Niman

11 Feb 10: Mike Niman is one of my favourite authors, indeed, one of my favourite people. We met one another more than thirty years ago, as students at SUNY/Buffalo. We became friendly journalistic adversaries, with Mike founding an alternative newspaper (wittily called “The Other One”) to counter the influence of the mainstream student newspaper I wrote for and helped edit. Our careers have had roughly parallel trajectories, as both of us made a name for ourselves publishing work on new Utopian movements in the United States (Mike studied the “People of the Rainbow,” and I delved into the “New Age”); now we both teach communications at a university.

Mike has long been an astute radical leftist-socialist when it comes to politics and policy. When he visited me last year in Vancouver, I felt I learned more about the world in the single afternoon we spent walking around the city than I did in the preceding month, not that I always agreed with him. Mike’s got a merry personality to go with the a very pessimistic outlook. As you can see from the following passage from his “Valentine’s Day Message,” Mike’s prose is filled not with anger — how he accomplishes this, I have no idea — but with lucidity:

Humanity is tied together with the common belief that the world is in trouble—politically, economically, and environmentally. Our problems, however, are bound together with a common thread. Whether we’re talking about resource depletion, as in running out of oil, fish, forests, arable land, and rare earth minerals, or whether we’re talking about the overproduction of wastes, as in carbon, chemical waste, nuclear waste, landfill wastes, or ocean trash vortexes, we’re talking about one issue—overpopulation. There are too many of us consuming too much stuff and turning it into too much garbage.

If the earth is alive, than we’re the pathogens that arrived relatively recently, spread exponentially, and are wreaking biological havoc. We’ve bred beyond the carrying capacity of the planet—beyond a climax population. For its part, the earth is running a fever, just like we do when we get sick. We’re seeing this in climate change, with the world turning both wetter and more arid, with wild weather making it colder and hotter. The earth is slapping us where we eat and sleep, making it more difficult for us to live and multiply—like a fever combatting a virus.

More people also means more political pressures as more of us fight over fewer resources. In American cities, yuppies are using financial weaponry to fight working families in an ongoing war over limited urban real estate. The result is gentrification-driven housing bubbles for the wealthy, or formerly wealthy, and homelessness and mortgage-induced poverty for the poorest among us. Too many rats fighting for too few nests.

Around the world we’re starting to see resource wars—nations organizing militarily to combat each other over energy and fresh water. Is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really a war over two bands of bearded zealots arguing over how to worship the same god, or is it more about two civil organizations fighting for control of the same aquifer upon which both states depend for their daily survival? (It’s under the West Bank.) Expect intrastate water wars as well, as burgeoning desert cities in the US move to pump the Great Lakes into ecological oblivion in coming decades.

And expect wars and massive social disruptions as environmental refugees fleeing population-linked environmental devastations compete for scarcer resources and land. Think ocean level rises depopulating 13 of the 15 largest cities in the world—places such as Miami, Mumbai, Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, London, and Manila. Then think about cities depopulated due to fresh water depletion, such as Miami (again), Mexico City, Las Vegas, Delhi, Sao Paulo, and Los Angeles.

Now think about the burgeoning market for pollution credits, as wealthy nations, like urban yuppies who displace the poor, try to buy their way out of a crisis—in this case trading money for the right to pollute, buying conceptual pollution rights from those too poor to pollute, in a neoliberal dance of eco-insanity.