site and visit the ‘Health and Education’ section – places such actions near the top of its list of most effective responses.]
He also concludes from the data on the ‘Methane gun’ as the tundra melts and the other self-reinforcing feedback loops, that the global average temperature rise is likely to be of the order of 4ºC before the end of the century. If this is near the mark then large areas of the planet are likely to become uninhabitable for human and much other life. Fewer humans born now to suffer in that dystopian future can only help.
Against such stark predictions (note that climate change is only one factor) there is a whole industry attempting to demonstrate that adaptation and resilience is possible. As pro-human (anthropological) humans we are caught up in these very human responses.
The notable reactions range from advocating concerted political action (by governments and beyond) and/or social (by popular pressure) actions, to faith in technology to come up with solutions. Beyond this there are extreme proposals for escapes to other planets; even for transformation of (some?) humans into a cyber realm beyond their organic biological origins.
Perhaps the most credible network in facing up to the scale of the changes that could be needed is the Deep Adaptation movement initiated by Jem Bendell and others. We would point inquirers with integrity in that direction.
It is galling to accept that our Planet Centred Forum network has failed to consistently put planet before humans – a failure rooted in our own humanity.
Hopefully we have along the way been able to shed light on human evolution, especially some tragic developments in our story. It may yet be that some few humans will survive into a modest, scary yet real future where we have ‘Come Home to The Pleistocene’
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Meanwhile, what to do with our energies and wisdom? How to best use the insights developed within the devolution tradition: that all power should by intent be devolved to the lowest practical level?
The current notion in play is Localism. Sadly this often accepts existing local authorities as a starting point for lobbying rather than building quasi-independent structures with autonomous ambitions for future devolved rights and the ability to network with kindred groupings across the home nations, Europe and the wider world.
An example of this approach lies in traditional allies of Devolve! such as Mebyon Kernow – The Party for Cornwall. Their supporters have fiercely resisted the attempts by the centre to impose ‘Devonwall’ They have directly elected councillors on Cornwall District and on local councils. MK has won European recognition for the status of the Cornish language and their rights as a people. Even in these Brexit influenced times it is a force that is not going away.
For too long people have been encouraged by political parties and local officialdom to think of themselves as helpless and dependent petitioners. The current crisis has revealed the ability and willingness of many people to help their neighbours, without needing to be organised by any official bodies. Initiatives of this kind can happily co-exist side-by-side with official operations. We should be encouraging the continuation of this rediscovery of agency.
In summary, devolution wisdom could be a positive influence in ‘rooting’ the localism movements. This in turn could play a small part in opposing unaccountable centralism in its various forms.
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The Moderators of Planet Centred Forum
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A PLANET IN TROUBLE?
Some still deny the problem.
Most do not want to think about it.
We who do care struggle with the choices: –
# People first or planet first?
# Address technology, consumption or population?
# Attempt changes within the growth economy, or beyond it?
# Aim to prevent collapse or also prepare for it?
# What possible futures can we envision?
# What should be our responses to these futures?
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PEOPLE FIRST OR PLANET FIRST?
Over four billion years the planet has evolved from a lump of rock to host complex and diverse life – a biosphere.
This complex diversity of interacting and complementary life is amazing, precious, wonderful – or is that just a human projection on to it?
Understanding our own fulfilment in doing our thing (not the same as joy or pain in the moment) we can probably say that this holds for the great whale, the oak tree, the coral and everything else dynamically alive.
This is no fairy story with a happy ending. Species also cease. Yet it can have a happy middle: their fulfilment, like yours, is the action and experiencing under the curve of life. There have been great extinctions in which the diversity of life on Earth has contracted; making a gradual recovery to a new blossoming.
Some few thousand years ago one species – us – achieved such dominance that we became a threat to the whole biosphere: aiming to control it, reduce it to a resource and a dustbin.
The irony has been that we (humans) also started to achieve a self-conscious overview of what we were doing – as well as the ability to block out the implications (denial).
Can we really identify with the biosphere as a whole? Even where its needs seem to conflict with human interest and advantage? How planet centred can we actually be?
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CAUSE OF THE SIXTH EXTINCTION?
Once our dire situation is recognised, the hunt for the cause – somewhere to pin the blame – is on.
Is runaway or destructive technology the problem? Fossil fuel heating and transport? Plastics and the chemical industry? The nuclear and arms industries? Chemical farming and industrial fishing?
Is it our massive consumption: more and more ‘stuff’ to want, use and throw away? The endless indulgencies and gadgets that the present system needs us to need?
Is it our sheer numbers? Seven billion and climbing when one billion scared the pants off Malthus? How much more of the wild space do we need to grab for an extra eighty million people each year?
Is it the values that underpin this ‘civilisation’? Our visions of dominance over nature, endless growth and ‘free’ individuals? Can we learn from the modest values of indigenous peoples?
Coming back to technology, is increasing the reflection of sunlight at the Earth’s poles the one techno-fix that is possible and doable – if only to enable a time window?
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HOW TO CHANGE DIRECTION?
Is ‘Green Growth’ within the existing endless growth economies a possible and viable option?
Or do growth economies need to give way to steady state (no growth) economies – with massive implications for wage packets and lifestyle expectations?
Can locally sourced and produced services and goods, supplied by alternative exchange mechanisms, bridge the expectation gap?
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AVOID COLLAPSE AT ALL COSTS OR PREPARE FOR IT?
Should we strain every nerve to prevent crossing the tipping points of global temperature rise, topsoil loss, and other irreversible threats to our existing society and economy? Can we achieve Deep Transition?
Or do we need to face the possibility that these transitions will occur despite our best efforts, creating a possibly chaotic world way beyond the structures of existing societies?
Does even a 10% chance of ‘collapse’ justify some eco-radicals visualising possibilities – plus human responsibilities to the biosphere – in a post-complex society world: even while most remain focussed on not reaching the tipping points?
WHAT POSSIBLe FUTURES CAN WE ENVISION?
Recovery and continuation of existing complex society?
Novocene (non-biological) dominance by artificial intelligence? Could artificially created intelligences make the transition from programmed cleverness to deep tuned wisdom?
A new Pleistocene, modest in human numbers and values?
Earth placed in special measures by extra-terrestial stewards?
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RESPONSES TO THESE FUTURES?
PCF continues to attempt answers to the questions posed above.
It wass also the title of the Seminar which Planet Centred Forum moderated on 12th October 2019. Details on the seminar page.