Modernity as Death Cult

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. […]

“Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilisation and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover. […]

“Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.”

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds
by Damian Carrington

* * *

Also see:

The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It’s Sending People to Therapy
by Zing Tsjeng

It’s about:

Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy
by Jem Bendell

26 thoughts on “Modernity as Death Cult

  1. Woke up this morning and saw a headline about the 60% extinction rate of animals. More misery. Have thought for some time (and it’s not an original idea) that humans are a parasite destroying its host. I know people with very young children and I think they are foolish – the parents not the kids. I’d like to believe people will figure things out but I’m not optimistic.

    • We have a hard time imagining the number of species that exist and the even larger number that once existed. A single patch of Amazonian jungle might include hundreds or thousands of unique species that exist no where else.

      I’ve read that a hundred or so species might go extinct a day. That is because there are so many species of tiny creatures that live in a trillion different niches. A snail from the ice age survives in a few ice caves here in Iowa, but probably won’t survive in the wild with global warming.

      Loss of enough species means ecosystem destruction. And loss of enough ecosystems means biosphere collapse. Everything would be thrown into disarray. The delicate balance between species would no longer operate. That is when invasive species will spread and cause further devastation, a situation that will be exacerbated by the changes in climate patterns.

      It would take millions of years for the species to evolve to the new situation, ecosystems to develop, and the biosphere to be stabilized. The best humans can hope for is to escape into biodomes or space colonies, eking out a bare existence at the edge of survival.

      • I have the sense that any time now there will be a cascade of environmental issues say in South and Central America – the new fascist regime in Brazil being one such “environmental event” and the system collapses followed by a few million or several million people moving North.

        At the other end of the spectrum the Supreme court allowed a lawsuit to proceed in which a group is suing the federal government for poisoning the environment. I would be amusing to see the courts hold the oil companies and the feds responsible but of course by the time it winds its way through all the legal hoops…

        I noticed this summer that while there were a lot of birds, and chipmunks and squirrels, the occasional racoon and skunk the bug population seemed way down. I’ve read a few articles that say there’s been a continent wide crash in the numbers of bugs across Europe.

        And to no one’s surprise the dems said, quietly this past week, that they have no plan per se, to address environmental issues. Beyond, I guess, repeating, we’re capitalists, get used to it.

        Perhaps that can be etched into the new aquatic theme parks as Miami and New Orleans, etc all go under.

        • Ignoring other species, the human impact is immense. And that goes far beyond catastrophes and crises caused by climate change, such as droughts and refugees, not to mention increasing superstorms. On a more mundane level, our cavalier attitude toward the environment harms billions of people on a daily basis and has done so for a long time. I like to return to this piece of data:

          “About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, concludes a Cornell researcher. Such environmental degradation, coupled with the growth in world population, are major causes behind the rapid increase in human diseases, which the World Health Organization has recently reported. Both factors contribute to the malnourishment and disease susceptibility of 3.7 billion people, he says.”

          Of course, the suffering and harm is far from equal, mostly impacting poor dark-skinned people, which is to say most of the world’s population. The large-scale body count is bad enough but most victims don’t die quickly or easily, as pollution-caused diseases can lead to decades of illness and the costs (not just to economies but to individuals, families, communities, and entire countries) are beyond imagining.

          “More than nine out of every ten children on Earth are breathing toxic air on a daily basis which stunts their brain development and causes deadly disease, according to a major report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

          “While air pollution is an increasingly recognised problem, which costs the global economy more than $5 trillion (£3.89 trillion) a year, it is “uniquely damaging” to children’s health, the WHO warns.

          “It reports that 93 per cent of children – 630 million under-fives – live in areas where pollutants breach WHO-recommended safety levels, and even in wealthier countries 52 per cent of under-fives are routinely breathing harmful air. […]

          “These home air pollutants cause around 400,000 deaths of children under five each year, in addition to the 300,000 deaths from environmental air pollution such as smog and exhaust fumes.

          “Over the past decade the evidence of health impacts of this type of pollution has grown.

          “The most established impact is on lung development and function, and some of this harm can occur while the child is still in the womb, undermining lifelong health.

          “Minute particles of soot and other particulate matter (PM2.5s) can penetrate the lungs and have even been identified in the placenta; these – in combination with gasses like nitrogen dioxide and ozone – can increase the risk of conditions like pneumonia.

          “The report includes cases in Canada where children with severe but controlled asthma had been put at risk of serious attacks by increasing levels of pesticide spraying on nearby fields and cars idling outside the playground.

          “However, there are a host of other conditions that air pollution can drive up when entire continents are unable to escape the fumes. The report says there is now “substantial evidence” of traffic-related air pollution increasing risk of childhood leukaemia, with some studies suggesting these risks can begin in the womb.

          “It may also impact outcomes like premature birth and infant mortality, and impact brain development in the womb and early childhood, undermining school performance and contributing to conditions like ADHD and autism – though this is harder to disentangle from other socioeconomic effects.”

          • The stats are of course both depressing and enraging.

            apropos of the dominant psychosis of our time the Lobster King in his recent GQ Britan interview was, of course, dismissive of alarms being sounded about the environment, extolled the virtues of the market, and nonchalantly said the earth can easily handle about 9 billion people and everyone should calm down.

            There was something in his tone that reminded me of caractures of 19th century Great White Explorer sterotypes.

            Woke this morning to another mass shooting and the malignant troll attacking a reporter in a Mussolini esque manner and it all clearly is the stuff of fascism.

            Of course establishment media treats it as ugly but can’t define it as fascist because then they would be in a de facto alliance with the “left” and the symbiosis between the market, environmental genocide, mass shooting and inventing a story to justify attacking the press would all be on point and have to be addressed.

            I note as well that so far the “alternative media” is doing the same dance routine. Slightly more snark but nothing outside of their requisite lanes.

            I figure in a sense I’m lucky to be “middle aged” as that means I probably wont live to see the worst or the end but at the rate things are going I wouldn’t be surprised to see, for example, a “patriot” (by which I mean a terrorist) open fire at the border and kill a few hundred refugees, and assorted massive storms wrecking whole regions causing mass movement with subsequent levels of disruption and the goons using it as a pretext to declare a “state of emergency.”

            One of those irritating European philosophers named Paul Virlio (sp?) wrote a piece some years back pointing out that with deliberate cuts to the budget the military was essentially the only government instrument able to respond to storms or “events” and that as such “disaster relief” had been militarized.

            The speed and efficiency with which they respond of course parallels the establishment of military rule.

            Environmental crisis, political collapse, systemic corruption, etc.

            In short not one Reichstag Fire but several but with the same result.

          • There have been many books written about the dissociation most humans experience around environmental destruction. I’ve read several of them because of its overlap with agnotology and the phenomenon of how people simultaneously know and don’t know all kinds of things.

            But environmental issues stand out for how large-scale and physically real they are. For some issues like race, the reality of it doesn’t feel real, as most racism is systemic and so hidden within the social structure. In the case of the environment, it’s almost as if the situation is too real for the average person to handle.

            Really, no one can handle it, not fully, a point made in the argument for climate change as a hyperobject. It’s so real that it is our entire reality and so we have no place to stand outside of it.

        • “And to no one’s surprise the dems said, quietly this past week, that they have no plan per se, to address environmental issues. Beyond, I guess, repeating, we’re capitalists, get used to it.”

          Below is what I think of Democrats and why I don’t trust them. They portray themselves as the “moderate middle”. But they will do nothing to prevent crisis. And when crisis inevitably happens, they will be first in line to support the new authoritarian order. From the Ku Klux Klan to the Nazis, it has always been the “moderate middle” that was key to the authoritarian rise to power. They never disappoint to betray the political left, no matter how many have to be harmed to achieve their end.

          “The main finding? It is moderates, not extremists, who are most excited about authoritarianism in Brazil. [… T]he findings from the World Values Survey suggest that Bolsonaro’s is not a coalition of crazies – lashing out from the margins of society – but one of “sensible” people. Election polls paint this profile in striking detail: Bolsonaro voters are on average wealthier, better educated, and more urban than Haddad’s.

          “In other words, he is consolidating precisely the constituency that most commentators in advanced democracies like Britain believe to be the backstop against authoritarianism. This is one of the key takeaways from the Brazilian election: our faith in the middle class is misplaced. Strongmen often find support among middle-class moderates, who trust them to advance middle-class interests against the redistributive preferences of the poor.”

          • My latest posts gives you a sense of the contempt I have for the liberals and the Democrats who are just the moderate side of the imperial fascist system. I’m especially livid at the moment as uber liberal Colbert mouthing off in a textbook example of establishment privilege regarding a group of people who more or less stormed the home of fascist cheerleader Tucker Carlson.

            If Carlson eggs on and gins up a mob, he’s voicing an “opinion” but when the victims of that incitement bring the threat to his doorstep there’s the liberals to say NO!

            going back about a hundred years the story is quite clear. the liberals are in bed with the fascists. Liberalism profits from the fascist gangsterism against the underclass because of course liberals are participants in the market. They preach civility while profiting from a system that is at best antagonistic to civil society and at worst violently opposed to it.

            Colbert is utterly tone deaf and has no sense that not everyone has the protection afforded by being a middle aged white male millionaire with a slice of prime time real estate from which he can crack jokes, pontificate, and cash checks.

            A perfect totem for the corrupt, complicit liberals who talk out of one side of their face while the other sacrifices everyone else to the thugs.

            Fuck the Democrats.

          • That expresses well my own mood.

            Many people don’t understand why I express so much distrust of the Democrats. All I have to do is look at what they’re doing now: claiming to represent a lesser evil in a system that only offers greater evil while offering covering fire to the political right and actively attacking those on the political left, including those in their own party, who are fighting for the greater good, maybe to save democracy (or rather to create a democracy that never fully existed before).

            Soft authoritarianism is still authoritarianism and, when crisis comes, soft authoritarianism has a way of becoming hard authoritarianism. So, since they are already turning to authoritarian tactics in maintaining party control (not to mention their support of corporatism, militarism and imperialism), imagine what they’ll be capable of when a crisis does come. How is supporting one set of authoritarians against another set of authoritarians supposed to save us from authoritarianism? I don’t follow the ‘logic’.

            If we don’t fight for our own freedom at a time when we still maintain some semblance of freedom, no matter how limited and controlled, what makes some people think that we will be able and willing to do so when times become tougher still. There is no later.

          • I’ve long been tired of the claims of so-called ‘centrists’. But I never get tired of pointing out that on many key issues they are to the right of the American majority. That leaves the question about what are they the center of. As far as I can tell, they are the center of elite opinion, certainly not of public opinion.

            Yet they attack the majority that disagrees with them and they do so from the grand heights of their own paternalism. They’ll often claim to be ‘independents’, but I’m sure most of them consistently vote Democrat. In that way, they act as gatekeepers and arbiters of truth and reality, allowing Clinton Democrats to get portrayed as left and so push the overton window further to the right. The old number, this far left and no further.

            It’s a subtle form of authoritarianism. It seeks thought control that fits hand in glove with the more overt forms of authoritarianism. It justifies the present power structure and so rationalizes away the abuse and corruption of power. It is the lesser evil ever becoming greater evil. And so it is the denial of any hope for reform. To suggest any solution that is up to the task of meeting the dire problems before us will always, to the mind of ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’, always be a step too far.

  2. I’m not disputing the numbers, but I can’t accept the claim without more evidence to draw out “modernity” as the culprit. Its just too broad; I know it may seem hypocritical of me, but holding all of the modern world accountable instead of strains within it ( which modernity? ) doesn’t offer much to me as an audience.

    Reading Jared Diamond, it seems humans have been causing mass extinctions throughout our history, long before any modern civilization, while the comparatively modern Japanese Shogunate was able to preserve* its forest land after a period of near total resource devastation.

    I’m hesitant to label myself as left, since I don’t engage in politics outside of voting or talking online. I really don’t know how to go about being a radical or leftist, but you and a few others convinced me that Paine’s social democratic vision is the only one with a desirable future in America. Critique and pointing out the failures of the current system is necessary but I’ve heard more voices talking about constructing a viable alternative, which is so much harder yet more energizing.


    • Obviously, I wasn’t making a coherent argument with this post. It was simply quoting some numbers. And with it, there is an implication of causation or, at the very least, a meaningful context of contributing factors. But at the moment, I’m not overly inclined to argue over defining ‘modernity’.

      I sometimes like to use vague words precisely because they’re vague. It’s why, rather than United States citizens, I’m drawn to speaking of ‘Americans’ with its somewhat amorphous significance. The project of modernity has its roots in the Axial Age: individuality, abstraction, literacy, urbanization, multiculturalism, colonial imperialism, etc. There is always a hint of that background whenever refer to ‘modernity’.

      To engage your more specific demands, I cannot claim to disagree. Take my post as a gut-level expression, largely of anger and frustration with the world I was born/thrown/forced into. In speaking of the modern in this narrow context, I simply mean the global paradigm that is dominant at present. This isn’t to damn everyone as guilty and let god sort ’em out. It was an intentionally broad-stroke rebuke at collective insanity, an observation that the waters sure look cold while standing at the rails of a sinking ship.

      It was a simple, even overly simplistic, message. Don’t read too much into it. Nonetheless, I take your criticisms to heart. I’m not really an anti-modernist, even if I thought there was a way to go backwards.

    • “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” That is what George Carlin said. And it describes me. It’s for the very reason I see the potential in the world and in humanity that I can be so harshly critical. The religion I was raised in had a New Thought theology of possibility-mindedness.

      I see a world of possibilities. And mass extinction represents to me is the mass destruction of possibility. It’s not only untold numbers of species lost, often before even being discovered. What we’ve also lost are thousands upon thousands of cultures, languages, etc.

      Each of those was a nexus of potentials that might have held the key to our collective salvation. A plant that at this moment went extinct maybe had a chemical that in the future could have been used to stop a global pandemic. A language that died out with the last living speaker maybe held a key to understanding something about our shared humanity.

      Our wanton destruction is far beyond merely being belligerent and heartless. There is a careening recklessness that is heading for disaster. A few small examples of ecosystems being saved and sustained is like holding onto a few drops of water when wandering under the scorching desert sun — those few drops would taste delicious but they won’t save you from death.

      • I’ve been reading E.M Cioran lately, so maybe I’ll be able to compete for pessimist stakes. I only brought up a counter argument ( face it, we’re making arguments all the time ) because moral despair rarely translates to political action, and these examples I use are about demonstrating that “it’s futile” is more self fulfilling than is usually admitted.

        Yes its too late to avert disaster, but doing nothing out of despair is much worse. I feel like the WEIRD mind is like a terminal junkie who won’t do anything positive to help himself; leadership of our precarious future will likely come from outside the U.S , but allow me some hurt pride over the issue.

        • It’s hard for me to be fully a pessimist, depressive realism aside.

          I see devastation on the horizon. But what hope I have is that we will have to face catastrophe and find out what might be on the other side. I strongly suspect that the status quo of American-style imperialism, neoliberalism, and corporatocracy is not much of a long term strategy that will save us.

          Whatever comes next, if present civilization survives, will probably come from some other corner of the world. It’s similar to how the once backwaters of Europe that the Roman Empire saw as primitive would become a new center of innovation and power. So, if I was a betting man, I’d look to present backwaters for the next big powerhouse.

          It always requires those out of power to envision something entirely new. America really hasn’t added anything all that innovative, simply an extension of the colonial imperialism that came before. Something truly different would require building on another foundation.

    • Hello,

      butting in here and a bit late just to add that there is a school of thought that holds Thucydides’, history of the Peloponnesian War, as being about how mass migration is unstoppable and causes havoc, and, that there is a lengthy footnote to his work, called, War and Peace in which noted jazz mystic Leo Tolstoy said, people move, in massive disrupting waves, and there’s nothing one can do about it.
      Not looking to argue with either a long dead “Greek” or a Russian genius but while there’s logic to their points, an inability to produce a perfect solution to assorted interrelated problems shouldn’t preclude trying something – say, a massive tax on “profit” and a massive penalty for decades of unreported “profit” or offshore accounts and use of that revenue for saving the environment.
      And can’t emphasize enough these are not meant to be complete comments or “solutions” or totalizing concepts but are, rough, off the cuff spitballs.

      • Those are perfectly fine ideas. And I’d love to see them discussed in public forums and all across the media. I’m not fatalistic, per se. But there is something about humanity that predisposes us to fatalism in situations like this. The only fatalism is the one we create with self-fulfilling prophecies.

        So, yeah, many possibilities of reform policies could prevent crises and that in turn would redirect humanity from the edge of catastrophe and cataclysm. Failing reform, as we’ve continually failed so far, will mean mass violence and mass death of one kind or another. People have been talking about reform for generations now, just as there were those advocating reform prior to the rise of the Nazis in Germany, prior to the American Civil War, prior to the French Revolution, etc.

        It’s not for lack of knowledge that we have refused to deal with environmental problems. We more or less understand the challenges and we more or less know which solutions would work. But there is no political will, no public demand, and no moral panic to create a sense of urgency — everything continues on as if it could continue forever.

        • The moral panic is what you find in the virtual gulag where the state has locked up the left and the authentic opposition. Defanged, scattered, intimidated, dispersed, stalked, vilified, and economically disenfranchised what is left-over are the professional protestors who think a march is sufficient to change things and the apathetic who don’t care.

          If it’s not clear I’m in a foul mood this should clarify it. Nothing personal of course just disgusted by events and feeling more or less useless as I fire off blanks from a keyboard.

          • No offense taken. It just is what it is.

            The point I was making is that, in rereading Jackson Lear’s Rebirth of a Nation, the last era of moral panic was more viscerally real in the minds of politicians and the public. Some of the responses were better and some horrific, but there was a consensus that a response of some sort was necessary. That is no longer the case. The crisis at that turn of the century was minor in comparison to what we’re now facing. The dislocated, harmed, and killed by coming disasters could easily far outnumber the world war era. It’s a greater crisis and yet the moral panic is far less. It is odd.

            It’s not that I don’t understand what has changed. The powerful have become more effective with bread and circus (i.e., minimal welfare state, consumerism, and mass media) while also more advanced in suppression and silencing everyone else (banana republic, propaganda media, militarized police, mass incarceration, mass surveillance, etc). The carrot and the stick using modern means, far beyond what was available to the ruling elite a century ago.

            Maybe it comes down to wondering about what the powerful are thinking. Little of it makes sense from the perspective of elite self-interest, not in the long term. In pretending there is no crisis, they will make the crisis worse and so more likely to end in tragedy even for the comfortable classes. It makes no rational sense, but then I remember the rich and powerful assholes of the world are no more rational actors than anyone else. The fact that they’re increasingly turning to blatantly authoritarian tactics indicates how terrified they are.

            It is reactionaries reacting to reactionaries, all around. There are no adults in the room, much less an enlightened aristocracy. What panic, moral or otherwise, there is is being hidden — it won’t be televized. A slow brooding anxiety, until it finally erupts. Then so many will pretend like they never saw it coming and so there was nothing they could have done to have prevented it.

          • Agreed.

            Random thoughts: Technology has created dispersion of communication while ironically enabling greater communication.

            It used to be if you were interested in the “opposition” and wanted to hear what they had to say, you had to travel to a meeting – say, Cooper Union or a local auditorium, etc. That created a gravitational effect because of the fact that people had to show up, and that produced the mysterious energy of a crowd, already predisposed towards more or less the same course of action.

            Now, we’re all more or less diffuse and at our keyboards. Add in the techniques of the modern state apparatus and the result is small pockets of action that produce only local effects but are used as national excuses for state action (“antifa is out of control!” or: “The caravan is coming to invade us!” or: “Pass the Patriot Act!”) and the general malaise of the 24/hr echo chamber, the rest of the usual suspects and it’s as you describe…and yes, the worst case scenarios which seem increasingly likely could easily be worse than the wars and an updated version of the Black Death era in Europe.

  3. Extinction means loss of biodiversity, the very foundation of life on earth. Without biodiversity, there are no functioning ecosystems and, without functioning ecosystems, there isn’t much of a biosphere. This is possibly a greater threat than even climate change.

    Beyond mass extinction, it is dramatically altering species not yet extinct.

    “Scheffers is the lead author of a landmark Science study from last year that found that current warming (just one degree Celisus) has already left a discernible mark on 77 of 94 different ecological processes, including species’ genetics, seasonal responses, overall distribution, and even morphology – i.e. physical traits including body size and shape. […]

    “Scheffers and his colleagues’ findings are furthered by a study in Nature Climate Change this February that found that 47 percent of land mammals and 23 percent of birds have already suffered negative impacts form climate change. In all, nearly 700 species in just these two groups are flagging under climate change, according to this research.

    ““There has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts,” co-author James Watson with the University of Queensland said in a press release, pointing out that the IUCN Red List only considers seven percent of mammals and four percent of birds as threatened by climate change and severe weather. The IUCN often drags behind the latest science – many species wait decades for an update while most species on Earth have never been evaluated.”

    A UN study from a couple of years ago came to an obvious conclusion. Our global society isn’t sustainable. We are destroying the world faster than natural systems can repair themselves. This means continuing decline with no hope in sight.

    Let me add some other context. Here is an old post of mine about how top industries externalize so many costs that many are a net loss for society. That goes with the caveat that most externalized costs can’t be measured and, as we are part of the biosphere, aren’t really external in any meaningful sense.

    A minority of corporations cause almost all of the air pollution. 95% of the global population breathes unsafe air. This contributes, as I’ve often noted, to 40% of deaths worldwide. For those who don’t die, it causes an overall decrease in IQ, at a time when we need all the intelligence we can get.


    “How and why turbulence sometimes turns into collapse is something that concerns Safa Motesharrei, a mathematician at the University of Maryland. He noticed that while, in nature, some prey always survive to keep the cycle going, some societies that collapsed, such as the Maya, the Minoans and the Hittites, never recovered.

    “To find out why, he first modelled human populations as if they were predators and natural resources were prey. Then he split the “predators” into two unequal groups, wealthy elites and less well-off commoners.

    “This showed that either extreme inequality or resource depletion could push a society to collapse, but collapse is irreversible only when the two coincide. “They essentially fuel each other,” says Motesharrei.

    “Part of the reason is that the “haves” are buffered by their wealth from the effects of resource depletion for longer than the “have-nots” and so resist calls for a change of strategy until it is too late.

    “This doesn’t bode well for Western societies, which are dangerously unequal. According to a recent analysis, the world’s richest 1 per cent now owns half the wealth, and the gap between the super-rich and everyone else has been growing since the financial crisis of 2008.

    “The West might already be living on borrowed time. Motesharrei’s group has shown that by rapidly using non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, a society can grow by an order of magnitude beyond what would have been supported by renewables alone, and so is able to postpone its collapse. “But when the collapse happens,” they concluded, “it is much deeper.””

Please read Comment Policy before commenting.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s