Monday, December 7, 2020

#342 / Force Majeure


Google's built-in dictionary provides two definitions for the term "force majeure." The first one is well known to attorneys: 

1. LAW - Unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

As an example, you may have contracted for a popular band to play at your destination wedding, and when the band doesn't show up, you are not only mad, you are mad enough to sue them for their non-performance. If, however, the band was on its way, but was blown off its intended course by a tornado, and in a place where tornadoes have never been seen before, it could well be that the band is not going to have to pay any damages to you. Frankly, if that actually happened to the band, the band will undoubtedly have greater problems to worry about, anyway.

Insurance company lawyers generally love those "force majeure" clauses in contracts, which excuse non-performance attributed to a "force majeure." One more reason not to pay for an insured loss!

There is, however, another definition of "force majeure" - the literal translation of the phrase from the French: 

2. Irresistible compulsion or greater force.

That second definition is more or less what The Center for the Study of the Force Majeure has in mind. Click the link if you'd like to see what The Center is all about. It is based at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and reflects the work of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison. Helen is now deceased, but Newton continues working, with his son, from a studio located on the Eastside of Santa Cruz, not too far from where I live. 

The Harrisons are artists - "ecological artists." They claim that we not only need to "think globally," we need to "act globally," too. We need to act, in other words, at the scale of our problems. Browsing through the Center's website is well worthwhile. Consider, for instance, the Harrisons' "Living Forest" proposal. 

As a "tsunami of fire" surges through California, the Harrisons point out that this seemingly unstoppable fire tsunami will continue "until all energy is exhausted." We, in California, have been getting the proof. But the Harrisons have a plan. Click the link for a ten-minute video presentation

As we face global warming and climate change, a "force majeure" that is putting all of our human accomplishments in peril, and a process that is leading to a "Sixth Extinction," the Harrisons suggest we need to understand where we really are. We have tended to think that we live in a world that we humans have constructed ourselves, but it is the World of Nature, a world of unstinting abundance, that possesses the greater force. Ultimately, that is where we reside.

Are there things that we can do to avoid a Sixth Extinction, which almost inevitably will ultimately include us? As in the case of their "Living Forests Project," the Harrisons suggest that the answer is "yes," but they claim that we will be able to maintain our human civilization only by recognizing the primacy of the Natural World and the Web of Life. 

We must learn how to live within it, this Web of Life, and with it, for the World of Nature is the "force majeure."

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