When Science Discovers Karma is Real

“At every level, the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different” – Roberto Unger.

In his recent Rolling Stone article, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," Bill McKibben eloquently describes the mathematical reasons why fossil fuel companies cannot continue to peddle their products without causing industrial civilization to march off a cliff. The three numbers he quotes are: 1) 2deg C, the global temperature rise beyond which the risk of catastrophic climate change becomes unacceptable, 2) 565 Gt of Carbon, the carbon that humanity can safely emit before global temperature rise is likely to exceed 2 deg C, and 3) 2,795 Gt of Carbon, the proven coal, oil and gas reserves of the world's fossil fuel companies. He details how the stock prices of these companies reflect the market's assumption that they will get to dig up and sell these reserves at exorbitant prices and concludes that, "we have met the enemy and they is Shell," referring to Royal Dutch Shell, the multinational energy corporation.

Shell, of course, is the company that secured leases to drill in the newly thawing Arctic Ocean for oil, forgetting that the thawing is occurring partly due to the oil that it dug up, peddled and burnt already. Shell is the target of a brilliant campaign by Greenpeace called Arctic Ready, spoofing its "Let's Go" advertising slogan. But is Shell, or for that matter, the Big Five energy companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, ConocoPhilips) that raked in over $100B in profits in 2011 alone, the only enemies? And if a price on carbon emissions is set as Bill McKibben recommends, will these companies be cut down to size and more importantly, will our future on this planet be made secure?

What about McDonald's that's turning people all over the world into regular cheeseburger eaters, thus raising the worldwide consumption of meat and cheese to stratospheric levels, contributing tremendously to tropical deforestation and climate change? For this reason alone, McDonald's, and Big Food in general, can legitimately claim the villains' mantle from Big Energy. In his fossil fuel arithmetic, Bill McKibben fails to note that it isn't fossil fuels that are the major contributors to anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, but Livestock which account for a whopping 51%, according to a credible, peer-checked, scientific estimate. Besides, it is well known that if everyone in the world ate an American diet, we would need roughly a fivefold increase in world food production today, which is impossible with current technologies. And yet, McDonalds and Big Food are persuading everyone around the world to adopt a meat and cheese intensive American diet, for that is the only way they can grow their business and their profits.

What about Monsanto that's convincing farmers around the world to grow GMO crops using its patented Roundup-resistant seeds, while flooding the farmers' fields with its signature herbicide, Roundup? For instance, Roundup helps kill "weeds" that would otherwise swamp out the GMO soy crops that are grown in the Amazon for livestock feed. Of course, the "weeds" are really just the Amazon attempting to regenerate, but Monsanto's poison prevents it from doing so. Monsanto and Big Agriculture are also no slouches in the Nature destruction business.

What about Dow, Dupont and the Big Chemical firms that produce 80,000 chemicals that are untested for safety but used in all our daily products, thereby turning us all into lab animals, including babies who are routinely born with thousands of chemicals present in their tiny bodies? Even the firewood smoke tested in remote regions of the world contain significant amounts of these chemicals, including known carcinogens, as the chemicals unleashed by these firms are transported by wind currents and come down in the rain everywhere on Earth.

Finally, what about Goldman Sachs and the "too Big to Fail" banks that finance all this destruction of Nature, while gambling with commodity prices, condemning billions of people into poverty and hunger? Industrial capitalism, as practiced today, requires a steady stream of poor, desperate lumberjacks, slaughterhouse workers, tomato pickers, miners and factory workers to be the business end of the human spear that destroys Nature and to create the products that we consume. In his latest book, "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt," author Chris Hedges, portrays the financial corporations, especially Goldman Sachs, as the true enemies of a secure future for our children.

Unfortunately, Bill McKibben's fossil fuel arithmetic is just one more of a long list of arithmetic realities that our unsustainable consumption patterns project out into a global catastrophe. In his book, "The Bridge at the Edge of the World," Gus Speth notes that half the forests of the world have been destroyed and three quarters of our marine fisheries have been overfished, with half that destruction occurring in the last 50 years alone in an exponentially growing frenzy. In a recent article in Nature magazine, Prof. Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley, and 21 co-authors detail how human activity dominates 43% of the Earth's land surface and affects twice that area, with the potential to tip the Earth's ecosystems into terminal decline - at any time. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly clear that Mother Nature cannot tolerate for too long our continued destruction of forests or our continued overfishing and waste-dumping in the oceans, let alone our continued polluting of the atmosphere, without meting out catastrophic consequences.

In light of these looming consequences, there are two kinds of denial that have become part of our psychological response: 1) the denial that it is even happening, which is rapidly becoming impossible to sustain given the evidence, and 2) the denial that our personal consumption patterns need to change in order to address them. It is the denial of the second kind that is much more difficult to root out, for it permeates even the community of respected  environmental activists. It is so much harder to admit, "We have met the enemy and they is US," while it is far easier to blame Shell, McDonald's, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, etc., and to expect a tax and regulation driven top-down solution for all our ills. Industrial civilization is currently a demand driven system, with the fuel and material resources forcibly extracted from Nature to meet consumer demands, with little to no consideration for the welfare of ecosystems and future generations. Corporations and their advertising departments use every trick in human psychology handbooks to keep that consumer demand rising as their share prices and the compensations of their executives depend on a perpetual growth in such demand. They have even corrupted the political process to ensure that taxes and regulations averse to their narrow self-interests will never be passed.

But the consumer is a conscious participant in this ongoing charade. And if our present circumstances don't prompt environmentally conscious consumers to collectively moderate their demands to make a difference and become role-models for their community members, what will?

Make no mistake, we are in a War. It is the age-old War between the forces of Life and the forces of Death, but the side promoting Death has had the upper hand ever since Sir Francis Bacon, who invented the method of scientific inquiry, declared a War on Nature at the dawn of the industrial civilization in the 17th century. "I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave... the mechanical inventions of recent years do not merely exert a gentle guidance over Nature's courses, they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations," he wrote in Novum Organum. And shake we did, especially in the last 50 years. The destruction of Nature has been so ruthlessly conducted for over three centuries with increasingly powerful machinery that she no longer sides with Life, but is beginning to side with Death. At long last, Science has finally matured enough to discover that the ancient doctrine of Karma is real, that actions do have consequences and climate change, sea-level rise and mass extinctions are powerful consequences of our attempts to subdue Nature. The visible onset of climate change is akin to the Battle of Stalingrad, where the good side has the potential to finally push back the forces of Death. But it is unlikely to happen if we simply plead or even agitate for a carbon tax, given the trillions of profit dollars involved. That would be like appealing to Hitler to lay down his arms and turn pacifist when he had just experienced victory after victory in every battle until then.

What we need is the equivalent of a grassroots Normandy landing to free the concentration camp victims in the factory farms, and to decisively turn the tide in favor of Life. It will need sacrifices on our part, the 21st century equivalent of blood, sweat, toil and tears, but is there any greater purpose than winning this War on behalf of all Life?