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Book Review: Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us by David Whyte

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 11:09pm in

In Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills UsDavid Whyte argues that corporations are a critical yet neglected cause of our global environmental crisis. Accessibly written with excellent examples and case studies of modern business conduct, this bold book will be a valuable addition to reading lists, particularly for those studying political economy and business, recommends Atul K. Shah

Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us. David Whyte. Manchester University Press. 2020.

To save nature, we need to reform the corporation

Multinational corporations are newly created ‘countries’ of the world, with turnover higher than the Gross National Product (GNP) of many countries put together – examples being Google, Facebook, Shell or Monsanto. Unlike countries, however, their responsibility and accountability to society are weak at best, and virtually non-existent when it comes to nature – our Planet Earth. Ecocide, a new book by David Whyte, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Liverpool, argues that corporations are a critical yet neglected cause of our global environmental crisis. The problems they create are wired into their DNA of shareholder primacy and profit or wealth maximisation – a phenomenon now acknowledged widely as financialisation. Furthermore, the corporate veil of limited liability and responsibility, and their concentration of political and structural power, enables corporations to shop between jurisdictions, playing a game of tax, offshore secrecy and regulatory arbitrage to evade environmental responsibility.

Ecocide has four chapters and is 200 pages long, including notes and references. The first chapter explains the nature and history of the corporation, going into the detail of its legal construction as a ‘fictional’ person, with rights to acquire assets and resources like employees or land and to borrow money in capital and debt markets. Business education all over the world focuses primarily on the science of these giant corporations, but often fails to unlock this legal DNA, which makes corporations’ undemocratic license to exploit and expropriate hugely problematic. The first ever corporation in the world was born in Sweden in 1288 and was called Stora Kopparberg. It was established by German merchants to collectively invest in a copper mine in the town of Falun. It still exists today as Stora Enso – from mining, it has morphed into the second largest paper producer in the world. You can imagine the environmental footprint of this historic heritage corporation.

Chapters Two and Three explore the twin dilemmas of capitalism and regulation – whilst capital has a desire to keep on growing exponentially, regulation designed to curb its excesses keeps on failing. For Whyte, the corporation has become a key front for neo-colonialism and has replaced forced conquest with a more subtle form of exploitation disguised under the rhetoric of free markets, economies of scale and efficiency. Bribery and corruption are endemic to corporate operations not just in the so-called resource-rich Global South, but also in the Global North where political influence and capture are seen as key methods of business operations. Regulation designed to make corporations more responsible and accountable consistently fails due to its poor construction, its enabling role in encouraging environmental exploitation and its weak enforcement and policing. Shopping for the lowest-cost regulation in a world where countries are often desperate to attract the investment of multinationals is easy, and our one and only planet suffers from this abuse as its environment respects no borders.

The final chapter is entitled ‘Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us’, mirroring the subtitle of the book. Whyte makes a bold attempt here to propose different ways of controlling the corporation to limit its environmental impacts. Earlier in the book, he notes how the major United Nations environmental treaties make little reference to controlling and regulating the corporation, even though it is one of the major culprits of environmental harm. Reform suggestions include an International Criminal Court for corporate executives who commit ‘ecocide’ and an ending of the impunity from prosecution for shareholders and investors. The corporate veil should be allowed to be opened and limited liability withdrawn from corporations that consistently break environmental rules and principles.

I would place this book in the field of study known as Corporate Governance, which is primarily studied in business schools and largely avoided by politics and economics departments even though it is central to their education curricula. It is an interdisciplinary field, and Whyte collates history, politics, law, economics, sociology and biology in his analysis. One of the earliest pioneering books in this vein was The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profits and Power by Joel Bakan (2002), who also produced an award-winning documentary of the same name, which I still use to teach my students.

In a world of specialisation and pressure to publish in top highly ranked journals, I salute academics who take the risk of writing a book and reaching a much wider audience than the few who can understand academic jargon within a narrow domain. This book will have a good audience among the Extinction Rebellion movement, who may not understand the DNA of business but still feel the effects of its monopoly and expropriation of nature. It can help guide their protests and reform policies, as it is clear that corporations are at the centre of the ecological plunder we see today in the world. Ecocide is also written in an accessible way for both undergraduates and postgraduates who study political economy and business – it has excellent examples and case studies of modern business conduct. It is short, concise and easy to understand and follow, with excellent notes and references. I certainly will be putting it on my reading list.

And now for the critique. The book points to a significant ontological crack in our social sciences, where nature has been ‘othered’ and treated as an unlimited resource to be used and dumped upon; only now do we learn about its limitations and experience its revenge. Like the fiction we call money, the social construction of the corporation and its subsequent devastation of society and nature also point to a deep cultural flaw in modernity – the focus on materialism, individualism and endless pursuit of sensual desires and personal ‘happiness’. This culture is not the only mindset in the world – many timeless communities have lived along different values and beliefs, including the Dharmic traditions of India, whose very basis was respect for nature and all living beings. For these cultures, interdependence was a law of nature which was translated into their myths and behaviours. Humans, animals and plants are beings endowed with consciousness which need to be respected and nurtured and not destroyed or cannibalised. My own research on the Jains shows that these cultures and communities are still alive and vibrant all over the world, and continue to live with a low environmental footprint, including in the practice of business, where they have a long record of sustained success. Alongside the regulatory reform of the corporation, we should not shy away from confronting our cultural flaws. We should see the mind, body and spirit as one whole, and respect the ethereal essence, consciousness and inter-generational responsibility of sustainable living.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Banner Image Credit: Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash.

In-text Image Credit:global climate strike on the European elections, Germany, 2019. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 


Worrying Aspects of Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 12:45pm in

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Environment

By Keith Antonysen   There is one thing that those sceptical of human caused climate change get right, they say the climate has always changed. Except, that is not the end of the matter; the irony being for sceptics that greenhouse gases have been the reason for climate changing in the past. Please view the hyperlinks. Climate Scientist…

The post Worrying Aspects of Climate Change appeared first on The AIM Network.

A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 1:22am in

By James MacGregor Palmer

Sir David Attenborough is nothing short of a national treasure in the UK. The 93-year-old nature broadcaster’s lyrical but soft-spoken narration is instantly recognizable, providing the backdrop for many Britons’ most vivid on-screen encounters with the natural world.

Attenborough’s career has spanned well over half a century, bringing the world’s wildlife to our screens. While initially his focus was merely on bringing viewers a taste of the planet’s brilliant biodiversity, over the years a new concern has emerged: Biodiversity is shrinking. And Attenborough feels an obligation to use his platform to do something about it.

That’s why, even at his advanced age, he’s joined Instagram, hoping to influence a younger generation that will bear the majority of the burden of the climate crisis. It’s also why, though tentatively and incrementally, he has begun to point the finger of blame at something so deeply embedded in our hegemonic psyche that it has seemed for so long beyond criticism—capitalism. In doing so, he is (perhaps unwittingly) becoming a great asset to those of us who believe in steady-state economics.

Globe (a life on our planet)

From outer space it’s crystal clear that we live on a planet of a finite capacity. (Image: CC0, Credit: PIRO4D)

Attenborough’s latest film, A Life on Our Planet, is his “witness statement.” It documents the loss of biodiversity that has occurred during his lifetime. Biodiversity is a term that has somewhat shifted off the mainstream media’s radar in recent years; yet here it is brought front and center. But throughout, there is a consistent theme that this loss is not merely caused by human carelessness but by a systemic need for ever more consumption. This need must be overturned if we are to stand any chance against the climate crisis.

The Importance of Visual Metaphors and Frames

Some of Attenborough’s key points can be viewed as a coherent and digestible argument for steady-state economics. They also highlight the idea that the message lands better when it is presented as part of a broader philosophical worldview, rather than as a set of cold, hard economic principles.

First, Attenborough sketches out a rather vivid picture of monitoring the 1968 Apollo mission, the first time humanity had seen our planet from the outside:

I remember very well that first shot. You saw a blue marble, a blue sphere in the blackness and you realised that that was the earth, and in that one shot there was the whole of humanity with nothing else except the person that was in the spacecraft taking that picture.  And that completely changed the mindset of the population, the human population of the world. Our home was not limitless. There was an edge to our existence. It was a rediscovery of a fundamental truth. We are ultimately bound by and reliant upon the finite natural world about us. This truth defined the life we led in our prehistory—the time before farming and civilization.

This is a powerful visual metaphor. While we walk on this planet, it is easy to become lost in its vastness, to fall into the trap of believing on a subconscious level (though on a rational level we know this to be untrue) that it is infinite. Once we view our planet from another angle, one from outside its atmosphere, it is easier for us to grasp its finitude. Widespread realization of this “fundamental truth,” as Attenborough calls it, is vital if steady-state ideas are to be accepted by the general public. Reducing steady-state economics to the fundamental truth at its core—the reality that Earth is finite and should be treated as such—could be a key element of simplifying the message. When we acknowledge this truth, and that, as Attenborough states, “anything we can’t do forever is, by definition, unsustainable,” it becomes a case of simple logic that endless economic growth is incompatible with the limits of our planet.

The power of the visual image of a finite Earth is not the only frame that A Life on Our Planet lends for potential application to steady-state economics. Another is in the following:

We had broken loose. We were apart from the rest of life on Earth. Living a different kind of life. Our predators had been eliminated. Most of our diseases were under control. We had worked out how to produce food to order. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves. We would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.

Forest

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. (Image: CC0, KANENORI)

The idea here is that humans have become separate to the rest of life on Earth, subduing it and refusing to be confined by it, changing the environment instead of ourselves (an idea Attenborough first posited way back in his 1979 documentary Life on Earth). This is another mode of thinking that, if we were able to successfully challenge, would make steady-state economics far more palatable to the general public. When we view ourselves as separate from the living world we inhabit, it is easier for us to see it as there for our consumption rather than our cooperation. While many accept the fact that current hegemony encourages us to think in individualistic terms, few extend that premise beyond other people to other forms of life. Hegemonic individualism and consumerism encourage us not only to see other people as merely assets to be exploited but also to apply the same logic to the natural world. We continue to exploit all the assets available to us until there are none left. Steady-state economics is a direct challenge to this logically flawed position, but in order to become widely accepted as a legitimately workable economic theory, we must first challenge the underlying ideology that predisposes many to subconscious opposition of degrowth ideas.

A Step Forward

The natural world is the greatest visual and experiential asset to the communication of steady-state ideas. While anthropogenic climate change is now broadly acknowledged as a “root cause” of our current environmental crisis, the challenge for us is to illustrate the “deeper root”: endless economic growth. We all see the loss of biodiversity around us and we all lament it. We lap up nature documentaries because we have an innate sense of awe for the natural world. If we can bring into plain view the link between the loss of the natural world and the idea that growth is always good, we may stand some chance of winning people over.

David Attenborough

David Attenborough: Serious about protecting the planet and on the cusp of steady statesmanship. (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Credit: Mikedixson)

A Life on Our Planet takes a big step in making that connection. Yes, it may be tentative. And yes, Attenborough is careful to avoid any explicit reference to economics, but what the film does do is advocate a fundamental shift in human thinking. That has to be the first step toward general acceptance of the steady state economy.

In fact, Attenborough went further into detail on a BBC podcast following the release of the film, stating his belief that “we must curb excess capitalism” in order to combat the climate crisis. A national figure talking about capitalism as the “deeper root” of the climate crisis on a state broadcaster no less. This is big stuff.

Now, as journalist George Monbiot pointed out on Twitter the following day, Attenborough still felt the need to qualify “capitalism” with “excess,” pointing the finger at the adjective and not the noun. But Monbiot himself has written about the incompatibility of perpetual growth with continued human life on Earth on multiple occasions over the last two years in the prominent British newspaper The Guardian. We are beginning to see mainstream voices questioning the moral and theoretical underpinning of the hegemonic ideology that compels us toward perpetually increasing consumption, and that is a crucial first step toward overthrowing that ideology.

Returning to Our Roots

Steady statesmanship is not just an economic principle, it is a counter-hegemonic ideology. We are fundamentally opposed to the neoliberal capitalist worldview, which makes the task of communicating our ideas immeasurably harder. But the lesson from A Life on Our Planet is that we can use universal visual and experiential metaphors to our advantage. We all experience and love the natural world. We all get some sense of existential awe when we realize the enormity yet finitude of the planet we live on. The task for those of us who believe in change is to convince others that the world’s dominant economic model is responsible for the rapid erosion of our relationship with the natural world around us. In the words of Sir David Attenborough:

“When you think about it, we are completing a journey. Ten thousand years ago, as hunter-gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later, it’s once again the only option. We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature once again.”

James MacGregor Palmer graduated from Newcastle University with a BA in Music with Politics in 2019 and is pursuing a master’s degree in International Journalism at the University of Stirling.

The post A Life on Our Planet – A Tentative Step Toward Mainstream Steady Statesmanship appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Will There Be a Second Dust Bowl? And What Happened to the Topsoil From the First One?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 6:25am in

A rise in airborne dust over the Great Plains has scientists worried, and rightly.

The Supreme Court Battle and the Climate Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 3:18am in

Roe v. Wade and Obamacare aren’t the only things endangered by Republicans’ rushed nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Continue reading

The post The Supreme Court Battle and the Climate Crisis appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

‘Letters’ Tells Urgent Tale of Bushfire Survival in new film supporting Climate Change Act from Photoplay

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 3:47pm in

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Environment

Media Release, 21st October 2020 – Photoplay Films has launched the provocative ‘Letters’, a film aiming to raise awareness and mobilise political support for the Climate Change Act. Directed by Melvin J. Montalban, the campaign film encourages Australians to write to their local member of parliament urging them to support the new Climate Change Act, legislation…

The post ‘Letters’ Tells Urgent Tale of Bushfire Survival in new film supporting Climate Change Act from Photoplay appeared first on The AIM Network.

Department of Homeland Security Sued for Chemical Weapons Use

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 9:15am in

Environmental groups sued the Department of Homeland Security and its acting secretary, Chad Wolf, in federal district court today over their use of what the suit called “a vast arsenal of weapons” on Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland. The weapons deployed by the federal agents during what the Trump administration dubbed “Operation Diligent Valor” pose potentially grave health and environmental hazards, according to the suit, which the ACLU Foundation of Oregon filed on behalf of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Willamette Riverkeeper, Cascadia Wildlands, Neighbors for Clean Air, and 350PDX.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the weapons mentioned in the complaint are rubber bullets; CS tear gas; OC spray, also known as pepper spray; and hexachloroethane smoke grenades. As The Intercept reported earlier this month, the U.S. military began phasing out the smoke grenades years ago because of their toxicity. Along with a thick smoke, the grenades release chemicals associated with short- and long-term human health effects, including nausea, vomiting, central nervous system depression, kidney and liver damage, and cancer.

The groups detail the serious risks of CS tear gas, citing a 2014 report that showed it had “a profound effect on the respiratory system” and that U.S. Army recruits exposed to the tear gas in basic training had a nearly 2.5 times greater risk of acute respiratory illness. The complaint lists symptoms associated with the gas, including eye injuries, chronic pain, cough, neurodegeneration, and menstrual irregularities. And it presents evidence that “[e]ven at low concentrations, CS gas presents a risk of irreversible or other serious, long-lasting adverse human health effects.”

According to the suit, the Department of Homeland Security violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the “potentially severe environmental and human health impacts” of the weapons. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to weigh the impacts of proposed actions that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” And the suit lays out evidence that, in addition to imperiling protesters, who have described weight loss, lung damage, exhaustion, and other symptoms after being exposed to gas and smoke released by the federal agents, the weapons may harm the environment. Several of the chemicals released by the munitions are harmful to aquatic life, according to their safety data sheets.

FedTeargasPDX_July22_DougBrown_00003

Federal agents deploy tear gas and fire other munitions in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on July 16, 2020.

Photo: Doug Brown, ACLU of Oregon

The federal agents used so much tear gas and other weapons during the face-offs with protesters that its residue was visible on streets, sidewalks, and plants near the federal courthouse and ICE detention center where they were used. There are at least seven stormwater drains near the Justice Center and the ICE detention center, where the agents were stationed, and at least two of the drains feed directly into the nearby Willamette River. According to the suit, plaintiffs have identified “tear gas and other chemical munitions floating over the Willamette River” and have seen DHS agents “power washing” the residue from tear gas and other chemical weapons into the storm drains. The environmental groups conclude that the chemicals have likely already entered the nearby Willamette River.

While officials in Portland have acknowledged that residue from tear gas and other chemical munitions used by the Department of Homeland Security entered the city’s storm drains downtown, the federal agency has not provided a list of tear gas and chemical munitions used against protesters to the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, according to the complaint. It also says that the federal government has denied the city environmental agency access to a catch basin behind the federal agents’ barrier where they want to test stormwater there for the presence of chemicals.

Operation Diligent Valor began when Department of Homeland Security Agents descended on Portland in July. But DHS agents remain in the city and have used chemical munitions as recently as October 18, when a thermal fogger released gas into a crowd of protesters gathered outside an ICE facility. The suit asks the court to stop DHS from using such weapons in Portland until its violation of the law is corrected.

The post Department of Homeland Security Sued for Chemical Weapons Use appeared first on The Intercept.

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

Transmission too

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 2:38pm in

In my article arguing that electricity from solar PV (and wind) could soon be too cheap to meter, I didn’t mention transmission networks. That was for space reasons.

The case for public investment is actually stronger for transmission than for generation. Electricity transmission lines have the same cost structure as renewables (low operational cost and long lives), if anything more so, meaning that the cost of transmission depends primarily on the need to secure a return to the capital invested.

More than this, the electricity grid as a whole is a complex network in which valuing the services of any individual component is just about impossible. That in turn means that relying on markets to make optimal investment decisions is untenable.

For these reasons, the electricity transmission network should never have been privatised. I’ve been arguing for renationalisation for years.

Amazingly, in the new low interest environment, this idea seems to be gaining traction, at least as regards new investment. Labor has proposed a $20 billion public investment. The government hasn’t gone that far, but is seeking to use its own borrowing capacity to provide low cost finance for transmission investment ( a half-baked compromise, but better than nothing).

Too cheap to meter

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/10/2020 - 8:42pm in

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Environment

That’s the headline for my latest piece in Inside Story, looking at the implications of zero interest rates for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Key para

Once a solar module has been installed, a zero rate of interest means that the electricity it generates is virtually free. Spread over the lifetime of the module, the cost is around 2c/kWh (assuming $1/watt cost, 2000 operating hours per year and a twenty-five-year lifetime). That cost would be indexed to the rate of inflation, but would probably never exceed 3c/kWh.

The prospect of electricity this cheap might seem counterintuitive to anyone whose model of investment analysis is based on concepts like “present value” and payback periods. But in the world of zero real interest rates that now appears to be upon us, such concepts are no longer relevant. Governments can, and should, invest in projects whenever the total benefits exceed the costs, regardless of how those benefits are spread over time.

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