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Michael Madden

Michael Madden

Michael Madden: thoughts on the current environmental crisis (3)

Michael Madden: painter, sculptor, restorer, environmental campaigner and Hastings resident, talks with HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about the planet, the environmental crisis, the big corporations and human nature.

CM:  Hello again Michael. This week I’d like to ask for your views on Nature and the current environmental crisis. Let’s start with Greta Thunberg’s recent speech to the UN Climate Change Conference in New York. What were your feelings?

MM:  She was right to say: “How dare you? to adult politicians who were expecting her to tell them what to do. As she said, “I should not be here. I should be back at school (in Sweden). But I’m concerned that she’s being made into an exception – a child celebrity – when she’s the unwilling spokesperson of a generation. Politicians should be acting, but they don’t. So she did. Good for her.

Peaceful direct action has a good track record – Gandhi being a great example. But government isn’t really listening and is planning to further restrict protesting rights. I mean the ice caps are still melting and the Amazon is still burning but business continues as usual. I think protesters should be targeting huge business interests, because they are more powerful than governments.

CM: What else do you think can be done?

MM: In my opinion everyone should listen to the scientist who foresaw all of this, James Lovelock, and do as he advises. He is the 100 year-old Gandalf that can lead us away from the Crack of Doom.

If only this protest had happened 30 years ago – in 1989, after the publication of Lovelock’s  The Ages of Gaia. He said then that the biosphere was already in a “hot state” and that we had around fifteen years until the tipping point. He predicted everything that’s happened since, but the scientific establishment was slow to agree, because he didn’t present his theory as a peer-reviewed paper. Now other scientists see his predictions realised but few acknowledge him enough.

On TV, Nature is still presented as a fringe issue – a royal baby gets more press coverage. Lovelock said recently: I don’t think we’re yet evolved to the point where we’re clever enough to handle as complex a situation as climate change,” and “The inertia of humans is so huge that you can’t really do anything meaningful.“…and…”One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is modern democracy”, “Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.”

 CM: There is a lot of talk about carbon emission and its effects on global warming. What are your thoughts?

MM: Katherine Richardson, a scientist from Copenhagen University stated that: “We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and ….there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions.”…. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.

The UK produces only 1% of global carbon emissions and Sweden’s footprint is negligible. The real job is convincing China – responsible for approximately 27% of the world’s carbon emissions and the USA – around 15%. But the UK is £1.78,000,000,000,000 in debt, and tied into a global economic network that is still hell-bent on economic growth despite the evidence that it’s killing the planet. That growth is only for the richest 1%, so inequality and climate change are linked. Here is a link,

 CM: As well as the need to curb the power of the oil and car corporations, are there other corporations that are a big part of the problem?

MM: The corporations who create and host the communication devices we use. And climate protesters are producing their own carbon footprint by using them.

The Apocalypse Will Be Recorded in High Definition

The Apocalypse Will Be Recorded in High Definition

To quote: “Almost everything we do online increases our carbon footprint. As a perverse example, antivirus company MacAffee reports that the electricity needed just to transmit the trillions of spam e-mails sent every year is equivalent to powering two million homes in the United States and generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as that produced by three million cars.

According to a recent Greenpeace report, Make IT Green: Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, the electricity consumed by cloud computing globally will increase from 632 billion kilowatt hours in 2007 to 1,963 billion kWh by 2020 and the associated CO2 equivalent emissions would reach 1,034 megatonnes.

Also, Google contributes to climate change denial – See here:

I think the Internet is a Pandora’s Box. Many are bewitched by Facebook and Twitter, and think they represent progress and freedom. But there is a much darker side to the new technology, including legitimised misinformation, exploitative pornography, surveillance and political lies. The screens also act like narcissistic mirrors that nurture individualism rather than collectivism. I think the internet forums have aided the rise of the Alt-Right, and debased politics, which was bad enough already.

CM: What traits in human nature contribute to the problem?

Consumer Boss

Consumer Boss

MM: Until 8 years ago it was socially acceptable to see greed as good, AND also cheapness. Few protested, now everyone does – it’s the new norm – like tattoos. I never agreed with greed so I don’t like the idea that it’s all my generation’s fault (I’m 65), or the next generation after mine, because I don’t believe the kids of today would have acted differently under the same circumstances. There’s always been political denial, misinformation and a blind attitude to Nature. Many tried to do good things, but were always in a minority. Now a great movement is building and it’s great that kids are leading it. But they have to hit the real offenders (the 1%) where it hurts – in their pockets – people like the Danish retail magnate Anders Holch Povisen, who owns more British land than anyone; the Dukes of Buccleuch and Westminster, who also own very large tracts; Robert Mercer, billionaire and head of Cambridge Analytica; Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon – worth £110 billion; Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons – worth over £150 million; Lord Rothermere, billionaire and owner of the Daily Mail; Steve Bannon, head of Breibart News – worth around around £40 million; and, of course, others.

I’ve been angry about the way people treat Nature since I was Greta Thunberg’s age. It was one reason why I never had kids. However, I’ve always tried to argue for change. I joined Friends of the Earth aged 14 and have been a member of it, Greenpeace, and sometimes both, for most years since. Environmentalism is the only cause that is not human-centric.

CM: Are there any books that have influenced you, besides Lovelock’s?

MM: Yes. The key book for me was Moby Dick – one of the greatest environmental books ever written. I was waiting for a major operation in hospital when I read it, and saw Captain Ahab as a metaphor for humanity in its megalomaniac quest to dominate Nature, which it doesn’t understand. I always felt humans were drawn to power (as Nietzsche said and Orwell showed in ‘Animal Farm’) over each other and over Nature. Before that I read some Native American predictions. They saw the future in dreams and said that we would make a desert of the Earth and choke on our own waste. ‘The Elder Brothers’ by Alan Ereira is a great book. Also, H.G.Wells predicted many problems that we face now in The Country of the Blind and The Time Machine, both are brilliant. The best book about technology and alienation is Guy Debord’s 1967 The Society of the Spectacle. And another essential book was Stephane Hessell’s Indignez-Vous (published as Time for Outrage in the UK).

CM: Back in the nineties Robert Ornstein wrote in The Evolution of Consciousness that time has run out on the clock of biological evolution, that through our technology we’ve transformed the world beyond our ability to adapt to it in the old ways. He said we have to bring our underused capacity for consciousness and self-awareness into play to save ourselves and the planet. We have to develop a universal group consciousness. Do you think that is possible?  Or do you think we have an inbuilt flaw?

MM: Our worst qualities are tribalism and cruelty to others – our best quality is the ability to love and care for others. When inequality leads to jealousy our worst aspects rise, which can lead to fascism etc. Another key flaw is that we’ve developed the ability to separate ideal from reality. We are a potentially aggressive primate species, but feel as if we are above Nature, God-like, and that we control Nature. In fact we’re just part of Nature.

I believe that the way forward involves keeping commerce and the state separate. At the moment, commercial interests dominate the state – even governments bow to them. After years of reacting to injustice, I no longer believe it’s good enough to react without alternative proposals. Today we need an educated population, informed by scientific knowledge, a reduction in human inequality and more care and respect for other species.

But getting the 7.7 billion people on Planet Earth today to agree on anything is almost impossible. People like to fire off and get angry, but few are prepared to do the work necessary to change things. I now feel I was probably wrong to think the Save Ecclesbourne Glen (SEG) campaign could be won by more democracy. One thing we also found out during the SEG campaign was that statutory bodies tasked with protecting nature were toothless, or unwilling to use their teeth because they had been cut back to the bone by government. Most of the campaigns I’ve been involved in have been lost, and for similar reasons – businessmen, politicians and even local councilors toe the line and have taken part in a massive pretence of democracy. So I believe that we need a different democratic system – a more inclusive, less oppositional model. Anyone who thinks that voting once every five years and having a referendum every forty or so is ‘democracy’ is too easily satisfied.

Our democratic representatives have lied to us. Many years ago I asked a neighbour who worked in the Lewisham council’s refuse department what happened to all our recycling. And he said It all goes into landfill.” In fact I think it might be even worse. I worry that container vessel captains are instructed to dump it at sea by their paymasters. Otherwise, where did all the plastic in the ocean come from? It’s even been found in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. It’s such an immoral attitude, and yet councils and governments have covered this up and claimed for years that we are all doing our bit for the environment.

The Countryside is open for business

The Countryside is open for business

Our species is killing the planet because we are so uneducated about Nature, and see it as a free resource – and therefore worthless. We dump our waste everywhere, yet love to watch programmes about pristine wilderness. Until a few years ago, the few people who spoke out about the environment were often dismissed as alarmist, negative (including Lovelock) or arrogant. But they can’t say that about Greta, because she’s a kid – brilliant!

CM: How do you envisage the future?

MM:  Lovelock says it will be lawless, violent and chaotic if we don’t act now. I don’t think Brexit will help the UK either. European environmental laws are fairly good in comparison with what we’ll get after Brexit. I’d sooner trust Europe than Trump. Maybe we could produce more local foods, but that may be impossible amidst climate breakdown.



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Posted 16:12 Saturday, Oct 26, 2019 In: Hastings People


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  1. Paul Way-Rider

    Posted on behalf of KENDAL (from part 2 of this series of interviews)

    “lots to agree with – almost everything for me. given the SOS festivals and Common Treasury and other events that the council leader has attended – it’s obvious to me our community is a wealth of specific intelligence and activity on all these issues.

    for the me, the council are deficient in the most basic obligations and in their wastefulness – ‘we cannot look into more effective recycling alternatives used in poorer countries, to give everyone the opportunity… oh, but look! we can spend thousands on printing letters for every occupancy and then follow up with full colour glossy pamphlets, in case everyone is has forgotten all the things we said we cannot do.

    But PLEASE CAN WE STOP ENDORSING THIS LIE – that yes the UK ‘s carbon emissions constitute 1% (not a lie as industry in this country gave way ages ago to tech and insurance industries) – whilst based UK companies are the MAIN OFFENDERS OF GLOBAL CARBON INDUSTRY elsewhere. where do we imagine China and India gained their expertise in rapid economic and industrial development?

    also – i think the idea that people are indolent and set as one body on a momentum that resists change is a fallacy of historians and philosophers stuck in the tramlines of the outcomes of successful oppression. this 21st century has seen more global mobilisation and mass change than any other century in history. there is a vast difference between oppressive disempowerment and apathetic conformity. this is the age of conformity but it is an imposed conformity by neoliberal values that gives scant regard for a person’s ability to function or right to exist. saying there is little we can do about it just isn’t true.

    there is a momentum for change and our community are geared for it. politicians and councils and governments will come and go – what this council needs to ask themselves is where they’ll be once the general public are empowered, in the near future, to hold to account historic social depravation and injustice (and fatalities) imposed by that failed neoliberalism. (some amount to war crimes, like the revealed over 10,600 deaths related to benefits cuts in eleven months of 2013 – something that has scantly been accounted for since, except a recent report that so far 2019 recorded over 6,000).

    if you wish to know how oil industries can be re-incentivised and party politics (fit only at representing minorities and divided ones at that) will be replaced by rewarded people’s assemblies dictating what government does (one that is emancipated from corporate dependency) – not by regressing back to failed socialist, marxist, libertarian or any other system misappropriated by hierarchies – then check out Facebook – The Parallel Non-Monetary Economy of the 99%.”

    Comment by Kendal — Monday, Oct 28, 2019 @ 07:30

    Comment by Paul Way-Rider — Tuesday, Nov 5, 2019 @ 10:18

  2. Paul Way-Rider

    Please note this comment has been written by Michael Madden.

    “To Mrs Doubtfire. My intention was merely to put other people’s views across, people with minds greater than yours or mine – like James Lovelock. I did that because I think the situation we are in is not simple, but IS very serious, and he might have the answer. He actually said that a worst-case future scenario would be a totally deregulated world in climate chaos, dominated by warlords with private armies – not quite what we have yet, I think you’ll agree. I’m also sorry that you think I should “lighten up”, but you are shooting the messenger. Instead, maybe you should write to Greta Thunberg, or even James Lovelock and say “Lighten up!” The great scientist lives in Devon, and is a hundred years old. The Queen might have his address if you ask.”

    Comment by Paul Way-Rider — Tuesday, Nov 5, 2019 @ 10:04

  3. D Bergen

    Madden’s discussion of the environmental crisis is wide ranging, thoughtful, and full of useful references and links. Particularly apt is his identification of business interests as drivers of the growing crisis, and the most appropriate target of political and personal action. Careful household collection of recyclables, which often end up in landfills or worse, is no match to targeted pressure on financial interests, e.g., divestment of institutional funds from offending corporations, organized boycotts, and whistleblowing and reporting to reveal the effects of the worst corporate practices such as fracking and deliberate release of environmental toxins. Thank you, Michael.

    Comment by D Bergen — Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 @ 19:34

  4. Ms.Doubtfire

    Isn’t this all becoming a bit too high brow for the average reader???? Come on…lighten up old chap….and as for Lovelock’s prophesy that society will become lawless, violent and chaotic if we don’t act now..well hello? Isn’t this precisely what we are living with right now…

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 @ 13:20

  5. Simon Marshall

    Many excellent points raised here again, Mick. I think Debord’s analysis is particularly pertinent and telling. EVERYTHING is currently mediated through a screen. How many of us can even contemplate 24 hours without gazing at one? Spectating is not the same as participating. Who would now contest Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message?” For those with the patience to persevere with Heidegger’s unrelentingly opaque style, his “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954) is replete with haunting insights.

    Comment by Simon Marshall — Friday, Nov 1, 2019 @ 12:08

  6. Bryan Bartlett

    Thanks Michael.

    What concerns me is that the people most vocal about the environment and climate change appear only to pay lip service.

    After Glastonbury this year it took 3000 volunteers to 6 weeks to clear tons of rubbish they left behind.

    Notting hill Carnival, council cleared 49 39 tons of rubbish from streets.

    And probably worst of all, the million or so who marched through London the other week to protest climate change, left behind a tidal wave of rubbish, most of it plastic.

    Comment by Bryan Bartlett — Thursday, Oct 31, 2019 @ 09:59

  7. Michael Madden

    Apologies to readers for a few mistakes in statistics. These have all been remedied now. I hope that typos and minor errors will also be remedied soon.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Thursday, Oct 31, 2019 @ 09:15

  8. Francis Sheppard

    Another excellent article by Michael Madden. As previously highlighted in his previous posts. His attention to detail incorporated with His easy writing style allows readers of all levels to be able to participate in the subject. Whether trained in the subject or they just have a passing interest and are wanting to develop a more in-depth understanding. The local community would do well to consider enthroning him as the local poet laureate. By publishing his articles he has widened the interest in Hastings from others in other towns and cities who are sitting up and taking notice of what he has to say. Please continue.

    Comment by Francis Sheppard — Thursday, Oct 31, 2019 @ 06:42

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