Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Best Things in Life

Some of the best things in life are the priceless gems we take away from direct experience, deep introspection or direct observation; these are among the things that help us better understand the world we live in―or help us imagine a better one. Here’s a baker’s dozen of my personal favorites:

1) All things are connected in some way, even when the connections seem tenuous or non-existent. What affects one thing affects all things.

2) Money isn’t wealth, per se, it only represents a future claim on wealth. In essence, it’s a facilitator of trade, but it does more than just that; it also invites one or more (usually more) additional parties (middlemen) into what would otherwise be a two-party transaction.

3) In the real world, physics apply; there is no magic, only illusions; there are limits to all finite things.

4) In a rational world, knowledge supported by science trumps religion-based dogma.

5) Things aren’t always what they seem to be.

6) Sometimes things are exactly what they seem to be.

7) Complex systems create complex problems that require complex solutions and complex explanations.

8) The economy is in no way economic; it squanders resources by turning things of value into money.

9) If it’s too big to fail, it’s a criminal enterprise.

10) If government could be bought, it already has been.

11) Religion provides cover for bad behavior.

12) Advancements in technology require new advancements in technology to deal with the aftermath.

13) At some point you have to stop striving for more and start striving for better.

Got some of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Daze of Our Lives

Among the many things that block human progress are politics, religion, economics, corrupt government infested with corporate insiders, and a profound lack of critical thought at all levels of society. Thus it has always been, and thus it will always be. The dumbfuckery just never seems to stop.

Too many of our nation’s leaders are greedy opportunists voted into office by people of questionable intelligence. We’re a nation in gridlock because imbeciles and “morans,”  who know exactly what they want but are totally clueless about what they need, would rather be led by self-aggrandizing dolts and liars than by intelligent, principled visionaries whose main concerns are to serve society’s immediate and long-term interests. The efforts of our too few principled leaders are perpetually thwarted by our too many leaders who, devoid of principle, obfuscate and obstruct in service to a corporate agenda.

A little more than a decade into the 21st century, the 20th-century way of doing things no longer works for most people. Call it one of the undesirable side-effects of overpopulation meeting resource limits. When you have a large population clamoring for prosperity for everyone, what you get is environmental disaster and ecological collapse quickly followed by economic collapse. It's time for people to wake up and recognize "economic growth" for the bullshit it is. Population growth, too. We’ve already exceeded the limit on both.

Too many people doing too many destructive things take unsustainable tolls on environment and resources. Nothing about the way we’ve structured our society (and all of the systems that support it) is sustainable. If we are to create a progressive, inclusive, humane society that’s truly sustainable, we must rethink our priorities, slaughter a few sacred cows, redesign our social institutions and build or rebuild everything we’ll need to make it so. The sooner we get started the lower the costs will be—and the easier the task.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do the Math

Population + technology + energy use + consumerism + resource depletion + global warming + environmental degradation + ocean acidification + loss of biodiversity = totally fucked.

These aren’t separate problems; they’re all part of the same problem caused by too many people competing for too few resources using too much energy-dependent technology in a constrained environment.

Over the last few decades, global population more than doubled, while global energy use went up even more. For the first time in history, humanity consumed more renewable resources (on an annual basis) than planet Earth can restore. For the first time in history, we maxed out the planetary credit card.

There’s no denying that the global economy is hamstrung by a nexus of perfect storms―overpopulation, overconsumption, overproduction, environmental destruction, ecological mayhem, pollution, resource depletion, climate changes attributed to global warming, and probably a few others. For the first time in history, we simultaneously peaked on everything that’s essential to long-term human survival. The implications, in terms of population numbers, are obvious.

A vibrant, growing economy results in major impacts to environment and ecosystem alike. Human demand (consumption) drives production (exploitation of natural resources, energy use) and all other forms of economic activity that, in aggregate, take a horrendous toll on the environment. The rational approach to averting climate catastrophe (and a few others, too) is to take our collective foot off the economic throttle and let the economy idle for a good long while.

We can fix the economy by making radical changes to it now and introducing fundamental changes as we go along to ensure we get it right, but if we don’t take immediate radical steps to fix the environment, then it’s game over for most species―maybe all species, including ours. If ever there was a time for radicalism, this is it.

Our best chances of surviving what’s coming down the road begin with stopping―not reducing―CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, accompanied by shutting off the flow of toxic chemicals entering the environment. The fastest way to accomplish this is to abandon our industrial economy’s endless cycles of production and consumption in favor of something that’s less destructive of the environment and more supportive of life.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don't

As it turns out, a robust economy and a healthy environment are incompatible. If we rev up the economy, the environment suffers. If we protect the environment, the economy tanks. On the face of it, there’s no way to win; we’re literally damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Double damned, actually, because in effect we can’t have either one. The pundits won’t say it, the media won’t air it or print it, the politicians won’t think it and business leaders all deny it, but the status quo has lose/lose written all over it.

There are only two ways out of this dilemma; one you won’t like, and the other you’ll like even less. The first option is to slow the economy gradually but quickly by various means to avoid the harshest impacts to people, and then replace it with an entirely new, sustainable system that protects the environment and excludes no one. The second option is to crash the economy dead in its tracks, cull the human herd by 75% or more, and then reset the board for a new game (presumably of Monopoly). A third option (an ode to the status quo but no way out) is to stay mired in our dilemma, resist all temptations to act in our own best interests, ignore the obvious, deny an undeniable reality and essentially let nature fix the problem for us.

Of several strategies capable of slowing the economy, austerity seems like the best choice. Austerity, as proven on numerous occasions, can effectively slow an economy―or bring it to a complete standstill―in a relative short time. Another result of austerity―intended or not―is that it increasingly puts the superfluous population at greater risk by denying people trapped in this demographic access to the things they need to survive; people who lack the means to survive usually don't. In addition to cooling off the economy, austerity sets the stage for reducing global population numbers to a sustainable level.

There are two kinds of austerity, one soft, the other hard. "Soft" austerity is self-imposed―the kind you accept voluntarily and do willfully―a conscious effort to reduce one's appetite for consumer goods for the greater good of all. Such efforts might include intentionally downsizing one's home, becoming car-free, or reducing one's energy consumption in myriad ways; all are forms of soft austerity. One willingly sacrifices a certain amount of personal comfort, convenience and pleasure for the sake of a smaller carbon footprint.

"Hard" austerity, thrust upon one against one's will by an outside force, chokes off the money supply in the economy. In essence it denies people access to the goods and services they need to survive. It's the kind of austerity that’s pervasive in the world today. Hard austerity is not only a means of population control, it's also a tool that, when skillfully wielded, ensures the wealthy remain at the top of the world pecking order. To put it simply, the wealthy impose austerity on the rest of us (none for them, thank you) by capturing most of the newly created wealth and/or the money increase that accompanies it.

Unfortunately, austerity imposed by the wealthy is aimed at the wrong end of the economic spectrum. For maximum effect, austerity must also target the rich because it is they who contribute the most to environmental destruction. By focusing austerity only on those already struggling to make ends meet, the wealthy betray their true intention to soften up the superfluous population prior to a cull. It’s capitalism they care about, not people or the environment.

Used wisely and applied fairly, austerity measures can be valuable assets in helping humans avert a global environmental disaster. When used in the way that the wealthy now use it, austerity is only an implement of destruction.

In the first analysis, austerity seems like the easiest, cheapest and surest way of bringing the global economy to an idle in the shortest possible time―short of a sudden crash. In the final analysis, nothing changes; the inescapable truth is that economic contraction is an environmental imperative if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe that inevitably leads to a major extinction event.