February 20, 2011

A Crucial Talk By Naomi Klein Energy  Environment  Future


Watch this. Take it to heart. It couldn't be more important.

It calls to mind this, one of my favorites.

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March 14, 2008

A Stroke Of Insight Future  Science/Technology

It's Friday afternoon, you've got a little time. Do yourself a favor and watch this fascinating, deeply moving, and finally ecstatic talk by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor at this year's TED Conference. In 1996, she suffered a massive stroke that pretty much shut down the left hemisphere of her brain, bit by bit, over a four hour period. She tells what she learned, and it's much bigger and more beautiful than you think.

[Source]

Watch it.

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January 04, 2008

Peak Food Development  Environment  Future

Canada's Financial Post (via Cryptogon) on the developing global food crisis:

A new crisis is emerging, a global food catastrophe that will reach further and be more crippling than anything the world has ever seen. The credit crunch and the reverberations of soaring oil prices around the world will pale in comparison to what is about to transpire, Donald Coxe, global portfolio strategist at BMO Financial Group said at the Empire Club's 14th annual investment outlook in Toronto on Thursday.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," he warned investors. "It's going to hit this year hard."

Mr. Coxe said the sharp rise in raw food prices in the past year will intensify in the next few years amid increased demand for meat and dairy products from the growing middle classes of countries such as China and India as well as heavy demand from the biofuels industry.

"The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 oil; it's getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically," he said.

The impact of tighter food supply is already evident in raw food prices, which have risen 22% in the past year.

Mr. Coxe said in an interview that this surge would begin to show in the prices of consumer foods in the next six months. Consumers already paid 6.5% more for food in the past year.

Wheat prices alone have risen 92% in the past year, and yesterday closed at US$9.45 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.

At the centre of the imminent food catastrophe is corn - the main staple of the ethanol industry. The price of corn has risen about 44% over the past 15 months, closing at US$4.66 a bushel on the CBOT yesterday - its best finish since June 1996.

This not only impacts the price of food products made using grains, but also the price of meat, with feed prices for livestock also increasing.

"You're going to have real problems in countries that are food short, because we're already getting embargoes on food exports from countries, who were trying desperately to sell their stuff before, but now they're embargoing exports," he said, citing Russia and India as examples.

"Those who have food are going to have a big edge."

With 54% of the world's corn supply grown in America's mid-west, the U.S. is one of those countries with an edge.

But Mr. Coxe warned U.S. corn exports were in danger of seizing up in about three years if the country continues to subsidize ethanol production. Biofuels are expected to eat up about a third of America's grain harvest in 2007.

The amount of U.S. grain currently stored for following seasons was the lowest on record, relative to consumption, he said.

We've got some big, snowballing trends bearing down on us: peak oil, peak water, peak grains, peak fish, peak topsoil. Just coasting along on the path of least resistance isn't going to be good enough. Not even close.

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January 03, 2008

Waste Not, Collapse Not Environment  Future

Via EuroTrib (from whom I stole the wonderful tagline above), an excerpt from a Jared Diamond (author of Collapse) NYT op-ed. Diamond says people in North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia consume about 32 times more resources and produce 32 times as much waste as people in the developing world. This is, putting it mildly, a problem. Diamond:

Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world’s fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates. Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.

Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours, but let’s suppose they rise to our level. Let’s also make things easy by imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption — that is, no other country increases its consumption, all national populations (including China’s) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. China’s catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal consumption by 94 percent.

If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people. But I haven’t met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72 billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people.

We Americans may think of China’s growing consumption as a problem. But the Chinese are only reaching for the consumption rate we already have. To tell them not to try would be futile.

The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world. But the world doesn’t have enough resources to allow for raising China’s consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our levels. Does this mean we’re headed for disaster?

No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world’s fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already collapsed or fallen to low yields — even though we know how to manage them in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.

The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably, and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the world’s wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably, with decreasing yields.

Just as it is certain that within most of our lifetimes we’ll be consuming less than we do now, it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in many developing countries will one day be more nearly equal to ours. These are desirable trends, not horrible prospects. In fact, we already know how to encourage the trends; the main thing lacking has been political will.

Diamond has a point: we produce enormous amounts of waste and useless crap that do nothing to improve our quality of life. Who needs it? We can do much more with less — and be much happier in the bargain — if we focus on the stuff that really makes our lives better. Instead of using ever more resources and producing ever more waste, we need to redefine economic growth as making ever more efficient and effective use of a sustainable level of resource consumption and waste production. No doubt.

Ah, but will we? Diamond thinks it's a matter of summoning the political will. If only. Unfortunately, it's a whole lot bigger than politics. A lot of people make a lot of money on waste and useless crap. They're not voluntarily going to stop. Everybody pursues his or her own individual short-term interest and, in the aggregate, the result is collective suicide. Hard to see what's going to turn that around. We're like bacteria in a petri dish who grow like mad until they run out of nutrients, then die off. We like to think we're smarter than that, but we sure haven't proved it yet.

The 21st century question: are people smarter than bacteria?

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January 02, 2008

Fillin' 'Er Up With Other People's Food Development  Energy  Environment  Ethics  Future  Peak Oil

$100 oil prices poor folks out of the market for energy. But worse than that, it prices them out of the market for food. It's already happening. IHT:

In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned [December 17].

The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The agency's food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before - a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world's total consumption - much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time [December 17], the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil.

Diouf blamed a confluence of recent supply and demand factors for the crisis, and he predicted that those factors were here to stay. On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

"We're concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world's hungry," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, in a telephone interview. She said that her agency's food procurement costs had gone up 50 percent in the past 5 years and that some poor people are being "priced out of the food market."

To make matters worse, high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

"You can debate why this is all happening, but what's most important to us is that it's a long-term trend, reversing decades of decreasing food prices," Sheeran said.

Climate specialists say that the vulnerability will only increase as further effects of climate change are felt. "If there's a significant change in climate in one of our high production areas, if there is a disease that effects a major crop, we are in a very risky situation," said Mark Howden of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra.

Already "unusual weather events," linked to climate change - such as droughts, floods and storms - have decreased production in important exporting countries like Australia and Ukraine, Diouf said. [...]

Sheeran said, that on a recent trip to Mali, she was told that food stocks were at an all time low. [...]

[R]ecent scientific papers concluded that farmers could adjust to 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) to 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees) of warming by switching to more resilient species, changing planting times, or storing water for irrigation, for example.

But that after that, "all bets are off," said Francesco Tubiello, of Columbia University Earth Institute. "Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale, but there is a strong potential for negative surprises." [...]

Part of the current problem is an outgrowth of prosperity. More people in the world now eat meat, diverting grain from humans to livestock. A more complicated issue is the use of crops to make biofuels, which are often heavily subsidized. A major factor in rising corn prices globally is that many farmers in the United States are now selling their corn to make subsidized ethanol.

The world's food stocks are rapidly shrinking. Could anything be more fundamental? And yet there is almost no awareness of this situation in the world's wealthier nations.

By being energy hogs, we make other people go hungry. It's really that simple. Picture it next time you fill your tank: some of what's going in there is other people's food. Either directly, in the form of ethanol from corn, or indirectly, because our profligate energy use drives prices up and fuels global warming. This is a central moral issue of our time: will we in the world's wealthier nations continue to use our wealth to maintain a way of life that is increasingly deadly to everyone else on the planet? In other words, will we make other people starve so we can drive our SUV to the mall?

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December 18, 2007

Past The Tipping Point Environment  Future

Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On and Boiling Point, thinks it's no longer possible to prevent catastrophic climate change. It's too late. We need, therefore, to stop thinking (only) about how we're going to avert global warming and start thinking about how we're going to deal with its consequences. It's quite a long piece, but worth excerpting at length (Grist):

As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of some of the world's most prominent climate scientists, is preventing us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

The environmental establishment continues to peddle the notion that we can solve the climate problem.

We can't.

We have failed to meet nature's deadline. In the next few years, this world will experience progressively more ominous and destabilizing changes. These will happen either incrementally — or in sudden, abrupt jumps.

Under either scenario, it seems inevitable that we will soon be confronted by water shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from extreme weather events, collapsing infrastructures, and, potentially, breakdowns in the democratic process itself. [...]

[If] humanity decided tomorrow to replace its coal- and oil-burning energy sources with noncarbon sources — it would still be too late to avert major climate disruptions. No national energy infrastructure can be transformed within a decade. [...]

The truth is that we may already be witnessing the early stages of runaway climate change in the melting of the Arctic, the increase in storm intensity, the accelerating extinctions of species, and the prolonged nature of recurring droughts.

Moreover, some scientists now fear that the warming is taking on its own momentum — driven by internal feedbacks that are independent of the human-generated carbon layer in the atmosphere.

Consider these examples:

  • Despite growing public awareness of global warming, the world's carbon emissions are rising nearly three times faster than they did in the 1990s. As a result, many scientists tell us that the official, government-sanctioned forecasts of coming changes are understating the threat facing the world.

  • A rise of 2 degrees C over preindustrial temperatures is now virtually inevitable, according to the IPCC, as the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is approaching the destabilizing level of 450 parts per million. That rise will bring drought, hunger, disease, and flooding to millions of people around the world.

  • Scientists predict a steady rise in temperatures beginning in about two years — with at least half of the years between 2009 and 2019 surpassing the average global temperature in 1998, to date, the hottest year on record.

  • Given the unexpected speed with which Antarctica is melting, coupled with the increasing melt rates in the Arctic and Greenland, the rate of sea-level rise has doubled — with scientists now raising their prediction of ocean rise by century's end from about three feet to about six feet.

  • Scientists discovered that a recent, unexplained surge of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is due to more greenhouse gases escaping from trees, plants, and soils — which have traditionally buffered the warming by absorbing the gases. In the lingo of climate scientists, carbon sinks are turning into carbon sources. Because the added warmth is making vegetation less able to absorb our carbon emissions, scientists expect the rate of warming to jump substantially in the coming years.

  • The intensity of hurricanes around the world has doubled in the last decade. As Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained, "If you take the last 10 years, we've had twice the number of category-5 hurricanes than any other [10-year period] on record."

  • In Australia, a new, permanent state of drought in the country's breadbasket has cut crop yields by over 30 percent. The 1-in-1,000-year drought exemplifies a little-noted impact of climate change. As the atmosphere warms, it tightens the vortex of the winds that swirl around the poles. One result is that the water that traditionally evaporated from the Southern Ocean and rained down over New South Wales is now being pulled back into Antarctica — drying out the southeastern quadrant of Australia and contributing to the buildup of glaciers in the Antarctic — the only area on the planet where glaciers are increasing.

As one prominent climate scientist said recently, "We are seeing impacts today that we did not expect to see until 2085."

The panic among climate scientists is expressing itself in geoengineering proposals that are half-baked, fantastically futuristic, and, in some cases, reckless. Put forth by otherwise sober and respected scientists, the schemes are intended to basically allow us to continue burning coal and oil. [...]

Climate change won't kill all of us — but it will dramatically reduce the human population through the warming-driven spread of infectious disease, the collapse of agriculture in traditionally fertile areas, and the increasing scarcity of fresh drinking water. (Witness the 1-in-100-year drought in the southeastern U.S., which has been threatening drinking water supplies in Georgia and other states.)

Those problems will be dramatically intensified by an influx of environmental refugees whose crops are destroyed by weather extremes or whose freshwater sources have dried up or whose homelands are going under from rising sea levels. [...]

One frequently overlooked potential casualty of accelerating climate change may be our tradition of democracy (corrupted as it already is). When governments have been confronted by breakdowns, they have frequently resorted to totalitarian measures to keep order in the face of chaos. It is not hard to imagine a state of emergency morphing into a much longer state of siege, especially since heat-trapping carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Add the escalating squeeze on our oil supplies, which could intensify our meanest instincts, and you have the ingredients for a long period of repression and conflict.

Ominously, this plays into the scenario, thoughtfully explored by Naomi Klein, that the community of multinational corporations will seize on the coming catastrophes to elbow aside governments as agents of rescue and reconstruction — but only for communities that can afford to pay. This dark vision implies the increasing insulation of the world's wealthy minority from the rest of humanity — buying protection for their fortressed communities from the Halliburtons, Bechtels, and Blackwaters of the world while the majority of the poor are left to scramble for survival among the ruins.

The only antidote to that kind of future is a revitalization of government — an elevation of public mission above private interest and an end to the free-market fundamentalism that has blinded much of the American public with its mindless belief in the divine power of markets. [...]

There needs to be a vision that accommodates both the truth of the coming cataclysm and the profoundly human need for a sense of future.

That vision needs to be framed by the truly global nature of the problem. It starts with the recognition that this historical era of nationalism has become a stubborn, increasingly toxic impediment to our collective future. We all need to begin to think of ourselves — now — as citizens of one profoundly distressed planet.

I think that understanding involves a recognition that a clean environment is about far more than endangered species, toxic substances, and the "dead zones" that keep spreading off our shorelines. A clean environment is a basic human right. And without it, all the other human rights for which we have worked so hard will end up as grotesque caricatures of some of our deepest aspirations. [...]

At the level of social organization, the coming changes imply the need to conduct something like 80 percent of our governance at the local grassroots level through some sort of consensual democratic process — with the remaining 20 percent conducted by representatives at the global level. [...]

The key to our survival as a civil species during an era of profound natural upheaval lies in an enhanced sense of community. [...]

As the former Argentine climate negotiator, Raul Estrada-Oyuela, said, "We are all adrift in the same boat — and there's no way half the boat is going to sink."

To keep ourselves afloat, we need to change the economic and political structures that determine how we behave. In this case, we need to elevate the ethic of cooperation over the deeply ingrained reflex of competition. We need to elevate our biological similarities over our geographical differences. We need, in the face of this oncoming onslaught, to reorganize our social structures to reflect our most humane collective aspirations.

The triumph of the ideology of private self-interest over a shared sense of public responsibility came at the worst possible time, historically speaking. The last couple of generations of Americans have had it ingrained in them that greed is good and unrestrained markets are the only way of organizing human activity that actually works. Unfortunately, the total here is qualitatively different from the sum of its parts: countless acts that each advance individual self-interest add up to collective suicide. If there ever were a refutation of naked, unregulated capitalism, this is it. But the Titanic steams on.

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November 17, 2007

"We Have To Get Smart Fast" Environment  Essays  Future

[This is a rerun — a post from February 2006 that may be worth another read.]

The Long Now Foundation seeks to foster the long view, looking ahead to the next 10,000 years of human society. It sponsors monthly lectures by some of the West's most original thinkers, the audio for which is archived here. It's an extraordinary collection. Go explore. (The talk by Bruce Sterling is a hoot.)

I want to touch on just one of the lectures here, a recent talk by anthropologist Stephen Lansing, who has studied the planting and water management practices of Balinese rice farmers. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:

With lucid exposition and gorgeous graphics, anthropologist Stephen Lansing exposed the hidden structure and profound health of the traditional Balinese rice growing practices. The intensely productive terraced rice paddies of Bali are a thousand years old. So are the democratic subaks (irrigation cooperatives) that manage them, and so is the water temple system that links the subaks in a nested hierarchy.

When the Green Revolution came to Bali in 1971, suddenly everything went wrong. Along with the higher-yield rice came "technology packets" of fertilizers and pesticides and the requirement, stated in patriotic terms, to "plant as often as possible." The result: year after year millions of tons of rice harvest were lost, mostly to voracious pests. The level of pesticide use kept being increased, to ever decreasing effect.

Meanwhile Lansing and his colleagues were teasing apart what made the old water temple system work so well....

The universal problem in irrigation systems is that upstream users have all the power and no incentive to be generous to downstream users. What could account for their apparent generosity in Bali? Lansing discovered that the downstream users also had power, because pests can only controlled if everybody in the whole system plants rice at the same time (which overloads the pests with opportunity in one brief season and starves them the rest of the time). If the upstreamers didn't let enough water through, the downstreamers could refuse to synchronize their planting, and the pests would devour the upstreamers' rice crops.

Discussion within the subaks (which dispenses with otherwise powerful caste distinctions) and among neighboring subaks takes account of balancing the incentives, and the exquisite public rituals of the water temple system keep everyone mindful of the whole system.

The traditional synchronized planting is far more effective against the pests than pesticides. "Plant as often as possible" was a formula for disaster.

It seems clear how such "perfect order" can maintain itself, but how did it get started? Was there some enlightened rajah who set down the rules centuries ago? Working with complexity scientists at Santa Fe Institute, Lansing built an agent-based computer model of 172 subaks planting at random times, seeking to maximize their yields and paying attention to the success of their neighbors. The system self-organized! In just ten years within the model the balanced system seen in Bali emerged on its own. No enlightened rajah was needed. (Interestingly, the very highest yields came when the model subaks paid attention not just to their immediate neighbors but to the neighbors' neighbors as well. If they paid attention primarily to distant subaks, however, the whole system went chaotic.)

There's a lot more in the talk. It's a great little introduction to complex adaptive systems. It's a deeply thought-provoking look at the role of religious and other stable cultural systems in maintaining social norms over time. It's an extraordinary look at ecological interconnections and the disastrous unintended consequences that can result when Western development models are jammed down people's throats. And much more besides.

The thing I wanted to emphasize, though, is this. The planners and development "experts" thought they knew better than the knowledge and wisdom that was stored in systems that had had a thousand years to reach a stable optimum. Much of that thousand-year-old knowledge was unconscious knowledge in the sense that it was woven into the very fabric of systems and social arrangements. It's likely that no one participating in it had a conscious, analytical grasp of how it all worked. No experts could articulate it. And yet it was very real and very profound. It was the kind of knowledge that is stored in the fabric of any healthy ecosystem.

But the development "experts" were so sure of the superiority of their own brand of knowledge that they didn't hesitate to upset the whole apple cart, all at once, with disastrous effect.

Wendell Berry has a wonderful essay, "The Way of Ignorance," in which he writes:

The experience of many people over a long time is traditional knowledge. This is the common knowledge of a culture, which it seems that few of us any longer have. To have a culture, mostly the same people have to live mostly in the same place for a long time. Traditional knowledge is knowledge that has been remembered or recorded, handed down, pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined over a long time.

To think you know better than people who have "pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined" their knowledge over many, many generations, that you know so much better that you can just uproot a way of life, all at once, with scarcely so much as a pilot project, you really have to be ignorant, arrogantly ignorant. As Berry says:

We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk. It fails to foresee bad consequences not only because some of the consequences of all acts are inherently unforeseeable, but also because the arrogantly ignorant often are blinded by money invested; they cannot afford to see bad consequences.

In this century, humanity is faced with global-scale challenges that will require global-scale action. The people at WorldChanging, for example, whose work I mostly admire, and who are determined to maintain an optimistic view of humanity's chances (which is a good thing), go so far as to talk a lot about "terraforming" and "mega-engineering", i.e., humans needing to engineer planetary systems on a planetary scale, literally re-forming the Earth.

It may come to that. That is, it may turn out that our only hope is to take the reins of Earth's systems and risk it all on a few rolls of the dice. But I have to confess that it all strikes me as crazy hubris, the very epitome of the "willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk," the last wild perturbations in a system that's growing increasingly chaotic. If we can't interfere with a thousand-year-old system of rice paddies without ruining it, what makes us think we can mega-engineer the planet?

As Lansing said at the very end of his talk: with the challenges that face us, "We have to get smart fast."

Part of getting smart is knowing the limits of one's knowledge. Part of getting smart is working on an appropriate scale. And part of getting smart is to realize that there's enormous knowledge and wisdom woven into living systems, including traditional human societies, that have had millenia and more to arrive at solutions whose surface we have only barely begun to scratch. They have much to teach us. We have much to learn.

(Note: Lansing's written a lovely book on all this.)

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October 29, 2007

It's All Downhill From Here Economy  Future  Politics  War and Peace

Excerpts from a cheery rant by Stirling Newberry at The Agonist:

Technocrats are technocrats because they like measurable things. Thus there is a great deal of discussion of peak oil, because oil production is a measurable thing. As someone who has written about peak oil longer than most, and understood its implications better, I would be the last person to diminish the importance of physical scarcity and lessening bandwidth as a problem for the global economy. Particularly in the light of our dependence on petroleum and other carbon based forms of energy. However our present spike in oil has nothing to do with peak oil directly, but instead everything to do with a gush of dollars. Peak dollar capacity, not peak production capacity, is what is making $100/bbl the new "over/under" number among the oil traders I talk to. [...]

The present spike of oil is, to some extent, driven by offshoring and demand. This decade is really like the 1920's not the 1930's. While prosperity has not reached many in the developed world, this has been a boom time for the developing world. When America was a developing nation, we profited from similar consumption binges in the then core nations of France, Great Britain and Germany. We are making the same mistakes they did in their time in the sun.

The real reason for the spike in oil prices is the pouring of dollars into the global economy meant to bail out the banking sector without imposing any accountability on the people who run it.

The coming World War

So Bernanke pumps dollars into the system, those dollars go elsewhere, and the difference - we stagnate while others advance - makes inevitable, and at this point I say inevitable - that there will come a point where military conflict will be used by those others to evict the United States from the privileged position of having 6% of the world's population and using 25% of the world's oil. That day is coming and the question now is how many millions of people will die when it arrives. Americans have declined, and will in 2008 decline again, to do anything to stop the arrival of a real world war, to replace this fake made for cable one. There aren't many any chances left. This same was true in the 1840's and 1920's. The real instability is yet to arrive.

When it does arrive there will be several islamic states with atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. They will, as the underdogs in the conflict, have the ability politically to use these weapons, perhaps assymetrically, to bring down an order that they do not need. New York City and London are simply too tempting as targets, and the counter attack against the oil fields would destroy what we need. The arabs do not need our financial centers for much longer, we will need the oil in such a conflict.

There is at this point nothing that will be done about this. The current leadership of the US, and of Europe, is completely committed to a global conflict in the future in order to keep doing what they are doing in the present. The right that people are willing to kill for is the right to overconsume what is underpriced. The disutility of oil - in physical terms of war, pollution and scarcity - is well under priced. The price of oil will rise to just below the cost of solving the problems. It will always be a little bit cheaper to pay Saudi Arabia an oil tax not to solve the problem, than to pay ourselves to solve the problem. Just as it was always a little bit cheaper to let slavery continue than to buy it out. That is, until such time as it was clear that there were two mouths and one slice of pie. That day is inevitable, because right now many people are happily munching on the pie. Don't exclude yourself.

What's next, the short term

Short term, if you see a maniac running down the street randomly shooting people while the police look on, bet that he will keep shooting until he runs out of bullets. George Bush will keep fighting in Iraq until the second he leaves office. Congress will keep handing this maniac bullets, and the Central Bank will keep looking the other way. Don't get too attached, to your kid's left arm. [...]

Coal. Bet on coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Why? Because both China and the US have lots of it, and will want to use that to get out of dealing with their energy problems, or face economic contraction. [...]

However, this particular farce doesn't have much longer to run, already the process of buying up the financial sector by arabs and chinese interests is proceding. That means that soon the bankers and the other elite are going to start hating this expansion as much as the rest of the country...Bet that the trough after the recession will be, as the last two have been, long, slow, and hard.

This is why I shout this now: get rid of debt, and work your butt off for every bit of money you can now, because this is the last year or so that it will be really easy to do. After that, we might have an expansion, but you won't see any advantage from it.

What can our current political leadership do? Can? Lots of things. Are? Nothing.

They after all, are getting very well paid. 2004 was the most important election in your lifetime. 2008 is the least important election in your lifetime. Nothing is going to be decided. Nothing. [Emphasis added]

Have a nice day.

[Thanks, Miles]

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April 28, 2007

Airborne Wind Farms Energy  Future  Science/Technology

An interesting review of concepts for flying wind farms. Whether or not these particular ideas turn out to be practical and scalable, it's encouraging to be reminded that there's a whole world full of inventors out there, and some of them are definitely thinking outside of the box.

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April 16, 2007

The Edge Culture  Future  Media  Science/Technology

Just wanted to make a plug for an extraordinary website called The Edge. It brings together world-class thinkers from a variety of fields and has them talk or write about what's on their minds: what's interesting and important to them right now, with an emphasis on leading edge ideas.

People like Lee Smolin, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Lisa Randall, Stuart Kauffman, Daniel Dennett, Freeman Dyson, Richard Dawkins, Marvin Minsky, Ernst Mayr, Brian Greene, Susan Blackmore, John Barrow, Ray Kurzweil, E. O. Wilson, Esther Dyson, and an old professor of mine, John Allen Paulos. And many more.

Check out the page of videos, lots of goodies there.

Most addicting, though, is the World Question Center. Each year, a hundred or so luminaries are invited to submit a short answer to a question like "What's your dangerous idea?" or "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" The variety of viewpoints and ideas is astounding and endlessly fascinating. Mind-expanding in the best sense of the word.

Well worth a bookmark.

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March 24, 2007

Fooling The Eye In The Sky Future  Iraq

Seven US Marines and a Navy medic are accused of the cold-blooded murder of a disabled Iraqi police officer named Hashim Ibrahim Awad. What's remarkable is the steps they allegedly took to fool surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles, making the murder look like a firefight. Wired (via Xymphora):

As they carried out the killing of an Iraqi civilian, seven Marines and a Navy medic used their understanding of the military's airborne surveillance technology to spoof their own systems, military hearing testimony charges. [...]

The case is remarkable for the fact that the killers nearly got away with their alleged crime right under the eye of the military's sophisticated surveillance systems. According to testimony, at least three times the warriors took deliberate, and apparently effective, measures to trick the unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs in military parlance — that watch the ground with heat-sensitive imaging by night, and high-resolution video by day. [...]

The killing took place in the early morning darkness of April 26, when a "snatch party" of three Marines and a medic set out to kill and make an example of a suspected insurgent named Saleh Gowad, who'd been captured and released many times, according to testimony. Not finding him, they went next door and seized the sleeping Awad from his home, while the four remaining squad members waited nearby.

They men allegedly flexicuffed Awad's hands and marched him about a half-mile to a bomb crater, where they bound his feet and positioned him with a stolen shovel and an AK-47. Then they returned to an attack position and shot him.

On the way, according to testimony, the forward party took at least three steps to disguise its actions from aerial surveillance, steps that initially persuaded investigators the killing was justified. One Marine went forward and dug around in the crater. At the same time, the three other troops crouched with Awad behind a low wall in what [an attorney] described as a squad in a typical military posture.

They held that pose as the surveillance UAV passed over, creating an infrared tableau of four troops watching a bomber dig a hole along the road.

After the UAV passed, and they dodged being seen by a U.S. helicopter, the four rose from behind the wall to march Awad to the crater, according to the medic's testimony. While they were moving Awad the final 125 yards to his death, according to Bacos, they heard the UAV return. Cpl. Trent Thomas quickly wrapped himself around Awad so that the two men would appear as a single person on the heat-reactive infrared sensors, according to testimony.

Then they put Awad in the hole where the Marine had posed with the shovel seconds before, backed off and signaled. Six of the eight troops opened fire — staging a firefight with a bomb-planting insurgent.

"Congratulations, we just got away with murder, gents," the squad leader told them, according to Bacos' testimony. [...]

Steps similar to those the alleged killers apparently took may someday be a routine part of planning a crime, as U.S. law enforcement agencies clamor to put UAVs over U.S. airspace for domestic surveillance. [Emphasis added]

Welcome to the future, which is already in progress.

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February 19, 2007

Climate Change And The Future Of The West Economy  Environment  Future

From "The End of the West As We Know It?" by Anatol Lieven (IHT):

Every political, social and economic system ever created has sooner or later encountered a challenge that its very nature has made it incapable of meeting. The Confucian ruling system of imperial China, which lasted for more than 2,000 years, has some claim still to be the most successful in history, but because it was founded on values of stability and continuity, rather than dynamism and inventiveness, it eventually proved unable to survive in the face of Western imperial capitalism.

For market economies, and the Western model of democracy with which they have been associated, the existential challenge for the foreseeable future will be global warming. Other threats like terrorism may well be damaging, but no other conceivable threat or combination of threats can possibly destroy our entire system. As the recent British official commission chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern correctly stated, climate change "is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen."

The question now facing us is whether global capitalism and Western democracy can follow the Stern report's recommendations, and make the limited economic adjustments necessary to keep global warming within bounds that will allow us to preserve our system in a recognizable form; or whether our system is so dependent on unlimited consumption that it is by its nature incapable of demanding even small sacrifices from its present elites and populations.

If the latter proves the case, and the world suffers radically destructive climate change, then we must recognize that everything that the West now stands for will be rejected by future generations. The entire democratic capitalist system will be seen to have failed utterly as a model for humanity and as a custodian of essential human interests.

Even the relatively conservative predictions offered by the Stern report, of a drop in annual global gross domestic product of up to 20 percent by the end of this century, imply a crisis on the scale of the Great Depression of the 1930s; and as we know, the effects of that depression were not restricted to economics. In much of Europe, as well as Latin America and Japan, democracies collapsed and were replaced by authoritarian regimes.

As the report makes clear, however, if we continue with "business as usual" when it comes to the emission of greenhouse gases, then we will not have to wait till the end of the century to see disastrous consequences. Long before then, a combination of floods, droughts and famine will have destroyed states in many poorer parts of the earth — as has already occurred in recent decades in Somalia.

If the conservative estimates of the Stern report are correct, then already by 2050 the effects of climate change may be such as to wreck the societies of Pakistan and Bangladesh; and if these states collapse, how can India and other countries possibly insulate themselves?

At that point, not only will today's obsessive concern with terrorism appear insignificant, but all the democratizing efforts of Western states, and of private individuals and bodies like George Soros and his Open Society Institute, will be rendered completely meaningless. So, of course, will every effort directed today toward the reduction of poverty and disease.

And this is only to examine the likely medium-term consequences of climate change. For the further future, the report predicts that if we continue with business as usual, then the rise in average global temperature could well top 5 degrees Celsius. To judge by what we know of the history of the world's climate, this would almost certainly lead to the melting of the polar ice caps, and a rise in sea levels of up to 25 meters.

As pointed out by Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth," this would mean the end of many of the world's greatest cities. The resulting human migration could be on such a scale as to bring modern civilization to an end.

If this comes to pass, what will our descendants make of a political and media culture that devotes little attention to this threat when compared with sports, consumer goods, leisure and a threat from terrorism that is puny by comparison? Will they remember us as great paragons of human progress and freedom? They are more likely to spit on our graves. [Emphasis added]

The piece makes an essential point, though it could have been made more forcefully: unregulated market capitalism is, by its very nature, incapable of self-restraint, and hence incapable of dealing successfully with an issue like global warming. Capitalism is about the single-minded pursuit of one thing: profit. That single-mindedness is the source of capitalism's dynamism, but it is also, in a world of unregulated markets, going to be the source of capitalism's ultimate undoing. It costs nothing to emit greenhouse gases; it costs money to not emit them. Unless someone can figure out a way to reverse that circumstance, unregulated capitalism will be "successful" the way cancer is successful. It will grow and grow until, in the end, it kills its host.

So capitalism needs to be regulated, to save it from itself, and to save us from it. But a successful worldwide regulatory regime is ultimately going to have to be largely voluntary. Capitalists will have to restrain themselves. They are going to have to not cheat. Unfortunately, buccaneers have always vastly outnumbered saints.

[Thanks, Miles]

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January 08, 2007

Bio-Weapons For The Masses Future  Global Guerrillas  Science/Technology  War and Peace

Computer technology advances exponentially, as described by Moore's Law, the observation that computing power per unit cost doubles every 18 months or so. Biotechnology is increasingly an application of computing, which is one of the reasons why it, too, advances exponentially. Nanotechnology, ditto.

The rapid evolution of biotech means that before long — within a decade, certainly — individuals and small groups worldwide will have the means to develop pathogens as weapons of terror. They won't need to get their hands on anything exotic — nothing comparable to trying to acquire fissile material for nukes — and the tools, skills, and knowledge will be readily available because of their importance to private-sector biotech.

John Robb, of Global Guerrillas, draws on Robert Carlson's work to make some of his usual congent observations about what's coming. Robb:

  • [Carlson provides] evidence that biotechnology is improving at rates equal or better than Moore's law. These "Carlson Curves" plot the reduction in cost and the improvements in productivity available to individual practitioners. This means that very soon, in less than a decade, the technologies necessary for individuals to build catastrophic pathogens will be cheap and widely available. "Labs on a chip" are in the offing.
  • The knowledge and information necessary for developing catastrophic pathogens will be globally dispersed. As Carlson points out, work that used to require a PhD a couple of years ago is now accomplished by lightly trained technicians. Further, the low capital costs of laboratory development and its importance to the private sector means that this training and technology will be widespread. Finally, most of the information necessary for even extremely dangerous pathogens is available online.
  • There are no material barriers to the production of biological weapons. While certain reagents are currently controlled, the manufacturing processes for these materials and their widespread usage pose few barriers to circumvention. Unlike nuclear proliferation, there aren't any natural choke points.
  • Robb suggests further that, analogous to what has been happening in the realm of Internet computer crime, criminal networks will arise that will "actively produce weapons of bioterror for profit, and thereby become critical contributors to the global open source war now underway."

    For centuries, states held a monopoly on the means of large-scale violence. Globalization is bringing that monopoly to an end. In an era when the collective knowledge of humanity is increasingly available to anyone with an Internet connection, when people and goods are free to move pretty much anywhere in the world, overnight, and when weapons of mass destruction suddenly can be microscopic applications of ubiquitously available technology — all bets are off.

    This is a recipe for scenarios with a potential lethality perhaps limited only by perpetrators' consciences. Given that large numbers of people have no conscience, it's not an encouraging picture.

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    November 19, 2006

    For The Children Future

    A child paints a flower on the world's longest painting ever made by children, in a UNICEF-sponsored event yesterday in Bucharest, Romania (via EuroTrib):

    Let's leave the children the world that they deserve.

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    May 20, 2006

    Peak Food Environment  Future  Peak Oil

    The world is eating grains faster than farmers can grow them, and the problem is only going to get worse, with rising oil prices and global climate change both playing a significant part. CommonDreams:

    The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years. Rising population, water shortages, climate change, and the growing costs of fossil fuel-based fertilisers point to a calamitous shortfall in the world's grain supplies in the near future, according to Canada's National Farmers Union (NFU).

    Thirty years ago, the oceans were teeming with fish, but today more people rely on farmers to produce their food than ever before, says Stewart Wells, NFU's president.

    In five of the last six years, global population ate significantly more grains than farmers produced.

    And with the world's farmers unable to increase food production, policymakers must address the "massive challenges to the ability of humanity to continue to feed its growing numbers", Wells said in a statement.

    There isn't much land left on the planet that can be converted into new food-producing areas, notes Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. And what is left is of generally poor quality or likely to turn into dust bowls if heavily exploited, Brown told IPS.

    Unlike the Green Revolution in the 1960s, when improved strains of wheat, rice, maize and other cereals dramatically boosted global food production, there are no technological magic bullets waiting in the wings.

    "Biotechnology has made little difference so far," he said.

    Even if the long-promised biotech advances in drought, cold, and disease-resistance come about in the next decade, they will boost yields little more than five percent globally, Brown said.

    "There's not nearly enough discussion about how people will be fed 20 years from now," he said.

    Hunger is already a stark and painful reality for more than 850 million people, including 300 million children. How can the number of hungry not explode when one, two and possibly three billion more people are added to the global population?

    The global food system needs fixing and fast, says Darrin Qualman, NFU's research director.

    "Many Canadian and U.S. farmers are going out of business because crop prices are at their lowest in nearly 100 years," Qualman said in an interview. "Farmers are told overproduction is to blame for the low prices they've been forced to accept in recent years."

    However, most North American agribusiness corporations posted record profits in 2004. With only five major companies controlling the global grain market, there is a massive imbalance of power, he said.

    "The food production system is designed to generate profits, not produce food or nutrition for people," Qualman told IPS. [...]

    Shifting from a global food production system to local food for local people would go a long way towards addressing inequity, Qualman believes.

    "The 100-mile diet, where people obtain their food from within a 100-mile radius of their homes, makes good sense for most of the world," he said.

    The whole fabric of the food production system needs to change, or hunger and malnutrition will only get much worse.

    "North America's industrial-style agricultural system is a really bad idea and maybe the worst on the planet," Qualman concluded. [Emphasis added]

    And people want to take a big chunk of the grain harvest and burn it (turning it into ethanol for that purpose). What's wrong with this picture?

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    May 18, 2006

    Good News, Bad News Future  Peak Oil  Science/Technology

    On Point radio had an interesting show yesterday about tiny, high-mileage cars, some electric, some not. If you go to their page, you can see a gallery of photos. Some of them are concept cars, but others are already on the road.

    The stackable cars are especially cool. The idea is that people would use them kind of like you use luggage carts at the airport. You use it, then put it back in the queue for someone else. The cars are electric, and recharge while they're waiting in the queue. A car is returned at the end of the queue (these queues would be positioned at strategic places around the city), and by the time it reaches the front it's had a chance to charge up. If you go look at the photo, it'll be clearer what I'm talking about. To deal with the fact that people like their cars to have some individuality, the inventors are thinking of giving the car a means of recognizing you, so it could set up various features the way you like them. The car could have your radio station settings, for example, or your iTunes. They're for city use, obviously, but it shows people are thinking innovatively.

    Cause for some optimism, but this post at the Oil Drum puts things in a rather bleaker perspective. It describes the author's ongoing car trip cross country from Boulder to Pittsburgh. Everybody's speeding (which of course kills their fuel efficiency), there's exurban and suburban sprawl and traffic jams surrounding every city, the highways themselves are in rough shape. All in all, no signs yet of meaningful change out there on America's highways. And given the long lead times needed to make changes on the required scale, it's not looking good.

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    March 16, 2006

    Our Security Future Future  Global Guerrillas

    The most interesting and perceptive writing that I've seen on the future of insurgency and war in an economically globalized and networked world has been coming from John Robb, both at his personal blog and his more formal Global Guerrillas site. He's got a book in the works, and he's just published an article at Fast Company that provides a good introduction to his ideas. Excerpt:

    The conflict in Iraq has foreshadowed the future of global security in much the same way that the Spanish Civil War prefigured World War II. Unlike previous insurgencies, the one in Iraq is comprised of 75 to 100 small, diverse, and autonomous groups of zealots, patriots, and criminals alike. These groups, of course, have access to the same tools we do — from satellite phones to engineering degrees — and use them every bit as well. But their single most important asset is their organizational structure, an open-source community network very similar to what we now see in the software industry. It is an extremely innovative structure, sadly, and results in decision-making cycles much shorter than those of the U.S. military. Indeed, because the insurgents in Iraq lack a recognizable center of gravity — a leadership structure or an ideology — they are nearly immune to the application of conventional military force. Like Microsoft, the software superpower, the United States hasn't found its match in a competitor similar to itself, but rather in a loose, self-tuning network.

    The second insight Iraq gives us is that the convergence of international crime and terrorism will provide ample fuel and a global platform for these new enemies. Al Qaeda's attack on Madrid, for example, was funded by the sale of the drug Ecstasy. And Moisés Naím, in his new book, Illicit, details how globalization has fostered the development of a huge criminal economy that boasts a technologically leveraged global supply chain (like Wal-Mart's) and can handle everything from human trafficking (Eastern Europe) to illicit drugs (Asia and South America), pirated goods (Southeast Asia), arms (Central Asia), and money laundering (everywhere). Naím puts the value of that economy at between $2 trillion and $3 trillion a year. He says it is expanding at seven times the rate of legitimate world trade.

    This terrorist-criminal symbiosis becomes even more powerful when considered next to the most disturbing sign coming out of Iraq: The terrorists have developed the ability to fight nation-states strategically — without weapons of mass destruction. This new method is called "systems disruption," a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life. Such disruptions are designed to erode the target state's legitimacy, to drive it to failure by keeping it from providing the services it must deliver in order to command the allegiance of its citizens. Over the past two years, attacks on the oil and electricity networks in Iraq have reduced and held delivery of these critical services below prewar levels, with a disastrous effect on the country, its people, and its economy.

    The early examples of systems disruption in Iraq and elsewhere are ominous. If these techniques are even lightly applied to the fragile electrical and oil-gas systems in Russia, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere in the target-rich West, we could see a rapid onset of economic and political chaos unmatched since the advent of blitzkrieg....It's even worse when we consider the asymmetry of the economics involved: One small attack on an oil pipeline in southeast Iraq, conducted for an estimated $2,000, cost the Iraqi government more than $500 million in lost oil revenues. That is a return on investment of 25,000,000%.

    Now that the tipping point has been reached, the rise of global virtual states — with their thriving criminal economies, innovative networks, and hyperefficient war craft — will rapidly undermine public confidence in our national-security systems. In fact, this process has already begun. We've seen disruption of our oil supply in Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Colombia; the market's fear of more contributes mightily to the current high prices. But as those disruptions continue, the damage will spill over into the very structure of our society. Our profligate Defense Department, reeling from its inability to defend our borders on September 11 or to pacify even a small country like Iraq, will increasingly be seen as obsolete. The myth of the American superpower will be exposed as such.

    Then, inevitably, there will be a series of attacks on U.S. soil. The first casualty of these will be another institution, the ultrabureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, which, despite its new extra-legal surveillance powers, will prove unable to isolate and defuse the threats against us. (Its one big idea for keeping the global insurgency at bay — building a fence between Mexico and the United States, proposed in a recent congressional immigration bill — will prove as effective as the Maginot Line and the Great Wall of China.)

    But the metaphorical targets of September 11 are largely behind us. The strikes of the future will be strategic, pinpointing the systems we rely on, and they will leave entire sections of the country without energy and communications for protracted periods. But the frustration and economic pain that result will have a curious side effect: They will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of private companies, individuals, and local governments. This structure is already visible in the legions of private contractors in Iraq... [Emphasis added]

    Go read the rest. Robb foresees a privatized, decentralized, do-it-or-buy-it-yourself security future that will be familiar to readers of science fiction. Much of it is dark and dangerous, but he tries to end on a hopeful note:

    By 2016, we may see the trials of the previous decade as progress in disguise. The grassroots security effort will do more than just insulate our gas lines and high schools. It will also spur positive social change: So-called green systems will quickly shed their tree-hugger status and be seen as vital components of our economic and personal security. Even those civilian police auxiliaries could turn out to be a good thing in the long run: Their proliferation — and the technology they'll adopt — will lead to major reductions in crime. [...]

    On the national level, we'll see a withering of the security apparatus, but quite possibly a flowering in other areas. Energy independence and the obsolescence of conventional war with other countries will reduce tensions between the United States and the rest of the world. The end of oil will also force corrupt states, now propped up by energy income, to make the reforms they need to be accepted internationally, improving life for their people.

    Perhaps the most important global shift will be the rise of grassroots action and cross-connected communities. Like the Internet, these new networks will develop slowly at first. After a period of exponential growth, however, they will quickly become all but ubiquitous — and astonishingly powerful, perhaps as powerful as the networks arrayed against us. And so we will all become security consultants, taking an active role in deciding how it is bought, structured, and applied. That's a great responsibility and, with luck, an enormous opportunity. Choose wisely. [Emphasis added]

    Wild times ahead. Scary times. Challenging times. We no longer have the luxury of time to sit by and wait for the national government to make it all better. Government, as is becoming all too obvious, can't, or won't, in its present form, respond with sufficient agility — at least not at the national level — to cope with the ever-accelerating pace of events. We've all got to get up and get busy if we want to help drive outcomes in a positive direction. No big, centralized, top-down plan required. Find something to do and do it. Share what you learn. Learn from others. Network. Create an open-source insurgency for peace.

    Update: [3/17, 11:57 AM] Here's a NYT op-ed that Robb wrote last October. A good summary of Robb's views regarding Iraq.

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    February 23, 2006

    What's At Stake Future  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

    Yesterday's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra triggered widespread sectarian violence and prompted the withdrawal of Sunnis from talks aimed at forming a new Iraqi government. There can be little doubt that the bombers, whoever they may be, intended to spark a massive escalation in sectarian fighting, perhaps all-out civil war.

    Since the target was a Shiite shrine, everyone seems to assume the attackers were Sunnis, but there are any number of possible candidates. All-out sectarian civil war would bring Iraq a giant step closer to partition into three statelets along sectarian lines — a happy outcome, for example, for neocons here and abroad. Are they pulling the strings? I have no idea. But it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that the whole Iraq campaign has had, from the outset, the unstated goal of Iraq's partition. Pretty much everything that's happened has furthered that end. But it's perhaps even harder to believe that the people managing the war are secret (evil) geniuses — given that they still can't manage, for example, to armor their own troops. Meanwhile, who knows what other actors are working for Iraq's partition to further their own ends.

    Dark days in Iraq.

    A longtime reader of PastPeak who sends me thought-provoking emails from time to time wrote me late last night (excerpt):

    The destruction of Iraq cannot be undone. The bombing today of the Shiite shrine, which serves no conceivable Sunni insurgent purpose, but brings much closer the final breakup of what was once a modernizing, secular and economically equitable country, cannot be undone. And of course an attack on Iran, by what will, given current European rhetoric, be viewed by Muslims everywhere as an attack by the West, will finally make real the "Clash of Civilizations" the neocons have been dreaming of.

    You are right about the overarching importance of Global Warming, and the consequences of the end of the oil economy. In the meantime though all possibility of a rational response to these things will be destroyed by war with the Islamic world.

    That last paragraph brought me up short. Of course, he's right. Should the Middle East continue its downward spiral into a far wider war, the war's deadliest consequence would be that the world would miss a critically important window in time, perhaps our last best chance to avert catastrophe on the climate and peak oil fronts.

    As we slide towards war in Iran or Syria, let us remember this: peace is a prerequisite for rational and constructive action on the real problems facing humanity. The stakes couldn't be higher. We need peace.

    [Thanks, Miles]

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    February 22, 2006

    "We Have To Get Smart Fast" Environment  Essays  Future

    The Long Now Foundation seeks to foster the long view, looking ahead to the next 10,000 years of human society. It sponsors monthly lectures by some of the West's most original thinkers, the audio for which is archived here. It's an extraordinary collection. Go explore. (The talk by Bruce Sterling is a hoot.)

    I want to touch on just one of the lectures here, a recent talk by anthropologist Stephen Lansing, who has studied the planting and water management practices of Balinese rice farmers. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:

    With lucid exposition and gorgeous graphics, anthropologist Stephen Lansing exposed the hidden structure and profound health of the traditional Balinese rice growing practices. The intensely productive terraced rice paddies of Bali are a thousand years old. So are the democratic subaks (irrigation cooperatives) that manage them, and so is the water temple system that links the subaks in a nested hierarchy.

    When the Green Revolution came to Bali in 1971, suddenly everything went wrong. Along with the higher-yield rice came "technology packets" of fertilizers and pesticides and the requirement, stated in patriotic terms, to "plant as often as possible." The result: year after year millions of tons of rice harvest were lost, mostly to voracious pests. The level of pesticide use kept being increased, to ever decreasing effect.

    Meanwhile Lansing and his colleagues were teasing apart what made the old water temple system work so well....

    The universal problem in irrigation systems is that upstream users have all the power and no incentive to be generous to downstream users. What could account for their apparent generosity in Bali? Lansing discovered that the downstream users also had power, because pests can only controlled if everybody in the whole system plants rice at the same time (which overloads the pests with opportunity in one brief season and starves them the rest of the time). If the upstreamers didn't let enough water through, the downstreamers could refuse to synchronize their planting, and the pests would devour the upstreamers' rice crops.

    Discussion within the subaks (which dispenses with otherwise powerful caste distinctions) and among neighboring subaks takes account of balancing the incentives, and the exquisite public rituals of the water temple system keep everyone mindful of the whole system.

    The traditional synchronized planting is far more effective against the pests than pesticides. "Plant as often as possible" was a formula for disaster.

    It seems clear how such "perfect order" can maintain itself, but how did it get started? Was there some enlightened rajah who set down the rules centuries ago? Working with complexity scientists at Santa Fe Institute, Lansing built an agent-based computer model of 172 subaks planting at random times, seeking to maximize their yields and paying attention to the success of their neighbors. The system self-organized! In just ten years within the model the balanced system seen in Bali emerged on its own. No enlightened rajah was needed. (Interestingly, the very highest yields came when the model subaks paid attention not just to their immediate neighbors but to the neighbors' neighbors as well. If they paid attention primarily to distant subaks, however, the whole system went chaotic.)

    There's a lot more in the talk. It's a great little introduction to complex adaptive systems. It's a deeply thought-provoking look at the role of religious and other stable cultural systems in maintaining social norms over time. It's an extraordinary look at ecological interconnections and the disastrous unintended consequences that can result when Western development models are jammed down people's throats. And much more besides.

    The thing I wanted to emphasize, though, is this. The planners and development "experts" thought they knew better than the knowledge and wisdom that was stored in systems that had had a thousand years to reach a stable optimum. Much of that thousand-year-old knowledge was unconscious knowledge in the sense that it was woven into the very fabric of systems and social arrangements. It's likely that no one participating in it had a conscious, analytical grasp of how it all worked. No experts could articulate it. And yet it was very real and very profound. It was the kind of knowledge that is stored in the fabric of any healthy ecosystem.

    But the development "experts" were so sure of the superiority of their own brand of knowledge that they didn't hesitate to upset the whole apple cart, all at once, with disastrous effect.

    Wendell Berry has a wonderful essay, "The Way of Ignorance," in which he writes:

    The experience of many people over a long time is traditional knowledge. This is the common knowledge of a culture, which it seems that few of us any longer have. To have a culture, mostly the same people have to live mostly in the same place for a long time. Traditional knowledge is knowledge that has been remembered or recorded, handed down, pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined over a long time.

    To think you know better than people who have "pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined" their knowledge over many, many generations, that you know so much better that you can just uproot a way of life, all at once, with scarcely so much as a pilot project, you really have to be ignorant, arrogantly ignorant. As Berry says:

    We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk. It fails to foresee bad consequences not only because some of the consequences of all acts are inherently unforeseeable, but also because the arrogantly ignorant often are blinded by money invested; they cannot afford to see bad consequences.

    In this century, humanity is faced with global-scale challenges that will require global-scale action. The people at WorldChanging, for example, whose work I mostly admire, and who are determined to maintain an optimistic view of humanity's chances (which is a good thing), go so far as to talk a lot about "terraforming" and "mega-engineering", i.e., humans needing to engineer planetary systems on a planetary scale, literally re-forming the Earth.

    It may come to that. That is, it may turn out that our only hope is to take the reins of Earth's systems and risk it all on a few rolls of the dice. But I have to confess that it all strikes me as crazy hubris, the very epitome of the "willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk," the last wild perturbations in a system that's growing increasingly chaotic. If we can't interfere with a thousand-year-old system of rice paddies without ruining it, what makes us think we can manage the planet?

    As Lansing said at the very end of his talk: with the challenges that face us, "We have to get smart fast."

    Part of getting smart is knowing the limits of one's knowledge. Part of getting smart is working on an appropriate scale. And part of getting smart is to realize that there's enormous knowledge and wisdom woven into living systems, including traditional human societies, that have had millenia and more to arrive at solutions whose surface we have only barely begun to scratch. They have to much to teach us. We have much to learn.

    (Note: Lansing's got a book coming out in a few weeks. I've already ordered my copy.)

    Posted by Jonathan at 09:55 PM | Comments (4) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 23, 2006

    The Thumb On The World's Jugular Future  Peak Oil  War and Peace

    World oil production is barely keeping up with demand. There's no spare capacity, no slack in the system. John Robb points out an enormously significant consequence: from here on out, global guerrillas can control the price of oil via relatively minor disruptions in the supply system. This puts one hell of a weapon into their hands. Excerpt:

    The control over the price of oil is in now in the hands of global guerrillas — the open source, system disrupting, transnational crime fueled, sons of global fragmentation covered by this author. These actors can now, at will, curtail the supply of oil through low tech attacks on facilities in Iraq, Nigeria, central Asia, and India. The amount of oil effectively under their control exceeds five million barrels a day, more than Saudi Arabia's two million barrels a day of swing production.

    It's important to note that this capacity to disrupt production is substantially different than any terrorist threat we have faced in the past. With terrorism, the potential of damage has always been from single large attack on a major facility or node (extremely difficult to accomplish and relatively easy to recover from). Today's threat is based on sustainable disruption — ongoing, easy, low-tech attacks that are nearly impossible to defend against (everything from pipeline destruction to employee kidnapping). [...]

    This situation is merely the first stage in the larger epochal war between non-state groups and nation-states. It is by no means the worst of what we will need to deal with...In the meantime, given that the demand for oil continues to increase (due to the growth of China and India primarily) combined with the inability to bring new supplies to market, the price of oil will continue to climb. $100+ a barrel oil is not unforeseeable. [...]

    The success of guerrillas to control production in Iraq and Nigeria will spawn similar developments in other locations. High on that list is Russia, the world's largest oil producer, and the Caspian Sea producers. [Emphasis added]

    Guerrillas are already significantly curtailing oil exports from Iraq and Nigeria. And as Robb says, there's no stopping them. How are you going to guard thousands of miles of pipeline? Decentralized, freelance, non-state actors with their thumb on the jugular of the industrialized world. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

    Posted by Jonathan at 12:25 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 18, 2006

    Global Guerrillas And Open-Source Warfare Future  Iraq  War and Peace

    The article cited in the previous post, illustrating the adaptability of the Iraqi insurgents, is also linked to by John Robb of Global Guerrillas. Robb, counter-terrorism veteran and software entrepreneur, has lots of interesting things to say about the future of warfare. See his blog, here.

    Central to Robb's thinking is the idea that insurgencies around the world are increasingly decentralized, loosely-coupled, networked affairs created by "global guerrillas" who employ rapidly evolving tactics, often based on systems disruption swarms. A hallmark of the global guerrilla is open-source warfare, where the analogy is to open-source software development. Global guerrillas innovate, and their innovations are rapidly disseminated in a decentralized, viral fashion facilitated by global communications and the Internet. They learn from one another in real-time. Robb writes:

    [T]he insurgency isn't a fragile hierarchical organization but rather a resilient network made up of small, autonomous groups. This means that the insurgency is virtually immune to attrition and decapitation. It will combine and recombine to form a viable network despite high rates of attrition. Body counts — and the military should already know this — aren't a good predictor of success.

    ...[O]ut-innovating the insurgency will most likely prove unsuccessful. The insurgency uses an open-source community approach (similar to the decentralized development process now prevalent in the software industry) to warfare that is extremely quick and innovative. New technologies and tactics move rapidly from one end of the insurgency to the other, aided by Iraq's relatively advanced communications and transportation grid — demonstrated by the rapid increases in the sophistication of the insurgents' homemade bombs. This implies that the insurgency's innovation cycles are faster than the American military's slower bureaucratic processes (for example: its inability to deliver sufficient body and vehicle armor to our troops in Iraq).

    The Pentagon is big, clunky, hierarchical Microsoft; the insurgency is Linux and the Internet: rapidly mutating, highly networked, decentralized, loosely-coupled, constantly learning. The Pentagon can't keep up. In the long run (or maybe not so very long), it doesn't stand a chance.

    Global communications and the Internet are changing the world at an exponential pace. It was inevitable that they would change warfare, too.

    Posted by Jonathan at 10:03 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    January 09, 2006

    Just Breathtaking Future  Media  Science/Technology

    Google has a product called Google Earth that you can download for free.

    Thanks to WorldChanging, I'm discovering an absolutely breathtaking feature of Google Earth that I cannot recommend to you highly enough. Google has layered on top of the African continent hundreds of links to aerial photographs, National Geographic stories, videos, and interactive map features. Go explore.

    Click to enlarge

    Start by downloading and installing Google Earth. When you have it running, navigate to Africa, and zoom in until you see the yellow rectangles (links to National Geographic photos and stories) and red airplanes (links to aerial photographs). You have to zoom in quite a bit to see them all — i.e., keep zooming after you start to see them, and you'll see more.

    Don't miss the links to the various videos and multimedia features. For instance, each of the aerial photo links (the little red airplanes) has a link to "Sights and Sounds of Africa Megaflyover". Take that link, and check out the videos. Don't miss the "Aerial Footage" videos. Stunning.

    All-in-all, an astonishingly rich and beautiful resource — and these are no doubt just the very first baby steps. What's going to be available to us five years from now? Ten years? Twenty?

    Posted by Jonathan at 07:44 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    November 09, 2005

    Curitiba And Hope Future

    To build a better world, we need visions of the possible. We need examples. BuzzFlash is running an inspiring essay by Bill McKibben on the Brazilian city of Curitiba. It's a wonderful piece, so I'll quote it at length. If you want a soul-nourishing vision of what courageous, creative grownups, working together, can do, read on:

    The first time I went there, I had never heard of Curitiba. I had no idea that its bus system was the best on Earth or that a municipal shepherd and his flock of 30 sheep trimmed the grass in its vast parks. It was just a midsize Brazilian city where an airline schedule forced me to spend the night midway through a long South American reporting trip. I reached my hotel, took a nap, and then went out in the early evening for a walk — warily, because I had just come from crime-soaked Rio.

    But the street in front of the hotel was cobbled, closed to cars, and strung with lights. It opened onto another such street, which in turn opened into a broad and leafy plaza, with more shop-lined streets stretching off in all directions. Though the night was frosty — Brazil stretches well south of the tropics, and Curitiba is in the mountains — people strolled and shopped, butcher to baker to bookstore. There were almost no cars, but at one of the squares, a steady line of buses rolled off, full, every few seconds. I walked for an hour, and then another. I felt my shoulders, hunched from the tension of Rio (and probably New York as well) straightening. Though I flew out the next day as scheduled, I never forgot the city.

    From time to time over the next few years, I would see Curitiba mentioned in planning magazines or come across a short newspaper account of it winning various awards from the United Nations. Its success seemed demographically unlikely. For one thing, it's relatively poor — average per capita (cash) income is about $2,500. Worse, a flood of displaced peasants has tripled its population to a million and a half in the last 25 years. It should resemble a small-scale version of urban nightmares like São Paulo or Mexico City. But I knew from my evening's stroll it wasn't like that, and I wondered why.

    Maybe an effort to convince myself that a decay in public life was not inevitable was why I went back to Curitiba to spend some real time, to see if its charms extended beyond the lovely downtown. For a month, my wife and baby and I lived in a small apartment near the city center. Morning after morning I interviewed cops, merchants, urban foresters, civil engineers, novelists, planners; in the afternoons, we pushed the stroller across the town, learning the city's rhythms and habits. And we decided, with great delight, that Curitiba is among the world's great cities.

    Not for its physical location; there are no beaches, no broad bridge-spanned rivers. Not in terms of culture or glamour; it's a fairly provincial place. But measured for "livability," I have never been any place like it. In a recent survey, 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their rich and cosmopolitan city; 99 percent of Curitibans told pollsters that they were happy with their town; and 70 percent of the residents of São Paulo said they thought life would be better in Curitiba.

    This city has slums: some of the same shantytown favelas that dominate most Third World cities have sprouted on the edge of town as the population has rocketed. But even they are different, hopeful in palpable ways. They are clean, for instance — under a city program, a slumdweller who collects a sack of garbage gets a sack of food from the city in return. And Curitiba is the classic example of decent lives helping produce a decent environment. Because of its fine transit system, and because its inhabitants are attracted toward the city center instead of repelled out to a sprawl of suburbs, Curitibans use 25 percent less fuel per capita than other Brazilians, even though they are actually more likely to own cars. [...]

    And so the story of Curitiba begins with its central street, Rua Quinze...[Longtime Curitiba mayor Jaime] Lerner insisted...that it should become a pedestrian mall, an emblem of his drive for a human-scale city. "I knew we'd have a big fight," he says. "I had no way to convince the store-owners a pedestrian mall would be good for them, because there was no other pedestrian mall in Brazil. But I knew if they had a chance to actually see it, everyone would love it."

    To prevent opposition, he planned carefully. "I told my staff, 'This is like war.' My secretary of public works said the job would take two months. I got him down to one month. Maybe one week, he said, but that's final. I said, 'Let's start Friday night, and we have to finish by Monday morning.'" And they did — jackhammering the pavement, putting down cobblestones, erecting streetlights and kiosks, and putting in tens of thousands of flowers.

    "It was a horrible risk — he could easily have been fired," said Oswaldo Alves, who helped with the work. But by midday Monday, the same storeowners who had been threatening legal action were petitioning the mayor to extend the mall. The next weekend, when offended members of the local automobile club threatened to "reclaim" the street by driving their cars down it, Lerner didn't call out the police. Instead, he had city workers lay down strips of paper the length of the mall. When the auto club arrived, its members found dozens of children sitting in the former street painting pictures. The transformation of Curitiba had begun.

    Cheapness is one of the three cardinal dictates of Curitiban planning. Many of the city's buildings are "recycled." The planning headquarters is in an old furniture factory; the gunpowder depot became a furniture factory; a glue plant was turned into the children's center. An old trolley stationed on the Rua Quinze has become a free babysitting center where shoppers can park their kids for a few hours. The city's parks provide the best example of brilliance on the cheap. When Lerner took office for the first time in 1971, the only park in Curitiba was smack downtown — the Passeio Publico, a cozy zoo and playground with a moat for paddleboats and a canopy of old and beautiful ipé trees, which blossom blue in the spring. "In that first term, we wanted to develop a lot of squares and plazas," recalls Alves. "We picked one plot, we built a lot of walls, and we planted a lot of trees. And then we realized this was very expensive."

    At the same time, as luck would have it, most Brazilian cities were installing elaborate flood-control projects. Curitiba had federal money to "channelize" the five rivers flowing through town, putting them in concrete viaducts so that they wouldn't flood the city with every heavy summer rain and endanger the buildings starting to spring up in the floodplain.

    "The bankers wanted all the rivers enclosed," says Alves; instead, city hall took the same loan and spent it — on land. At a number of sites throughout the city, engineers built small dams and backed up the rivers into lakes. Each of these became the center of a park; and if the rains were heavy, the lake might rise a foot or two — perhaps the jogging track would get a little soggy or the duck in the big new zoo would find itself swimming a few feet higher than usual. "Every river has a right to overflow," insists parks chief Nicolau Klupel.

    Mostly because of its flood-control scheme, in 20 years — even as it tripled in population — the city went from two square feet of green area per inhabitant to more than 150 square feet per inhabitant...From every single window in Curitiba, I could see as much green as I could concrete. And green begets green; land values around the new parks have risen sharply, and with them tax revenues.

    Though the population continues to grow steadily, it's indeed possible that Curitiba may have broken the back of its social problems. [...]

    Consider housing...Abandoning the policy of small, scattered sites, the city bought one of the few large plots of land left within its limits, a swath of farmland bounded by several rivers called Novo Bairro, or New Neighborhood.

    We stood on a rise in Novo Bairro and watched as bulldozers scraped and contoured the hills. This cleared field would soon be home to 50,000 families, perhaps 200,000 people. Small houses crept like a tidemark across the land. The city was not building the homes — the new landowners were, sometimes with the aid of a city mortgage on a small pile of bricks and windows. Every third house seemed to be doubling as a building supply store; and everywhere, people plastered, framed, roofed.

    "Sixty percent of the lower-income people are involved in the construction industry anyhow," says one COHAB executive. "They know how to build." And here is the moving part: With your plot of land comes not only a deed and a pair of trees (one fruit bearing and one ornamental), but also an hour downtown with an architect. "The person explains what's important to him — a big window out front, or room in the kitchen. They tell how many kids they have, and so on. And then we help draw up a plan," says one architect, who has more than 3,000 of "his" homes scattered around the city.

    "Most people can only afford to build one room at a time, so we also show them the logical order to go in," another designer explains.

    At the moment, in the center of Novo Bairro, COHAB is building "Technology Street," an avenue of 24 homes, each built using some different construction technique — bamboo covered with plaster, say — so that people can get ideas for the kind of house they might want. The houses are all smaller than most Americans would want to live in, but they all say something about the people who built them. "It's a house built out of love," says the housing chief. "And because of that, people won't leave it behind. They're going to consolidate their lives there, become part of the city."

    One of the first structures to go up at Novo Bairro was a glass tube bus station, linking this enclave to the rest of the city. "Integration" is a word one hears constantly from official Curitiba, another of its mantras. It means knitting together the entire city — rich, poor, and in-between — culturally and economically and physically. Hitoshi Nakamura is the city parks commissioner and one of Lerner's longtime collaborators. "We have to have communication with the people of the slums," he said one day as we were talking about the problems posed by settlers invading fragile bottomlands along the rivers. "If we don't, if they start to feel like falvelados, then they will go against the city....If we give them attention, they don't feel abandoned. They feel like citizens."

    To learn from Curitiba, the rest of the world would have to break some longstanding habits. And the hardest habit to break, in fact, may be what Lerner calls the "syndrome of tragedy, of feeling like we're terminal patients." Many cities have "a lot of people who are specialists in proving change is not possible. What I try to explain to them when I go visit is that it takes the same energy to say why something can't be done as to figure out how to do it." [Emphasis added]

    The American dogma is that things work best when left to the market. Turn entrepreneurs loose, and competition will lead them to do what's best. The example of Curitiba, however, shows the value of an overarching vision, of grounded civic responsibility, of selfless, creative planning and design. At Curitiba, the motivation is not profit — or at least not profit alone — but an honest desire to build a humane, livable environment for all. Think how many lives have been improved and made whole through the efforts of the Curitiba planners. They are building something truly worth building. How soul-satisfying their lives must be, compared to the lives of builders of American shopping malls and convenience stores.

    Posted by Jonathan at 04:31 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    October 28, 2005

    The Planet IS An Ark Environment  Future

    WorldChanging has a wonderful short interview with Bruce Sterling, who, besides being a sci-fi author, futurist, cultural critic, and visionary, is a very smart and funny guy:

    With Arctic ice melting and the worst hurricane season in recorded history, are we past the point where mitigation of global climate change is going to have much of an effect?

    The climate crimes we've already committed aren't much compared to what's coming down the pipe. It's pretty cynical to write off mitigation when we haven't as yet even tried it. It may well be that the roof is on fire, but that doesn't make it good policy to chop up the walls and floors and add them to the blaze.

    Should we be building an ark or two?

    The planet IS an ark.

    Where do you propose to hide or construct such a thing? There's no place to hide from the sky. [...]

    In getting certain world leaders to be responsive to the increasingly obvious, we can't seem to get past legacy issues (e.g. George W. Bush ignoring Kyoto because it would "cost jobs.") What should the average person, or at least the citizen change agent, be doing at this point to support both mitigation and adaptation?

    I don't want to be a big cynic about this, but really, at this point, who WANTS George W Bush to get all interested in climate change? Sooner or later, that guy poisons everything he touches. He'd probably start a highly secretive and utterly disorganized "Department of Greenhouse Security," where Bechtel apparatchiks took over abandoned army bases to install leaky nuclear power plants in dead of night with extraordinarily-rendered, off-the-books, union-busting labor. [...]

    George Bush doesn't care about Kyoto and "jobs." The American right's loathing for Kyoto is strictly a nationalist, anti-globalist, unilateralist power issue. They don't want Kyoto inspectors dropping by to double-check Exxon-Mobil's emissions; they figure they'd show up in black helicopters, with handcuffs and guns. Because that's exactly how they themselves would behave, if they had the chance.

    I don't believe in "average people" doing anything. People ought to support mitigation and adaptation within their own line of work, no matter how un-average that is. I mean: if you're butcher, baker, ballerina, banker, or a plumber, envision yourself as the post-fossil-fuel version of yourself, and get right after it. We'd be best off struggling to create some kind of Solidarnosc-style entirely alternate society, for a 1989-sized across-the-board upheaval. So, just, well, stop co-operating with the status quo. Stop collaborating. Stop being afraid and stop feeling helpless. Just stop all that and start living by entirely other means.

    Be glad for any scrap of choice you're offered. The UN expects 50 million people to have their lives entirely uprooted by environmental mayhem -- EVERY YEAR. That could be you or me. You're worried that a hybrid car costs more money? People in Key West are standing on the roofs of drowned cars.

    Our best hope is to "collapse upwards."

    Re Sterling's recommendation of struggling to create an alternate society, a la Solidarity, a commenter at WorldChanging notes:

    Lech Walesa was once asked how Solidarity started. He answered, "By talking loudly at the bus stops."

    Great stuff.

    Posted by Jonathan at 06:25 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb