08/22/13

Dreams of Inheritances and Lotteries

While reading the daily rags a few weeks ago, on scan and bee-lining for the crossword, a smidgeon of information passed my way and halted my progress. At first I feigned surprise, recent surveys show that nearly half of Canadians are relying on either receiving an inheritance or winning a lottery for their retirement, with similar numbers showing up in other developed countries as well. My surprise died when I realized holy shit, I am one of those people. And then, as I happen to be currently reading up on social contracts, I wondered in a most dedicated and peculiar way, are lotteries and inheritances becoming but another interpretation of unrealistic hope subsidizing the con of what has become familiarly known as the “American dream”?

The seeds of the dream could be traced back to the concept of Res Communes (common things), from the Roman Justinian Code, issued in 535 AD. Res Communes were all the things owned by no one and subject to use by all. “By law of nature these things are common to mankind – the air, running fresh water, the sea, and its shores.” It would become known as the Public Trust Doctrine, where “a state serves as a trustee for such things on behalf of the present and future generations.” Today, International law recognizes all those things that lay outside of the political reach of any one nation state, but belongs to all people, as the global commons; the high seas, the atmosphere, Antarctica and Outer Space. To ask how this particular human contract is going we’d have to stand in front of a mirror before we answer, and then lie to our own face.

A thousand years after Res Communes, the contract had an amendment attached to it. During the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries when birth was given to humanism, there came a new way of thinking about humans and their place in the universe, that people’s actions were not directed by God, but instead, people are responsible for their own lives.

In Europe, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Renaissance would evolve into the Age of Enlightenment, where philosophers, artists, and scientists discussed the theory of a social contract, made up of unwritten constitutions of nature and society. Such a social contract was theorized to be the blueprint for modern society, where individuals are suggested to surrender certain definitive freedoms and submit to the authority of a ruler, in exchange for protection of their remaining assumed rights. Consent is given to be ruled by an executive power, though consent to be a part of society is not necessarily consent to such an executive. As Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1651, a social contract should be “a mutual exchange of benefits necessary to the formation of a valid contract.”

The deal would become where the ruling state would provide a neutral authority to act to protect the lives, freedoms and property of its citizens, and that justice was to be for all. The citizens on the other hand would promise to avoid doing harm to others, to not interfere with each other, and would be recognized to possess natural unalienable rights. The problem with this concept was that there was no shaking of the hands to seal the deal because it is a theory, and the authority of the state had nothing above it to control it. And most importantly Res Communes began to become privatized. Democracy was the promised placebo to deal with such lack of accountability, but alas it has failed. And though hundreds of millions of law-abiding citizens over the centuries have sacrificed their lives, and even more than that, in fulfilling their duties and their part of the deal to their state and country, the state hasn’t had to sacrifice anything. If such a social contract was indeed co-operative, changes would then  have been different than the present, and once again, collapsing of the middle class and the ever widening problem of distribution of wealth.

As to the planet, according to the international sustainability think tank, Global Footprints, August 12, 2013 marks the day when humanity has used up all the natural resources and waste absorption that the earth can provide in a year. Our human consumption and waste for the remaining four and a half months will be borrowed from future generations. This day has arrived three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints have calculated that if everyone in the world consumed the same as the United States; it would take four Earths to sustain the global population.

The social contract theorized during the Enlightenment would eventually arise in the American Constitution, and would expand out globally and became everyone’s dream. Though it wasn’t until 1931, and historian James Truslow Adams’s book “Epic of America”, that the American dream became popular with the masses in North America and Western Europe. He felt the American dream, was the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement….. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position…. The American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”

The dream was then interrupted by the Great Depression, which brought a deep understanding of deprivation. Soon after, World War II and its untold hardships and death on a massive scale erupted. After the horror and madness, those who survived returned and reunited, after sometimes years of separation, with their loves and families, all the while held intact through simple monthly letters. With many of the men, and no doubt much of the populations in many countries, suffering post traumatic shock. Never being able to tell their stories of what they had seen and done. They dreamed of a calmer life, where they felt safe, could toil in meaningful work, and aspire to educate themselves, get married, buy a house and raise kids in it. For decades on end working long full days, putting each of their children through school, and who after graduating, would themselves take on the responsibilities and accountability of being an adult, and stand on their own two feet. One’s dream in life was to be achieved based on individual talent, energy, perseverance, audacity, and a little bit of good luck once in awhile. But the reality of life dictated such a dream could not be for everyone, though generations have tried.

The dream would supposedly continue until the day came to retire and then life would become days of gardening, reading, playing crib, and knitting, baking, and puttering around aimlessly. Maybe obsessing over a lawn, or practising a craft, and if blessed, seeing the grandkids from time to time. Golfing, playing bingo, meeting with friends once a week, and every year going on a little vacation, by plane, train or automobile, to visit family, with the rest of the time spent watching a lot of television. This was not so much how people thought and hoped for; it was what was taught to us, rather advertised to us. Today, the end game of retirement isn’t something people necessarily look forward to at all; instead, for far too many individuals it has become a very, very scary thing. In Canada, 32% of 45 to 64 year olds are expecting lotteries to support them in their retirement, while only 34% of those who do retire have either relied on their savings and investments, or had a pension to achieve it. So for about six out of ten Canadians, retirement is not becoming an option.

Over the past forty years the one dream has morphed into four dreams and has laid waste through our societies at an ever accelerating rate. Writer and Professor of history, Ted Ownby, identifies the four dreams as, Abundance; of material goods, The Democracy of Goods; access to the same products for everybody, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class, Freedom of Choice; where everyone can fashion their own lifestyle, and Novelty; of ever changing models and products and “expanding the consumer experience and fine tuning people’s purchasing skills and awareness of the market.”

Our societies have become top down structures of capitalistic enterprises, with no one above them to curtail their greed and ego. They have skillfully revised the social contract into being all about maximizing corporate profit at the expense of the citizenry. For all intents and purposes the social contract is now null and void, and we’ve allowed it to happen, for we have been sufficiently distracted enough from reality that we continue to buy into the con, that we can have anything we want, be anybody we want to be, and be able to fulfill all our desires, whether self-indulgent, degenerate or with the best of intentions. Any changes to the contract have not been co-operative in any way, shape or form, and instead have been dictated to us.

Thus, inheritances and lotteries have become a part of the dream, subtly replacing jobs and opportunities. Where all we’ve got to do is buy a ticket and dream, while cruising through the nicer areas of town, doing the slow looki-loo drive by, ogling all the homes and finely kept lawns. Dreaming of what it would be like sitting inside that house, with an even bigger screen TV, an even more expensive couch, and a big truck, Sea-doo, Ski-doo and a ride-a-mower parked in the garage. Dreaming of the opportunity to live in a luxurious way, by not dedicating oneself to education and working hard and having the discipline to do so, but instead simply by winning the lottery, or with about the same odds, becoming a sports hero or celebrity. So wrapped up in technology and upgrading it every few months that we’ve become Star Trek’s, the Borg.

Many think that when they win, which they actually believe will happen, eventually, they will be able to expand their material wealth and instantly retire and do nothing in particular. Bigger house, a few vehicles, and month long travel vacations, with the destinations prone to be places one can shop. Some also believe they will, perhaps, maybe, probably win, but are thinking of the freedom it would bring. To finally go buy a guitar, get that easel you’ve always wanted and spend a couple of hours in an art supply store picking out tubes of oil paints, writing a book, or perhaps even going back to school or finally getting your teeth fixed, making a difference in one’s community, or finally being able to help out a friend or family member. Paying it forward in meaningful ways to people who truly deserve it, all the while not even carrying a phone, but for most of us this is all but a dream.

While in the reality of our daily lives we, and those who are supposed to lead us, have together accumulated debt on a massive scale, which has overshadowed and distracted us from seeking and finding true abundance, which is good health, education, family, friends, a healthy natural world and meaningful work. Instead we are searching for meaning and acceptance through what we consume. It’s like people actually seem to believe if you are rich you are automatically accepted as being successful, smart, honorable, and someone who should be looked up to. Even if what you do to make a living goes against all that is moral and right. It seems we have become simply paychecks, and are defined and accepted as such. If indeed this is the case, then of course inheritances and lotteries are important dreams for many people. They have become key to any long term financial security, especially considering that getting or winning such a windfall saves us from having to work for it in a job that isn’t there anymore. People feel they will gain importance and be more than who they are, but don’t understand its nothing but window dressing for what’s really inside. We have reached the point where we have become so successful at being consumers we haven’t the wherewithal to even retire, unless of course, as mentioned, we win this week’s lottery or someone close to us dies and leaves us the money to do so.

Inheritances

Of all the Canadians who have received an inheritance, nearly half preferred not to divulge how much. Of the rest, 47% said they received an average $57,000, one in five said they received $100,000 or more, while one in four received less than $5,000. Higher up the ladder, 36% of the wealthiest families have received an average of $136,000 inheritance, with this figure predicted to swell to about $300,000 in cash, real estate and other valuables, but then assuming and knowing can be the defining difference between fantasy and reality. It’s like the reports today concerned with climate change, worried that when the earth’s ecosystems collapse it’ll cost us tens of trillions of dollars. With the question instantly coming to mind, who’ll and how many will be left to pick up the tab? And who’ll care?

In a perfect world where all goes well, the economists and soothsayers estimate that Canadian seniors and boomers will leave nearly a trillion dollars to their offspring. On the other hand this estimate is in constant flux, as much of the bulk of inheritances is tied up in homes and property. Those lucky enough to have bought their house in the seventies, and stuck it out, now find the place’s worth has risen 300%. But there’s that second, perhaps third, mortgage that was taken out a decade ago for the $60,000 update on the kitchen. Before that the roof had to be replaced, then the trip to Europe, the loan to your kid so he or she could purchase their first home, a 550 square foot “condo”, the new car loan, thankfully now able to be amortized over 84 months, so that some money is left over monthly for buying other stuff, like food, and every year Christmas is finally being paid off in April. Over the past ten years, such home equity lines of credit have risen 170%. This is why today, about 68% of home owners have, on average, only about 34% in equity in their home.

In 1980 the average home was about $100,000, with an average household debt to income ratio of 66%. Meaning for every $1000 a homeowner earned, $660 went to the bills; mortgage, household expenses, food and such, while $330 was left over for savings and frivolous spending. Today the average house in Canada is about $353,000, over 11 times the median family income, with an average household debt to income ratio of 161%. In other words, the average Canadian household debt, as of 2013, is about $1650 for every $1000 of disposable income. Even crazier, more than one in eight homeowners’ debt to income ratio was 250%, meaning two and a half times their annual income went to mortgages, credit cards and other forms of debt, creating -you guessed it- more debt. It’s a similar system to how many governments work their books.

Canadian house prices today have doubled since 2002, and over 13% since 2008, but seem to now be bogging down; you can just about hear the balloon stretching if you’re quiet and turn the TV down. The only reason the Canadian housing today has stayed fairly steady is because we are buoyed up somewhat by the continuing global economic crisis. Meanwhile the most expensive homes, condos and properties in the major cities are being gobbled up by foreign buyers. The average house value in BC today is $498,000. In Vancouver it’s $684,000. Ontario’s average is $369,000, but $479,000 in Toronto, with Alberta’s average house value at $363,000, $420,000 in Calgary.

It is estimated that over the next ten years, house prices will rise perhaps 2%, barely keeping up with inflation, and while current debt and housing levels are ever more unsustainable, when the lending rates rise, and they will, they’re be hell to pay for many. Economists suggest that with only a half of one percentage point increase in the lending rate there would be an immediate drop of about 10% in house sales and over a 3% decrease in prices. A mere 1% increase in borrowing rates would drop house sales over 15% and decrease the price of the home by more than 7%. For many Canadians, they will not be able to  afford to live in the homes they own.

But over 80% of Canadians aged 18 to 29 years, still continue to expect an inheritance, especially those who attended post-secondary school, are savvy to the real estate market and the value of their parent’s home, and who are graduating with an average of $28,000 in student loans into a world where there will never be enough jobs or opportunities. While only 48% of the 45 to 64 year old baby boomers are expecting an inheritance of some sort, because they understand the fact that people are living longer and spending more in retirement, and are seeing firsthand how tough it’s going to be as we age. Boomers in particular are becoming more concerned with debt reduction than retirement and leaving an inheritance, and it’s highly likely we may well be one of the last generations to inherit anything. As to how much wealth is transferred to the next generation, it’s changing all the time, because of the high costs of living in one’s final years, especially if you want to live with a better than average standard of living. The reality will be mostly determined by the actions of the real estate market. As it is, forty-five percent of those 60 or older are going to need their savings to fund their retirement, with only one in four willing to make personal sacrifices to ensure an inheritance for their family. At the same time, only four in ten Canadians actually have a will.

Baby-boomers’ parents were unique, in that they grew up with a very deep understanding of deprivation, untold hardships and World War Two. When and if able to leave an inheritance, they feel compelled to provide financial assistance to their family. Boomers on the other hand have grown up in a relatively peaceful and affluent time, and a life of abundance. They are compelled more to treat any monies or property that they leave to certain people or charity and non-profit organizations, as a bonus, instead of a requirement. Of course that’s only if there is anything left after keeping us in diapers and well medicated in our final years.

Another generational difference is that no longer do the majority believe in a life after death, instead it’s now all about holding on to this one, even to the point of sculpting and altering one’s body to give the impression “age doesn’t mean anything”. Holding onto all we have, and getting as much of it as we can. Never going airborne to look down and see how massive our herd has become and how so alike we look.

At one time we used to inherit the best of family legacies, traditions and values. Perhaps an old watch or chiming clock, an antique dining room table with ornate chairs, perhaps a cache of recipes or a set of dishes and a tea set, or maybe some small plot of land and/or the family home, which was built to raise a family in and not just another investment. Or more importantly such things as honour, the level-headedness of one’s grandmother, the reason people respected your grandfather, having a good work ethic,  being taught etiquette, things like poise and reservation, or how to respect each other even if you don’t like each other. There are also other traditions and values that have been passed on which humanity could do without, such as out-dated social and religious values. But nothing lasts anymore, so there is less to be passed on. Even antiques will soon be no more, and more expensive, for I highly doubt an IKEA bookshelf or Wal-Mart writing desk will be around for auction in seventy years. Our legacies will be plastic effigies of ourselves.

Unfortunately, much of the best of past legacies, traditions and values have been replaced with economic inheritance. Which itself is based on the soft and shaky ground called real estate speculation, a global economic crisis, diminishing ecosystems, and a declining number of people who have planned for retirement, in non-existent or non-sufficient savings, tax, and insurance plans. As for stocks and bonds being a part of one’s inheritance, about 90% of all stock, including bonds, is owned by the top 15% wealthiest individuals. I know, made me cry too.

A few final thoughts on inheritances and why they are diminishing, debt is rising, and the ever widening gap between those with and those without continues. Between 1976 and 2010, Canada’s middle class saw their income grow only 7% when adjusted for inflation, which is about 0.2% per year. The top 20% of earners saw their incomes rise more than 40%, while those in the top 5% saw their incomes rise by that much annually.

Then there is the makeup of the average Canadian family today, where it’s not simply the married for forty years parents passing away and leaving their wealth for their two children and three grandchildren. Today if there is a pot left behind to be pissed in, it might well have to be divided between two or three unmarried and/or sometimes remarried spouses, children from the various relationships, siblings, next of kin, and of course creditors. This issue also appears when someone wins a lottery, and the relatives and friends start appearing out of the woodwork for their cut, whether entitled or not.

Most sadly, where grandparents were once very important within the family makeup, experience and values, especially to their grandchildren; far too often the thread of this legacy is rare or non-existent today. At the same time more and more parents and grandparents are dipping into their savings and retirement funds to financially help their struggling adult children who are finding it difficult to get jobs or meaningful work. But then, for three generations now, around the globe, television and mainstream media have far too often been the parents minding the children.

Reality is, for the majority in the present world, people need to keep for themselves what they would have left as an inheritance to finance their senior years, and/or need to keep working past the American dream’s unnatural sixty-five years old deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that such a deadline is perhaps the reason for the rapid growth of people today developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Preventing mental decline is all about keeping physically active, socially connected and mentally challenged; while drooling over daytime television sitting in a lazy-boy rocker, in a small apartment, taking your meds, smoking your reefer, or drinking enough so that you may sleep that night, does not. People should be able to work as long as they physically and mentally can. Today most have to, before having to spend their final years, often in decrepit, unsafe, and vulnerable situations, or having to rely on Government assistance and eating cold soup out of the can over the kitchen sink. All the while the body and mind deteriorate and one becomes ever more alone and frightened. Many thank God for bringing contemplation, forgiveness and erasure of sin before going to heaven, others now thank god for lotteries, for all the same reasons.

Lotteries

Once upon a time, when we began to jam ourselves into villages, then towns and cities, we slowly stopped believing in ourselves, we also stopped using both sides of our brain at the same time. But we had to believe in something to get through our daily lives, doing those things we usually didn’t want to do, so we came up with the concept of religion. Today we have lotteries.

Any local convenience store clerk will tell you they can actually see the physical and mental reaction a person goes through when coming in to check their tickets. Some people are either cheery, feeling that positive vibes will help their chances, or glum and quiet, hoping and praying under their breath. The “sorry not a winner” from the clerk, is followed by the customer exhaling all their air, shrugging and slumping their shoulders, dropping their heads, and feeling beaten down again. But then the moment they decide to spend the last toonie to their name on a “scratch and win”, voila, hope is restored. The ticket will be taken home or to a place where the aura will make the scratching almost ritualistic and holy. Or by using “reverse psychology’, they scratch the ticket immediately, like they don’t care if it’s a winner or not, and then nonchalantly wading it up and dumping it in the trash bin. The hope, loss and recovery are quickly experienced, as they then continue to go on about their day. For most, even a free ticket win nearly brings out the choir. The dreams a major lottery creates, believing if you don’t play you’ll never win, could put a spring into one’s step for a whole week. People will spend hundreds on Keno or pull-tabs, drinking coffees or beer specials for hours, chatting within their like-minded group, and win fifty bucks and feel like a million dollars. The altar is no longer in a church, it’s in a casino.

Meanwhile, the odds of dying in a terrorist attack in North America are about 1 in 20 million, while travelling abroad these odds drop to 1 in 650,000. In Canada, we have the lowest risk of dying from terrorism out of all the Western economies in the world, about  1 in 14 million, about the same odds of winning the national Lotto 6/49, which odds can be, on average, anywhere from 1 in 14 million to 1 in 28 million. In the States, the chances of winning one of their Powerball or mega-millions state lotteries is about 1 in 175.7 million. A typical, two dollar, thousand dollar prize scratch and win, where the odds of winning a thousand dollars is about 1 in 960,000 is similar to the odds (1 in 1 million) of being killed by flesh-eating disease. So getting beheaded in a terrorist attack, and winning a major lottery have about the same chance of happening in one’s life – interesting. Yet in Canada, we’ll drive at least 16 km (10 miles) to get our lottery ticket, consuming gas worth more than the ticket, and its 3 to 20 times more likely for us to be killed in a car accident than winning a lottery or being car bombed.

The odds of being killed by a bee sting or a snake bite are about 1 in 100,000. Dying in a plane crash 1 in 360,000, becoming a pro athlete 1 in 22,000, getting a hole in one in golf, 1 in 5,000, the same odds for getting injured or dying sometime over the next year. Then raw reality lays bare the odds of getting cancer – at least once in our lives – 1 in 2.

As to the Canadian lottery, Lotto 6/49, if you spend two dollars a week on one set of numbers you’re likely to win $10 at least once every 13 months. Another study found that spending $25 per week for 20 years on lottery tickets, you could make over a third back, occasionally winning in increments of either $10 or the 4th place range of $75 The odds of winning a free ticket are 1 in 8; winning ten to twenty dollars, 1 in 77. The average Canadian spends $257 per year on lottery tickets. British Columbians spend the least at $240, while 45 to 64 year old men spend the most at $880 per year.

One of the largest lottery jackpots won in the world was in March 2012, in the States, where three tickets shared in a $640 million cash payout. After taxes each of the winners shared $474 million. In the US, the federal individual income tax rate is 35-39.6% on taxable income above $400,000 for a single and $450,000 for a couple, plus state and municipal taxes. The highest combined federal, state and city tax rate paid by someone winning the lottery is in New York State at 48.5%. In Canada there are no taxes on lottery winnings, but there are on interest earned from them.

One of the highest lottery prizes in Canada was in April 2013, where there were four winning tickets sharing $63 million. Which was $15.8 million per ticket, but one of the winners had two winning numbers, because eccentrically, for 30 years he always purchased two identical sets of the same numbers, doubling down each time, thus he was able to pocket $31.6 million.

The good thing about the lottery is it’s like the left-brain right-brain thing. It gives hope, some solace during the week perhaps, where one walks a bit straighter, and a humbled confidence could even enter their realm. And in most cases it only cost two bucks. Then there’s the view of where does the money go, won or lost. The winners more often than not are broke within five years, while the money pooled by the lottery corporations, surprisingly, is often money well spent or at least it’s what we are led to believe.

Lotteries in North America are a fairly recent addition, and unfortunately governments have become enamoured with lotteries and casinos, because instead of some of the escalating revenues going to actually help communities, as has been the case, the monies they receive now are put into general spending, most often to cover their, but really our, growing debt. One can also say that lotteries give false hope, a release valve for the population, so that there is less pressure on political leaders, to remedy the growing inequality of modern society. But then these negative aspects of a lottery have been used for thousands of years, and as mentioned, have only been recently accepted, when governments wanted a piece of the action once controlled solely by the underworld and despots.

Evidence suggests lotteries began in China over four thousand years ago, with the first recorded signs of a lottery during the Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. It’s believed lotteries were created to finance government works, such as the Great Wall of China. Gambling has gone on as long with the Egyptians, who became notorious dice players three thousand years ago. The first known European lotteries were during the Roman Empire. By 1400, many communities of Europeans would hold lotteries for needed public works.

Gambling, lotteries and sweepstakes were illegal in many countries, including Canada, the US and most of Europe well into the early 20th century. Gambling Mecca’s were always elsewhere, Havana, Beirut, Monte Carlo…. It wasn’t until the sixties that casinos and lotteries began to push for amendments in both Canada and the US.

In Canada, it wasn’t until 1969, when the Criminal Code was amended, that the federal government and the Provinces were allowed to operate such “lottery schemes.” BC offered Canada’s first lottery in 1974, with everyone else soon following. There are five lottery corporations in Canada today, covering all the provinces and territories; Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Western Canada and BC. Combined they bring in $8.5 billion in revenue annually. In the US there are forty-four States or Territories which offer government operated lotteries.

In 1985, selling under the umbrella of the Western Canada Lottery Foundation, BC opened its own lottery, the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), which today is the largest net income generating commercial Crown Corporation in BC. But like the BC Transit Corporation, it is placed outside of direct government oversight. In 2011/12, over 5,000 community and charitable organizations received a combined $134 million in Community Gaming Grants for arts and culture, youth and disabled sports, public safety, environmental groups, animal welfare agencies, fairs, festivals, museums and for people in need. A further $100 million went to local governments that host casinos and community gaming centers and local economic development projects. With 900 employees, its revenues for 2012-13, by operating 2.5 lottery machines per 1000 people in BC, were $2.76 billion. While $624.5 million was paid out in winnings (39%),  total expenses were $910 million. Net income was $1.2 billion, of which $100 million in taxes goes to the BC government, hopefully going where it’s supposed to go, which is support for health care services and research, and a consolidated revenue fund to support other health care and education programs. Of the remaining monies, $128 million goes to debt; $116 million goes to Capital expenditures and finally the federal government gets its $9.1 million share. Millions also are allocated to gambling addictions. The bottom line is that, for every one dollar gambled in BC, eighty-seven cents goes back into BC. Funny enough, so do most of the prize payouts.

Twenty-five per cent of Canadians consistently play the lottery, while it’s estimated that more than 60% of Canadians will plunk down at least two dollars on any lottery which prize has grown to mega-million size. And like all big business the push is always on. Previously noted, subsidizing a government’s lack of fiscal restraint means the revenues from gambling are paying for the services the government can no longer afford to provide, and of course the push has reached mainstream radio stations, where the evolvement of never ending contests has reached a place where if you win, you will receive $100 to play Lotto, plus have an on-line account set up for you, so that “you never have to worry you don’t have a ticket ever again”, and as a special bonus you will receive an e-mail notification when you win, oh yes, when you win! So all that is needed is to sit in front of the television, mouth agape, watching regular programming, drooling in front of the computer, or playing video games until three am, and simply waiting for the phone to magically ring, and will change your life.

Nine out of ten winners of $100,000 or less spend all their winnings in five years or less. Researchers have offered a few theories as to why so many winners blow it all rather quickly. Theories abound that most lottery players have below-average incomes and education and are highly likely to be financially illiterate and that winners might also engage in something behavioral economists call “mental accounting”, where a person treats their winnings less cautiously than they would their earnings, because the winnings are something they didn’t have before. And of course some people simply develop a taste for luxury goods that outlasts their money. Just like any other addiction.

According to a study by the Statistic Brain, compiled from 34 national lottery winners (8 male, 26 female, with an average age of 46), and who averaged $175,000 in winnings, suggests that 55% were of course much happier after winning, because of improved financial security, 65% were less worried, could purchase anything they wanted, and that 23% felt their life became easier, while 43% of the winners felt no effect on their happiness. Other studies suggest that such happiness, on average, ebbs over time. Interesting effects from this study include, 58% of winners’ families claimed to be happier, 40% increased their contributions to charity, 38% have moved since winning, 48% were in a career job before and are still there, 15% started a new job, 30% started their own business, and 32% have gained weight. The average number of friends that male winners gave money to – three; the average number of friends female winners gave money to – one; while 44% would spend their winnings within five years, and the probability that any such new wealth will be gone by the third generation (grandchildren), is 90%. Of course, all these numbers are dependent on the amount of money won and who the people were.

As for multi-million dollar winners, at least those who have a head on their shoulders, who are happy with who they are, thus, are well grounded, American Brad Duke of Star, Idaho, could be used as an example. When he realized he had won the $220 million Powerball jackpot in 2005, he kept it to himself and went about his daily routine. The breakdown of what he finally did with the loot, when he finally went public; $45 million invested in safe, low-risk investments such as municipal bonds, $35 million in more aggressive investments such as oil, gas, and real estate (personally, real estate for sure, oil and gas, not even if my life depended on it, which it does. I’d go solar and wind alternatives), a $1.3 million family foundation, $63,000 spent on a trip to Tahiti with 17 friends, he paid off the $125,000 mortgage on his 1,400 square-foot house, paid off his outstanding student loan of $18,000. As a mountain bike enthusiast he spent $65,000 on new bicycles, bought a used black VW Jetta for $14,500 and now gives an annual $12,000 gift to each family member.

But it’s all relative, depending on the winner’s sense of well-being, which doesn’t fundamentally change, and their current situation which will most certainly exaggerate. If you are unhappy, can’t manage money and you’re surrounded by people you do not trust, winning millions of dollars will probably make your problems worse. If you are happy with your life, it fulfills you, you are careful with your money and you have strong relationships in your life, a lottery win is likely to build on those strengths. We are who we are.

The downside of it all is that many people’s lives have become nearly entirely economic, and lacking any depth whatsoever. We believe we have very healthy relationships with our stuff, while our human relationships become ever more dysfunctional. And is perhaps why dog ownership is growing in leaps and bounds; people seeking unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. This gets us back to the idea of the American dream, discussed earlier, and how it has evolved into simply being the best consumer you can be, all the while, it is clearly warping our senses and human values. It has become the way of the world, for it keeps the global economy going. The 1% who run the world, control us by constantly reminding that if we buy, use, discard, then buy some more, all is well. If we do not, the economy will die. Meanwhile fossil fuel limits, environmental limits and debt limits are all being reached, and no heed is taken, and if it is, its then quickly squashed. It seems the only dying that’s going on here is us and all the other species that live on this rock.

In the US, it’s becoming blatantly obvious such a way of living is not working. A recent report out of Oxford University, estimates 80% of Americans (four out of five adults) will suffer the hardship of joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives by 2030. In 2012, 33 million American adults, 15% of the population, and only two million fewer people than Canada’s entire population, who were responsible for a family of four, saw their annual income fall below the poverty line of $23,021.

So if after eking through life and getting cancer, a hip replacement, suffering depression, getting hit by lightening, having a parasitic worm gnaw its way through your body, getting into a traffic accident where somebody died, becoming a superstar, writing a novel and fourteen million other things, you actually do win a lottery or receive an inheritance, be cool, chill for awhile, take your time and keep it to yourself. Yes, this will be very difficult, but so is life, and if indeed you won and if you play your cards right, it could get better.

Put one or two steps between you and your ability to spend the principle. Surround yourself with people you trust, whether a lawyer, financial advisor or even a committee of three of those closest to you. Meet with estate lawyers, accountants and financial advisors, and when you meet them do not let on you have fourteen or so million sitting in your savings account. See if they will show you respect thinking you’re just regular folk. Provide for your children with savings accounts; hold off on giving money to anybody else until you have a financial plan in order. Set aside a small amount as crazy money, but set a very small limit, do not dwell on it, and don’t hurt anyone.

Winning a lottery is much more than just money and managing it though. It is also very much about managing one’s behaviour. A real bitch or prick filled with self-indulgence, hate, greed and zero empathy living in a hovel, will no doubt be of the same character and possess the same attitude, if living in a castle. For as they say, doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a sign of utter madness.

As for the American dream, many citizens today the world over, are realizing that such a dream is becoming unattainable, and perhaps it never was, as George Carlin eloquently deadpanned, thirty years ago, “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

No matter if one wins a lottery or has an inheritance thrown into one’s lap, or not; making a difference in your life has got nothing to do with money. Money simply gives one the freedom to do more. Our stuff does not define us. We are who we are. And we don’t change as much as we think we do.

Though I have no pension, nor substantial savings, and will never be able to retire, I don’t care. I’m a writer and though I don’t make money doing it, I wish it was all I had to do. But I continue to work, have a roof over my head, be fed and I’m blessed with family, trusted friends and acquaintances. I accept and deal with the dark days as they periodically appear, and enjoy the good ones, one at a time. So yes, I will still saunter over to the corner grocery store once a week, grab some chocolate milk and eggs, smell the smells, sample some freshly made pakora’s, gratefully take a small container of chutney, chat with the merchant and his family, smile at people there and back, perhaps shove my face into a blooming Lilac bush, and spend five dollars on BC/49. Because you never know, and no matter the truths written above, if five dollars is what it takes, in this economic world of ours to inject some confidence in looking forward to the future, and the freedom it would bring, and be able to dream of things outside our boxes and daily routines, without harming ourselves or others, I figure it’s money well spent.

 

 

04/8/13

Costs Of Living – Inequalities, Poverty Levels, and the Cost for one Person to live in Victoria BC

“Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and for his family an existence worthy of human dignity”  U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights


 

While we have been busy climbing ladders, wishing we were someone else and purchasing our personalities, the basics of life have become much more than simply the costs of living, and are in fact taking much more from us than just income and capital; it’s taking away the planet we live on as well.

To exist as a biological species we need safe drinking water, food, clothing, a roof over our heads, and sex. To be human we need someone to love, someone to love us, friendship, an individual talent which gives us self worth and the ability or opportunity to question. To keep humanity’s greatest resources, imagination and ingenuity, in proper context, we need what Albert Einstein called “the principles of free and responsible development of the individual so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of mankind.” To keep ourselves mentally healthy is to relish each one of these essentials. But each one of these essentials, especially over the past thirty years, has now become nearly entirely privatized, as we stare like deer caught in the headlights.

Today such basic needs and rights also include education, health care, parks and recreation and freedom of speech, all of which are now packaged into products to be simply bought and sold, with many of these rights easily taken from us. Obtaining them is now based on who can pay the most, because anything good, important, healthy or reliable costs more.

The cost of living before agriculture and civilizations was called life and death. Then about twelve thousand years ago, after seventy thousand years of our current mutation as modern humans; we began to domesticate animals and invented agriculture to feed them, eventually feeding ourselves as well. We also began to live communally in larger numbers, which rose exponentially after such villages became cities. The cost of living became income. At this time the characters bearing psychopathic tendencies, such as “self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure; failure to conform to lawful or culturally normative ethical behaviour; lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another; exploitation is a primary means of relating to others; deceit; the use of dominance or intimidation to control others and misrepresentation of the self”, were finally able to rise to the top, feeding on their thirst for power, to control the food source, and demand tithe for doing so. Where once there was enough for everyone slowly became never enough. The seeds of inequality among humans began to quickly sprout and split into the haves and the have-nots.

At the same time, laws were formed by the individuals who controlled the wealth to control the public and soon the populations began to lose the opportunity to be noble or heroic, with everyone’s destiny and position in life laid out for them. Distractions such as literature, theatre and sports quickly followed, becoming the places where we could live out an honorable life, through someone else’s actions.  To further control the masses the elite created capital, usury, then debt, by imposing scarcity on their own populations, and any conquered ones, thus causing inequality which created poverty. To keep at least a wee bit of hope, religion was created.

Eventually the distractions and illusions became what they are today, sports heroes, movie stars, politics, and numerous economic theories that only exist on paper and which keep us focused on anything other than our own lives. Ideas such as GDP, which we base our economic worlds and societal success on, but which have nothing to do with our personal well-being or the planet’s. It operates under the illusion that unlimited growth under free market capitalism, operating on only one delicate and finite planet will work, and that a person’s well-being has all to do with material gain and how much one consumes. As it devours our social and natural environments it has us thinking that money will bring us happiness, where instead life should be doing that.

But we do not live in a world where the economy understands that there are now over seven billion people living on a single and finite planet and concerns itself with the importance of everyone getting along, the welfare of each individual, and having enough for everyone, even future generations, by caring for the earth’s resources. Instead we have an economic system, neo-liberal capitalism, which only generates extreme wealth for a very few individuals and is destroying the planets ecosystems by replacing the earth’s resources with waste, and controls the majority of the human race using nationalism, intolerance and oppression by economic means. For instance, if every country on earth were to consume resources and generate as much waste as the United States, we would need five planet earths.

Meanwhile we are extolled through the corporate government media machine that we should worry about events in far-flung places, rather than what’s happening in our own communities, ignoring the depravity within our own society by watching it happen somewhere else. More often than not, global mainstream media is not the real world; our everyday lives are not filled with horror, crime, and continuous bad news nor are they filled with the need to always exact revenge. Most all news stories are about things we cannot influence, and the daily repetition of such things we cannot do anything about, makes us passive. It is grinding us down and is undoubtedly one of the core reasons for the widespread disease of depression which is ravaging our societies. Media could and should, put life into better perspective though in many instances it is verboten to do so and now simply sticks to peddling the ideology of the corporate state.

We are further led to believe that lavish spending and waste makes one a better person somehow, to be a true human you need stuff, especially stuff you don’t need. That what one is wearing or what vehicle one drives denotes their personality and that money is everything. Even assets and debts are to be carried over, and still to be paid after we die. We are bludgeoned and brow beaten about debt and how much is owed, numbers in the billions and trillions on the national level and which we have no hope of ever relating to. On a more personal level we simply try to ignore the amount we ourselves are amassing.

We are also told that having a distinct personality is imperative to be the most powerful, invincible, admired, sexy and unique, yet our daily lives are interactive and interdependent worlds, as are most all species whether animal, bird or fish. No matter the distraction or how far one buys into it, the underlying questioning of what we are told to do, say, act and buy, goes against the reality of who we are. And it’s confusing the hell out of us.

For generations’ topics such as religion, politics, what one does for a living, inequality and sex were simply not spoken about or brought up. Climate change and the current economic crisis can also be added to this list. Yet these are all things we should be talking about, because they are the causes of the abuse we are doing to ourselves and the planet. We get upset when talking about such issues because it’s taken personally, thus we become emotional and offended. Talk about any other fundamental global issues today and people really get their hairs up and knickers in a twist, and either emotionally expounds their personal world-view at you or simply doesn’t want to talk about it and quickly changes the subject. The main reason for this is because it gets too close to the bone; we are hurt emotionally because our inaction, obedience to the system, and denial are complicit with the digression of our unequal societies and destruction of the earth’s eco-systems.

It is getting harder and harder to differentiate between truth and fiction so we interpret reality through illusion, believe what we want to believe, and are quickly rid of anything unpleasant, instead of learning to cope. Our comfort zones have been separated from reality, with the media working their best for their corporate masters, to ensure that they shall never meet. The paradox today is that people have to be far enough out of touch with reality to function and yet acknowledge reality to survive.

The separation between reality and illusion is a thin veil and is creating so many contradictions in our lives that many people today, especially in the developed countries, simply can’t cope with daily life. Each year the United States and Canada consumes more than two-thirds of the world’s pharmaceutical anti-depressants, the bulk of the global cocaine supply and have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the world. Not to mention deteriorating physical and mental health. There is a reason for this.

We have become a public overwhelmed, numbed, and weary of the stories and realities of climate change, unwinnable wars, whether drugs or terrorists, and the ever worsening global economic recession and the strain it’s putting on our lives. No matter how much one becomes distracted, such issues weigh heavily upon us. For many, worrying about where the next meal will come from creates stress and worry, which affects our health, therefore also becomes one of the costs to live today.

Underlying our human madness is the reality of each day in an individual’s life and the fact that our basic, modern needs, and fundamental requirements to exist as a healthy biological species, along with, income disparity and the lowering of our morals, are all becoming more expensive and much more than we, as well as the planet, can afford.

It is estimated there are billions of people in the world living on less than $2.50 per day. Most are indeed poor, but then again there are also some peoples and places on the earth, where consumerism and capitalism haven’t become a belief system, nor has the surrounding environment been eroded or poisoned. In such places $2.50 a day is all you really need to fulfill one’s daily need for water, food and a roof over your head, with lives which are just as fulfilling, loving, rich and rewarding as anywhere else. But for much of the planet’s populations, one’s life is determined by how much money one makes and what you do with it.

Today the cost of living is based on what is called the “poverty level”, which is the minimum level deemed adequate to afford the essential resources an average human being needs to consume in one year. It is based on a human’s basic food and water requirements necessary to exist.  With food, a human’s health is determined by what’s called “body-mass index”, which is a human’s body shape based on an individual’s weight and height. The minimum “allowed” body-mass index is 16, although the more accurate and real body-fat % number is being used more often as the scale, with the highest percentages being in North America. The BMI is still used globally, with the lowest BMI scores, averaging 19, are found in many of the poorest countries, especially Eritrea, Congo, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and Southeast Asia. The highest rates are Tonga, Micronesia and Samoa, with an average of 32. As a rule a BMI of over 25 puts one overweight.

Though there is no standard caloric intake list, a person needs a minimum of 1500-2000 calories of food per day. With the actual number of calories each individual needs depending on multiple different factors, including age, gender, height, weight, lifestyle, availability and metabolism, and that not all calories are created equal, so it depends more so on what kinds of calories you eat.

The minimum amount of water our bodies need, in a moderate climate and average activity level, is about 5 litres (1.3 gal) per day, while the minimum water needed for drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation combined is about 50 litres (13 gal) per day, per person. In perspective, Americans and Canadians use 250-300 litres (65-78 gal) of water per day per person for drinking, cooking, bathing, flushing toilets and watering lawns. In the Netherlands, they use 104 litres (27 gal) per day, while in Gambia, in Africa, they use only 4.5 litres (1.17 gal) per day. The poverty level minimum water needs also states that every person must have safe drinking water available less than 15 minutes away. And although 70% of the earth’s surface is water, less than 2% of it is fresh water, of which only a few hundredths of a per cent is actually drinkable.

As for food and water, these minimums are scary as in many parts of the world they are still not being reached, and in fact are declining, with the supply of these basic needs being the most affected by climate change. The UN estimates that there are 925 million humans with insufficient food, 1 out of every 7 people, with over half of all the children in the world today living in poverty. Global fresh water is dwindling quickly, not so much from drinking, but from growing food, while the acidification and oxygen depletion of the earth’s oceans, lakes and rivers, drought, severe weather, glaciers disappearing and rivers drying up continue unabated.  We whine about what a litre of gasoline costs, yet are paying sometimes twice as much for the same amount of water in a plastic bottle. Heck, in Victoria we are paying fifty-cents to simply put air in our tires.

The poverty level provisions must also include proper sanitation for our biological waste, health care for serious illness, injury and pregnancy, and shelter, where fewer than four people live in each room with at the least a floor and a roof.  Next up is education, where each person is able to read and write, thus learn. Finally, the poverty level includes that everyone should have the modern essentials of having information at hand, whether in books, magazines and news sources, as well as access to services such as further education, health advice and care, legal assistance, social services, and financial services such as credit unions.

While in reality many of these minimum requirements can never be reached by someone actually living at the poverty level; with many of them slowly being erased or priced too high and out of reach for the majority of humanity.

Before we continue I would like to emphasize that I understand very well there will be a wide range of circumstances when further discussing the cost of living, and to some extent income inequality, but I’m just going for an average, ballpark figure of an average Canadian, with the odd comparison to the Americans. I’m not really comparing but generalizing, because there are so many variables, such as where one lives – city, small town or suburb. Are they male or female, single or have a large family, or two people sharing expenses and with a joint income of $40,000 and having a higher standard of living than two individuals living alone on $20,000 each, with all sorts of intangibles in between.

In Canada the after-tax poverty thresholds are $18,421 for one person, $34,829 for a family with two children. One in ten Canadians live at or below these levels; 3.2 million people, of whom 634,000 are children, with British Columbia continuing to have the highest child poverty rate in Canada. In the US the poverty level is $11,344 for one person, and $22,133 for a family with two children, with more than one per six Americans living at and far below these levels.

Such income levels have not changed much over the past 30 years, though the actual costs of living and the income of the top earners have risen dramatically. Consider that in 1982 the median income of an average Canadian was $28,000 annually after taxes, while the income for the top one per cent was $191,600 after taxes, seven times higher. Fast forward to today where our economy has grown twice as large, the richest one per cent now report a median income of $283,400, nearly 10 times higher than the median income of the other 99% of Canadians whose median income has only risen to $28,500.

Income inequality is even more disturbing in the US. In 1980 the average CEO’s annual pay was 42 times more than the average worker. By 2011, their pay was 340 times more, regardless of business performance or shareholder value.  As to income growth over the past 45 years and adjusted for inflation, 90% of Americans annual income, has risen a mere $59 per year, while the top 1% of the top 1%’s annual income has risen to $18.7 million. To put this in perspective, for each dollar that an average household’s income rises, the household incomes of the top 1% of the top 1% rises $311,233 annually.

In Canada the top 100 CEO’s earn an average of $6 million per year, while the average minimum hourly wage in Canada is nine dollars, in the US its $7.25 per hour. The lowest minimum monthly gross income in Canada, working a 40 hour work week, is $1,631 per month. To currently live in Vancouver B.C. an individual needs to earn at least $18.81 per hour and work a 40 hour week. In 2012, the average weekly wage in BC was $860.57 before taxes, with an hourly average wage of $23.53. In a nut shell, more than half of all Canadians are living on less than $25,400 per year after taxes and would need to work one month to make the same amount a top CEO makes in one hour.

Out of the pie, 51.9% of Canadians make $29,299 a year or less, 48% make more than $30,000 per year, and the final 1% makes $169,000 or more a year, with 0.1 % of these individuals making an average of $30 million a year. Breaking it down further, if you make more than $60,000 per year you are in the top 19%; above $120,000 per year you are in the top 5%. As for weekly income, the top 10%, who are mostly just the managers of the top 1%’s industries, governments, corporations and wealth, and who are really just commodities themselves, average $6,000 per week. Their bosses make about $160,000 per week.

The disappearing middle class in BC have individual earnings between $40,000 and $125,000, while in the US their middle class is determined to be those earning $36,000 to $57,657 per year. In both countries it’s becoming blatantly clear, yet readily ignored, that the bulk of the populations of both are below middle class, with a few at the very top.

The latest employment reports show that since the economic downturn in 2008, 60% of all jobs lost during the subsequent recession paid middle income wages, while 60% of jobs gained are low paying jobs in the accommodation or fast food industry. Declining traditional middle class jobs include executive assistants and secretaries, construction laborers, carpenters, bookkeepers, accountants, telephone operators, general maintenance and repairmen, and reporters and correspondents.  With the biggest drops in employment occurring in utilities, public administration and especially manufacturing. Although actual manufacturing sales are rising, the higher paying manufacturing jobs are disappearing quickly, and being replaced with low paying service jobs. Staying stagnant are jobs in business, trade, and information, culture and recreation, while rising employment opportunities are in education, health, and as previously mentioned, the fast food and service industry, which is growing four times the overall rate. People are getting jobs but staying poor, because the increasing low-wage jobs don’t pay enough to live off of.

Besides income disparity, wealth inequality is equally outrageous. The richest 300 people in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 3 billion. In Canada, the top 1% possesses more than 45% of the wealth, while eight out of every 10 working Canadian share 7% of the wealth between them.  As for who actually has the wealth, meaning who has the share of money, gold, real estate, stocks and bonds, not very many. In 2012, Canadians with more than $30 million in assets numbered only 4,922 individuals, with a combined worth of over $148 billion. In 2010 the population of Canada was 43 million people, yet only 164,000 individuals made more than $250,000, while in BC there were only 18,810 individuals making that much, and once again, possessing nearly 45% of the wealth.

In the US, the Walton’s, heirs to the monolith that is Wal-Mart, are worth a combined $110 billion, more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans combined. If Wal-Mart was a country it would be the 26th largest economy in the world, with yearly sales exceeding $444 billion, $20 billion more than Austria’s GDP.

The problems with such growing inequality are that most of the wealthy do not even invest their wealth back into where they live; instead they move it offshore as quickly as possible. There is no trickle-down effect. Record profits in the private sector haven’t led to an increase in wages, but rather quite the opposite, less wages along with fewer jobs.

After all that, and taking a deep breath, we come back to how much does it really cost for somebody to live. In BC the average working stiffs, putting in 40 hour weeks, with no dental plan and no pension plan, other than what the Canada Pension Plan eventually pays when we are 65 years old, gross median annual incomes, range from the ticketed master carpenter making $50,070, to a construction labourer averaging $36,147, an apartment manager making $32,300, a bartender $23,198, to a waitress making $22,242, while a bookkeeper makes on average about $17.95 per hour,  a pharmacy technician, $15.91 per hour, and someone working in retail/fast food $10.25 gross per hour. Currently, the before taxes, gross median annual income in Canada is $30,800.

The poverty level mentioned earlier, supposedly is the least one needs to survive as a human being in a developed nation. In Canada, as earlier noted, it is $18,421 per year after tax, while one’s actual cost of living is determined by how much of a consumer you are and how much of the bullshit do you buy into. In Canada, in 2012, for every $100 an average Canadian family earned in disposable after-tax income they owed over $164 in market debt.  Why this is so, is in part because many of us are buying stuff we don’t need, and with stagnant wages for the past few decades the basics are costing so much more.

An example; a single male living in Victoria BC in 2012, pulling in $24,000 a year gross, whether $2000 per month salary or working 40 hour weeks for $12.50 per hour, is determined to be on the poverty level.  Off the top goes $3600 (15%) to Federal taxes, $1214 (5.06%) to Provincial taxes, $1080 (4.5%) to Canada Pension Plan, and about $360 (1.5%) for unemployment insurance. Using public transit with a bus pass costs $82 per month ($984/year) and living in a one-bedroom apartment costs an average $830 per month ($9960/year).  Cost of consumables such as food one only makes at home and personal care averages $280 per month ($3000/year). BC Medical (health care) is $55 per month ($660/year), $66.50 per month if you make over $30,000. Some sort of Life insurance, Critical Illness insurance or even savings, will cost at least $40 per month ($480/year), and that’s if you don’t smoke. Though I will not be adding such a cost to total when complete, a pack of cigarettes averages $9.30, a pack a day habit will cost you $279 per month.

Apartment insurance is about $15 per month ($180/year); the average cell phone costs are $71 per month ($852/year), though a basic land-line phone on one’s home runs about $26 per month.  Very basic cable is about $38 per month, including taxes ($456/year), while having an internet connection is about $40 per month ($480/year).  The cost of electricity for an apartment, with free hot water with heat registers, is on average $18 per month ($216/year), if it’s electric heat, $50+ per month. Entertainment is going out for a dinner for two ($50) once a month, grabbing the $10 burger and beer special once a week at the local pub, buying a bottle of cheap wine ($10), a new book ($15) and perhaps going to a movie once a month ($12), will total about $127 per month ($1524/year).

After paying these costs of living, the single person living in Victoria will be left with nothing, in fact they will be in arrears $1046, and still have to cover any clothing expenses, stamps, laundry, newspaper and occasional coffees, and emergencies. While the two week holidays one gets annually, never really includes an actual vacation. Such things as owning a car, paying for its gas, smoking, having a drug problem, eating out and being an obedient consumer is simply not possible. Though many cut corners and/or borrow to do so, a minority steal to do so. With over half of Canadians making less than $30,800 net per year, the poverty level is not so far away for the majority, and it is very true that “most everyone is a couple of paychecks away from being on the street.”

Many people whose income is $60,000 a year are also living paycheck to paycheck. The more you make, the more you spend, most times on frivolous and disposable stuff that has no actual value, and on such things as a bigger car loan or lease, a mortgage, higher credit card debt, purchasing higher end stuff and more of it, such as phones, clothing, TVs and shoes, personal loans, eating out more often, expensive holidays, TFSA’s, RRSP’s and savings, maintenance of home and a higher standard of living. It’s all relative. Though of course, no matter how much a person makes still does not guarantee them happiness.

The proverbial wrenches thrown into the cost of living are the facts of life that drop in and disrupt our lives from time to time, the stuff that happens in between paychecks. One’s mother dies on the other side of the country. Can one afford to fly there and bury her? One breaks their collarbone in an accident at home and has to go on six weeks unpaid leave, or someone has the flu and can’t afford to take the time off work. The car needs new tires, or one who has no dental insurance needs a tooth pulled, a root canal, or heaven forbid needs a crown.  It is estimated that 60% of all the people in the States who go bankrupt each year, have done so because they had a medical crisis and huge medical bills and costs.

As it is, wages have been stagnant for thirty years, which we have compensated with debt. Our society is becoming ever the more insecure, living in fear of losing one’s job, not being able to provide for family and the worry of losing one’s stuff. Stuff which we have been programmed to believe that we simply could not get by without, but which has no value whatsoever. Yet our response to the madness continues to be, think me and mine.

We have been told to do things in our lives that make us feel important, more independent, vital and valued. Interacting in the world of my daily life, I see so much of it, where people have taken what should be self confidence and empathy, and instead have created a profound sense of entitlement and a drone like stare. But no matter the cape one wears, we are all having a hard time of it mentally and emotionally. Though we try to smile and coo that everything is alright, we are actually barely putting up with the arrogance and ignorance of our fellow human beings, including ourselves.  But then this should not be surprising considering its now three generations of people, in Canada, the States, Europe, et al, who have been raised by television, and we are never wrong.  History has also proven that the worse society becomes the more delusional they become.

Ever since television, the powers that be have worked very hard at selecting for us what decisions we make. Forty years on, most of our decisions are already made for us well in advance and the income equality and wealth distribution gaps have widened to a point never seen in all of human history. Meanwhile the majority of us are finding it ever more difficult in bearing the brunt of what the cost of living today is demanding from us.

With any society truly only “three meals away from a revolution,” the trigger point for change in how our economic and social worlds operate is nearing. But when people rise up because their child is starving and they themselves have no prospect of an advancement or job, because as our population grows there will never be enough jobs for everyone, will pharmaceutical drugs and the gods of consumerism replace the most powerful drug we possess, which is hope?

Extreme wealth and social inequality is nothing new, nor is the inability to afford the cost of living. It has happened more than a few times over the course of human history. Each time there was ever worsening of physical and mental health, shorter life spans and more criminal behaviour, especially among the wealthiest, because unfortunately, when life gets hard, living wrong is easier than living right.

But when we cannot feed ourselves or get access to drinkable water anymore, enough will then be enough. And there will be change. Such crises in the past have touched off revolutions, which more often than not are led by middle class, educated leaders, doctors and teachers; though the problem with revolution has always been that they are messy and very violent affairs. For to achieve true change, the system must not only be beheaded, the base has to crushed and swept away as well. Leaving it and just getting a new head, operating within the same system, same rules and regulations or lack thereof, eventually fails as well, because the system is broke, and has never worked. At that time the step will have to be made to cross the great divide between being aware of our current dysfunction yet only standing back and pontificating about it, and start acting on the dialogue about alternatives and solutions to the problems and becoming involved in its reform. It’s why many of the earliest civilizations had laws where wealth would be distributed anew and all debt erased every seven or so years.

Today I fear that I myself am caught up in the current age of myth and capitalism and that as a people we do not have the courage to rescue ourselves from ourselves anymore. It has become too easy to shut out the madness of our corporate governments and oligarchs with sports, movie stars and reality TV. I sit here and peck away on the computer analyzing, researching and giving an opinion about problems that thousands have already and quite often have done so more eloquently and intelligently, but I feel this is all I can do. Of course it is not.

The proof in the pudding will be when enough of us scream “time out”, get up from our couches, step away from our routine distractions, put one foot in front of the other, get out onto the street and make our voices heard, and come up with options and alternatives as to how we currently operate as societies. Instead of future generations cursing our names, we should at least give them the impression that we tried the best we could, and for once stopped thinking about me, myself and I. How can we expect any hope for our children and our children’s children if we do not?

The height of ignorance would be for us to continue to operate on self-denial, excess and self-indulgence and believe it’s all about us, with no thought to our children and grandchildren and what type of world they will be allowed to grow old in. The epitome of ignorance personified is to actually think the ecosystems and weather patterns of the earth, which we have greedily altered, care if we can cope or change our ways, or not.

After forty short years, the reality being proven in most developed countries is that in general, and not through a lack of trying or working hard, but because we are operating within a flawed system and have become distracted, we won’t do better than our parents, and our children will not do better than us. Heaven help our grandchildren.

 

 

 

08/29/12

Salesmen of Sport

With capitalistic bubbles stretched taut, economies and individuals staggering under debt, infrastructure rapidly falling apart and the legitimate rape of the planet continuing unabated and ignored, one of the distractions in a Canadian’s life, hockey, seems to be heading for another strike. Imagine that, individuals of the top 1 % arguing over how much more of the pie they can take. As of 2012, the average wage of a NHL hockey player for one season was $2.4 million, about $29,000 per game. In the real world $2.4 million equals someone making $48,000 per year for 50 years. Yes, wow.

Comparatively, the other major sports in North America that keep us preoccupied and distracted and who also possess an insatiable thirst for our hard earned dollars, the NBA, MLB and NFL, have combined revenues that are higher than most countries make in a year.

The numbers quoted in this article for any players cited as being one of the richest 100 athletes in the world include player salaries, bonuses, appearance fees, prize money and endorsements and licensing, just like any other corporate entity, because that’s what they are, ask them. These 100 players combined earnings last year was $26 billion.

The National Football League brings in revenue of about $9.5 billion a year and even though they generate the most money of all the pro leagues in the entire world, their players are the least paid at an average wage of $1.9 million a season. And yet as so happens, of the 100 richest athletes in the world, thirty of them are NFL players, the most from any sport.

Leading the way in the NFL is Peyton Manning who just recently signed with the Denver Broncos for $96 million over 5 years. For signing he was given a $6 million advance. Last season (2011) he did not play because of rehab from neck injury but his team at the time, the Indianapolis Colts still paid him his player’s wage of $32.4 million. Manning also made over $10 million in endorsements, making his combined earnings in 2011 $42.4 million. Manning is listed as the 10th richest athlete in the world, while on average the top ten players in the NFL are making upwards of $20 million per season.

NFL players get 47% of league revenues, but there are 1,696 of them, spread out over 32 teams, playing a 16 game season and perhaps a few playoff games. The NFL has the shortest average career span of the big leagues of only 3.3 years.

The Dallas Cowboys (#1 at $1.8 billion), Washington Redskins, New England Patriots and three other NFL teams are presently, some of the most valuable teams in the world of a combined worth of over $8 billion.

Yes the States has the over-hyped bling, attitude and 2 yard running plays of the NFL, but in Canada a superior game of football is being played, mostly because of a slightly different set of rules and character of player. The Canadian Football League is all about finesse, throwing the ball and the smoothness of the game as it is played out, mainly because a CFL team only has three downs to get 10 yards and a first down so you have to make things happen, while in the NFL they get four kicks at the can to get 10 yards, conveniently allowing lots of time-spots for advertisers. There are only eight teams in the CFL, with 42 players per team, 19 of which may be imports, plus 4 players in reserve, playing 18 games and a few playoff games if lucky and they’ve been working hard. League revenues each year are between $120 and $150 million, with each team having a salary cap of $4.3 million. Playing wages go from league minimum of $43,000 per season to the quarterbacks on each team, who make the most at $250,000 to $400,000 per season. The average CFL player makes about $82,000 per season and the average career span is about three to four years.

Major League Baseball has revenues in the $7.7 billion range, the second richest pro league in the world. With 30 teams and 750 players who play a 162 game season and a few playoff games, the average wage of a player is $3.31 million per season, while the average career span in baseball is about 6 years. Twenty-one baseball players make up the world’s 100 richest athletes, with fourteen of them making more than $20 million per season. And then there is Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees.

In 2000 and playing for the Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez signed the largest sports contract in history, a ten-year deal worth $252 million. In 2004 he was traded to the New York Yankees and in 2007 he opted out of what the Rangers had still been paying him, and what they still owed, by signing a deal with the Yankees for $275 million over ten years and breaking a new record for sports contracts, the record being his previous deal with the Rangers. Since he started playing major league baseball in 1994 Rodriguez has made over $296 million, with his teammate Derek Jeter, playing since 1995, having over $220 million in career earnings. Rodriguez’s current annual playing wage is $30 million. Meanwhile, his team, the Yankees, had a 2012 team payroll of over $198 million and is the third highest valued sports franchise in the world, at $1.7 billion.

Even though they are the second richest pro league in the world, MLB is also the most regional of all major sports and is strictly and truly, America’s game. And lord knows, especially today, they desperately need the distraction and the emotion the game brings to them and are obviously still willing to pay for it.

Though actually attending a pro game is far above what most people can afford because the arenas will soon be filled with corporate boxes, we do have bars and TV. Instead of actually going to a game and spending a hundred or more bucks, if you’re lucky to find a ticket, we can buy a $200 team jersey with someone else’s name on the back, go to the pub and spend another $50 on pints and a burger, with friends.

Over on the hard court, the average wage of a player in the National Basketball League is $5.5 million per season, making them the highest paid players of the major sports leagues. Indeed, only thirteen NBA players are in the top 100 richest because there’s so many of them right behind them. The NBA has only 450 players, on 30 teams which play 82 games and if hope willing, have a long playoffs to endure. The average career in the NBA is about six years.

The average player earns about $67,000 per game. League revenues in 2011 were $3.6 billion, of which nearly 56% went to player salaries. The elite players are earning anywhere from $10 to $15 million per season, Kobe Bryant is the highest paid basketball player at $20 million per season playing for the LA Lakers. He also is paid $32 million from endorsements, making his 2011 income in the $52 million range. Lebron James of the Miami Heat meanwhile made more overall money than Bryant, with $13 million in players’ wages and $40 million in endorsements, totaling $53 million, he also now owns a stake in the English League, Liverpool Soccer Club.

Bryant and James were both on the US Olympic Basketball team, their games as exciting as the Canadian Olympic Women’s Hockey team beating yet another opponent 16-2.

Ah, finally back to the good old game of hockey. There are no NHL players amongst the 100 richest athletes of the world and considering a very recent poll suggesting Canada could support another 3 NHL teams, hockey is truly Canada’s game.

The National Hockey League made $3.2 billion in 2011-12, a 50% increase over the past 7 years. Currently the players receive 57% of revenues, with the owners taking 43%, though as I’m writing this article, the players union and the league are at an impasse at meetings to renew their contract, mainly concerning economic issues. If no deal is made by Sept15th the players will be locked out. The player’s side would like to see an increase of $100 million to $250 million for a subsidy fund which goes to teams who can’t afford to pay their players and are struggling in shitty markets, such as the successful operations in Phoenix, Arizona, two teams in Florida and one in Carolina. To keep these teams and others, competitive, they must be subsidized by the other team owners to do so.

The players union has also said they would be willing to have a hard salary cap in place and are willing to take less than 57% of revenues for 3 years, maybe 54%. The NHL is countering with the players receiving 43% of League revenues and the owners getting a 25% raise. The League would also like to end long-term contracts with their front end loaded deals, such as those being signed over the past few months by their very selves, and that the same amount is paid each season of that contract, which would also have a 5 year cap on its length, forthwith.

Like kids in the sandbox, the owners have the bucket that the players shovel money into and the players who have the shovel are refusing to play any more if they can’t have their share, with the owners wanting a bigger share and if they don’t get it they’ll take both the bucket and the shovel and go home in a pout, it gives me a headache. Collectively the players make more money than all the CEO’s and owners who hire them and individually make far more in one season than what 80% of the planet will make in a lifetime.

As mentioned earlier, the average NHL player’s wage is $2.4 million per season, with thirty teams carrying 690 players, playing 82 regular season games. This year each team has a $59.4 million salary cap. The playoffs are four rounds of best of sevens, with the champion team having to win 16 games, playing a maximum of 42 games over nearly two months to achieve it. The Stanley Cup is mutually agreed upon as being one of the hardest physically and mentally challenging championships to attain in team sports. Yet in North America, out of all the major team sports, NHL hockey is the lowest rated sport. The average career in the NHL is five years, though 50% of all NHL players play less than 100 games.

The two highest paid players this past season, both earning $10 million were Roberto Luongo, currently of the Vancouver Canucks and Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Luongo signed a new deal with the Canucks in 2010-11, a 12 year $64 million contract, which paid him $10 million this past season and then pays $6.7 million each year after. Lecavalier signed his front-end loaded deal in 2008, an 11 year $85 million contract. The top NHL players meanwhile, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin each make $9 million a season. Tied for sixth richest contracts in the NHL are Chris Drury and Scott Gomez at $8 million per season each, which is sad considering since signing such huge deals years ago, both have either been injured or inept and ineffective when they have played.

The average NHL franchise’s worth is about $228 million. Toronto, NY Rangers, Canadians, Red Wings, Philly and Boston are all valued at more than $300 million, while Nashville, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Phoenix are valued at $150 million. Two teams, representing both ends of the scale, were sold during the 2011-12 season. Tampa Bay was sold for $93 million; the Canadians were sold for $575 million.

Besides the pro North American sports teams and athletes already mentioned, many of the richest players in the world are in individual sports. The boxer, Floyd Mayweather, is the richest athlete in the world. From June2011 to June 2012 he fought twice. The first fight he made $40 million, the second he pulled in $45 million, for a total of $85 million. I say this with a pure white cat on my lap which I am stroking and a pinkie finger touching the side of my mouth. Total time in the ring for Mayweather was less than an hour. Besides being his own fight promoter and having no need to endorse anybody other than himself he made no outside endorsement money.

The second richest athlete in the world is also a boxer, Manny Pacquaio, who made $56 million fighting and $6 million on endorsements. Number three, surprisingly, is golfer Tiger Woods. He made $4.4 million golfing and $55 million from Nike. The combined, $59.4 million is half of what he made in 2009. He would have made more, but after his wife attacked the car he was driving with a five-iron because he was following his little head around, he lost sponsors Tag Heuer and Gillette. Woods’ net worth as of 2010 is $500 million.

After #4 Lebron James, is the tennis player, Roger Federer, whose total earnings were $52.7 million, $7.7 million in winnings and $45 million on endorsements. #6 is Kobe Bryant, then golfer Phil Mickelson, who made $4.8 million for golfing and another $43 million on endorsements. Eight and nine are the soccer players David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo is the highest paid soccer player in the world, but Beckham made more on endorsements. Beckham’s salary to play soccer was $9 million, with endorsements of $37 million. To-date he has made over $260 million in his career. Ronaldo on the other hand was paid $20.5 million to play soccer and made another $22 million on endorsements.

Soccer is actually the world’s third richest pro sport, behind the NFL and MLB. The franchise, Manchester United, is the second most valuable sports team in the world at $1.86 billion, followed closely by Real Madrid and Arsenal, both at over $1 billion each.

The tenth highest paid athlete is Peyton Manning and right behind him is another soccer player, Lionel Messi, with $20 million in playing salary and $19 million on endorsements.

Other notables, who are leading their respective sports in earnings and are included in the top 100 richest include, Formula One driver, Fernando Alonso with total earnings of $32 million, Valentino Rossi earning $30 million racing motorcycles and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the highest paid cricket player in the world earning over $26.5 million. One of only two women players on the list is tennis player, Maria Sharapova, the 26th richest athlete in the world, earning $27.9 overall earnings. The other woman is also a tennis player, Li Na, at #81.

Interestingly enough and at first a surprise, Usain Bolt is one of the richest athletes in the world besides of course being the fastest human on the planet. Bolt is the 63rd richest athlete with only, at least compared to this surreal world we are walking through in this article, $300,000 in prize money, appearance fees etc, but he makes over $20 million in endorsements, Puma pays him $9 million alone.

Basically, the top twenty-five paid athletes in the world are making in excess of $30 million per year, roughly the same as someone making 60 grand a year for 500 years, yes, five hundred years. There are no hockey players on the richest list, though they still make very, very good coin. And there are no rugby players, who average around $50,000 per season, with the top class players making $300,000 per and the elite, $500,000 plus. Also not on the list are the hundreds of millions of people, who are playing for the love of the game, whatever that game may be.

While back on earth, in Aug. 2012, over 20% of the United States population, 66 million Americans and each representing a family of four, made about $28,800 last year. Comparatively, over 80% of working Canadians are making less than $48,000 per year.

There you have it, at least inquisitively. The sheer wealth and the representative numbers so far mentioned makes my head spin. But then athletes are only one part of our distracting celebrity culture and always have been, with the question always being, how much of the integrity of the richest athletes in the world and their ilk, such as corporate CEO’s, movie stars, rappers and rock stars, is left after withstanding the demands, pressures and greed to make even more money. There are many who are wealthy and still show glimpses of empathy, they appreciate what they’ve got and they make an effort to give back, though never as much as they could afford. What they all share is that they understand what they do is strictly business.

Others are taken over by the voices in their head, the whispers in their ears and they simply can’t help themselves. What once was and who they really are is gone, reshaped, forgotten and not even allowed by their status and class, they’ve sold their souls. Enough will never be enough and eventually many simply stop caring.

A celebrity’s job is twofold; they help us endure while our society goes through controlled collapses and the more the situation deteriorates the more grandiose, fictional and contrived the spectacle of the arena becomes, whether in a stadium, boardroom, on a screen or upon a field. Personal dramatics become the agony, the defeat and the winning with tears of joy and chest of pride, while fiction eventually erases what is natural, genuine and spontaneous; and they are the faces and hawkers of goods for corporate society and the gods of consumerism.

We admire our stars because of three things, how much money they make, what they do and we wish it were us. We live our lives through them and the maybe couple of hours we spend watching them we can hopefully forget about the real world, perhaps even hoping for some inspiration. Our celebrities show us that we can triumph and get to the top of the world, often just so we can give a finger to those who thumbed their noses at us or belittled us at one time and we act and are able to extract revenge on something or someone. Or become a hero and save the day by overcoming much pain and hardship. These storylines run through most all that happens on television, in movies, sports, business and politics. But in reality, for a vast majority of people, they never happen.

I’ve coached young hockey players who besides talking their parents into buying them $200 high-tops so that they could be cooler, get them to pay for a $200 stick, which breaks at their next practise, and $400 skates, both believing they’ll make the kid a better hockey player. This is the other side of the celebrity’s job; to be the “human representation of commercial commodities.” Most of the world’s richest athletes make more money from endorsements than from their playing wage, the numbers are obscene. They’ve become salesmen for materials we don’t need or can’t afford and they personally don’t seem to have a problem with that and no matter how much the planet sickens and deteriorates around them they relentlessly ask us to spend more, to support them so that they can make even more money.

To underscore this article, I’d like to end it with a paragraph listing some of the corporations who gave the aforementioned richest athletes millions of dollars to sell their products for them. They predominately target people that have money or credit, children, those whose religious belief leans toward consumerism, those who believe there is no such thing as climate change and those who smile and say everything will be all right as long as everyone sticks to the status quo. The list is what our heroes and our children’s heroes want us to purchase, even though in reality none of these products define us, or at least they shouldn’t. Materialism is never ending, never enough, like allowing the voices in our heads to go on and on and on, like the band on the Titanic, until we eventually slip beneath the waves.

Nike, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Monster Energy, Haagen-Dazs, Hennessy, Hewlett-Packard, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, State Farm Insurance, Rolex, the Nike Jordan brand (over $1 billion in sales each year),Wilson, Credit Suisse, Exxon, Amgen/Pfizer (pharmaceuticals), Burger King, Samsung, Castrol, Reebok, Sony, Wheaties, DirectTV, Gatorade, PepsiCo, Dolce, AT@T, Adidas, Kia Motors, Bacardi, Quaker State, Rawlings, Range Rover, Toyota, Shell, Kraft Foods, Tag Heuer, Verizon Wireless, Gillette, General Electric, Head and Shoulders, Pepperidge Farms, Vita CoCo, Ford, Goodyear, Subway, RBC, Polo/Ralph Lauren, MusclePharm, EA Sports, Jeep, Pennzoil and Toshiba.

 

 

Highest-Paid Athletes 2012 – World’s Richest Athletes ‹ The Richest People In The World 2012

 

 

04/10/12

Greed and the Climate

Through the first couple of weeks of March 2012, the weather over the east coasts of Canada and the United States was not it’s usual self. But then the weather is out of whack all over the planet. From March 12th to the 20th, over seven thousand, daytime high temperatures and overnight low temperatures, records were set or tied in the United States alone. The first decade of the 21st century has been the warmest on record, on all continents. This past year had the highest level of tropical activity on record, while flooding is becoming the most frequent natural extreme event. The mainstream media reports such things of course but they become simple sound bites alongside other news stories such as “human interest stories”; saving puppies, an individual doing a good deed, some sort of grief or sadness that brings tears to your eyes and another instance of injustice and crime, which most often happens in the board room and in the offices of public officials than in the street.

As to the odd weather in March, the senior climatologist of Environment Canada, Dave Phillips stated the reason as being because Canada and the United States have just had their warmest winters on record, the air was not refrigerated or chilled and that it is “blowing back in the same temperature it left.” The weather is headlined as being “weird.” Mr Phillips goes on to explain that, “It’s like a greenhouse that’s not letting warm air leave.” Wow, that is weird, if one was bent over and had just pulled their head out of the sand. The preceding page of the above article covers other interesting stories such as the University of British Columbia being cleared of cruelty in the death of four monkeys used in the research of Parkinson’s disease and a tragic barn fire in which 18,000 chickens died horrible deaths.

Scientific consensus, talking to an elderly farmer, the feeling in the air or simply looking out your window confirms the fact that human activity is warming the planet and therefore creating climate change. But oh my, how perceptions change. In 2007 a Harris poll found that over 70% of Canadians and Americans believed fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. In 2009 it was down to 51%. By June 2011 it had dropped to 44%. Why? The fossil fuel industries and big business have been able to shift our thinking over a very short time and are winning, accelerating in their drive to gain as much as they can before it all runs out. As Bruce Springsteen sang in 1974’s Born to Run, “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”

We are so fixated on becoming consumers that breathing clean air, eating good food and drinking clean water have become an irritable need, both time-wise and having to pay for them, while our personal world view’s scope, with the speed of new technology, is overwhelming us.

Our personal world views are actually quite small though. They are the people we come into contact with, either daily or weekly, including friends and coworkers; On average about 35-40 people, the size of a small tribe. Our world view is also the community we live in and what one must do during a day to have a roof to sleep under, accessibility to clean water and nutritious food to eat. And how much is needed to pay for these basics has brought forth the concept where we pay our bills by accumulating debt. Now that is weird. We feel our daily routines allow us to keep some sort of sanity, but then it is easier for people to deny reality than to watch their world view being disturbed. And that is why too many of us do not really concern ourselves with the new elephant in the room – climate change, because we have been programmed to be always, too gosh darn busy. It scares the hell out of people, not because current Western consumption habits are not sustainable but because to combat climate change, to adjust to its effects, to allow the earth to heal and to save ourselves and our children and all the other living creatures, changes would have to be made now.

Both the free market and capitalism would have to cease to exist, which is not going to happen, because billions of people around the world want the same things, which many in the West and elsewhere have had and become over the past fifty years; a flat screen TV, excess consumption of all things, a fancy car and the ability to become fat. On the other side of the coin, state socialism was just as destructive to the environment as capitalism is.

The ruling elite’s privileges and wealth that the current capitalistic system gives them is made from corporations that are often doing the most ecological damage. Corporations who are the conspirators of the growing number of ecological accidents, have been doing the best since the economic collapse of 2008 and more often than not are paid subsidies by their home nation. While their corporate media controls us.

Reality is that most of the money being made today globally, goes to the very few. Their record levels of surplus cash goes to financial institutions and corporations. Their private fortunes are not devoted to serving society as a whole, saving the planet or their children and do not produce anything other than more money. Greed and profit have taken precedence over the world’s social needs. And the elite will defend such a system with all they have, including destroying the world. For climate change will not wait for anybody.

Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism vs Climate” lists quite accurately the steps that would have to be taken to act now and also how difficult it would be to respond to climate change. The list includes the concepts of ; immediately reducing our emissions on a mass scale. Subways, streetcars and light rail built everywhere and affordable to anyone, with energy efficient, affordable housing along all transit lines ; having an active long range plan for each community and rebuild community spheres ; rein in corporations by regulation and taxation. Maybe even nationalize some. Have elections publically funded, strip corporations of their status as “people” under the law, reform patent laws and recognize our debts ; bring back localized production because international free trade is simply killing us. It has brought about an ever increasing amount of bigger cargo ships, bigger jets, heavier trucks and lost jobs ; actually tax the filthy rich ; and finally end the cult of shopping and materialism. Which will be a hard nut to crack considering that in ever expanding places around the globe and more than any other activity we do in our daily lives, we think shopping defines us. What you wear and what you drive. Cars, clothes and trucks are purchased, believing them to upgrade one’s status and personality. We seek our identities in stores and online, trying to fulfill our dreams by whatever manufacturers decides those dreams to be. Our desires are being created by others instead of from within.

We have been forced to worry so much about the current financial crisis and its recovery we have forgotten about the recovery needed of the ecosystems of the earth. We have always been controlled through fear, whether it is the fear of communism, drugs or terrorists. Now though, control is being accomplished by simply distracting us, making us blinded consumers. Keeping us preoccupied with achieving sustained recovery of sales growth and as Noam Chomsky put so well over twenty years ago, ” financial manipulations and our consumption binge creates little in the way of productive investment, instead it creates much in the way of debt, whether government, corporate and household debt or the incalculable debt of social needs that go ignored. We continue to periodically select representatives of the business world to manage our domestic and international affairs. All these policies are not rules of nature and the processes and institutions that create them could be and must be changed, but changing cultural, social and institutional processes will not be allowed to happen.” Those who hold wealth and privilege will not allow it.

The problems due to climate change will be supremely difficult to stop within our current system of how we operate, beginning with the ludicrous fantasy that it would be possible to get the nearly two hundred countries in the world to agree on anything let alone reforming and rethinking the global energy system. Many have been affected by the current global economic crisis, unsure and in debt, yet we remain addicted to oil, coal and gas. Nuclear power safety and costs are still very uncertain with many countries, including Germany and Japan, shutting down reactors. Hydroelectric power is geography limited and as it is, the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Mekong, Jordan, Indus, Brahmaputra, Colorado and Amu Darya water basins will not keep up with demand from their ever growing populations. Energy efficiency is still taking a back seat to limited but more profitable cheap fossil fuels. Case in point; in 2010, subsidies to the oil and gas industry in Canada, owned by some of the world’s most profitable industries, totaled $1.4 billion. Worldwide the fossil fuel industry received handouts and subsidies to the tune of $409 billion, while only $66 billion went to clean renewable energy. What is really scary about all these figures I’ve been throwing about is that of the top ten wealthiest people in the world, according to Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires of 2012, only a couple have anything to do with mining or oil, the rest have made their billions on either technological, communications and/or our vanity.

The richest man in the world right now is Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecommunications mogul whose net worth is $69 billion, which is more than the world pays towards clean renewable energy. The rest of the top ten are into computers, diversified investments, luxury goods, fashion and Aldi, the discount supermarket corporation. The combined worth of the top ten richest is more than $395 billion. There are one thousand two hundred twenty six billionaires in the world, whose average fortune is $3.7 billion. United States has the most billionaires with four hundred and twenty five; number two is Russia with 96, then China with 95. Of cities, Moscow led with 78 billionaires, because that’s what you get with a corrupt dictatorship, followed by New York at 58 and London at 39. And how is the battle going against climate change in those countries and how are the citizens doing, with all that money lying around?

In Canada, the only action being taken on protecting the environment is at the local and provincial level. This is where we must start to create positive change. “We must pressure and discuss with our local governments to do the necessary research and display the necessary political will to make responsible decisions on behalf of citizens for the common good.” We have got to stop worrying about elsewhere, though the media will continue to keep us distracted. We must begin to focus more on our own nests and backyards. Clean up our own mess, within ourselves and our communities than fretting about something that happened, which we cannot control, halfway around the world. We must become more radical, not the bastardized definition that the ruling elites and the media have invented, putting it into the pile of words such as terrorist and anarchist, but the original definition, where one does not seek hyper-individualism, dominance or hierarchy but instead interdependence, reciprocity and cooperation. Radical is trying to understand the root of something, favoring fundamental and basic change in a social or economic structure. In mathematics a radical has to do with the root or roots of a number or quantity. In chemistry a radical is a group of two or more atoms that acts as a single atom and goes through a reaction unchanged, or is replaced by a single atom; normally a radical is incapable of separate existence. Modern society has also defined radical as “thinking outside the box”.

Che Guevara believed that a radical is nothing less than someone who tries to see and understand the roots of things, who will aid in their fellow man’s security and happiness and who shows empathy to others. If you are none of these things you are not a radical, but simply a consumer. A radical today is someone who bicycles to work and his or her family uses transit, owns a rarely-used fuel-efficient car, buys locally-grown organic food, avoids chemical-filled, factory-farmed meat and “processed” food, recycles, and engages in ecological research and activism.

University of B.C. community planning professor Bill Rees explains “If we’re going to be sustainable, we can’t do it through economic growth.” Adds Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun, “The commitment to conservation is both moral and it actually could make us more content. Decades of studies suggest that once a person reaches a certain basic level of financial security, there is very little correlation between a person’s financial wealth and greater happiness.”

As a society we must start being aware of our surroundings and the people within it. To seek out the truth and face up to our problems would be a good first step, instead of just letting others make our decisions’ for us and not being accountable for our actions because it’s deemed always someone else’s fault. As to the technology behind what we call social media, we are embarrassing ourselves in our flirting, preening and purchasing. In fact much of technology is making people anti-social. We have become a needy and wanting lot.

Another challenge is the need to instill in the population the truth in that scientific evidence of climate change is not a myth or joke or a problem that will just go away. Those who are in high school and college right now are called, as a group, millennials, and though we are leaving them an exhausted, depleted and dying environment they are the ones that can begin to make a difference. Unfortunately polling is suggesting that only about 20% of millennials believe it is important to be concerned and involved in cleaning up the environment. This is either because bling-bling and self-entitlement is more important or because most at that age are so well informed today that the task seems overwhelming and that there is no hope for revival. Some probably do not even believe climate change is real, while others would love to act and take on a leadership role. But who would be their mentors and role models?

Being smart is not just someone who can play on a computer, converse through texting and having the latest I-phone, thus being a mere cocoon, even when out and in public. It is being aware and cognizant of how society is and where it is going. It is the need and obligation to care for the environment. It is seeking out the truth, picking through the filtered information and preoccupation of being a consumer, and finding our preferred vision of a good society. Then standing up and making it so.

There is no difference between squatting in a cave, watching your children gasp for air, malnourished and starving from thirst than sitting in front of an 80 inch flat screen TV in a three thousand square foot house, having no gas for the Beemer or Ram-tough truck and watching your children coughing, malnourished or obese and starving for clean, fresh water.

 

 

Weird weather heats East, cools West, Postmedia News, Times Colonist newspaper, Tuesday, March 20, 2012.
Douglas Todd, Is the future really so bleak? Vancouver Sun newspaper, Saturday, February 17,2007
Alisa Gordaneer, Shop till you drop, Monday Magazine, June 9-15, 2005.
Misty Harris, Environment takes back seat for today’s youth, Postmedia News, Times Colonist newspaper, Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, 1988.
Noam Chomsky, How the World Works, Collection of Essays – 1986-2011, Soft Skull Press, USA, 2011
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/24-2
http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,0
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/02/29-4

 

 

11/7/11

Summary to Grand Deluges

Note: Reposting this summary for the essay Grand Deluges, which was completed in 2010, because of the world’s population reaching the seven billion mark in November 2011. This essay was written working with the world’s population being “well over six billion”, the latest rise was expected but it places more relevence and truth behind the essay’s title, as well as the need for action by each one of us. Innovation, technology, tolerance,  moderation, reform and empathy are going to have to start being used as they are truely defined to make this work, this being, us living with each other on the earth thing.  JP.

In summary, considering that the modern era we currently dwell in is only a few hundred years old, and that millions of years of changes have happened to the earth and are still to happen, the belief we have of our newly discovered technologies and progress has made us think we are much more in control of our world, than say the Sumerians, or even Neanderthal man. Natural disasters today are thought of as inconveniences that nature has untimely brought upon us. “How dare that hurricane destroy my car and house” or “Damn it! I had things to do today”, we have replaced the temples and pyramids with malls and sports arenas.

Drought, famine, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods still happen every single day. But unlike the situation a millennium ago, we humans are in greater numbers and are using up the earth’s resources much, much faster. At the height of the Roman Empire in 200 AD, the world’s population was estimated to be about 200 million people. The addition of the next 200 million took over fifteen generations, while the last 200 million were added to the planet in the past three years. The world presently has a population of well over six billion people, with more than 75 million added every year. One million children are being born every four days. The rate of growth is staggering. Consider that the 54 million lives lost during World War II were replaced by the natural occurring process of the surplus of births over deaths in only ten short months. The latest estimates (2009) put the world’s future population at about nine and a half billion by the year 2050, with most of this increase happening in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The scary thing is that most of this growing population will be concentrated in the countries that will be the least able to feed themselves, and will represent almost 45 per cent of the global population growth by 2050. Consider that currently two-thirds of the most malnourished people on earth live in seven countries. Over the next few generations there is going to be about one billion people born in these seven countries. The acceleration of the rising world population is currently putting incredible strain on our planet; let alone what would happen in a couple of decades from now. China alone is adding a city the size of Chicago, Illinois to its region every three months. This rise in population will be the world’s next greatest deluge, a flood of humanity and no matter our advancement in technology or our attempt to ignore the natural occurrences of the planet through regular delusional routine, if we open our eyes and actually look around, we will see how vulnerable we humans are to the forces of our environment; much like the people of ancient times.

What is most concerning about floods is that the flooding is usually salt water which is of no relief to crops and makes rivers, streams, and lakes of fresh water undrinkable to humans, animals, in addition to the crops. Floods have always proven to be very good at not only damaging crops and soil, which affects the ability of the planet’s inhabitants to feed themselves, but also very adept at killing humans and animals with equal abandonment. What usually goes hand in hand with flooding is its opposite, drought, which is just as devastating because once again, it affects the planet’s food supply and available fresh water.

Estimates by numerous international institutes state that by 2010 around 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone, nearly a third of their population, will suffer from malnutrition because of intensifying drought. The United Nations Environment Program reports that 450 million people in twenty-nine countries currently suffer from water shortages, and by 2025 an estimated 2.8 billion people will be living in areas that will have increasingly scarce water supplies. Even today, 20 per cent of the world’s population lacks access to safe drinking water. The Peruvian Andes have lost at least 22 per cent of their glacier area in the last 30 years alone, with two-thirds of Peru’s 27 million people living on the coast, where only 2 per cent of the country’s water supply is found.

Along with drought and the growing lack of fresh water, floods still happen, but now because of the increasing population, the majority of which live along rivers, lakes and coastlines, each one can be more lethal and have farther reaching effects.

In the last five hundred years, floods in China alone have killed more than four million people. The 1931 flood of the Huang He (Yellow), Yangtzee, and Huai Rivers killed more than three million alone and it is estimated that 200,000 drowned in their sleep. The Yangtzee river valley had just over half a metre of rain fall in less than a month. At Hankou, the river rose 16 metres above normal, flooding more than 87,000 square kilometres. In northern China, in 1969 -71 famines caused by flooding, killed about 20 million people. More recently, in 1998 the Yangtzee flooded and left 14 million homeless.

In 1910 Paris, France saw three months of heavy rain and snowfall causing the river Seine to rise more than eight metres above normal. An estimated four billion cubic metres of water contaminated with sediments and municipal sewage flooded nearly 25 square kilometres. There were 150,000 casualties, and more than 20,000 buildings affected.

The 21st century has brought some of the worst floods in recorded history. The cost to humanity in deaths from natural disasters in 2010 alone is more than 260,000 souls and will probably be much greater when Haiti’s final death toll is included. In fact 2010 has been the deadliest year since 1976, with more than twice as many people dead from natural disasters than from global terrorism in the same time frame.

The 2007 African floods have been quoted by the U.N. as being one of the worst floods in recorded history. On Sept.14th, 2007, it began to rain and eventually flooded more than 14 countries; through the middle of Africa from Senegal on the west coast, through Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. More than 2.5 million people were affected. They were hit again with similar flooding in 2009, which caused more than $152 million in damages.

The worst natural disaster to occur in Europe in nearly 200 years began with heavy rainfall in May 2010. Two months of rain came down in one 24 hr. period. In what would be called the Central European Floods, most crops, especially wheat, would be destroyed. Hardest hit was Poland, but Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, and the Ukraine were also affected.  At the same time the Cumberland River in the United States, would gorge on torrential rains and crest at a height of nearly 16 metres in Nashville, Tennessee.. The end of 2010 saw three-quarters of the state of Queensland, Australia, engulfed with surges from a cyclone. The flooded disaster zone covered more than 70 towns, with more than 200,000 people affected and $30 billion in damages.

Besides loss of life, natural disasters now come with huge price tags. The 1987-89 drought in the United States, covered 36 per cent of the country, which was less than 70 per cent of the area affected in the 1934-40 Dust Bowl, but at an estimated cost of $39 billion makes it one of the most expensive natural disasters in American history. In comparison the damage associated with 2005’s hurricane Katrina has, as of 2008, cost $81 billion and continues to rise. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake killed more than 250,000 people in eleven countries. The tsunami’s waves were as high as 30 metres. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. With a magnitude of 9.2, it was the largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph. It lasted about nine minutes and caused the entire planet to vibrate, which triggered earthquakes all over the world. Humanitarian aid to date has been more than $7 billion. The energy released by this earthquake, on the planet’s surface alone, is estimated at 26.3 megatons of TNT, more than fifteen hundred times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, by the Americans in 1945. Humanitarian aid to date has been more than $7 billion.

Since our first ancient civilizations developed, we as a species have advanced considerably. As the gods of our man-made organized religions instructed us so long ago; go forth and multiply and subdue the earth and all upon it. Well we have. Our current unrestrained exponential growth began five hundred years ago in Europe, which at the time had a population of perhaps sixty million people. At the time, European society was heading down the toilet, the stench of despair and misery were everywhere. Both in substance and spirit, the people were lost. They had no belief in anything other than to survive another day and hopefully stave off ever present disease and hunger. They had no values to rely on, nor governments to lead the way. Everyday life was simply survival, filled with violence, starvation and plague. Many felt the world was truly dying and that the end was near. But then a fellow who strongly believed the inevitable end decided to head out into the ocean and seek salvation or wealth, whichever came to him first. This is where our Modern Age began and our current deluge started, over five hundred years ago.

In his lecture, The Columbian Legacy and the Ecosterian Response, Kirkpatrick Sale details four essential components by which the Europeans spread across the globe and dominated not only other peoples but other species as well. Such exploitation would bring us to our present day crisis where once again people are lost, in spirit and substance, with the world seemingly headed for the abyss. The difference today is that far too many people aren’t willing to recognize this reality because they have drunk the cool-aid, living within an illusion.

The four characteristics Sale outlines which would get the current age started are, firstly, the rise of humanism; “The declaration and celebration of the human species as the most important species of all.” This brought forth the God-given right to have dominion over other species, the elements and the resources of the earth. Secondly, the rise of rationalism, which through reductionism, would spawn science and would become our way of asserting control over nature. The third component is materialism. Things of the world would become corporate and everything had a measure of value, which led to accumulation and possession, with the only consideration being to not let anything interfere with the always and immediate goal of profit with the exchange of goods. This would become our new belief-system. The final component is nationalism, where various “royal families” would create institutions which would become nation-states, which would eventually lead to the central institutions in our daily lives. Deposing churches, associations for mutual aid, the promotion of common interests, city-states and community and the individual would become acceptable. To sustain these nation-states, standing armies became the norm and the philosophy of militarism. The crest of this wave grew with each passing century and is now upon us. What we must realize today is that these characteristics of the modern world are not natural, inevitable or eternal conditions; they are constructs, inventions of a particular time, place and people.

These characteristics of our societies and our present day technologies have indeed changed much of our lives and the planet, but the changes we have made in our environment and to our planet are not necessarily in our best interest. The industry of living on this planet, using up its resources for an ever growing population, is warming the atmosphere globally. This causes climate change. Some places will become wetter, other places drought stricken. Some areas will become much colder in the winter and then much warmer than usual in the summer. It is becoming all about extremes. Temperature changes in the Polar Regions, north and south, are resulting in continuing glacier and ice-sheet melting, sea ice retreat, coastal erosion, rising sea levels and extinction of species of birds, animals, and marine life. Deforestation, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification, soil erosion and other aspects, all related to our present climate crisis, will only intensify. With the warming by only a couple of degrees, the Greenland Ice sheet would be in danger of disappearing thereby raising the sea level perhaps as much as four to five metres. As of the summer of 2007, the Polar Ice sheet shrank to its lowest extent in recorded history. Further melting of the earth’s ice sheets would submerge the lowest lying countries and all it will take, is for the earth’s temperature to rise by only a few degrees for flooding to change the world as we know it.

If the present sea-level rises one metre, or even say the length of your arm, the cities of Miami, Venice, and New York, among hundreds of others, will have to be hidden and protected by dikes to survive. In New York, if it was not for subway crews and 753 electric pumps, within a half an hour the subway system would fill up with water and reach a level where subway trains would be unable to travel. Within 36 hours everything beneath New York’s streets would be filled with water, and overflowing into the streets themselves. The eastern shoreline of the United States sea level has risen one foot in the last one hundred years. Adding another foot of water, the high-water line in Florida will move inland over 300 metres, in Louisiana it will be several kilometres. Let alone sea levels rising, present levels of coastal erosion projected over the next couple of decades on the same shoreline, will take out all homes located up to 150 metres inland. Low Countries everywhere will be devastated with places like Bangladesh completely under water. Consider the $21 billion English Channel tunnel, the Chunnel. The Coquelles, France terminal, on the Calais Plain, is only about five metres above sea level.

In the past, most all natural disasters were happening naturally, something we of course had no control over, and even to this day we never really plan and prepare for them at all. The difference now however is that rather than say an asteroid hitting the planet, or a great flood happening, or the earth’s plates violently shifting, or thinking it to be the wrath of a god, today, many of the natural disasters, we the people, cause. We are the ones polluting our rivers, lakes and oceans, and filling our atmosphere and ourselves with toxins. Over 70% of commercial fish stocks are depleted, over-fished, and exploited beyond maximum yield sustain-ability. Today one in every three fish eaten by humans is farm raised. Soon the oceans will be left with the smallest fish and plankton and with the continuing acidification and oxygen depletion of many parts of our oceans; these too will disappear. By then the remaining sustainable areas of the oceans will probably be overpopulated with jellyfish, which are immortal. Consider the tiny sea creature, the Turritopsis Nutricula. It is a jellyfish-like hydrozoan, about five millimetres in length. While most all jellyfish die after they produce their young, this hydrozoan switches back to its juvenile form once it reproduces through a process called transdifferentiation.

We continue to clear-cut our forests, erasing entire species of animals off the planet. Knowing how silly and ignorant we have become could fill volumes, but then that would take up a lot of trees. Yet nearly three billion, or half the world’s population, still use wood as their primary source of energy. And 85% of the energy the world’s commercial industry uses is from fossil fuels. In fact, the root of most socioeconomic problems in many developing countries is land degradation. Included in our thirst for wood, over 1.8 million board metres of temperate and tropical hardwoods of mahogany, walnut, and teak are cut down every year just to make coffins, which are then buried back underground. How crazy is that?

I find our biggest challenge is to just admit that as a society we have been fooled and deceived since the 1970’s into believing global warming and climate change was a debate, where in actual fact the earth is in crisis. We seem to have an inability to face up to the fact that the environmental crisis of this planet is human induced. Any policy to do something about it gets postponed, ignored or defeated. Humanity’s efforts so far remain inadequate. The earth has always gone through cycles of global warming and cooling, the difference now is that it is not just a natural cycle the earth is going through but a cycle we have brought on ourselves. And we’ve got to stop denying the fact. If we continue to deny the effects of global warming, we will reach a point where it will be too late to reverse it. We will have gone from denial right into the arms of despair. If we continue on this path we are walking, we will run out of fresh water to drink and will be unable to grow enough food to feed everyone, and then when that happens, it will become a very, very scary world. As it is, more than nine million people starve to death each year.

But looking back over the ages, there is one thing we must remember and that is, after each natural catastrophe humans have dusted themselves off and adapted. We are now at the point where, because of the sheer number of people on the planet, we must not settle for any short term responses or remedies. Instead we must get past our ignorance and provide massive intervention on an international and long term scale. Climate change is a planetary issue. We cannot continue to think of only the drought problems in our own backyards or in our own countries. Drought is a global problem. We are all interconnected and until we start believing we are not and never have been masters of the natural world, we are surely doomed as a species.

An indicative article, The Deepening Crisis, written by Jeffery D. Sachs seems to explain quite well our dysfunction toward the earth’s growing climate crisis. The risks cited in the article, about sustaining our cultures globally, have developed rather quickly over the past two generations. The problems are scientifically complex and involve many uncertainties, which both public opinion and certain sciences must address. The problems are global and unfortunately politics is local and nationalistic. This does not bode well for timely, coordinated, international action. Many governments are in power for four years or less and more often than not, decisions and reforms are based on the next election, while instead much of the earth’s problems are unfolding over decades. While corporate interests control the media, they have the dissemination of propaganda and deliberate misinformation, down to an art form.

We must stop forcing our own agenda upon nature. Many of us must also stop thinking that the end of time will be taken care of by a god. Believing in the “rapture,” is a cop-out and as the bumper sticker correctly implies, is simply not an acceptable exit strategy. Many millions of people are actually looking forward to the end-times and put no effort whatsoever into fending off such catastrophic events; although we humans, will be the cause. Many fundamentalist Christians and extremist Muslims are quite happy in fact, that things are getting worse rather than better. These believers are not concerned with the planet at all, instead only their own individual salvation. They believe a time will come where all the unrighteous and nonbelievers will die horrible deaths. But they also believe the dead will be resurrected, though they continue to disagree about who is righteous or not and to what sort of planet they will be returning to.

Buddhism and Hinduism on the other hand believe that everything will start over from scratch. But science does not offer such principles, beliefs, or criteria. We must begin to control our appetites and our rising population, and to gain the courage and the wisdom to make, sometimes agonizing and disturbing decisions. As draconian as it may be, limiting every human female on the planet to bearing only one child, no matter the sex, would be a huge step in the right direction. As it is, the poorest countries in the world have the highest birth rates. If the status quo continues to dictate that we stay on this course of unsustainably and with our reluctance to change course, the end-game may very well be where it’s simply not allowed to have children, at least not allowed to have children because of egotistical and careless thinking, that copies of ourselves will make the world a better place.

We must become partners with the natural world once again, to show it the respect it deserves and to show each other more respect, and become an ecologically sustainable culture. We need to get reconnected to the earth’s ecosystem and prepare for natural events, before they occur, instead of being shocked when they do. We have got to put our heads together and develop a way of life that meets our present needs without threatening the environmental legacy of future generations. We already have the technology, but it is being used in other materialistic endeavours, such as war. We must not overlook or forget one of our greatest assets which are opportunism and the ability to adapt.

Perhaps our optimistic nature is what causes us to be inflexible and persistent in our unwillingness to accept that the worst may actually occur. A human’s survival instincts have always included optimism, but also denial, defiance, and ignorance to such portents. We are afraid of the changes that could occur and of the fright that would be inevitable. But if we allow these traits of ours to fool us into waiting until it is too late, then we have lost. Instead, the fear of such portents should fortify our resolve, and propel us into action. Even if one does not believe the earth is in trouble that should not take away the fact that we must change the way we use the earth’s dwindling resources. Even the Catholic Church recognizes that the present ecological destruction of the planet is a moral problem. The current Pope has stated that, “there is and always has been a covenant between human beings and the environment.”

But before we can be optimistic we must be realistic. Environmental crises have been driven mainly from the consumptive habits of the richest 15% of humanity with economic growth driving up our energy use. Our societies have created too many elitists, who all demand the best of everything, to excess. We must learn to control our ravenous appetites, which for many will be very difficult, for most of us are ego-driven, which can never be satisfied. But no one wants or is willing to slow down the world’s economies. Capitalism moves ever forward, so very flawed, in that it is based on infinite growth operating in a finite system. We must seek an economic alternative. Because the issue is not to make sure everyone on the planet has equal opportunity in owning a house, a car, a big-screen TV, but it’s whether they will be able to feed themselves, breath the air, and have enough fresh water to live on, no matter their material wealth. Much like the often quoted adage, insanity is doing the same thing we have always done, while hoping for a different result. The reality is our environment is the economy, and we must start living within our ecological means, instead of arguing over the spoils of its industrial wealth. For what is behind the threats of habitat destruction, loss of wetlands, unnatural flooding, urban sprawl and pollution is capitalism and the fact that 40% of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution and with the rising growth in world population, rapidly increasing human diseases. We are killing ourselves and the planet for economic prosperity. But we are not moving fast enough in making changes to our environmentally destructive mind-sets because of the constructs that shape our daily lives, such as religion, politics, the economy, current and past ideologies, marketing and the media, and our consumption patterns. We think technology and science will save us from ourselves and our exploitive nature, our unchecked population growth and deem everything on the planet as a resource. Though there are many scientists working on ways to use technology for the betterment of the planet, no one technology can do it. They must combine their discoveries and work together. The challenge is that all the technologies that could slow or cease carbon emissions, everything from geo-thermal technology to solar panels are still extremely expensive. Once we put enough effort into making them cheaper, only then will we begin to make a difference. Many technologies, such as wind power are very effective but unfortunately no one wants it in their backyard.

Sadly though, human society oversees the planetary controls. The sheer size of the human population, our perceived affluence, our consumptive habits and our technology, which we only use to meet our perceived needs are driving global disintegration and destructive changes. We have come to dominate the planet without taking the responsibility of managing it, including the balancing act of maintaining populations of all species and ecosystems on one side, and maintaining the flow of goods and services that provides for humanity on the other. Unfortunately, far too many of us cannot even manage ourselves. Even if all growth in population and economic activity were to cease right now, this very moment, just continuing on exactly how we do today would still bring about serious molestation and destruction of the earth’s habitat and its resources. The price of our economic success extends beyond environmental deterioration. For it includes widespread loss of livelihoods, social tensions and conflict and staggering economic costs. To save our planet we have to realistically and morally change the way we think. It’s not so much, are we responding properly to environmental threats, which we aren’t, what we should be worried about and should be asking ourselves is why are we not responding.

James Gustave Speth, who wrote the book in “Red Sky at Morning,” believes that we used to have some slack with Mother Nature, but that is now gone and we are currently playing out the end game with our traditional, historical relationship with the natural world. Any aware person, opening their eyes and really taking a good look around would surely have to agree. For most of us the real and only concern of our daily lives is our next meal and pay check; not worrying about the destruction of the planet or that half of the people living in the developing world, who get by on $2 a day. It is estimated that 57% of the global population is malnourished. As to the environment, many don’t care because they believe it probably will not be at the 11th hour until after they are dead and gone. Others, especially the very wealthy, think they will be able to buy their way out and that their wealth will insulate them from the earth changing. How unrealistic is that?

We can’t just run and hide anymore, cloaked within routine, ignorant to the environment. We seem to be playing the delayed reaction game. We think about preparedness and only take action after a catastrophe has happened. And when enough time passes we ignore it until the next natural disaster happens, where we are once again shocked and unprepared for the disruption in our daily routine. As our world continues to change so must we, but what is most important, this time we are going to have to be much quicker, and decisive about it. We simply cannot wait any longer or it will be too late. We must all start working together for the good of the earth, and we who live upon her. Simply start to treat our environment with more respect, and just as importantly, for each other, because we are all in this together.

As humans we tend to be overwhelmed, uncomfortable, and feel alone when faced with such large scale problems. Thinking we cannot make a difference or that we have to change immediately and completely. This “all or nothing” mentality creates pressure and is the best way to fail at changing. This type of attitude also takes away the impetus to change. It would be better to break issues down to a more local level and stop trying to jump four stairs at a time. Just take one step at a time. Some people will have a sense that they must do something as unwillingness to act is simply not acceptable to their strong moral code. This is where discomfort in an individual comes from and we scramble to bury it. This is the stage where one’s character takes over; to have the courage to seriously look at their discomfort and ask why. This is where the beginning of hope dwells. To be brave when being asked to make changes is really asking, what it is do we believe about ourselves. Change doesn’t have to be a great act. It is being the change you seek.

Our best tools are information, human adaptability and strong leadership. Though what we use instead is disinformation, denial, and allowing a lack of leadership. Over the last decade there has been a groundswell of support and agreement among people trying to create change. Many on the planet are trying to make a difference, for our consciousness is evolving. Nationalism effects the need to change as well because one country can strive to be responsible for the welfare of the environment, while another can continue to soil the nest they live in. Reality is, we all live on the same planet.

So what can one do about it? The answer; there’s lots we can do, but the importance lies in the fact we must do something now. Stephen Hume of the Vancouver Province newspaper and Rex Weyler, one of the founders of Greenpeace, both argue for getting the right information; to get out there and do your homework, research national science academies and organizations. Get educated on how society and nature work. Be engaged citizens and not simply consumers. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated by the consequences of having a conscience. Practise self-reflection, for our greatest failures are most often ego driven. Possess the “quiet courage of decent people doing the right things.”

Among the many who are concerned, the consensus is that we must all start thinking globally but acting locally. One can’t force another country to act, but one could lead by example.  Hume, as well as many others, has the most excellent idea to shift certain redundant taxes to provide incentives for good behaviour, while discouraging bad behaviour. This should be implemented on many levels of our societies. Many on the planet, the most fortunate anyway, are supposedly living in democracies. Well then, speak out. Let all levels of government know empty rhetoric will not be tolerated, regardless of their “party.” Many people have completely tuned out politics, simply not interested. Some people, especially the young, believe there is nothing they can do individually by voting, that it would not make a difference in the result, with most people merely concerned with just trying to make a living. It’s sad that in totalitarian states people will risk their lives for the right to vote while in democratic states the majority of people don’t even bother to vote.

We must rebuild community ethics and attack urban sprawl. There should be incentives for people who develop under-used urban space. Underdeveloped property should have high tax rates, while high density developments, lower tax rates. Public transit must be convenient, efficient and inexpensive, because it can, but refuses to be.

Make it so anyone who removes a tree has to replace it with six, and then plant them everywhere. Harvest forests in 300 year cycles. Rethink work schedules, because most businesses today are working hours based on 19th century factory models. If one has to attend a work-site on a regular basis, make public transit a benefit. Continue to invest in wind, tidal, solar, geothermal, and hydrogen power, in fuel cells, carbon sequestration, electric and magnetic rail technologies, electric car grids, desalinization technologies and most important, more efficient air, land, and sea transportation.

Begin to hold one’s own self accountable. Drive less, walk more, ride a bike or take the bus. If you eat meat nearly every day, cut it back to a couple of days a week. Don’t flush every time you take a leak. Grow a garden. Mandate recycling and then recycle everything. Shop second hand. Turn off the television. Above all else, believe in your abilities to change.

We are facing an expanding population deluge, which will affect everyone equally no matter where you live. The most important way to control such a flood is we’ve got to start controlling our behaviour. We continue to try to control human behaviour with laws, fines and treaties. Punishment is always after the deed is done. We abuse the planet or each other and after the damage is done we pay money or we are jailed. What if instead we start to focus on changing the physical conditions most responsible for wrong behaviour in our communities, such as poverty, malnutrition and homelessness? To be concerned that far too many of our children lack direction or interests because they have very few good role models to emulate. They are bombarded with violence in the media and in sports, dealing with stresses in their daily lives and dwindling family life. Society has become impatient and arrogant. We define success in money and not character, thus women have it harder because instead of character they continue to be judged by their sexuality. There is unfortunately no positive vision for many communities to work toward. This is our fault, each and every one of us. But we can create change.

As far as natural flooding and as to what we can do about it, reality is we can’t do much about it. But we can prepare for the inevitability of it happening and apply common sense in where and how we live. Climate change has altered the way the planet earth operates; it has and will continue to affect its natural cycles and rhythms. And what must be stressed is that the pace of the earth’s deterioration is quickening. We are hugely affected by unnatural flooding and drought. Besides loss of property and lives, it jeopardizes our food supply, which of course affects everyone. The two largest wheat producers in the world, Canada and Russia, lost much of their 2010 crops because of unnatural flooding. We also should not worry so much about a global, grand deluge happening, for any river in any country, alone can kill millions all by simply overflowing its banks. What is needed most is a deluge of consciousness, to rid ourselves of and dispel the grand deluge of illusion that our materialistic and capitalistic societies have thrust upon us. History has proven that when humanity acts, it extinguishes the feeling of hopelessness and that daily actions by individuals can make large-scale changes possible.

In spite of the changing climate, doom or die world economics, rising seas levels and quickening of the size of the earth’s population, there is now more than enough food and material goods on earth to take care of everyone’s needs. But resources need to be managed properly and not strictly controlled to gain wealth as they have become today. There is enough for everyone to have a decent standard of living, as long as we use technology intelligently so that it’s not harmful to people or the planet and which doesn’t waste time and energy. We must start managing our resources, just like we have to start managing ourselves. The corporate and economic models we are operating have seriously misjudged the importance of the earth’s environment and the impacts of industrialization. It is now time to change. We are seeing the effects now. The real worry should be for children and their children and their children, who will be faced with what we have left of the planet after we are gone. This is the most important aspect; indeed, it is what drives environmentalism and the only reason we should care about saving the planet. For heaven or hell is a condition not a place. We are racing for the edge of the abyss and we’re all fighting over who should steer, or at least who gets to sit up front. Not realizing that if we do drive off into the abyss, we might be taking nearly every other species of plant and animal, and most of the earth’s ecosystems along with us. Today there are about 1.8 million species of living creatures known to science, including us. Nearly 40% of these organisms are currently endangered and soon to be extinct. The bottom line is that it is time to get our priorities straight and, in the language we can all relate to, we have got to seriously get our shit together people.

 

“Making a stand for a principle sharpens our own ideas and induces others to sharpen their ideas. When one person stands up, others are inspired to stand up.”   Rex Weyler.

 

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”  Confucius