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Overshooting ... was Malthus right?

by a siegel Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:24:59 AM EST

Looking toward mankind's relationship with and use of natural resources (whether fossil fuels, water, air, or otherwise), one serious question we all must ask is whether humanity has overshot. Whether

Mankind has exceeded the carrying capacity of its habitat and will have to face some sort of adjustment to go back into balance with it.

Was Malthus right? Are there, simply, limits beyond which we can't go beyond in a sustainable fashion?  And, if we've exceeded those limits -- if we've facing Overshoot -- what can we do about it?

From the diaries - afew


Over at The Oil Drum, Luis de Sousa has a quite interesting discussion Localism and some thoughts on Social Change following a lecture from Professor David Hess (who has just published
Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry: Activism, Innovation, and the Environment in an Era of Globalization (which I plan to review in the near future).  A good part of the discussion focuses on overshoot.  From Silva's discussion

Mankind will face the Limits to Growth before mid-century. Eventually Mankind will have to shift the interaction with its Environment/Habitat to a Sustainable fashion.

And, the definition of sustainability:

* Rates of use of renewable resources do not exceed regeneration rates;
  • Rates of use of nonrenewable resources do not exceed rates of development of renewable substitutes;
  • Rates of pollution emission do not exceed assimilative capacities of the environment.

Well articulated, but nothing shocking here.

Societies can either deal with the Limits to Growth by "turning to the outside" or "turning to the inside".

Outside:
  1. War: acquire resources abroad
  2. Trade: exchange internal surpluses for needed items from abroad
Inside
  1. Innovation: creating new processes and techniques taht allow further exploitation of the habitat
  2. Social Change: rearrange Society to diminish its resource requirements

Historically, all of these have occurred and, generally, societies have multiple aspects of each of these ongoing at the same time even if one is dominant.

The challenge we face, globally, is a question as to whether the first two options will remain viable.  

  • Peak Oil is upon us (either passed or in, generously, coming two decades.
  • Hard to believe, but we might face Peak Water due to the overreliance/abuse of million-year acquifers, growing population, and stressed water systems through most of the globe
  • Global Warming (in part as a sign of the ecosystem's reducing ability to absorb the detritus of human industrial activity)
The above are three critical issues of the 21st century that should make us wonder whether Malthus was right.  Are there real limits? Have we surpassed them?

Now, if Peak Oil and other resource constraints are making (or will make) the first two options unviable for dealing with localized constraints, the question becomes one of whether we can solve everything through Technology or Social Change or a mix.

In a somewhat unreasonable juxtopositioning, one could point to two major figures: Amory Lovins and James Kuntsler.

* Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute, is one of the greatest advocates of the power of moving toward a more energy efficient and renewable energy society.  And, he is right -- there are tremendous inefficiencies in our energy system of system. We could be using FAR less power than we do currently, while maintaining our current (or even a better) lifestyle. And, we could (on an ever increasing basis) be meeting those energy needs from renewable power sources.  Amory does not speak to pain, to changed life styles, to a need to "conserve".  One of Amory's/RMI's great achievements is working with Walmart to develop an aggressive program for energy efficiency in Walmart stores and in their transportation system.

As per Readers Digest

For three decades, physicist Amory Lovins has preached that America can wean itself from fossil fuels -- and save money by doing so. Now businessmen and bureaucrats are beginning to listen. As founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit consultancy group, Lovins helped persuade Wal-Mart to switch to more fuel-efficient trucks, Texas Instruments to build a chip plant that uses 20% less energy, and the U.S. Army to give solar power a shot. "I don't do problems," this environmental visionary recently told The New Yorker. "I do solutions."

Lovins has been right - for decades -- about the power and value of energy efficiency, distributed power generation, smart design, and renewable power.  
Winning the Oil Endgame provides a sensible and achievable set of options for seriously denting America's oil addiction. (For a brief discussion, Getting Off Oil.) If Lovins had been more listened to, America and the world would be in a far better situation in respect to energy use, pollution, and global warming.  And, his arguments still retain tremendous power ... and merit (serious and concerted) action.

* James Kuntsler, author The Long Emergency, argues passionately that we simply do not have the resources to maintain current ways of living, current 'standards', in the face of growing population, resource constraints (notably Peak Oil), and that we <u>must</u> change our path or change will be forced on us with disastrous consequences.  He restated this in the context of arguing lack of leadership in the US presidential campaign with a strong discussion 4 June 2007, well worth reading, No confidence?

everybody seems to sense semi-consciously is that the status quo is dragging the US into an abyss. ... all the premature debating and posturing will amount to a smokescreen of words meant to conceal the fact that we are a nation without confidence that any leadership can guide us into a plausible future.

 truths that we seem unable to face

Very soon we won't have the fossil fuel energy supplies to run the USA as it is currently set up, and no combination of wished-for alternative energy schemes based on so-called "renewables" will allow us to keep running it, either. Meaning, that we'd better start making other arrangements immediately for how we occupy the landscape, how we grow our food, how we move people and things from place to place, and how we reconstruct an economy consistent with these new arrangements.

The longer we put off making these new arrangements, the harder we're going to slam into a wall of reality ...


When it comes to Walmart,

The more interesting point in all this, for the moment, is that the media has still not put together the collapse of the housing bubble and the permanent oil crisis. These events will be happening simultaneously. The housing industry, so-called, will never recover because the oil crisis spells the end of the suburban build out. The cycle is over. The big production homebuilders will go down and never come back. We won't need any more retail, either. We won't be building anymore WalMarts and Target stores, and the thousands now running will die off just as the giant Baluchitherium of the Asian steppes crapped out in the early Miocene epoch.

In a parallel, Paul Prew as qouted by Cassiodorus

The question to be asked, really, is whether we proceed with capitalism until we reach an ecological bifurcation point that leaves the habitability of the earth in question for the vast majority of the population, or we reach a social bifurcation point that leads us to a social system of production that is dissipative, nonetheless, but does not threaten the flowing balance of nature.

Lovins is on the side of human ingenuity, of our ability to think and solve our way out of problems.  Kuntsler is from the school that argues that Malthus was right, but just did not see how stored energy (fossil fuels) enabled have far more people (for a period) than he saw as possible.

Pessimism or Optimism ... Or both?

Truth is, both of Lovins and Kuntsler are right to a tremendous extent. In my oscillating pessimistic optimism and optimist pessimism, my thoughts and priorities shift between these perspectives. Sadly, with each passing day, Lovins' prescriptions become that much more urgent to implement and Kuntsler's predictions that much more likely to come true.

Lovins' is arguing Innovation as the key path toward a better future, Kuntsler is arguing that social change (mass social change) is the only course to steer through the ugly seas of Peak Oil.

Hess, perhaps, might actually falls closer toward Kuntsler.  Hess asserts that Innovation can't work, for a number of reasons.

doesn't see Innovation as a better option, for it may not deliver on its promises, but above all because it implies sacrifices from the individual - wind energy, hybrid vehicles, they all represent extra burdens for those who opt for them.
Now, this is a question of Tragedy of the Commons, I guess. But, what, exactly, are the "extra burdens" for wind energy and hybrid vehicles? Far more interesting is this point:
there's another issue not addressed by Innovation, the system that supports elderly people after retirement. Here prof. Hess focused on the US case where Pension Funds are either directly managed by Corporations or dependent on corporate results (through investment on stock markets). The individual becomes dependent on Corporations, and it's their growth that guarantees future pensions. Once growth constraints set in this system is bound to failure.

Thus, the assertion that innovation requires the end of growth. The question might become what is "growth" and what is "value".  There are things valued -- intellectual services -- that move globally at the speed of ligth that were not part of the "market" just a few years ago.  Can one have negative energy consumption while maintaining economic "growth".  Hess, evidently, does not see that.

Hess is calling for a move toward smaller communities, a change of society to foster Localism.  

These are the pillars of Localism, as laid down by prof. Hess:

  • Finish Corporations, freeing individuals from corporate economic growth, making them reliant on the local community;

  • Promote Local Businesses, creating economies independent of Corporations;

  • Sustainability, provided by a local scale economy that makes sustainability issues self-evident;

  • More Local Power, an improvement to Democracy.

I certainly am not at this point ... although Hess makes me think ... and I certainly think that the general US (and European) society is far from embracing this type of future. But, perhaps it is something to be contemplated.

Action now to forestall more drastic action tomorrow

The challenges we face (oil, water, Global Warming, finances, etc) are mounting with each passing moment. Finding a way toward a better tomorrow will be difficult and requires serious action NOW!

Lovins has been right for 30 years, and remains right today: we can Innovate toward a better future.  

And, well, Kuntsler is right, we need Social Change, an embracing of cultural shifts toward a sustainable energy future.  

And, sadly, with each passing day, Lovins is less right and Kuntsler's view of the future more prescient ...

Ask yourself:  Are you doing your part to ENERGIZE AMERICA?

NOTES Version posted earlier at Ecotality.

Display:
And, was Malthus right? And, is living off millions of years of stored sunlight (fossil fuels) and stored rain (million-year acquifers) the key reasons why we haven't yet seen collapse?

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 05:25:08 PM EST
I don't have time now to comment thoroughly, but this is great.

This is the big drum that I've been hitting on for a long time.  The question is whether we can find technological solutions that sustain the current mindset or whether paradigm shift (forgive the use of this cliche) is needed.

Can the market, a system of thinking that disregards or denigrates resource limitations really bring about sustainability?

I remember the story by a professor in my third world economics class about how labor markets functioned in non-industrial societies.  We are accustomed to thinking that if wages rise, so will the number of hours worked.  More is better, right?  Well when Europeans came to Brazil, they found that the locals would only work long enough to purchase an item they wanted, and then would disappear back into the forest.  Hence the introduction of slavery in the New World.  So instead of demand increasing without restrant, there was a set demand that once satisfiedd would no lead to further labor.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 06:14:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lost part of it here.

My point in regard to the environment here being, that perhaps in order for a society to be sustainable, demand has to be subject to social restraints.  And more interestingly, perhaps demand predicated on more being better is not inherent to human nature.  Is the real reason that Americans want more because they have some biological need for it, or that they use these objects as indentifiers of social stature.

So if demand is basically socially given, aren't efforts to alter it on an individual level pointless. because they do nothing to alter the causal force behind it?

Remember the market is predicated on the idea of atomized individuals acting rationally to fulfill their preferences. So if we buy into the logic of the market we have to influence the calcluation of utility by individuals.  We appeal to the idea of conservation as saving money, and hence granting the consumer greater utility.

But what if preferences are socially determined?  Efforts to appeal to the individual on the basis of saving money mean less, because the elasticity of demand has less to do with the individual than the cultural mindset.

I hope I'm no being obtuse here.  I have a tendency to think in the abstract.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 06:21:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely. Truth be told, writ large, there are social restraints to demand. Those restraints have, hoewver, been loosened and loosened in recent years (decades) with an economy (in the West) focused on escalating consumption as a core value of the economic system.

re energy, in the US, I've been stating things along the lines of 'we'll know that things are changing when leaving the door open when the air conditioning is running, having lavish Christmas light displays, and other lavish demonstrations of wasteful energy become as socially undesireable and unacceptable as smoking cigars would be now in a maternity waiting room."

Demand subject to social restraints ... absolutely ...

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:12:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We can strive for increasingly better life because we can afford to. Scientific-technical revolution and cheap resources excused us from caring about sustainability, for a while...

But the art of long-time survival does include sustainability. We may have forgotten many things in these good times, "geometric" technnology improvement may stop abruptly. In fact, technology develops just as fast as energy availability allows. And we can clearly see horizons of energy resources by now.

The social standard for now is to consume anything you are able to. It is almost unacceptable to restrain yourself. I do not think that this is a core human nature. It is the outcome of... intelectual evolution. Greedy libertarian memes have won over human minds of the world - old restrictions, even tabus and ethical imperatives were cast aside. Were those memes necessarily winners is quite a question...

The important mechanism is that people like to ape the others, especially most successful. When the most affluent turn out to be enjoying benefits of no restraints, all others follow.

I think that the realization that you do not have to, and actually should not do everything you can do will be the core social adaptation to the coming problems of Peak Energy and Climate Change. It is very tricky to imagine an effective mechanism for the adaptive transition, but... the logical feature of any adaptation to a hard predicament is that not everyone can adopt. And obviously, social adoptation is much more complex than individual adaptation - but the times might be that much tough that the only way of outliving is functional cooperation. Not many communities would probably survive - and the world will be very different thereafter.

Does it make sense to "adapt" individually now, by refraining from most effective consumption while everyone else is possibly squandering the last loose resourses? I think it does, to some degree. The ultimate prize is not momentary satisfaction. It is important to train your habits and feel comfortable with growing restrictions. Someone has to show alternative followable examples. It is a sad excuse to continue maximal consumption just because others try to consume as much as possible. If this is what it takes to save more of the planet - forgetting freeriders in as much you can't affect them - why wouldn't you do it?

Am I a good example? My material aspirations are pretty modest, sometimes frustratingly to some. But long distance travelling, even if still suboptimally frequent, is a minus. If I have to change my behaviour for most effect, I suppose I should talk more if some would agree (ha!)

by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:29:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent and thoughtful post (as always).

Your question is such a classic Tragedy of the Commons issue. If you know the problem is there and that you are contributing, do you restrain yourself, 'losing' value in face of others, or do you continue to participate in the communal plunder?  While, if youc an get everyone to agree, the second is irrational, the irrationality dissipates the more individual your action.

But, we are in agreement:

It is a sad excuse to continue maximal consumption just because others try to consume as much as possible.


Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:11:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for compliments.

As I mentioned in other comment below, small communities are more able to deal with the Tragedy of Commons issues, since they do not have to formalize their solutions for full generality. This is in agreement with the "localization" article from Oil Drum that you cited.

The practical problem of switching to locality governing is of course the more powerful federal or central "problem solvers". The Reagenesque governments that we mostly have form indeed a problem, not a solution. One should settle for the mindset that not much particular help ought to be expected from them (unless you are in the privelleged class). If only they can be influenced to regulate emissions and share energy resourses kindly, the world is not the worst possible.

In case of aggressive or even armed requisition campaigns (as brought up in yet other thread below), all ingenuity must be used to isolate the upper government and let it collapse on itself as soon as possible. Every thug can be fooled in one way or other. Some toll burdens can be tolerated, but the levying job must be made very demanding, or futile.

by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:56:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I mentioned in other comment below, small communities are more able to deal with the Tragedy of Commons issues, since they do not have to formalize their solutions for full generality. This is in agreement with the "localization" article from Oil Drum that you cited.

I think this is a critical and crucial insight now spreading, albeit slowly.  "full generality" is as much of a mythology as infinite growth.  the same farming techniques do not work in one climate as well as in another, or even in two different fields on the same farm.  one of the primary dicta of permaculture is that you must observe your land and its microbiomes very closely to understand what will work in each tiny subregion, for maximal productivity and health.

this is antithetical to the totalising, reductionist ambition of C19 thought which sought to discover "universals" and then smash all particular data sets into the universal moulds.  One Way of doing things had to be right (and of course it was Our Way).  we could see this as an outgrowth of monotheism, insisting on One Centralised God (kind of like a spiritual monopoly capitalism, or a dictatorship);  and its offspring include Taylorism and the search for the One Most Efficient Way of producing a chair, which must then be imposed on every manufactory in sight -- which leads us gradually but inevitably to the Company World with One Soft Drink, One Hamburger, One Operating System, all replicated identically and imposed in every environment, every culture, every neighbourhood without variation, using workers who have been reduced to robots following numbered instruction steps in a three ring binder.

this approach fails miserably when it is applied to biotic systems, because the very definition of successful biotic systems is that they are dense, diverse, and highly adaptive to local conditions.  the attempt to farm every acre of apples (corn, potatoes) identically with every other acre of apples (corn, potatoes), to make every apple as nearly as possible identical with every other apple, etc., has led us to the brink of agricultural disaster.

in the political sense, "full generalisation" means top-down government from the most centralised nexus, be it DC or Brussels or the WTO HQ, imposing some Suit's fantasy of the One Best Way onto millions or billions of people whose realities are inconceivably fractal and diverse.  solutions to Peak Oil, solutions to water shortage, responses to the increasingly violent vagaries of a destabilised climate, will not be successful if imposed top-down by totalising generalisers.  they will have to be local, informed with "local knowledge" (a sailor's term for actual lived experience, over many seasons, of the winds tides and hazards of a given sailing area).  three ring binders will not solve the problem.

don't get me wrong;  centralised or generalised law making has its place, I am not a big fan of abolishing the State altogether.  basic human rights laws, the preservation of national and continental watersheds and biotic treasuries, assurance of safe passage for individuals exercising their (universal) right to mobility, the oversight of elections -- some standards can be defended as universal and enforced globally.  but practical hands-on solutions to resource management, crop diversity, public health etc. cannot be dictated as one-size-fits-all by a Central Committee (or a board of directors -- just two names for the same bunch of elite clowns thinking God appointed them to micromanage the unwashed).

the design for a comfortable and healthy home varies considerably depending on the climate and terrain.  people should be allowed to figure this out locally and build what works for their needs and their climate.  universal laws should prohibit their using slave labour to build that home, or cutting down endangered forests to do so, etc. -- but local conditions should determine the shape and thermal economy and materials and design of a home appropriate for its microregion;  and local democratic process should determine local land use and allocation of water, woodlot, etc.

all of which is a verbose way of saying I agree with the quoted comment, strongly.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:13:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ts offspring include Taylorism and the search for the One Most Efficient Way of producing a chair, which must then be imposed on every manufactory in sight -- which leads us gradually but inevitably to the Company World with One Soft Drink, One Hamburger, One Operating System, all replicated identically and imposed in every environment, every culture, every neighbourhood without variation, using workers who have been reduced to robots following numbered instruction steps in a three ring binder.

I think it's more that you get One Product for the confomists and A Different Extra Special Product for the Overt Noncomformists, possibly with a Quirky Homespun Alternative for those who want to get back to their hands-on earthy roots. (Those last two can sometimes be combined successfully.)

The narrative space that marketing and lifestyle choices live in is really shockingly small.

Apart from that - I'm wary of eulogising small local solutions because historically small local solutions often haven't been terribly good. Sometimes they've been very good indeed, but just as often - not so much.

People may know their locality, but without cross-fertilisation their skill and talent base is correspondingly small.

I think the monotheistic/local line is a false dichotomy. What promotes diversity is open, or at least very cheap, access to non-local insight and tools. The best of all possible worlds is diverse sharing and enhancement of local small-scale solutions, and the role of government should be to make sure that as much sharing and innovation happens as possible.

The other role of government is to maintain a framework of stability in which sharing can happen effectively without the threat of unlawful parasitism - either by local thugs, or by corrupt government.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 06:05:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The reason maximal consumption is needed is because demand is necessary to generate employment. Similarly, debt is necessary to generate money.

I'm going to borrow Chirs Cook's "reversing the polarity" phrase: we need to allow reductions in employment with stable standard of living. As productivity increases it becomes easier to provide a decent living standard for all with less use of labour and resources, which can also be spread out more thinly.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:13:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And the proof of that is that Martin Wolf is adamantly opposed to it in his latest column in the FT:


Why progressive taxation is not the route to happiness

Happiness is fashionable these days. Yet should we accept the common view that the new "science" of happiness has cemented the superiority of Scandinavian social democracy over Anglo-Saxon liberalism? The answer is: No. The results are just as destructive to the pious certainties of "progressives" as to those of their opponents.

Richard Layard of the London School of Economics and the UK's House of Lords produced an elegant, brief and influential exposition of the new doctrine two years ago. That doctrine itself, as he explains, is a modern reincarnation of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism*.

(...)

Its most important negative conclusion is that, beyond a certain threshold, extra wealth does not make us any happier. In any society, richer people tend to be happier than poorer ones, but the proportion of people saying they are very happy does not seem to rise over time. The explanation for this is partly that relative position matters and partly that we become used to prosperity.

(...)

What is under challenge, then, is modernity itself, not a competitive market economy alone. Prof Layard makes that clear in his comments on the decline of community and the family and the rise of individualism, crime and television. A conservative could read this book, agree with the analysis and reach policy conclusions that are almost the polar opposite of those stressed by a good social democrat, such as Prof Layard.

Prof Layard's conclusions are, however, rather different from those of such a putative conservative: tame the rat race by taxing excessive effort; increase economic security; and promote mental health through cognitive therapy and modern drugs.

(...) For the economist, then, it is the economic policies that are most questionable. Prof Layard argues that higher income is a route to higher status. But higher status for some is always lower status for others. So this is what economists call an "externality". The externality should be taxed, just like any other form of "pollution".

One answer to that is that effort is already taxed quite heavily in western societies. Another is that if monetary status is discouraged, people will seek status on other and often more damaging dimensions, power being a particularly dangerous example. Yet another answer is that it is far from obvious why differences in status become increasingly disturbing as income differentials increase. The fact that someone is one's boss or has a more prestigious position in society is a big enough difference on its own.

Furthermore, how far should we pursue this opposition to status? Why not abolish all indications of superior performance, from classed degrees to Nobel prizes? Finally, is it not evident that the search for status also has positive externalities - innovations of all kinds, for example?

In all, these arguments for more progressive taxation seem weak. This is less true of what Prof Layard says on economic security. While policies that raise unemployment are harmful to happiness under any plausible assumptions, there is no reason to abandon the welfare state's most important achievements: universal health insurance, state-funded education and security in old age.

In a nutshell: rich people are a less dangerous form of elitism than others. So, as you cannot fight 'modernity' and the quest for superior individual status, you should let that harmless form flourish.

As good a justification of neoliberalism as it goes, I guess.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One answer to that is that effort is already taxed quite heavily in western societies. Another is that if monetary status is discouraged, people will seek status on other and often more damaging dimensions, power being a particularly dangerous example. Yet another answer is that it is far from obvious why differences in status become increasingly disturbing as income differentials increase. The fact that someone is one's boss or has a more prestigious position in society is a big enough difference on its own.

This is enfuriating, because although Mr. Wolf has encountered evidence that does not comport with the understanding provided by their mindset (I mean this is the broadest sense, as in the set of rules that provide order and certainty by providing individuals a way in which to interpret life around them.  To use another cliche, they think inside the box) they struggle to provide explanantions that reinforce existing understandings of the way in which the world works.

As much as Mr. Wolf laments that the absence of income based status forces those who seek to prove themselves better than others forces the status seeker to assert their superiority through the use of other social distinctions.

Well, doesn't it stand to reason that the rise of identity based politics amongst lower income populations globally in which status is determined not by wealth but by adherence to religious and cultural tenets is essentially a reaction to income inequality and declining ecnomomic mobility.

Thus fascism in Europe arises as a response to the commodification of human dignity inherent to the creation of a labor market in which labor is not reconized as carrying humanity.  Humanity being the basis of order in the democratic society.

Consider that while in political order, anything but the doctrine that one person equals one vote is anathema.  While in the economic sphere, the idea that some animals are more equal than others (the irony is killing me) is inherent to the market where price is the basis of decision making. And intensity of preference matters, such that the willingness to pay larger sums of money indicates greater preference.  Thus the prefernces of the wealthy matter more than those of the poor.  Such is the basis of the neoliberal assault on democratic values, and the danger of the infiltration of economic paradigms into every crevice of human life.

 What other institution in modern society is permitted
to be so grossly anti-democratic as the market?

Shouldn't the implication of Mr. Wolf's revelation not be an argument for the expression of status through income, but rather an argument that the market and the economic sphere as a whole must be subject to the same rules of democratic governance as the political sphere?

After all the firm is a social creation.  See how long it last without society guaranteeing investors that their liability is limited to their investment.  Why not privatize the limitation of corporate liability?

Now much do you supppose it would cost to get that sort of coverage in the private sector.  And that's a line of attack that attacks the internal inconsistencies of neo-liberalism.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:27:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One answer to that is that effort is already taxed quite heavily in western societies.

It is? Where? And how?

Another is that if monetary status is discouraged, people will seek status on other and often more damaging dimensions, power being a particularly dangerous example.

We're lucky there's no evidence that this happens already.

Yet another answer is that it is far from obvious why differences in status become increasingly disturbing as income differentials increase. The fact that someone is one's boss or has a more prestigious position in society is a big enough difference on its own.

Well, no it's not. The narrative is really about cooperation vs exploitation. If I run a company in which I'm paid more, but I'm clearly willing to work hard and to share the profits with the employees in an inclusive way, the perceived differential is much smaller than if I flaunt my private jet and yacht and treat them as personal slaves.

Furthermore, how far should we pursue this opposition to status? Why not abolish all indications of superior performance, from classed degrees to Nobel prizes?

Status based on genuine achievement is far less damaging than status based purely on robot-like commercial exploitation.

There are no prizes for running your sweat shops more brutally than anyone else. Because no prizes are needed.

Finally, is it not evident that the search for status also has positive externalities - innovations of all kinds, for example?

Innovations are fine, but creativity and ingenuity are too often parasitised by accountancy and capital-diddling which builds status without being innovative.

In outline, this is a desperately silly straw-man argument that confuses the existence of status - not a bad thing when it's based on proven talent, and is inclusive - with the nature of status in capitalist economies, which is often illusory and disconnected from hard work, talent or the kinds of achievements that make a social contribution.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:29:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
people will seek status on other and often more damaging dimensions, power being a particularly dangerous example.

money isn't power?

rich people don't start wars?

hands up anyone who can think of a recent large-scale war that wasn't run by rich people... and didn't make rich people even richer?

where did this hopeless schmuck get the idea that wealth isn't a "dangerous" form of status?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:17:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So if demand is basically socially given, aren't efforts to alter it on an individual level pointless. because they do nothing to alter the causal force behind it?

Well, no. How does commercial advertising function to alter the social status of demands? It works on the individual level by building a false social image, and when that false social image becomes institutionalised by individuals, actual society conforms more closely to the false image.

Of course, in the false social image, inconvenient, unintended, or even unexpected consequences can be omitted, while they actually occur in actual society.

However, when we are trying to work with the real consequences of our actions, we must beware of slavish imitation of commercial advertising ... since we intend to have a different form of impact.

I believe that one important focus for our actions should be on smoothing the path and lowering the barriers to changes in the direction of sustainable economic development. There is, after all, plenty of pain coming down the track ... but when pain is the driving force, it does not provide much specifics in terms of direction. What we have to do is to provide directions to move where the reported experience is, "hey, this isn't that bad", so that as the news filters back into the panicky mob, that is the direction that they start to take.

For American Outer Suburbia, more specifics and less sweeping generalities in Retrofitting Outer Suburbia.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:27:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, no. How does commercial advertising function to alter the social status of demands? It works on the individual level by building a false social image, and when that false social image becomes institutionalised by individuals, actual society conforms more closely to the false image.

So is culture essentially subjective or intersubjective?

If culture is subjective than we can understand it through though the internalized meanings that people give to concepts that vary person to person.  So culture doesn't exist in any real sense.

If culture is intersubjective then we can understand it as shared symbols and meanings, that are socially determined rather than resulting from the individual internalizing social values.  Individuals don't determine meanings, and may not even be aware that what they believe to be their own opinion results from social influence not individual choice.  In a real sense, we are not entirely "free to choose" with our decisions being conditioned by social rules.


And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know which particular pigeon hole it resides within in that particular shorthand, so I guess I have to spell it out longhand.

Societal structures and individual social behavior are in a mutually self-reproducing loop. Societal structures are composed of rules and common understandings distributed among individuals, and they constrain and enable individual social behavior. In turn, it is those individual social behavior that creates  those rules and common understanding.

That is, at least, my view of it.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:57:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My point in regard to the environment here being, that perhaps in order for a society to be sustainable, demand has to be subject to social restraints.

No, in fact what your example seems to indicate is that all other things being equal demand is self-restraining and what needs to be socially constrained is the amount of labour. In other words, the 35 hour week. And when productivity increases by another 14%, the 30 hour week, and so on.

Full employment with constant demand and increasing productivity requires decreasing amount of labour (and resource use).

The system we have, by trying to squeeze as much profit as possible from labour and resources, runs into overproduction crises and demand shortfalls, and requieres constant stimulus to demand, either in the form of Keynesian spending or "supply creating its own demand" through advertising.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:09:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and the boom of the service (and low-value-added) economy has exactly that function, to keep people employed without increasing actual "production" and resource use too much.

If only people could provide more creative services than working at a call-centre...

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:45:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If there is a declining material input per labor hour, then the above does not directly follow.

And that is, some at CoFFEE would argue, one of the opportunities implicit in the Job Guarantee program ... that since the entitlement is to an opportunity to work at the specified wage, the material inputs per labor hour for JG jobs can be designed to be substantially below the average in private sector employment.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:02:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A better question then might be: why would we want people to work longer hours rather than shorter? Is there something magic about 40h/week? Should we think that it is better to employ a person at 40h and make them spend half the time digging a hole and refilling it, rather than just employ them for 20h, but keep the pay constant? With rising productivity, shorter work days just seem logical...
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:09:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or, wonder of wonders, maybe we could ignore the social engineering just for once?

And let people work as much or as little as they like?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If it were not for "social engineering" those of us working would be 2/3 of those employed now and would be working 60 hour weeks.

I didn't know you were a fan of Manchester Capitalism.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:17:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand what you are saying. Really, I am not trying to be cheeky.

Why do you think most people would prefer 60 hour work weeks? Most people I know would prefer to work less than 40 hours, and a few work 80 hours and like that.

Why don't let people decide for themselves?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:24:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought you liked high minimum social standards like you have in Sweden, such as the minimum wage. Why not let people work as long as they want for as little money as they're willing to work for?

What I'm trying to say is that the gains of the labour movement over the past 200 years are the "social engineering" you're talking about. And so is the Swedish Model.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:32:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Sweden has no minimum wage, but a system of collective bargaining.)
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:34:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which works pretty much like a minimum wage, but anyway.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:39:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is an interesting point (that Sweden has no minimum wage), and one that contradicts the classical liberal view of the how the economy works.

Sweden needs no minimum wage because wages in Sweden aren't determined by the market.  They're determined by associational bargaining.  I think that this is highly superior to having either the state or the market determine wages.  

And it all worked fairly well until you had skilled workers break with solidaristic wage policies in the early 90's. And when that happened you lost much of the wage restraint that made the system work, and the macro coordination to ensure economic stability between the blue collar and white collar unions.

I guess for me the interesting thing is that Sweden is one of those countries where the logic of the market is highly constrained within social institions and rules.  Which is why you don't need nearly as much state intervention.  Sweden is imperfect, but the ability of associational systems like in Sweden and Germany to achieve social justice by social organizations rather than state intervention is something that deserves to be looked at much more closely.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:08:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And it all worked fairly well until you had skilled workers break with solidaristic wage policies in the early 90's. And when that happened you lost much of the wage restraint that made the system work, and the macro coordination to ensure economic stability between the blue collar and white collar unions.

I do not agree with this description. There has always been tensions among different unions about how to split the pie. There was governmental efforts during the crisis years in the early 90's to limit all unions wage demands but that was in my opinion more related to the general transition from high inflation - low unemployment to low inflation - high unemployment (moving on the Phillips curve). The unions system of internal negotiations is quite unchanged.

The reasons for the general crisis was a mixture. Ingredients included increased governmental borrowing and spending during the roaring years of the late 80's and an overheated housing market that when it crashed wiped out fortunes and a lot of savings. Construction came to an abrupt halt. Housing companies turned out to have more loans then assets. If banks were allowed to go bankcrupt some would have, Nordea (Nordbanken) that was in the worst shape was taken over and run by the government.

Which role inflation and the transition to low inflation (in the middle of crisis) played is less clear to me.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 08:32:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW

http://www.cnw.ca/fr/releases/archive/June2007/08/c2877.html


Supreme Court of Canada says collective bargaining protected by Charter of Rights and Freedoms

    OTTAWA, June 8 CNW Telbec - Canada's largest union is hailing today's
landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada as the Court's most important
decision in support of free collective bargaining in Canada.
    Referring to the Supreme Court of Canada's previous refusal to recognize
collective bargaining as protected by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
Paul Moist, national president of CUPE, stated "In overruling its own
decisions from 20 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada has removed
tremendous hurdles faced by the trade union movement in this country ."
    "The Supreme Court of Canada has now opened a door that was closed twenty
years ago ," says Moist. He notes that the possibility for today's ruling was
opened by the 1995 judgment in Dunmore      
http://www.sgmlaw.com/PageFactory.aspx?PageID=228.
    "Today the Supreme Court has followed this opening and determined that
the right of workers to bargain collectively is so important to society as a
whole that it is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
    The Court held that collective agreement provisions dealing with
contracting out, layoffs and bumping are central to the freedom of
association. Substantial interference with collective bargaining over these
essential rights violates the freedom of association.
    Moist added, "CUPE is particularly pleased that the Court found that the
Charter gives the same protection for collective bargaining as contained in
international labour conventions that Canada has ratified."
    For Claude Généreux, CUPE's national secretary treasurer, "Collective
bargaining is the fundamental reason that trade unions exist. The Court has
recognized that collective bargaining is constitutionally protected. CUPE is
ecstatic with this."
    "From now on, governments that interfere with freely negotiated
collective agreements and the collective bargaining rights of employees must
justify their actions against the protection provided by the Charter of
Rights."

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:51:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have my PN points for today.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:24:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't say we should abolish the minimum wage or the welfare state, or even social engineering as a concept. I said we should not regulate how many hours you should be able to work.

If you want to work 60 hours a week at the minimum wage to (eventually) afford a BMW, please do! I'd rather work 30 hours and ride my bike.

But who am I to say you are doing the wrong thing and I am doing the right? It's a matter of preferences. Some people value income over leisure, and some do the opposite. Let people decide this for themselves.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:38:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about when the option is: you can work 60h or get fired? Or, you can agree to work 60h or never even get hired? I'm afraid that this is the deal 'freedom' will offer.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:41:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially when fewer and fewer people are needed in high-value-added jobs, and the population is overeducated given the productivity and the demand.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:47:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you want to work 60 hours a week at the minimum wage to (eventually) afford a BMW, please do! I'd rather work 30 hours and ride my bike.

But who am I to say you are doing the wrong thing and I am doing the right? It's a matter of preferences. Some people value income over leisure, and some do the opposite. Let people decide this for themselves.

The ironic thing here is that I think that you've misinterpreted the social conditioning of preferences with individual choice.  

In one word.  

Lagom

Is your preference for leisure over seeking further material gains the result of the rational calculation of utitilies to choose the option providing the greatest utility, or is this socially conditioned, such that the formal organization of work by law is unneccesary because social norms condtion preferences to an extent that it's unneccesary?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:13:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In all countries in the world including France you can work 24 hours per day, so 168 hours per week if you want too.

It's just that you can't be an employee of some corporation if you want to work more than 48 hours per week (or some other limit depending on the country).

Just offer your work as a contractor on a per job basis and there is no regulation in the total hours worked.

So you can get your BMW, even in France.

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:58:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
most people do not get to choose how much they work. It's companies that tell thm. So unless you impose social norms on companies, they will tell workers what they want, and that's likely to be fewer workers working longer hours, if they can get away with it, because it will be cheaper to them (although probably not to society).

Freedom to work more exists only if there is a balance between the demand and the supply of labor. With structural underemployment (whether via unemployment, part time employment or other schemes), the threat of using illegal immigrants or offshoring activity, there is no balance.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UK is a mirror image of France: the latter has the 35h week and the former negotiated a waiver of the European Working Time Directive.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:40:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I like social engineering... Otherwise it will be done by 'the markets' anyway, in their own way. So, you think it is possible to work as much or as little as one wants? Not so easy, in practise. Sure, I could try to find a part time engineering post, but most likely it would be a lesser job as I would be considered not serious enough for the job if I don't want to work long hours... This was certainly the case in the US, where with more education one is pretty much doomed to working longer hours since that's what people do. I'd be glad if it was a simple formula of "you give me some money for my provided labour", but for some reason, in to the mix, comes stupid requirements that one should also be enthusiastic about the corporate goals, and want to work more and longer to further ones career, and be a great 'team player', etc. I just wanted a job, not a whole belief system! So, what you say sounds great, but in practice, with no 'social engineering', the 'free market' does not in fact allow for this, having engineered the social all by themselves.

Engineering is good! Social engineering is great! As an engineer, I have never understood why 'social engineering' is supposed to be a bad thing... It means we think about what we want and try to achieve it, rather than let the terms be dictated by whomever happens to have a ridiculous idea and the money to back it up. As if flailing around with no plan is better than a good design.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:24:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Look, I do believe social engineering has its uses. I just don't think regulating how many hours I would like to work is one of those things the state has anything to do with.

If I need the money or love my job, I would have no problems with 60 hours a week. If I feel I have better things to do I'll switch to half time and tell my employer I have other things to do and that he only have to pay me half my old wage. How nice for him, he'll save loads of money.

Maybe it's utopian, I don't know...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:29:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... rising productivity, but simply increasing resource use per labor hour.

If we have pure technological progress, we should indeed increase the baseline wage represented by the JG wage ... and if that means people choose to request fewer shifts and time worked goes down, great.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 02:36:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would actually expect increasing material inputs per labour hour, to be honest. People can learn to be more efficient, but materials can't.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:22:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But labor time can be traded for greater material efficiency ... while we have been in a series of technological channels involving increasing material resource use per labor hour, it remains possible to invest greater labor efficiency in great material productivity.

Of course, much of that is a matter of design, and since commerical corporate design horizons are governed by compound interest on interest rates in financial markets, and commercial corporations are constructed to be antagonistic to labor income, placing so many of our fundamental technology design decisions in the hands of commercial corporations is something that we have to think through.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 02:43:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hannah Arendt, in Imperialism, described how the British got around the problem of set demand in Kenya: they introduced a head tax.  Anyone who could not pay was jailed.  That got the native population to work for wages.

She was contemptuous of the "free"market fairy tales about how modern economies grow out of traditional economies and gave other examples of the use of state power where markets failed to do the job that corporations wanted them to do.

by cambridgemac on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:38:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are there, simply, limits beyond which we can't go in a sustainable fashion?

that seems axiomatic.  it's physically obvious that there's only so much water in the Earth's outer atmospheric and geologic layers;  if there were enough thirsty human beings to tie up all that water in our tummies and bladders, then there wouldn't be any to grow plants, and we would all die (we're only here because of plants, after all).  if you multiply the number of human beings by a large enough X, you're bound to run out of something essential.

the big (and contentious) debate centres on what we're really running out of, and whether we're really running out of it or whether scarcity is artificial due to hoarding and hogging and market-fixing and other chicanery; and whose fault it is that we're running out of whatever it is.  and the associated big question, how many of us can live a decent life on this ball of rock, and what do we mean by "decent"?

in general, I listen seriously to Malthusians who say "there are too many of us," and I don't listen seriously to Malthusians who say, "there are too many of Them."

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 02:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The interesting thing is that there are "innovator" / "market" advocates who seem to reject the entire concept that there are, fundamentally,  limits.  

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:38:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, because the experience in the age of cheap energy has been that every material limit that we have reached has, it would seem, been overcome by innovation.

Except, that is, if you plot energy consumption per person, and then it becomes clear that they have been overcome by innovation plus the application of additional energy.

Now, innovation alone can deliver economic growth. But it cannot deliver constant 3% economic growth over long periods of time ... that form of growth, which we became accustomed to in the post WWII period, is material extensive growth.

Rather, pure technological progress can deliver periodic waves of economic growth, of various heights. So an economy that relies on "pure" technological progress for its growth is one that must be capable of functioning without problem in a stable state in the periods between the waves of economic growth.

One important element of that in a monetary production economy is to have the government providing a job guarantee (research site), since the inability to deliver steady real growth implies that pure General Theory Keynesian growth policies may easily be constrained by full employment of resources other than labor.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:36:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The thermodynamic limits to efficiency are actually quite far from our current abilities. Technopolitical expresses it by saying that "we're really bad at making things".

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:15:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup, and there is no reason to approach this limit when energy is abundant. And when energy availability declines, less will be available to do that development. In particular when the economic framework is entirely hung up on profits and wealth concentration. 'Market mechanisms' encourages energetic wastefulness in all sorts of ways... When people buy your product, you want to be sure they'll want another one in the future. Planned obsolesance... Computational power is poorly harnessed, all those processor cycles poorly used since development is largely on the side of providing more inefficiently coded useless 'features', version numbers increase unboundedly rather than converging, as would seem appropriate...
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:24:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's why it's so unconscionable that we're letting our fossil fuels go up in smoke instead of using them to transition to something better.

All these years of climate change denial have just delayed the inevitable adaptation. And Now we're going to biofuels!

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:42:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. I certainly have a sense that we are squandering energy resources that will run out. Yes, hydrocarbons have led to great development, as well as big problems. But it is not managed at all, there is not the sense that it will end, and that we should use this temporary energy wealth, that has been, and still is, fortuiously available to us to ensure a better future. Instead it is all 'markets' all the time. With a sort of "wheee, we don't really know how everything works, but we sure know how to make profits, so let's keep going and be sure to never look at available data long enough to attempt any kind of medium- or long-term projections or planning".

Even the Bible knows that when one is blessed with seven years of plenty one ought prepare for the following seven of want. Demand cannot endlessly drive supply...

The biofuels bit... It was very predictable, the consequences to forests and food supply, predicted here at ET, in fact, as well as other places. But it is hard to head off those enthusiastic profiteers...

Hmmm, market mechanisms, supply, demand... When something is more scarce the price will go up, which will encourage more investment, which will cause larger supply, to meet demand. This equation ignores the energy aspects, that if your lack is one of energy, then a willingness to pay a higher price is not enough, because the energy to build increased production capacity might not be there, or the sources might not give a large enough return on investment. (In energy, not money...) And all the enthusiasm for further development, seen through the willingness to invest money, cannot help with the energy calculations. Enthusiasm does not appear in thermo. More is not always available... Optimism doesn't cause everything to come out alright...

It seems to me that economics predicts that with some optimism, enthusiasm, and lots of demand, we'll be sure to get the supply. That there are no non-human constraints at all... Only political difficulties, no material ones... But with 'iron laws' of economics hard-wired to 'reality' rather than imposed... I don't get it...

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:02:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Malthus was, of course, right regarding exponential growth vs. any possible expansion of resources. He was wrong regarding the time scale and specific nature of the constraints, however, chiefly due to a moderate mis-estimation of improvements in agricultural technology. Current concerns about encountering real, hard, immutable limits are based on a gross mis-estimation of improvements to be expected (for better or worse) from achievable technologies.

Please note that none of the discussions of near-term limits address the question of what physics, chemistry, and biology tell us about what is achievable in manipulating matter and energy. Instead, they look at what we have, and imagine minor improvements in technologies and changes in deployments of labour and capital to exploit them.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When you factor in self-assembly, self-repair, and behaviour, how much more efficient is biology than present (or "achievable") technology?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:03:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Efficient at what?

And I wouldn't exclude human technology from biology. It's only a marginally more advanced example of tool use and resource extraction.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 06:12:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How much more efficient is biology? Consider: we can learn from biology, and achievable technologies include systems both like and unlike what we find in biology -- including systems with structures inaccessible to evolutionary processes that are incremental and that build everything using microscopic bags of salt water. The question should be, I think, How much more efficient are achievable technologies?, as indicated by experience and by understanding based on known physical principles.

With respect to energy efficiency, answers vary depending on the process under consideration and the improvements range from small to an order of magnitude or more. As one important example, photovoltaic cells have already shown >40% efficient conversion of solar energy to usable free energy, electric power, but "The highest yielding crops convert solar energy into plant material with an efficiency of 1-2%".

The achievable efficiency of transforming matter from one form to another can be (at worst) comparable to that in biology, for comparable products, and the mass-efficiency of delivering useful functions (structural strength, motive force, information processing...) can in many instances be orders of magnitude higher, for achievable, very un-biological products (e.g., >40% efficient photovoltaic cells).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:04:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As one important example, photovoltaic cells have already shown >40% efficient conversion of solar energy to usable free energy, electric power, but "The highest yielding crops convert solar energy into plant material with an efficiency of 1-2%".

40% efficiency of conversion of solar energy into electricity is not the same thing as 40% efficiency of conversion of solar energy into photovoltaic cells.

And those biological systems are self-repairing, self-assembling and fully biodegradable.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 09:17:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and the highest yielding photosynthesisers (not used for crops) have a yield of 5-6%

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 10:09:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. The number that I found seemed lower than what I'd recalled. With achievable gains in PV efficiency, the gap is still a factor of ~10.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 05:01:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And those biological systems are self-repairing, self-assembling and fully biodegradable

plus, many of them are edible and nutritious -- which is more than I can say for a milliamphour of solar power.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 03:51:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and this is an illustration of a broader point: Efficiency comparisons aren't much use when products are radically different. For an example on complementary side of this, I don't think that a vegetable garden is likely to grow me an internet connection.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 06:13:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[I like the 'athorists' quip btw]

and that leads us to the next question:  which is more important, eating, or having an internet connection / iPod / private auto / whatever ?

we are now faced with the question:  which of these luxury lifestyle accessories is compatible with a decent diet for everyone?  which of them is even compatible with a decent diet for the affluent elite nations?  our appetite for toys and profit has now collided with our appetite for food...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jun 11th, 2007 at 04:32:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"40% efficiency of conversion of solar energy into electricity is not the same thing as 40% efficiency of conversion of solar energy into photovoltaic cells."

Indeed, but 5% seems more than reasonable, calculating efficiency relative to the thermodynamic minimum for the required transformation of raw materials. This is good enough to be attractive:
-----------

In the context of achievable systems, assume

  • A low value for the mean output power density (1e2 W/m2, already achieved)

  • A high value for the PV cell areal mass density (3e-2 kg/m2, considerably more than some existing multi-junction thin-film cells), and

  • A high value for the energy required per unit mass of cell produced (3e8 J/kg, 10 times the heat of combustion of carbon -- this is motivated by the assumption of oxide starting materials and bad thermodynamic efficiency, ~10%).

The energy payback time with these assumptions is ~1e7 seconds, which is about 4 months. (Yes, this is lot better than what has been achieved with today's lamentably crude methods.)
-----------

"And those biological systems are self-repairing, self-assembling and fully biodegradable."

These are nice properties, but I'd settle for (other means of) low-cost production and maintenance, together with full recyclability.

One must also consider the environmental advantages of consuming no water and only 1/10 as much land area fore equivalent energy production. Replacing total human power consumption, ~ 14e12 W, would require only 0.03% of Earth's surface area. Picture sparse arrays in selected, scattered patches of desert.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 06:05:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, there are some quite forward looking discussions of options and possibilities.  There are synthesis discussions that mix visions of great opportunities looming with concerns that there might not be enough time, through Peak Oil & other looming stresses, to discover / develop / and implement these advances.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:59:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was Malthus right? Jared Diamond seems to think that in some cases the answer is clearly yes. In Jared Diamond's book Collapse he discusses the genocide in Rwanda in a fair amount of detail. (Chapter 10 pp 311-328).

I found his argument to be disturbingly convincing. I will provide some selected quotes - of course it will not do true justice to his argument.

But modern Rwanda illustrates a case where Malthus's worst-case scenario does seem to have been right.

They [Rwanda, Burundi] are the two most densely populated countries in Africa and among the most densely populated in the world: Rwanda's average population density is triple even that of Africa's third most densely populated country (Nigeria), and 10 times that of neighboring Tanzania. Genocide in Rwanda produced the third largest body count among the world's genocides since 1950. ... Because Rwanda's total population is 10 times smaller than that of Bangladesh, the scale of the Rwanda's genocide... far exceeds that of Bangladesh

Diamond notes the work Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda HRW

This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negoating table, these few powerholders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide.

But there is also evidence that other considerations contributed as well. Rwanda contained a third ethnic group, variously known as the Twa or pygmies, who numbered only 1% of the population, were at the bottom of the social scale and power structure, and did not constitute a threat to anybody - yet most of them, too, were massacred in the 1994 killings.

Especially puzzling, if one believes that there was nothing more to the genocide than Hutu-versus-Tutsi ethnic hatred fanned by politicians, are events in northwestern Rwanda. There, in a community were virtually everybody was Hutu and there was only a single Tutsi, mass killings still took place - of Hutu by other Hutu. While the proportional death toll there, estimated as "at least 5% of the population," may have been somewhat lower ... it still takes some explaining why a Hutu community would kill at least 5% of its members in the absence of ethnic motives.

Rwanda's average population density was 760 people per square mile, higher than that of the United Kingdom (610) and approaching that of Holland (950). But the United Kingdom and Holland have highly efficient mechanized agriculture.

By 1985, all arable land outside of national parks was being cultivated.

Kanama has very fertile volcanic soil, so that its population density is high even by the standards of densely populated Rwanda: ... rising to 2,040 [people per square mile] in 1993. ... those high population densities translated into very small farms: a median farm size of only 0.89 acre in 1988, declining to 0.72 acre in 1993. Each farm was divided into (on average) 10 separate parcels, so that farmers were tilling absurdly small parcels averaging only 0.09 acre in 1988 and 0.07 acre in 1993.

With more young people staying home, the average number of people per farm household increased (between 1988 and 1993) from 4.9 to 5.3, so that the land shortage was even tighter than indicated by the decrease in farm size... When one divides decreasing farm area by increasing number of people in the household, one finds that each person was living off of only one-fifth of an acre in 1988, declining to one-seventh of an acre in 1993.

The percentage of the population consuming less than 1,600 calories per day (i.e., what is considered below the famine level) was 9% in 1982, rising to 40% in 1990 and some unknown higher percentage thereafter.

It is not rare, even today, to hear Rwandans argue that a war is necessary to wipe out an excess of population and to bring numbers into line with the available land resources."

The survivor is a Tutsi teacher whom Runier interviewed, and who survived only because he happened to be away from his house when killers arrived and ;murdered his wife and four of his five children:

"The people whose children had to walk barefoot to school killed the people who could buy shoes for theirs."




aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 07:23:36 PM EST
Worth taking a peek at the Rwandan population curve at wiki.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:12:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the population shrank 89-95 (with no clearly marked effect of the genocide in 94) and then took of again?

(same link as nanne)

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:09:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is it getting ready for another collapse?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:16:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The collapse was caused by a civil war, which raged from the early 90s. I tried to find stats to back up the graph but I could find nothing at the source stated on wiki (FAO) and the UN's population stats database only has 5-yearly statistics. I don't think the graph is entirely accurate, or at least statistics derived from the IMF contradict it. You have to go with the overall picture. After 1995, it seems the population recovered quite quickly, maybe due to the return of most of the 2 million refugees (no way of checking whether and how they figure in the stats).

I don't think technological progress has been high enough in the agricultural sector of Rwanda to relieve the pressure that was there before. But maybe they figured out that genocide doesn't really function as population control.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:05:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The proximate cause of the dieoff was a civil war, but what what the systemic cause? Overcrowding?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:07:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I don't know if I agree with the notion of systemic causality. There is a multitude of factors. Overcrowding is one background cause, but you also have others, like the distribution of political power and economic wealth, and the development thereof. Communication technology like radio also played an important role in the dissemination of hate-filled propaganda.

I think the most interesting causes to be researched are in individual and mass psychology. What causes the majority of a society to become sociopathic? Does it learn or can it happen again?

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:37:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see how "the graph is entirely accurate, or at least statistics derived from the IMF contradict it":


Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:20:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IMF stats show a precipitous drop starting in 1994, whereas the graph shows a more steady decline from 1990. Thus the graph is not "entirely accurate" or at least contradicts the IMF stats, but the "overall picture" is something that can be used for the general point that killing off a lot of people is not a particularly effective way to reduce overpopulation.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 06:02:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did you just make that graph? Nice feat.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 06:34:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It takes 6 lines of R code. I should post it on the wiki.

The most time-consuming part of it was to type innthe data as the tab-delimited file from the IMF was garbled.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 08:40:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now added to the ET Wiki's R Sample Code page.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 05:00:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That Malthus guy, wasn't he pretty thoroughly debunked about a century ago?

The history of agriculture is intertwined with the history of humankind.  Each increase in the size of human settlements was accompanied by further sophistication in the cooperative effort to produce, store, and distribute ever-larger quantities of food.  New technologies, like the plow and the irrigation ditch, led to new abundance but also new problems, like soil erosion and the buildup of salt in the soil.  Progress was slow but steady.  Through the centuries, the ratio of population to food supply remained relatively stable, with both growing at a roughly equal rate.  But with the scientific revolution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the human population began surging, and for the first time it seemed possible that the population might soon outstrip the ability of the environment to yield enough food.  This fear was articulated at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the English political economist Thomas Malthus; that he was famously wrong has been due to a series of remarkable innovations in the science of agricultural production.  Malthus was right in predicting that the population would grow geometrically, but he didn't foresee our ability to make geometric improvements in agricultural technology.  Even today, with several countries in the world suffering massive famines, there is little doubt that a commitment to use more land and newer agricultural methods could vastly increase the amount of food produced on earth.  The problem we now face is therefore more complicated than the one Malthus identified.  In theory, the food supply can keep up with the population for a long while yet, but in practice, we have chosen to escape the Malthusian dilemma by making a set of dangerous bargains with the future worthy of the theatrical legend that haunted the birth of the scientific revolution: Doctor Faustus.

Al Gore, Earth In the Balance

Actually I'm rather afraid that Malthus (and Gore) are all too right and we have merely postponed an inevitable reckoning.

Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true of humans in the finite space of a planetary ecosystem as it is for gas molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive.

Frank Herbert, Dune

I suspect the human question of what kind of existence is possible in this finite planetary ecosystem affords the human species a fairly stark choice between two alternatives.  I do not believe we can maintain anything like our current global human population while simultaneously maintaining anything like the affluent life styles typical of the populations of the current industrialized, so-called First World nations.  I'm quite certain we cannot extend that life style to the billions now living near subsistence levels in the  so-called Third World.  I suspect that within a generation, two at the most, we in the First World will learn to live a much more austere life style whether we want to or not.  Or some billions of the current human population of our planet will cease to survive.  Anyone care to guess which alternative will come to pass?

I am at heart a scientist, a technologist.  I cling to the hope that reason, science, and the sane application of technology can solve virtually every problem.  But the longer we let those who reject reason and science set the agenda, the less hope I have.

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 07:46:10 PM EST
It is neet that technology developed just as "geometrically" as human population until now. But this is not so much a function of human ability to innovate, but a function of resource availability: the techology develops just as fast as we need while this development can be supported by available resourses.

My prediction is an abrupt and painful escalation of environmental predicaments. Many populaces will fail to adapt, or "succeed" in anihilating each other. But on community level, a good portion of them will fare well enough to survive a decade (or two) of utmost hardship. In this sense, I agree with the Oil Drum discussion on social localization. In particular, small communities can handle "tragedies of commons" problems without going into general theoretical discussions.

by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:04:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've only got a brief second before tottering off to bed so this will be superficial.

A couple of days ago you brought-up an interesting point when you commented Climatic Patterns are stable-ish for long periods of time.

that is true when the time period used is based on the fundamental human decision-making time period: (roughly) one second.  If one collapses geologic time such that it approximates human time one sees continents merrily whizzing around, bashing into each other, rebounding, joining, spliting apart, & etc.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:19:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That Malthus guy, wasn't he pretty thoroughly debunked about a century ago?

Actually, my impression from reading works from 150 years ago is that the classical  English liberal economists like Smith, Ricardo or J S Mill were Malthusians. They were concerned with "the end state of capitalism" in which profits were low, wages stagnated and there was general misery. J S Mill saw a way our only through population control and universal education.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:18:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I forgot to add my tongue-in-cheek icon there.  Sorry.  The adoption of first steam powered and then petroleum powered technologies seduced several generations into believing that Malthus was wrong, that limitless growth was possible, that technology could transcend all limits.  Our generation may evade the consequences of pursuing that illusion.  Key word may.  Our children and our grandchildren most certainly will not.

And I haven't read Mill, though I know I should, but I wholeheartedly agree with those two points.

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:55:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Remember that we need 1 Hiroshima bomb every 3 days just to stabilise the population.

let hope that a fantastic bird flu can do the trick and makes realestate more affordable.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 08:13:56 PM EST
Yikes!

Personally, I'm all in favour of free education, birth control and abortions on demand for women as an alternative.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 08:50:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing to remember is that every innovation in the past 300 years has led to an increase in population.

Medical innovations have increased life span and reduced the death rate. The "green revolution" has increase the food supply and allowed for more people to live in the same area.

Technological innovations like steam power and the internal combustion engine have allowed society to spread to less favorable areas. If we were restricted to mostly local food production, for example, there wouldn't be a population boom in the desert of the US southwest.

So, just extrapolating from history, programs like Lovins' can be expected to stimulate more consumption, not less. So far the human race seems unable to address this conundrum. Even a place like China which has severe restrictions on population growth has not taken similar steps when it comes to resource consumption growth.

I'm afraid mother nature will be the way things are brought back into balance. It won't be pretty.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 10:49:52 PM EST
some argue that human population is a "linear" function of food supply. More presicely perhaps, it is a function of energy supply. The explosion of the 20th century did not coincide with breakthrough agricultural innovations, but rather with growth of energy availability (which, in turn, did allow for for extensive agriculture).

On the other hand,

There is a significant complication in this, however... [the] world's richest nations are growing by the smallest percentages. [If] population is a function of food supply, why is the most significant growth taking place in those areas producing the least food?

Of course, the ecological footprint of the First world countries increases just as much as energy availability allows. But what does it say about human nature? When living is good, does reproduction become a lesser priority? Do we turn into competition by numbers when things are tough?

by das monde on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 11:23:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The normal course of events is the Armed Forces requisition (i.e., steal) food from the producers and distribute it to themselves, the ruling elites, and city dwellers.  If the producers resist "contributing to the Greater Good" the Armed Forces shoot them.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:14:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Counter-culturally, I still believe that the usually supposed role of Armed Forces requisition is overestimated in extreme situations. At some moment, robbery costs is gonna outweight benefits. For sustainable robbery you have to do your harvests more carefully. Angry mob gives no profit. The blessed countries will be those where people start to cooperate and care for each other (for the ultimate outliving purpose) sooner rather than later.
by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:39:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Acquiring food by force is an extremely tempting short-term tactic--the US Executive has already given Executive Orders for plans to do this--that rapidly leads to a severe overall reduction in food.  It is one of the fast-track down scenerios in the process of collapse.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:35:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is one of the fast-track down scenerios in the process of collapse.

Exactly. This is not the way to overcome a tough on skin change.

by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:59:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Off the top of my head I can think of the French and Russian Revolutions where this happened.  It also happened in the US during the 30s with a bit of a twist: the Federal goverment came to farms and shot livestock in order to reduce the supply to bring the price of the remaining animals coming to market.  

didn't work.

The cost of this robbery is - as you say - it makes the problem worse.  Especially when they confiscate the seed needed for the next growing season.  

The blessed countries will be those where people start to cooperate and care for each other (for the ultimate outliving purpose) sooner rather than later.

I absolutely agree.  

And I'd better stop here before I start using the ... shudder ... "S" word.  

;-)


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:57:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
once you have a little vertical castle of possessions to worry about, it becomes apparent that too many kids 'gets in the way' of patrolling the perimeter and adding to the stash.

thus the high level of neurosis in children of rich families.

the converse: if you have nothing to lose, why be sexually responsible?

there is even a market for selling your kids into slavery in very poor countries, that good invisible hand at work.

having kids in a modern society, rife with upwardly mobile fragmented families, is hard, ego-shattering work, add granma living in another town, less aunts and cousins, etc, and the post-industrial substitution of (probably hypothetical) pensions for the old paradigm support of younger family members.

nature makes millions of sperm to create very few children, dispassionately i see no logical reason that scale of waste should not extrapolate to human populations, and the deciding factor keeping so many (often half)-alive so long has indeed been the technology fix of being able to plunder and waste resources as if there were no tomorrow...

yes....and the irony is that it's emerging that if we did have an intelligent world socialism as operating system of governance, we might even be able to support larger world populations, more efficiently and with a much higher quotient of happiness.

there is a small but very determined portion of our species that is resisting this change, and either they or all of us are doomed, punto basta.

what we need is a new global sense of responsibility, and i see it a-birthing in many places, not least right here at ET.

fantastic discussion, thanks all.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:00:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's look at several that might not have contributed to population growth:

  • Birth control

  • Educating girls/women

  • Women in the workforce

???

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 11:41:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and remember that all these innovations are being rolled back -- with political clout and with brute force -- by angry men worldwide, from the Taliban in Afghanistan to the xtian fundies in the US.  the US is doing everything its foreign policy and aid muscle can achieve, to prevent the promotion and use of contraceptive technologies throughout the world.  how smart is that?  and politicians in the affluent countries are busy inventing incentives and programmes to increase their national birth rates.

in the midst of dwindling resources and environmental crumbling, we're having a renaissance of natalist dogma and policy.  it's just another of those "beam me up" aspects of the present era.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 02:42:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make a good point, but in most cases the improvement in the lot (or options) of women has only led to a slowing in the increase in population.

There are a few exceptions, like Japan and Italy where the population is actually declining or will be shortly, but I'm not sure that birth control and educated women are the main reasons.

I don't understand what's happening in Italy (momma's boys not getting married?), but in Japan women still have an inferior social position so, I would think they would still be under pressure to marry. Perhaps they do and just have fewer children. A recent study found that the Japanese have sex less often than any other developed country.

If some of us are going to push for negative population growth then we really need to come up with social policies that will allow this to happen. Japan is now pushing for older people to stay in the work force. They haven't yet examined whether all that "work" really needs to be done at all.

Japanese men who retire find that they have nothing to do and many marriages break up at that point. They have never developed outside interests having been consumed with work. Thus they find they have little in common with their wives. New retirement laws allow the wives to get part of the husband's pension, so they have less reason to stay married.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:08:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They haven't yet examined whether all that "work" really needs to be done at all.

a whole lot of the "work" done in our mad "global economy" doesn't need to be done at all.  that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.  destroying the biosphere and working people to death to produce little plastic tchotchkes that get thrown away after 6 months.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:41:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
6 months?

You have more confidence than I ... too much of the plastic is thrown out virtually within seconds ... along with the pacakaging that is larger than what is enclosed.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 10:41:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's two more systems that are starting to fail.

Antibiotic resistent bacteria are emerging from the natural interplay of Darwinian forces.  The recent TB foo-foo illustrates only one of many bacterial diseases with minimum available drugs; staph and gonococcus are two more.  

The miracle drug Tetracyline is now almost worthless as the transfer resistence factor from its use in cow feed - to allow the massive overstocking on feedlots w/o the steers dropping dead & to increase weight gain/feed - to humans.

The Green Revolution is over.  Food production/acre hasn't increased in 20 years.  In 6 of the last 8 years the production of corn, wheat, and rice hasn't met the yearly requirements.  The global grainstocks have met their lowest levels in modern history.  The world is one really sucko harvest away from famine.

Meanwhile, the car addicts are hoping cornfuel will be their heroin to cure their morphine addiction.  People aren't listening and they aren't going to listen.  It's the same reason heroin addicts don't stop shooting their drug into their veins.  The global economy is addicted to oil and planetary rape and the cure rate for addiction - any addiction - is pifflesnot until the addict decides to stop.  

So whatthehell ...

Most don't.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:00:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
cornfuel will be their heroin to cure their morphine addiction

Exactly.  

And this is why Lovins is so completely wrong.  It is not that innovation is bad, or cannot work (some of it might work) but until or unless the addiction is addressed, any and all innovations will be turned to feed the addiction.

At best this postpones collapse.  It neither evades it nor ameliorates it.  It could even make it worse.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:24:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it would be interesting to know what makes an addict decide to stop, since that's our present predicament in a nutshell.

generally, recovered addicts talk about a pivotal moment of truth, a moment when they got a clear view of the wreckage that their life had become, or a moment when they lost a friend who could no longer deal with their BS, or their lover/partner left them... that kind of thing.  in other words, there were consequences and those consequences suddenly came into focus and there was an Aha moment, as in Aha, I really need to stop doing this.

clearly most of the affluent West has not reached the Aha moment yet -- despite the trail of wreckage that its addiction is leaving worldwide and at home.

I note that AA is not a recruiting organisation -- it works by attraction not recruitment.  they are not interested in people who aren't actively interested in joining and ready to join.  I think the environmental movement may be missing something here -- a chunk of it is modeled on electoral politics, another chunk on evangelism;  maybe a substantial chunk should start working on an AA analog?  I'm tired and not thinking too clearly... but attraction rather than recruitment is rapidly building a "food dissident movement" w/in affluent Western nations, for the simple reason that real food tastes better than corporate fodder and most often people feel better when they eat it...  ecovillages and greenish co-housing projects are generally overwhelmed with applicants (attraction rather than recruitment again)...  seems to me that a one-terron lifestyle involving female emancipation, free access to contraception, ongoing education, reduced work hours, more shared and fewer hoarded resources, etc. might also attract many volunteers eager for a change.

but then there are those damned vested interests, whispering into the consumers' ear that giving up your SUV == castration and environmentalists must be stopped before they "force everyone to live in mud huts" (yaaaawn).  [meanwhile the sperm count in Western industrial nations keeps dropping thanks to the massive ubiquitous toxicity of industrialism, thus effecting a kind of de facto castration.  one thing the species will never run out of, it seems, is irony.]

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:14:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And, the scary thing about that analogy is how few addicts reach that point, how much damage they do before reaching the point, how many relapses there are in the process of cleaning up, etc ...

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:38:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How much is "one Terron per person", in terms of land and water?

Bt the way, in Spanish terrón de azúcar is a sugar cube. Small, sweet and portable. Nice visual association.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:43:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
how much is one terron per person

well a terron (which I may or may not have invented) is one person's share of Terra.  which varies -- depending on how many other people there are, and on what kind of life  we think is an acceptable life.

if you crowd us into 100-storey arcologies (in tiny multifunctional cells or larger multiperson dormitories) so as to reclaim the maximum amount of arable land;  if we kill off every species that isn't directly useful to us (a dangerous undertaking since we have only a very poor and warped grasp of usefulness and interdependency in biotic systems) so as to redirect all photosynthetic activity on earth to feeding humans;  if we produce our food by the absolute bedrock max-efficiency methods (probably algae and fungus farming on a massive scale);  if we scrupulously recycle all our water and other materials, keep the absolute minimum amount of personal possessions each, live under an intrusive and comprehensive set of rules governing each person's behaviour and consumption of resources, etc etc -- my non-quantitative bet is that we could support more people "in comfort" than are now presently alive.

but the quality of that "comfort" is highly questionable -- how would such an existence differ from life in a prison?  the iron discipline of space-station resource management does not make for an open and free society (back to FH's insightful quote).  and the authority necessary to impose that iron discipline suggests an authoritarianism that human beings have never in history managed to implement without abuse and atrocity (another goram Milgram Experiment);  we are not as well suited as bees to living in hives with draconian resource limits.  (remember that bees kick out their surplus drones at season's end to starve, so that the life of the colony may continue -- though egalitarian and delightful creatures, bees are not sentimentalists and the life of each bee means very little compared to the bee polity which is the real organism.)

to accommodate the maximum possible number of humans on earth w/in constraints of physical reality would mean evolving into a hive organism in which individuals had very little scope for freedom, living on a planet from which we have extirpated every aspect of the natural world that makes us happy, for which we were adapted in the previous 200K years or however long it's been.  is that the future we want for our descendants?  is it consonant with our so-called Enlightenment ideals of individual liberty?

one terron might be very small in such a model. and it might be sustainable.  but is it a goal to aim for?

a slightly larger terron might yield a less oppressive and stifling culture -- one in which your neighbour is not morally obligated, as a matter of survival, to report you to the neighbourhood committee for wasting a half gallon of water, and where your diet might be more interesting, tasty, and nutritious.  a larger terron yet -- several acres per person -- could yield an idyllic lifestyle with the luxury of open space, fresh produce, eggs, and moderate amounts of grass-fed meat for everyone.

or -- and this is the traditional human pattern, replicated from the earliest agricultural era through modern capitalism, and the subject of Colman's recent gloomy prognostication -- we could concentrate resource consumption in a small elite and keep everyone else on the ragged edge of malnutrition, exposure, and related diseases or just let them go on dying in droves.  "one terron" for a planet of hyperconsuming billionaires is so much land and biotic productivity that the "one terron" left over for the lower classes is too small to live on.

so the question of what a one-person share of Terra looks like cannot be disentangled from the question of "how many of us should there be," which in turn cannot be disentangled from what lifestyle we think is "decent" or acceptable or happy, and (critically) how much inequality we are prepared to tolerate.  there are people -- I have read their published opinions and even contended with some in person -- who contemplate with equanimity the liquidation of vast numbers of poor people, rural people, indigenes, peasants, brown people, "backward" people etc, so as to "free up resources" for a far smaller number of (presumably worthier, superior) people for whom "the American Way of Life is not negotiable".  I find it hard to distinguish this from the Lebensraum justification for annexing Poland or the Conquistadores' conviction that God really meant the wealth of S America for them.

abundance -- of land, of energy, of water and food -- enables us to practise inequality in relative moral comfort and safety, because the elite (the tapeworm in my previous mini rant) can gorge itself and still leave enough over for the many to get by.  scarcity, however, brings inequality into focus:  as soon as resources are constrained it becomes very obvious that scarcity is in part created by the gorging and conspicuous waste of the few;  and the few start thinking about getting rid of the many rather than sharing.  (back to Jared Diamond).

industrial capitalism seems to be the historical trifecta.  it concentrates wealth in the hands of a tiny elite with greater speed and efficiency than any previous system of accumulation and kleptocracy;  it does so while simultaneously burning up raw materials and resources at a rate unprecedented in human history;  and its very modus operandi is predicated on the creation of scarcity, Enclosure of the commons, etc -- and perhaps worst of all, scarcity and crisis are profit opportunities for capitalists so they have no interest in preventing same, only a short-term enthusiasm for profiting off them (Halliburton, Iraq war;  NOLA, carpetbaggers and mercs;  US energy policy set by the fossil lobby).  a person's "share" of Terra doesn't mean anything in a hegemonic belief system to which the very notion of "sharing" is anathema...

what Gini coefficient is acceptable?
what minimal lifestyle is acceptable?
for how many centuries do we want our culture to persist w/o crashing?
if we have answers to these questions, then with a great deal of effort and some uncertainty we can answer the question of what a terron is, which in turn will offer an answer to "how many of us should there be?"

one thing I know for certain -- as a technogeek and as a simple primate -- is that infinite growth is a fantasy, and therefore the mainspring of faith that drives our culture is irremediably broken.  climax ecosystems are stable;  runaway proliferation of any one species dooms that species and many others in the web around it.

another thing I know for fairly certain is that complex biotic systems (like a farm, a forest, or humanity) cannot be micromanaged and controlled with precision.  they can only be encouraged and discouraged -- more like steering a boat than like carpentry, as I think someone once said?  we already know many of the factors that encourage lower family size, greater equality, better public health:  we have working models for many encouraging guidance signals.  women's emancipation, universal literacy and freedom of communication; suppression of monopolies and encouragement of micro and regional commerce;  land reform;  sustainable agriculture;  least-toxic manufacturing;  prioritising public transit over private autos;  human-scale urban design;  participatory democratic institutions, devolving authority to the most local level possible;  the powerful notion of "human rights";  wealth redistribution via taxation or periodic "jubilee years"; and so on.  we have an extensive menu of excellent 'steering mechanisms' that tend towards lower family sizes, lower resource consumption, better public health and longevity, less violence, and happier people.

and all of them, without exception, are antithetical to maximum profit-taking.

we do seem to be in the Greenland Colony Predicament;  in order to survive and thrive we have to change the foundational assumptions of our culture.   can it be done?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:39:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How much is one terron today?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:05:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
read it and weep...

I just took their quiz (again).   

    CATEGORY     ACRES

    FOOD             3.5
    MOBILITY     0.2
    SHELTER     8.9
    GOODS/SERVICES     6.2
    TOTAL FOOTPRINT     19

IN COMPARISON, THE AVERAGE ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT IN YOUR COUNTRY IS 24 ACRES PER PERSON.

WORLDWIDE, THERE EXIST 4.5 BIOLOGICALLY PRODUCTIVE ACRES PER PERSON.

IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 4.2 PLANETS.

Note that the biggest "expenditure" in my quiz is my house -- despite its modest size of 1100 sf -- in which I live alone at present.  If I retake the quiz using my boat as my residence (which I hope will soon be the case) and asserting my future lifestyle plan of never travelling by air (as opposed to my current average of 3 hours of air travel per year) and living on a more local and seasonal food supply:

    CATEGORY     ACRES
    FOOD             2.7
    MOBILITY     0
    SHELTER     0.7
    GOODS/SERVICES     0.5
    TOTAL FOOTPRINT     4

IN COMPARISON, THE AVERAGE ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT IN YOUR COUNTRY IS 24 ACRES PER PERSON.

WORLDWIDE, THERE EXIST 4.5 BIOLOGICALLY PRODUCTIVE ACRES PER PERSON.

IF EVERYONE LIVED LIKE YOU, WE WOULD NEED 1.0 PLANETS.

I don't swear that these folks' analysis is perfect;  their dietary options are not granular enough to be really descriptive.  but it does suggest that my project of retiring and moving onto my boat (heavily insulated, independent of shore power, less than 400 sf) and adhering more faithfully to a 200-mile diet, will indeed be a substantial reduction of my global footprint, without giving up the foods I like, my internet connection, etc.

you can live very well on 4.5 acres.  or so I think.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:36:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have a diary on your master plan?

Boat-based, interesting :)

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:08:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
one of these days, when I finally get relocated, I hope to have a web site for the boat and the energy efficiency issues for which I hope the boat will be a life-lab and teaching platform.  at present I barely have time to read and do a bit of driveby posting, let alone maintain another web site :-(  this "simple plan" has become incredibly complicated and protracted (mostly due to nation states and their bureaucracies), and that's all I'm gonna say for now...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:51:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If your contributions to this discussion represent your drive-by postings, I'm not sure that I'm ready for when you sit down with a calculated attack to a discussion.

:-)

PS: Thank you for many posts that have educated / made me think here ...

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 12:18:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... force everyone to live in mud huts

Technically we live in a mud hut and I'm spending 12 hours/day remodeling Yet Another mud hut.

Only it's called "adobe" and people are buying them, in my neck of the mountains, as soon as they come on the market.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:54:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
exactly!

the whole "mud hut" meme is imho a holdover from C16-19 colonialism and the colonisers' swaggering contempt for any architecture, any food, any religious practise, any costume, any music (etc ad naus), that wasn't the product of Anglo Europe.  the subliminal message is 'those commie pinko greenies want to make Us [superior whitefolks] live like Them [backwards savages]' -- it's as stupid imho as the probably-apocryphal stories about British colonial administrators dying of heat stroke because they wouldn't give up their stodgy British diet and heavy clothing in the Indian climate.  enviromentalists I think are -- for many modern, indoctrinated citizens of the corporate state -- the equivalent of the scandalous colonial who "goes native", letting the side down don'cha know, by adapting to, rather than rigidly dominating, the local biome.

houses made of mud and straw have many advantages -- of which sustainability is only one.  my suspicion is that people's kneejerk fear and loathing of strawbale construction and other "ethnic" architecture has way more to do with the "ethnic" part of the association than any actual drawback of the construction method itself.  I can't prove this, but the strength and irrationality of the prejudice I've encountered in individuals (anecdotal evidence) suggests that like many debates about sustainable lifestyle issues, this is not merely a technical or pragmatic discussion.  some very deep emotional and ego values are engaged.

my parents, immigrants to America, would never eat sweet corn (zea mays).  they hated it.  why?  it's delicious -- I loved it as a kid and still do.  but to them, maize was something you feed to cattle.  it was animal food and therefore infra dig for humans.  these cultural associations are basically phobias, as powerful as any other phobia but not generally diagnosed as such;  and like phobias they can be highly maladaptive and dysfunctional.  the guy who can't bring himself to eat witchetty grubs in a survival situation... won't survive.

it is great that -- at last -- the colonisers are realising that adobe is a very sensible building material in the locations where indigenous people for millennia successfully used adobe.  wow, how hard was that to figure out?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 04:09:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hard to believe, but we might face Peak Water ...

In India, western China, western US, and eastern Africa Global warming and Peak Water are intertwined.  These areas, and there may be more, are dependent on mountain snowpacks as a water reserve for most of the year.  GW, by limiting snowpack accumulation, is a Positive input to Peak Water.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 11:33:12 PM EST
Absolutely ... that throwaway line didn't capture my thinking.  Point was that, when sitting listening to a rain storm, with the reality that -- in many ways -- water is perhaps the most renewable resource (oxygen?), it can be hard to square that with the reality of threatened and overburdened water supplies around the world (combined with not nearly enough investment in getting the globe on a path toward a better water future).

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Fri Jun 8th, 2007 at 11:38:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If basic Critical Thinking was used the water problems of the US are solvable.  Generally it involves charging people what the water is actually worth.  This runs into two major stumbling blocks: agriculture interests and most of the non-ag population of the arid West.  Both of these blocks have been heavily subsidized by cheap water and neither want to pay the actual cost.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:09:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
charging people what water is really worth?

without it we die -- so what is that worth?  a millionaire dying of thirst would pay a million dollars for a glass of water.

the problem I have with this "market based approach" is that it assumes that the value of water can be expressed in dollars, and that raising the price will fix the problem;  but all that raising the "price" does is increase the motivation for Enclosure and privatisation (more like piratisation) of water resources, and ensure that only the rich can afford an adequate supply.  cf Bechtel in Bolivia.

water is a global commons.  charging people "what water is worth" is what makes it possible for Coca Cola to steal water that farmers in Kerala need to grow their local crops, in order to sell a toxic "soft drink" to Americans half a world away.  Americans have more money, therefore they get the water, end of story.  potable water, and water clean enough for washing self and clothing, and water for gardening and subsistence livestock, should be a universal human right, not a priced commodity...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:00:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that like other commons, water is perceived as nearly free and overused. As long as ownership of water recources remains public and a minimum ration is guaranteed (either through actual rationing or through rebates, or a minimum exempt from charging) there's nothing wrong with charging people a "market" price for water.

Assume for a moment there is actually not enough water for everyone. Then you have to allocate the water by triage. Or you can let people fight water wars. Or let the free market price them out.

In fact, there is enough water for everyone. Even if we had to get all our water from desalinisation of sea water we could do it, it would just be horrendously expensive. And water would have a price. Again, access to water would be guaranteed through redistributive policies.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:24:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is "enough" with redefining, perhaps, what is "enough" ... along with more serious efforts to use it more wisely/judiciously.  (The flushing of toilets using potable water ... growing rice and wheat in the desert using million-year acquifer water ... etc ...)

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:33:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Golf courses in Spain and Arizona make me sick. They should be priced out of business. Trouble is, they have more money than people. So you have to make water really expensive and give people a free allowance.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:20:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that like other commons, water is perceived as nearly free and overused. As long as ownership of water recources remains public and a minimum ration is guaranteed (either through actual rationing or through rebates, or a minimum exempt from charging) there's nothing wrong with charging people a "market" price for water.

Historically, that isn't what happens in Europe. Firstly there's no such thing as a market price because water companies are effectively monopolies. I'm not allowed to sell rainwater that falls on my house, or dig a well, because all of that water is owned by the local water utility. And there is no other water utility that I'm allowed to use.

Secondly during periods of drought European governments switch to rationing very quickly. In 1976 in some parts of the UK the mains were turned off, bowsers appeared in the streets, and people brought buckets. During an extended drought, people would soon get used to that. They might even get used to it permanently.

Almost everyone would rather put up with rationing than with being priced out of the market.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 11:51:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Almost everyone would rather put up with rationing than with being priced out of the market.

People would, corporations wouldn't.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:04:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not allowed to sell rainwater that falls on my house ...

Are you allowed to collect it for your own use?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:42:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but give everybody an equal quota, which they can use or sell. Thus everybody is equally "rich" to start with, is guaranteed access to water, and that wealth can be converted into monetary income for those that use little water, while allowing those that want to spend more money on water to do it.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:33:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Water credits, carbon credits...

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:39:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what about Australia? Suffering starts there right now.

Did you see these headlines?

Los Angeles Officials Call for Water Conservation Amid Drought

Water fight: South Carolina sues North Carolina

by das monde on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:44:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:43:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
now let's look on a brighter side (jeez, is it really me saying this???) --

one of the reasons water is scarce even in the US is that it's wasted on a colossal, Pharaonic scale.  hell, the Pharaohs probably wasted far less water than the US elite.  industrial ag is tremendously wasteful of water due to the way it impoverishes and compacts the soil, increasing runoff (and the runoff from soil saturated with industrial poisons in turn poisons creeks and rivers and ponds, but let's punt on that one for now) and decreasing the amount of water that actually does anything useful for the plants.  heavy industry is tremendously wasteful of water, bringing it in for cooling or for washing and then dumping it contaminated and unusable.  no requirements for plants to emit truly clean water.  then there is the conspicuous waste of water on golf courses, swimming pools, automated sprinkler systems that turn on even when it's raining (yes, I've seen this many times).  then there is overpaving, which prevents water from soaking in (and changes the local climate around paved-over urban areas, reducing rainfall which only exacerbates the general problem).  there are uncovered aqueducts losing half their monthly volume in summer months from evaporation.

and there are flush toilets -- my god, don't even get me started on flush toilets.  and there are laws and codes preventing you from building a greywater reclamation system on your property.  and there are people who have been raised to wash dishes or rinse a toothbrush or wash their hands by turning the tap full on and just leaving it running for minutes at a time.  and there are leaking hoses and taps -- hundreds of millions of them.  anyway, you get the picture -- the amount of water wasted and befouled by sheer stupidity and carelessness and arrogance is enormous.  there's a lot of "fat to be trimmed" before the water supply in countries like the US is really in crisis;  but there's a hella lot of resistance to trimming any of that fat, and therefore the crisis may happen anyway just because of the difficulty of paradigm change and weaning people off their childish irresponsibility wrt critical resources.

we are in officially-recognised drought conditions in my area of Central CA, the local authorities have asked repeatedly for voluntary rationing, and people are still washing their FUVs on their driveways, using potable water.  Frank Herbert would crack a wry grin.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 02:51:36 AM EST
I had a friend who had mastered the art of deliberate Freudian slips--it was exquisite.  

Freudian typos? Never occurred to me.  Thanks.  I intend to steal this.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:45:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I doubt it was unintentional! She's a master a creating these Words.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:31:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it is not unintentional and I humbly disclaim the attribution -- 'twas not I alone, I think, who invented the FUV.  probably several people in the carfree/bike community came up with it simultaneously.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:52:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is true for many parts of the world.  Water is such a disastrous situation because it is, in so many places, used in such wasteful ways.  The million-year acquifer water in Libya being used to grow corn; polluted water pumped back into acquifers (since the pollutants will mix with the entire acquifer and keep pollutant levels below legal limits ... anyone else see a problem here?).  And, well, growing rice in the desert, watering golf courses in Las Vegas, applying agricultural irrigation wastefully, increasing evaporation through dam projects, etc ...

We could greatly increase water assets through NegaWater (a variation of Lovins' Negawatts) -- efficiency and better usage patterns.  And, water is a far faster replenishment (except some of the acquifers) than other key limiting resources.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:42:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see such a huge problem with Libya using it's aquifier. I mean, what are they supposed to do with it? Just leave it down there? The relevant issue to discuss is how fast it should be consumed. 50 years, 100 years, 200 etc.

And when it runs out, the Libyans are planning nuclear desalination, with French support.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:47:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Aquifers are generally part of the ecology (unless they are sealed of in caves, which is unusual). So if you pump it all up, plantlife dies, then soil is washed away, then desert enters.

So leaving it in place might be a good idea.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:22:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh, it's under a desert already.  No plants.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:29:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have never been to Libya though I know it is sandy.

I further admit I am not sure exactly what aquifers we are talking about. To generalise the term (as I understand it) is used about two different sets of underground water, both that which is part of an ecology and that which is sealed of (like oil). Use of the former (above the level of regeneration) causes desertification (and according to maps not all of Libya is deserts) while the latter is a one time boost, preferably to be invested wisely.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 08:49:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The way I see it, energy is pretty much the master resource. If yoou don't have it, none of the other resources (fresh water, arable land, iron ore, skilled workers etc) will be of any use. On top of that, energy can, if not entirely then at least to a high degree, substitute lack of other resources. If you lack fresh water, add energy to sea water and you get it, if you lack hordes of skilled farmers add energy and farming machinery and so on.

Energy is the big thing. The others can be dealt with if we have enough energy. And then I believe it pays to look at one of the most important graphs from M.K. Hubberts groundbreaking 1956 paper.



Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:05:06 AM EST
if you lack arable hectarage and healthy topsoil, just add energy and...?

c'mon Starvid, you can't eat a kilowatt.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:50:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Conceivably one could just recycle excrement and CO2, add energy, and get a nutrition pill.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:00:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
only if you're a C19 chemical reductionist who discounts all the living components of food (enzymes, bacteria, amino acids etc).  recent nutritional research is, unsurprisingly, revealing a far more complex picture than the old C19 "minimum daily allowance".

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:20:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about using bacteria to grow food on a petri dish?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:33:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, because you get a biomagnification of toxins and heavy metals every time you recycle it. If you manage to separate it in an efficient way, you have a prize to collect in Stockholm.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 08:03:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Obviously, if people feel like radically ruining the topsoil, there isn't much to do about that. But that is not strictly needed, even in modern farming.

And arable land will be provided by global warming. Not that more is needed as the planet can feed us all. We don't have starvation in [insert name here] because we can't produce enough food.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sun Jun 10th, 2007 at 08:00:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really excellent piece in explaining these oppositions. As you note, both Lovins and Kunstler have a point. We need social change, and we need innovation. However, in the opposition between the 'eco-efficiency' ideal and the 'mankind change your ways' mode of thought, some things also get lost. Both are also wrong in some ways, or rather, ignore some essential points. So I think that we can't stop with a comparison of this opposition and perhaps a synthesis. We have to transcend the difference.

A first step in that direction is to recognise that social changes can also be innovations, can also be progress. And that on the other hand technological change can be a key enabler of and driver towards social change. So we need a more eco-efficient technostructure. And we also need a more dematerialised lifestyle. The trick is to make these work hand in hand.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 07:38:42 AM EST
Synthesis is key ... and the classic model is, of course, to place the opposition and develop from it the synthesis to then ...

I think both are right and both are wrong ... and that the path forward is better informed through an understanding/evaluation of this.  Consider this an opening shot at that discussion space here.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!

by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:11:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=460602&i n_page_id=1965

Let's imagine for a moment what the world would be like today if Nicola Tesla was right and his dream of free abundant energy was indeed a reality.  We can invision either a utopia with people flying around in the hovermobiles or any number of Orwellian themed sci-fi movies like Gattica,Logan's Run or V for Vendetta.

I'm going for the grade B sci-fi future.  Assholiansim of course is a global phenomena.

by Lasthorseman on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:22:26 AM EST
fairly convincing mid-term futures I have read:

Virtual Light (Gibson)

Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (Stephenson) -- the man's an optimist!

Heavy Weather and Distraction (Stirling)

all reflect on the interaction between population growth, inequality, capitalism (as religion and as economic system) and environment...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:44:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On population density you have:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World_Inside


The World Inside is a science fiction novel written by Robert Silverberg and published in 1971.

Plot introduction

The novel is set on Earth in the year 2381, when the population of the planet has reached 75 billion people. Population growth has skyrocketed due to a quasi-religious belief in human reproduction as the highest possible good. Most of the action occurs in a massive three-kilometer high city-tower called Urban Monad 116. It is similar to the design of the Sky City 1000 project proposed in 1989 by Takenaka Corporation.
[...]


by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:10:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the consequences specifically of unchecked natalism are explored also in George RR Martin's underrated series of stories collected as Tuf Voyaging;  Haviland Tuf's interactions with the S'uthlamese are both hilarious, and a pointed cautionary tale.  one of the best fictional treatments of unintended consequences and ratchet effects.

and of course we can't omit mention of John Brunner whose classic The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar could almost have been written yesterday.  Sheep is the better book imho, though Zanzibar was the bigger hit.  both dwell on population and ecology (thus the title of Zanzibar which refers to the moment when the human race standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a tight mass will no longer fit on the island of Zanzibar).

James Tiptree (really Alice Sheldon) wrote a number of thoughtful explorations of the consequences of overenthusiastic reproduction, environmental crime etc. -- notably "The Time-Sharing Angel".

James Schmitz' quirky fiction often explored the conflict between rapacious commerce and a sustainable, equitable culture or lifeway (his most famous short story was probably "Balanced Ecology", a fable about resisting corporate predation, and his most famous novel was probably The Witches of Karres in which the eponymous witches are a very modest sized population living in a very ecologically responsible way on an obscure backwater planet).

but I'm wandering off into far-future science fantasy here (and I cast Dune into that category also, despite its strong ecological themes) rather than imminent futurology... among the futurological cautionary pieces we might include Atwood's Oryx and Crake...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 09:01:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On page 19 of the living planet report (pdf) there is a graph with ecological footprint (in average) on one side and human development index (UNDP made index) on the other.

Generally it is the countries with a too big a footprint that has the highest human development, and those that live within their (ecological) means has a low human development.

One country has at the same time a HDI above 0.8 (regarded by UNDP as the threshold for "high human development") and an ecological footprint below the threshold for using up the whole planet. That country is Cuba.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 08:40:21 AM EST
It's possible that Kerala is in the same ballpark. As I understand it, it's one of the poorer states in India but has a high level of human development due to decades of communist pinko socialist government.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 10:23:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
those goram commie pinkos, always taking away people's god-given right to die of kwashiorkor and giardia infestation and forced pregnancy...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:49:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the WSJ is firmly in the camp you'd expect it to be:


A Brief History of Economic Time

Modern humans first emerged about 100,000 years ago. For the next 99,800 years or so, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. There were wars, political intrigue, the invention of agriculture -- but none of that stuff had much effect on the quality of people's lives. Almost everyone lived on the modern equivalent of $400 to $600 a year, just above the subsistence level. True, there were always tiny aristocracies who lived far better, but numerically they were quite insignificant.

Then -- just a couple of hundred years ago, maybe 10 generations -- people started getting richer. And richer and richer still. Per capita income, at least in the West, began to grow at the unprecedented rate of about three quarters of a percent per year. A couple of decades later, the same thing was happening around the world.

Then it got even better. By the 20th century, per capita real incomes, that is, incomes adjusted for inflation, were growing at 1.5% per year, on average, and for the past half century they've been growing at about 2.3%.

(...)

[5 more paragraphs telling us how the economy and prosperity today is great]

(...)

The source of this wealth -- the engine of prosperity -- is ...

Let me interrupt here briefly. You might expect a mention of oil, or coal, or energy more generally, right?

In the WSJ? Nah.


...technological progress. And the engine of technological progress is ideas -- not just the ideas from engineering laboratories, but also ideas like new methods of crop rotation, or just-in-time inventory management.

(...)

Which contribution is more important? By one rough measure -- the profits earned by the innovator -- they're about equal. In the late 1980s, Microsoft earned economic profits of about $600 million a year, while Michael Milken, the inventor of the junk bond, earned an annual income that was just about the same.

Some good ideas even come from economists. Julian Simon came up with the idea of bribing airline passengers to give up their seats on overbooked flights -- and gone were the days when you relied on the luck of the draw to make it to your daughter's wedding. Economists first suggested creating property rights in African elephants, a policy that has given villagers an incentive to harvest at a sustainable rate and drive the poachers away. The result? Villagers have prospered and the elephant population has soared.

Engineers figure out how to harness the power of technology; economists figure out how to harness the power of incentives. Our prosperity relies on both.

Microsoft and Milken. Technology and economists. There you go. The economists that invented infinite growth in a finite resource system. And defy the second law of thermodynamics.

Yippee.

Wealth capture still has a future.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:44:57 PM EST
Modern humans first emerged about 100,000 years ago. For the next 99,800 years or so, nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. There were wars, political intrigue, the invention of agriculture -- but none of that stuff had much effect on the quality of people's lives. Almost everyone lived on the modern equivalent of $400 to $600 a year, just above the subsistence level. True, there were always tiny aristocracies who lived far better, but numerically they were quite insignificant.

WTF?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 12:46:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
WTF is probably the right abbreviation for that newspaper...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:12:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is what hostorical world population (the best proxy we have for world GDP for the far past, especially accepting the WTF's claim that the standard of living was essentially constant before 1800) looks like. The dashed line is the watershed before which "nothing happened".


Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 01:17:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
wow, I didn't know you could run cars and generators on Ideas.

the WSJ now officially belongs on the supermarket newsstand next to the National Enquirer.

[if any non-USians don't get that reference, the Nat Enq is a nearly-self-satirising tabloid specialising in Elvis sitings, two-headed babies, images of Christ seen in Martian craters, etc]

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 03:47:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find the idea that there was no technological progress to speak of before 1800 even more ludicrous.

Is this what they teach people in Economics 101?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:01:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have often noticed this "chronological hubris" in undereducated modern people;  they think there was no technology, no cleverness, no machinery, no innovation, no sophistication in human history before their pet epoch.

nixtamalisation of corn, for example, a pretty darned sophisticated method of processing grains, should figure right up there with crop rotation and the wheel, but since it was invented in the "dawn of history" by "illiterate savages" it doesn't count.  it always makes my skin crawl when I hear some average schmo who can't tell one plant from another call "illiterate" some person from, say, 1000 years back who could identify thousands of plant species on sight and know all their alimentary and medicinal properties.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 04:24:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Jun 9th, 2007 at 05:05:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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