Monday, December 15, 2014


I recently celebrated by fifty-fifth birthday, the first one that followed my personal transformation from a "reluctant planet-killer" into a "death stopper." As detailed in my new book, the transformation kept this birthday from becoming my last, dangling a thread of hope in place of a push over the precipice of despair about a future that looks grimmer by the day.

Since finishing the book, that hope has been manifested in an evolving vision of an ideal world. I now find myself seeing that vision overlaid with my experience of the real world, with the differences highlighted in almost overwhelming contrast. The contrast is overwhelming in large part due to coincidental timing with the consumption orgy preceding another celebration, Christmas, which cynically and hypocritically objectifies the most precious of human motivations, love, and uses it to accelerate our sabotaging the system of life that keeps the world habitable.

Despite my new-found courage and vision, I allowed some partial indulgence to mark this particular birthday, which typically signifies entrance into a sort of "pre-retirement." My wife and I stayed overnight at a local bed and breakfast, which unfortunately is now up for sale. I ate some not-so-healthy food, along with some good stuff. After more than a year of going without a watch, I finally got a replacement. I even felt okay with it, up to a point.

That point was reached during a trip to the local grocery store after we got home. There I was forcibly reminded that everyone including us is working at the equivalent of a job: buying unhealthy stuff that makes us and others unhealthy until society says we can do otherwise, which of course it will never do because too much personal power depends on it. It was craziness set to an appropriately mind-numbing musical soundtrack of repeating Christmas songs, much of whose meaning was lost in another century.

In the healthier (and more honest) version playing in my imagination, the store aisles would be replaced by an open space dominated with locally-grown food and products people had personally created. Neighbors would know each other and be committed to helping each other on a regular basis, so the "Christmas spirit" of giving would be a normal aspect of life, with competition for how much good we could do instead of how much power we could wrest from others to enhance the lives of a few close ones. The mall where I got my watch would be replaced with such markets, if anything, but more preferably it would be returned to open space that could be colonized by wildlife.

With Christmas only ten days away, the old habits are already returning. I expect I'll be compromising a bit even as my thoughts are further turned toward what a better future might look like and how to help create it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Employment and An Ideal World

Having accepted that common values and understanding are critical requirements for an ideal world (or even a healthier one), and the likelihood that crippling stress would return if I didn't contribute toward creating that world, I decided to look more closely at the kinds of employment that would help meet those requirements and meet my near-term financial obligations while my writing business was ramping up.

Nonprofit issue-oriented organizations are an obvious source of employment that addresses values, especially religious ones. I prefer organizations whose values are most in line with my main value (preservation and proliferation of life for as long as physically possible), yet provide opportunities for open-ended discussion about them and others while not undermining understanding of reality in the process.

Science is my principal model for understanding reality, so organizations that promote science are a clear choice for working toward meeting the associated requirement. There is, of course, a lot of subjective reality we all experience as humans, which needs to have common interpretation (understanding) identified, and I see psychology as a promising means of achieving that.

It would be great if I could find an organization that promotes both values and understanding, which I'm trying to do with my own business. Many issues-based organizations do this within the narrow range of their interests; but by doing so, they tend to discourage participation by people who don't share those interests (I admit being guilty of that myself). More research is clearly needed into finding or creating a viable alternative.

Finally, regarding the remaining requirements: I have for a long time considered joining organizations involved in environmental cleanup and renewable energy, which deal with the requirement involving management of the commons; but I recently realized that they are fighting a losing battle against a complex and cunning enemy enabled by not meeting the first two requirements. I'm therefore less likely to pursue work with them, though I won't rule it out entirely. The same goes for government, which has the theoretical power to enforce responsibility for maintaining the commons and ensuring that only extra resources are allocated by the economy, without detrimental effects; that power can be properly used if everyone supports it and its use, which again depends upon common values and understanding.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Money and Responsibility

It is likely a truism that you can't make money by trying to convince people to scale back on the consumption that feeds their happiness, at least the kind of happiness that depends on dominating Nature. Increasing that happiness is the purpose of our economy, evidenced by the fact that its size (Gross World Product) is proportional to the square of the average happiness of the world's population.

This is evident at the personal level, especially for those us who accept that we are consuming so much that we are critically degrading our planet's ability to remain habitable for species like us. Scaling back is our only rational option, but it is also the hardest option for the vast majority of us, especially since we continue believing that our economic system can still increase our happiness, and because that system has dominated so much of the world that our survival is intricately tied up with it – by making money.

I've described my own personal struggle with this in much of my writing. It is a key theme in Death Stoppers Anthology, the end of which publicly committed me to decisively following my own advice, no matter what the consequences. That advice involves scaling back on consumption and motivating others to do the same, which I am having some success with, but not enough, and not in a way that is obviously sustainable.

Like many families, my wife and I have used debt to maintain our standard of living while income has fluctuated; and since debt is a promise fundamentally based on the expectation of economic growth to pay it off (due to interest, which accrues no matter what), making more money is a personal imperative just to break even. Through the financial system, that money helps fuel growth in other parts of the economy, which ultimately makes our collective demise more likely in the near future.

Cutting back on expenses and living on a smaller income tends to put a brake on that growth; but it has a lot of negative side effects, not the least of which is the stress of feeling trapped with a huge threat hanging over your head, not only of debt but of a future when we can no longer work. While I tend to be most sensitive to the stress associated with not meeting my global responsibility, it is more normal to intensely feel this stress associated with not meeting personal responsibility. As I've written in many ways: under current circumstances, relieving one will make the other worse unless we can be desensitized to it (typically in an unhealthy way), but this will only work until we are all forced to deal with the underlying problem that is making it impossible to escape both.

In an ideal world, humanity would collectively make it impossible for any of us to take the means of survival from any others, including members of other species (reinforcing the concept of the "commons"), and make us all responsible for maintaining it. Whatever was left could be distributed by any means deemed socially acceptable, if there was anything left, which I would argue there isn't (thus, our underlying problem). This would follow a restart of global civilization with a common set of basic values and understanding of reality, along with common standards for developing each. This model would be reproduced wherever else we settled, such as other planets, with rewards for risks incurred in expanding habitable territory provided as part of the distribution of excess resources and lasting no more than a lifetime for those receiving them.

I've read about people (and know a few) who have gotten a head start on creating this ideal world for themselves and a few people closest to them. From what I can tell, they tend to be members of a small proportion of the population who come close to their limit of happiness with fewer resources than most of us, and are content to stay there. Put another way: natural environments require little modification to be suited to their wants and needs. As a result, global and personal responsibilities are largely in alignment, so stress is not an issue. Because their success is mostly a function of who they are than what they've learned (except about who they are), I don't believe it is generally transferrable to most of the population. The rest of us can still learn valuable lessons from them, though, such as the practical, physical constraints of living in a healthier world; but because we'll have less happiness by actually living that way, it won't be as popular as our alternatives without some forcing mechanism (such as reduced social acceptance and opportunities) that makes those alternatives less attractive.

Since finishing my book, the stress of personal responsibility has been growing, in large part because my wife is currently carrying the burden of paying our bills. The lessons I learned when our roles were reversed are still with me, and I have hope that my writing business can (at least temporarily) help turn my "death stopper" role into a means of reducing that stress along with the other stress it has largely alleviated. However, once again time is my enemy; making more money at another job is the quickest way to deal with the immediate problem; and the economy, like most of us, still doesn't value doing what is now the right thing, which increases the risk that I'll be compromising my way back into pain and a crisis of self respect. In the immediate future, I plan to do as much as possible to find a middle ground, balancing the two stresses and buying time to find ways of being more aggressive in doing that "right thing": helping to set the stage for the ideal world.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


It's time for most of us to abandon the dream of retiring comfortably, and to focus instead on leaving a legacy we can be proud of.

As a recent report highlights, our economic system rewards those who speculate, and victimizes those who work. It is also a global Ponzi scheme that threatens not only the economic wellbeing of the majority but availability of physical resources all of us depend on for survival. Essentially, we are participating in a game that cannot, nor should be, won. As I explained in a new meme, that game unrestricted competition can only result in the death of everyone.

I have detailed in multiple blog posts (and the upcoming book, Death Stoppers Anthology) my personal struggle with the inherent conflict between personal and global responsibility that we now face because of our proximity to global ecological limits. I shared it, along with evidence of that conflict, to be part of a conversation about how to create a future that maximizes our ability to survive and thrive as a species, and to be part of a team dedicated to realizing that future regardless of the personal consequences.

The competition that threatens us is not totally unrestricted yet, but the few who have the upper hand in that competition are focused on removing what few restrictions remain. This is especially obvious in the subversion of the U.S. political system, which made major gains in the recent mid-term elections in large part due to the weaponization of money enabled by a Supreme Court that values unrestricted competition. In a critical time when the world must be setting the stage for rapidly reducing carbon emissions (along with other stresses on Earth's life support systems), the social infrastructure dedicated to protecting common resources needed for our survival has become at-best useless, and at-worst is being co-opted to remove existing protections and make the situation much, much worse.

Many of us are held in thrall by the hope that we might still live comfortably following a life of service to the system we've been taught to believe is a legitimate source of value to the world, but in fact is dedicated to sucking us dry, just like the other "resources" that supply our pursuit of happiness as embodied by monetary wealth. For those of us who perceive the threat to our existence and that of future generations, this misperception and the hope it fuels must be replaced with a more accurate and comprehensive vision of real value that our lives can attain: a legacy that is testimony to whatever good remains in us, that is physically embodied by a better chance for the survival of our species. We must also share this vision with as many people as possible, and build up a critical mass of support so we might succeed despite the huge odds aligned against us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Six Months Out

In the roughly six months since I completed the last major phase of my research into population and consumption, and its implications for the future, I have been focused on two things: surviving, and writing books that will hopefully be ready for the Christmas buying season. This has resulted in a drop in blog posts and other writing, though I have occasionally released new music.

I recently reviewed blog posts from 2011, around the time I completed the previous phase of research, and found that many of the issues that concerned me then are still in play. Of course, now there is more evidence that the world is undergoing a human-caused mass extinction event; and that catastrophic methane release from permafrost is imminent, if not already in progress, which could push global temperatures above habitability in the not-too-distant future. The causes of the existential threats that I explored then remain extremely relevant now, such as the global domination imperative built into our culture and our economics. My current projects deal with much of that, using new material and old material, in both non-fiction and fiction.

A non-fiction book, to be titled "Confessions of a Reluctant Planet-killer," is entirely new and autobiographical. It begins with how my views have evolved, from exaltation of unchecked growth and open-ended innovation with an outward focus; through discovery (in my own unique way) of fundamental relationships between population, consumption, and happiness; to an awareness of the need for what I call "global responsibility" to offset the negative consequences of "personal responsibility." A pivotal part of the book, reflected in its title and many of my earlier blog posts, deals with how I've failed (and continue to fail) in exercising global responsibility to the extent needed by all of us if humanity is to have any future worth living in, thus contributing to the horrible alternative. This effort is meant as a "coming out" about something few people would even consider bad, an example that hopefully others may be inspired to follow, and together try to remedy.

Another book, tentatively titled "Creations of a Reluctant Planet-killer" is a mix of old and new creative writing, including short stories, poetry, and essays. While much of this work involves themes familiar to readers of my novel and blog posts (including some of those posts), it has a mix of entries that have a broader appeal. I continue to work on "Visitors," the sequel to my novel "Lights Out," which, like its predecessor, is an outgrowth of my research, and has gone through several major revisions as my research has evolved.

With a lot of discipline and some luck, I expect to roll out these books, and perhaps some related music, over the coming months. In the meantime, I will try to be more diligent in writing for my various blogs and Web sites, and perhaps add a few more "Universe X" posts along the way.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Options For A Reluctant Planet-killer

After losing my job at the end of last year, I focused on my writing and research about global population and consumption, in large part out of hope that I could discern a future that didn't involve the rapid extinction of all species including ours. As my blog posts over that period attest, the results have been mixed.

I found that if we try to continue increasing our life expectancy following historical trends, we will quickly eliminate the resource base that keeps us alive. If we try to increase our population with a standard of living like what we have now, or better, we will soon suffer extreme casualties and then enter a prolonged period of painful instability. Hanging over our heads in any case is catastrophic global warming that appears to be practically inevitable as self-sustaining feedback mechanisms continue to kick in as the result of pollution we already put into the atmosphere and oceans.

Thinking long and hard about potential solutions, I came up with the following set of actions that, if taken immediately, could deal with the multiple threats I saw:

  • Reduce consumption of ecological resources (our ecological footprint) by half and safely shut down the technologies that depend on what we will no longer use
  • Safely remove all pollution, including waste from disabled technologies, from the natural environment (e.g., air, water, and soil) and neutralize its hazardous effects
  • Develop and maintain a capability to deflect potentially hazardous asteroids and comets, preferably from bases in space that do not depend on Earth for resources and which can be used for settling other planets

Basically, like children whose living space is overcome with the trash they've created, we need to stop and clean up our mess. Those who resist ­- or actively impede this effort ­- need to be taught not to, or disciplined, or isolated by any adults who might still remain in our spoiled world.

I was recently forced by conditions to return to work for other people, despite my hope that I could turn my creative efforts into a paying job. I still hold on to that hope, and am trying to make it a reality, albeit at a much slower pace. My job search has been painful, as I knew it would be when I realized that the focus of our civilization, the very core orientation of our economy, is toward using everything that's left to make artificial environments for more of us that will meet most of our needs and wants, with disastrous consequences for most of us. I continue to struggle with the inherent conflict between personal responsibility as defined by that civilization which sustains me and the people who depend on me, and global responsibility, which demands that I give back much of what I – until now – have unwittingly taken to meet that personal responsibility.

As much as possible, I've limited my most active job search to "environmental" organizations, which tend to be either profit-making ventures that try to mitigate the effects of our lifestyles by regulation-inspired cleanup and substitution of more efficient products into our economic pipeline, or low to non-profit advocacy groups that try to educate people about the problems facing us and what they can do to help solve them (including manipulation of political systems to enact stronger regulations and reduce waste and corruption that gets in the way of solutions). I see their net effect as neutral, at best, in dealing with our crisis, mainly because they nibble away at the symptoms and some of the effects of the problem – our fundamental motivation – and depend on the tools and assumptions of the socio-economic system that serves that motivation and enforces the "personal responsibility" of the people embedded in it (to help others meet their needs and wants within that system).

Neutral impact is of course preferable to active destruction, which is what I see resulting from most of the other options. Those options have a spectrum, with fossil fuel and other extractive industries at the damaging end, and local organic farmers at the healthy end. The debt which forces me (through personal responsibility) to use my most marketable skills, which are resource-intensive, is held by a financial industry that largely enables the worst damage due to a fundamental flaw in our economy that encourages people to use more than they would naturally need or want by taking it from others. If I were willing to totally abandon my new-found sense of global responsibility (and my self respect), I would focus entirely on selling my skills to the highest bidders, who are likely on the damaging end of the spectrum. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward the middle of the spectrum while also considering how to get toward the healthier end.

In my ongoing battle between hope and despair, I've at least learned some more details about the alternative futures that those feeling represent, and how those futures could unfold. Having indulged the despair and nearly been crushed by it, I've chosen to understand and promote the hope, even if the conditions it hinges on are highly improbable. I am a reluctant planet-killer, trying imperfectly, though trying nonetheless, to eventually have nothing to do with killing anything or anyone, as an accomplice and certainly not otherwise. I will continue to share what I learn in order to help others do the same, even as I take detours along the way.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Real "Universe X"

Since February I have been writing what could be classified as micro-science fiction: "news" stories that I collectively call Universe X. The project started as a way to help me keep my sanity in the face of a barrage of depressing news and soul-crushing predictions about the near-future. I basically wrote the kind of news I wanted to see, as experienced in worlds very similar to our own. Each post was from a unique parallel universe (the "X" in the title), with its own history, and typically about something I considered very important at the time.

As I continued writing, Universe X became more: a vehicle for sharing ideas about how to fix the problems it reported. In my fictional worlds, solutions are often implemented, or about to be implemented, with mostly positive results (though there have so far been a couple of deviations, more in line with what I see as our likely future). As you might expect if you've read my other work, there is a strong environmental component to many of the problems, along with their attendant social impacts. In some universes, the solutions are draconian, imposed by governments or sanctioned international organizations; in others, they are social movements organically responding to imminent or existing problems. As a scientist, it's tempting for me to hope that new knowledge will change the way people look at the world, and prompt them to make it better; thus "discoveries" are made in some universes, and that hope is realized (or about to be).

Universe X has a unifying backstory that ties the posts together, with both a fiction and a non-fiction component. I won't reveal the fiction component here; it will continue to gradually present itself in the posts, and possibly a more complete treatment such as a novel. The non-fiction component, however, is embodied in my ongoing research into what drives humanity's future, which is fully exposed on my research Web site: the "universes" may be loosely interpreted as connected, alternative "worlds," and the snapshots provided by the posts are glimpses into some of the worlds not too far away from ours in time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Final Solace

I recently completed the last chapter of a short story called "Final Solace," based on music that I created during and after the illness that took my mother-in-law's life nearly two years ago. It was also the final chapter in over a quarter-century of grieving that began with the death of my own mother and included the sudden death of my father.

To date the music hasn't earned a dime, though I'll be happy if it earns much more than that. But money was never the point; it was – then and now – a means to promote and help support my continuing creation of artificial experiences that convey what are (to me) meaningful ideas, observations, and feelings that others might benefit from. "Final Solace," in all its incarnations, is among the most meaningful of those creations.

My mother-in-law, Alice Sampson, was perhaps the greatest fan of my art, which was a great compliment coming from one of the greatest people I've ever known. I say that in all honesty, not just because of our relationship, but objectively because of the way she lived her life and the impact she had on all around her. The first half of the first track of the album, "Getting By," was created before her condition took its tragic turn, as I thought of the long days she spent reading and watching T.V. It was her strongly positive reaction to it that convinced me to create related music as events unfolded.

While the music tracks honor the last year I knew Alice, they also resonate with similar memories of my own parents, which I drew on while composing them. Creating music for me has almost always been a channeling directly from my subconscious to an instrument such as a computer, followed by some more thoughtful editing. I felt those experiences, and the music flowed. The result, as with almost all of what I create, is snippets of a soundtrack, like what I've payed in my head, and often hummed, since I was very young.

Alice's last days had a lot in common with what I experienced with my mother, which was the most stressful few weeks of my life. Diagnosed with cancer when it was too late to treat, my mother chose to die at home with my brother and me, aided by Hospice, an organization I can't praise enough. My father died suddenly of a heart attack after working years without a break; the track "Memories" best matches how I remember that time, and my struggle to pick up the pieces of a life that totally depended on his guidance.

A few months ago, after publishing the individual "Final Solace" tracks for wider distribution than the album, I decided that context was needed for the people who might listen to them. In the mean time, having listened often to the music, I had been thinking of it as more of a soundtrack for how anyone's final days might unfold. It made sense on that basis to write a short story, told from the first person. With a better understanding of how the world might look when I'm elderly, I had my main character inhabit such a future, and created a family that I'll never have. Personal details are intentionally vague, including the protagonist's gender, but the main elements that I want to convey are, I hope, crystal clear.