European Earthrise

"Elections have consequences"


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— Yeats, The Second Coming (1919)

This week marked the passing, in a single engine plane crash, of Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. He is most remembered for the famous photo he took in December 1968 called Earthrise. Anders snapped it during the crew’s fourth orbit of the moon, frantically switching his Hasselblad 500 EL from black-and-white to color film.

“Oh my God, look at that picture over there!” Anders said. “There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

Borman: Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)

Anders: (laughs) You got a color film, Jim? Hand me that roll of color quick, would you…

Lovell: Oh man, that’s great!

Few grasped the significance of the image more than Stewart Brand, who, with Lloyd Kahn, put it on the cover of the first Whole Earth Catalog in the Fall of 1968 and two later editions.

Although the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is often cited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement, the publication of the images of the Earth from space did much to alter human perceptions of the fragility of our blue marble set against the vast black void of space. On April 22, 1970, I perched on roller skates near the bandshell in Central Park to hear Margaret Mead describe it as a philosophical turning point in thinking about the planet.



An Earthrise Moment

The recent elections in the EU seemed to be an antithesis — a philosophical turning point in the other direction. Why do you suppose that is?

[T]he two biggest member states of the European Union, in France and Germany, there has been a clear shift towards the right. And that’s the far right in terms of the AfD [Alternative für Deutschland], a party which used to be based around Eurosceptic and anti-Euro ideals but has moved definitively towards anti-migration, anti-Islam, sort of classic populist, nativist culture wars in Germany. And similarly, the same has happened among Marine Le Pen with her Front National party, now known as the Rassemblement National….

[T]he Christian democrat parties of Europe, led by the likes of the CDU in Germany, have definitely moved towards the space that was occupied by the far right. There’s been a clear rightward drift on climate policies, so backlash against green activism, a clear move towards stronger anti-immigration policies and a rhetoric around culture wars, around Christianity, around Israel, around foreign policy, the role of European civilization, which means that these formerly center-right parties are now definitely occupying territory that we used to call that of the far right. So, in that sense, the incremental shift of European Parliament towards the right is not just because of the insurgent far right, but also because of the mainstream parties.


Well, I think there is a clear parallel with the United States. And I would say that parallel is that rather than being a contested area, migration is an area which there is huge amounts of consensus, from the left, the right and the far right, that Europe is a continent that is closed, whose borders are closed. I think the push towards having anti-immigration policies or tough immigration policies that stop people, as you’ve already mentioned, from the Global South coming in — this also includes laws around refugees and asylum seekers — the European Union has probably decided since 2015 that it is a continent that does not want these people in its countries. So, in that sense, the far right has won that argument, because it’s become a mainstream consensus.

I think the areas where the far right has shown a bit more political innovation is moving onto territories like climate change, so creating a culture war around the green transition, saying that this is expensive for ordinary people, that — you know, even bordering sometimes on climate denialism. And again, if we think about the United States, there’s another parallel, and I think the far-right parties in Europe really do take a lot of cues from Donald Trump’s Republican Party. And they’ve definitely moved into more of the social sphere, so speaking about Europe in civilizational terms, in racial terms and in religious terms. And this is where I think the far right probably is finding more appeal among voters, a kind of emotional and identitarian appeal, which does include migration but is definitely broadening out from just being a one-issue subject for the far right. They seem to be a movement, at least, that wants to encompass all areas of policy, from foreign policy, economic policy and also social and cultural policy.

— Mehreen Kahn, Economics Editor at The Times of London, on Democracy Now! June 11, 2024

A study by Hossain and Hallack published by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Germany in December, 2022 offers further insight. In the preceding year, 2021, they charted over 12,500 protest events about the affordability of and access to the basics needed for everyday life. Protests erupted across world regions, in all political regime types and in 148 rich-, middle- and low-income countries. In many, there was significant violence, casualties and demands for political change. Some, but not most, related to the Covid lockdowns. Kazakhstan’s fuel riots killed 200.

When people feel insecure, they demand change and they tend to vote for corrupt, venal authoritarians who promise them security, blaming the problems on immigrants, racial stereotypes, and liberals. Those “conservatives” deliver no cures but only more disease. Witness Ukraine and Gaza.

Most protests were triggered not by generalized price rises or shortages, but by specific governmental failures to act to protect citizens against their effects. Major episodes of protests commonly followed cuts to energy subsidies, leading to steep price increases. In certain instances, an announcement of subsidy cuts was sufficient to mobilize citizens against the government.

— Hossain and Hallack 2022

Rather than provide subsidies that can address supply shortfalls and price spikes, right wing governments slash subsidies and divert funds from public coffers to private enterprise. Fishers, farmers, truck and taxi drivers, construction workers, schoolteachers, shopkeepers, barbers and health workers may take to the streets, or even vote for these fools, but they are the ones then most directly impacted by what happens next. But instead of realizing their folly, they typically double down and go even farther to the right.

Rather than a consistent ideological critique, opposition parties appear to see denouncing their country’s rising costs as a winning issue….

The problem, therefore, is not going to get better any time soon. It is only going to get worse. Most people are only barely able to understand the threat being posed by climate change, peak oil, and global population pressure on finite earth resources such as biodiversity and habitability. They want to know who to blame when the water stops coming from the tap or it costs more than their dwindling income to buy a week’s food. The German report concluded:

Whether or not cost of living protests prove to be a pathway to political extremes warrants close attention. At the same time, it is also worth considering the weakness of the response from centrist and centre-right parties, such as the UK’s Conservatives and the US Democrats, both of which have featured an unwillingness or ability to impose windfall taxes on energy or to establish more universal systems of social protection.

Out here in the rural countryside, we get a lot of “preppers.” These are new (and sometimes old) neighbors who have seen, as through a glass darkly, what Ivan Illich dubbed, “the shadows our future throws.”

The Whole Earth Catalog was created for them. Their goal, however, should not be cast as individual survivalism. It should be that image on the cover.

Rossby’s Revenge

This is the normal pattern of the stratospheric polar vortex:

Here is what it looks like now:

These waves and gyres are called Rossby waves and they bring polar air to Europe (the Netherlands is freezing right now) while nearby there is a heat wave and monsoonal flooding. They transport hot air up from the equator to melt polar ice, which feeds back more disruption — more Rossby waves. Rossby waves are generated by the Arctic amplification caused by shrinking the sea ice and exposing the ocean. The ocean absorbs more heat and that leads to more warming. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average. It affects floods, wildfires, food supply, refugee migrations. It threatens civilization as we know it.


If we want to get out of this trap — if we even can at this late stage — it will be by quickly experimenting with ways to cool the Arctic by albedo enhancement — the sort of cloud brightening technology the late Stephen Salter developed — and by radically lowering our expectations and living more lightly, collectively, and keeping that up for many generations. We should be teaching our children how to do that instead of to be clever consumers and just try to get ahead.

Do we have that in us to do? Or would we rather just complain and elect idiots?

This is a serious test. Everything in our future hinges on whether we pass or fail.


“Chasing the Moon: Transcript, Part Two”. American Experience. PBS. July 10, 2019.

Hossain, N. and Hallock, J., 2022. Food, energy & cost of living protests, 2022. NY: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Pruitt, B. The Donald Trump I saw on The Apprentice, Slate May 30, 2024


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When humans are locked in a cage, the earth continues to be beautiful. Therefore, the lesson for us is: Human beings are not important. The air, soil, sky and water are still beautiful without you. So, when you step out of the cage, please remember that you are guests of the Earth, not its hosts.

We have a complete solution. We can restore whales to the ocean and bison to the plains. We can recover all the great old-growth forests. We possess the knowledge and tools to rebuild savannah and wetland ecosystems. It is not too late. All of these great works are recoverable. We can have a human population sized to harmonize, not destabilize. We can have an atmosphere that heats and cools just the right amount, is easy on our lungs and sweet to our nostrils with the scent of ten thousand flowers. All of that beckons. All of that is within reach.


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