The Murmer Beneath the Headlines

Recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere were shocking and awesome. The dissonance of the images of war in peaceful downtown gay Paris were particularly troublesome.

There are some, however, who are troubled for an entirely different reason:

The Paris terrorist attacks and political instability in Europe are making companies more reluctant to invest, the chief executive of Siemens has warned.Joe Kaeser told the Financial Times: “Investment is about believing, about the future, and [when] events like that happen, people will wait.”

Source: Terror attacks threaten investment: Siemens chief – BBC News

Sounds like George W. Bush’s infamous call to keep shopping after September 11, 2001:

Remarks by the President to Airline Employees
Chicago O’Hare International Airport
Chicago, Illinois
September 27, 2001


When they struck, they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear.  And one of the great goals of this nation’s war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry.  It’s to tell the traveling public:  Get on board. Do your business around the country.  Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots.  Get down to Disney World in Florida.  Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.?

Read the complete speech at this direct link to the Whitehouse website.

Are economists really so callous that they believe that investments trump people’s lives and welfare? Do Presidents, at least of the United States, really believe that going to Disney World will show those nasty terrorists that we’re no one to mess with? That’ll learn em!

Economics is one of those “fantastic doctrines” that Ed Abbey warned us about, especially “global” economics, which is all about keeping the rabble in line so the elite 1% can enjoy their billions, piling them in heaps and heaping them in piles.

Somehow, it must sink in that the “global economy” is the problem, not the solution.

Human Society – Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

Dinosaurs didn’t go extent. They just flew away!

The word sustainability has almost lost all meaning in environmental discussions, as it has been applied to all manner of human activity. Many are inclined to drop this word and use others in their stead.

Resilience, sustainability, adaptability. I hesitate to throw away any words, as words have meaning and reducing our vocabulary creates a depauperate language.

The word “sustainable” is particularly difficult because it is used to opposite meanings in economics and biology. Sustainable in classical economics means: “making decisions and strategic investments to sustain the community over the long-term.” In biological terms, sustainable means “making decisions and strategic investments that are not harmful to the environment or deplete natural resources, and thereby support long-term ecological balance.”

The concept I’m searching for is a quality of human society that allows it to continue indefinitely into the future without reducing the carrying capacity of the biosphere that sustains it. This concept embraces sustainability, resilience and adaptability.

Adaptability is a particularly slippery concept, because humans do not adapt to the world in the biological sense that others species adapt through the process of biological evolution. Rather, humans actively adapt the environment to human needs and desires. We do not grow fur to live in northern latitudes, we take from natural resources to invent fitted clothing and insulated houses. We do not grow gills and flippers to fish in the sea, we invent boats and fishing tackle. We change our environment to suit our needs. We are an impatient species, with no time for mundane evolution to bring us into conformity with existing conditions.

What is needed rather than adaptability is forbearance, the quality that Scots call ”let-a-be,” that Taoists call “wu-wei,” allowing the world to rise of itself, rather than to shape it into predetermined human patterns.

What would a “wu-wei” human economy look like? Such an economy would take no more resources than are naturally replenished, leaving sufficient resources to support all life. Wastes would not be produced in greater amounts than are naturally assimilated through existing geophysical processes. Food for humans would be grown within existing cycles of resource availability and biodiversity.

In short, human societies would exist in a dynamic equilibrium with all other species, subject to natural cycles of resource availability. Humans would a be a part of, not apart from, the non-human world.

Non-human species have lived this way all the time. Those that fouled their nests or outgrew their food supplies declined or went extinct (or adapted and flew away). The process continues today, with the addition that non-human species must now adapt to the human propensity to ignore evolution and demand dispensation from adaptation.

Human economies are created and maintained to suit human desires and needs. They are a mental constructs subject to human construction and modification. We “Homo sapiens” invented our way into the environmental mess that our economies have created. We have the capacity to invent our way back into a cooperative, co-evolutionary relationship with non-human species that will benefit all and ensure our species’ place on this planet in the future.

If only we would.

Why Things That Can’t Go On Forever, Don’t

A recent blog post on Gary Patton’s excellent Two Worlds blog cites The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a study proposed to help create “a society that recognizes, measures, manages and economically rewards responsible stewardship of its natural capital,” sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO).

The study’s mission statement demonstrates quite clearly that the IEEE proposes to maintain the status quo, not usher in an economic revolution. Any society that proposes to “steward” “its” natural capital is a society dominated by ownership and use of the natural world for human profit. We would be shocked to discover the IEEE proposing any other program, since the purpose of engineering in any form is to make over the Earth for human profit. 
Development is development, even environmentally “sensitive” development is development. Development is the problem, not the solution.
Attempting to assign monetary value to the natural world and natural processes is just one more attempt to subvert what little is left to human service. Natural processes do not exist for human use and benefit. They exist for themselves.
The statement: “In order to create truly sustainable relationships with natural resources, we may need to reconsider the way we acknowledge importance and the underlying beliefs that shape our systems.” illustrates the depth of the problem. “Resources” refers to use by humans, be they natural or … unnatural. The one underlying belief that shapes our system is ownership and use for human benefit. Until we can drop that particular bit of hubris, we cannot make any headway in living sustainably on this Earth.
There is only one sustainable “use” of the non-human world, to never use resources faster than they are naturally replenished and never produce wastes faster than they are naturally dispersed. Any other form of use is by definition unsustainable.
Further, the pamphlet states: “In the meantime, an economic shift in perception of natural sources can help to preserve those sources while more complex shifts in perception occur.” This flies in the face of human history. Perceiving natural sources in economic terms merely hastens their depletion. The economy is at the mercy of whomsoever controls it, and those in control cannot turn their backs on the economic and political systems that maintain their access to power.
Therefore, anyone who views the natural world as anything other than free sources of raw materials, space and profit is automatically opted out of the control system.
The only possible path through to a sustainable human economy is to change from production for profit to production for use, the same economic system employed by all life forms on Earth, save Homo sapiens, accompanied by a realistic reduction in human population. No other species lives beyond its means as humans do. Therefore, until humans come back to the fold, living within natural cycles of resource availability, human society will continue to be unsustainable.
None of this is new. These principles were clearly articulated in 1977 in Progress as if Survival Mattered,  published by Friends of the Earth. The message is simple:
Things that cannot go on forever, don’t.

Building Community

The New Year is a traditional time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the new. While there is much to look forward to, there is also much that carries over from the last year and clouds the next.
Despite a relatively calm New Year’s Eve celebration, the news in Santa Cruz was dominated by crime and mayhem: a body found in a car trunk in Moss Landing, stabbings in Watsonville, stolen cars, burglaries, homelessness. It seems to be a high rate of crime reportage for our small community.
What’s behind the headlines? Is there more crime in Santa Cruz County than elsewhere? Do our local news sources concentrate on crime stories more than others? Is there no good news to report?
Much of the crime reported locally is gang related, a result of cultural clash, lack of economic opportunity, traditional family breakdown. Despite a well-financed and active Gang Task Force, gang activity continues, even though active gang members are well known to the local constabulary. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, robbery, graffiti and gang member confrontations have increased exponentially in the 10 years that I’ve lived in Santa Cruz.
The rising number of individuals living on the fly, camping out in town and out, and dependent on homeless shelters and mission meals, increases conflicts on our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our greenbelts and undeveloped margins. Those who cannot, or will not, contribute to local society create a further drain on the economy and community.
The declining U.S. economy contributes to all of these social problems, pulling money from our states, counties and municipalities, straining local budgets, businesses and banks. This creates a social discontinuity, since our consumer culture still tells us that personal worth is dependent on personal possessions. If we can’t have the possessions: new cars, large homes, wide-screen TeeVees, influential jobs, the latest clothing styles, we are told that we are worth less than those who do have these things.
How do we respond to this apparent downward social spiral?
Human beings are social animals, evolved to live together in supportive social communities. It is the lack of community that creates a feeling of despair, loss and hopelessness. It is through community that we rebuild supportive relationships for our youth, our working families and our elders.
Our central government can’t help us build community. It’s up to us. We can work together on the ground where we live, work, shop and play, to build cooperative social support structures to replace fading government institutions. Health care, child care, elder care, food supplies, housing, transportation, work and play can all be organized communally, not for personal profit but for community good.
As we work together to support ourselves, our families and our community, we will, quite naturally, work together politically, to insure that our neighborhoods, towns and counties support our communities. Democracy is the community talking to itself and deciding, together, on a course of action for the greater good.

In this new year of 2012, let’s take a close look at everything we do. Does it support community or personal benefit? How can we change our individual lives to help improve the lives of those closest to us?

Economic growth is the Problem, Not the Cure

European Activists Against Economic Growth

Europe has suffered under unbridled capitalism far longer than the United States. Here’s what they’ve learned:

“…degrowth emerges as the only economically viable formula, not just in benefit of nature but also “to restore a minimum of social justice, without which the world is condemned to destruction.”

Here in the United States, the growth maniacs are still in control, and economic growth is the elephant in the living room. And it’s billed as the main attraction, the only attraction. Stand up in a city council meeting anywhere in the country and question the concept of economic growth and count the uncomprehending stares. You’ll be branded as a crank, as unrealistic, as an idealist.

Growth is the water that our economy swims in. We can’t see it and we can’t know that it is drowning us.

It’s all about Growth!

In a BBC article, ostensibly about Low-carbon energy, the real agenda is made clear:

“New technologies will be required if the world economy is to grow without accelerating climate change.”

The base assumption in all talks about climate change, Peak Oil, and the future of human civilization is the growth economy. One thing we do know about the undefinable word “sustainable,” is that a growth economy isn’t.

The only form of “economy” among the members of any successful species on Earth is a steady state economy. No species can expand indefinitely, taking more and more resources from other species in the neighborhood. There is a scientific name for species that continue to overstep their bounds: extinct.

Be Bold, Mr. President-elect!

Your Weekly Address from the President-elect

President-elect Obama gave his first “radio” address, via You Tube and the internet, (can you hear the radio address on the radio anywhere?) this morning, breaking new ground in communications, embracing the darling medium of youth. Unfortunately his message was old hat.

Yes, of course, the leader of the Free World must exude confidence, point the way to the future, calm our fears, especially one who still aspires to that leadership position. We hope today’s address is merely a hint of more substantive policy-making yet to come.

It’s time to stop talking about a growing economy. Growth is dead. A growing economy is impossible in a finite world containing 6 billion human beings busily procreating and despoiling the planet on which all life depends. The old economic model is laid bare in its false promise of unending consumerism, constantly increasing standard of living, room for all on this tiny planet, including, of course, those who consume most of it.

This is a lie. Please, Senator Obama, don’t lie to us. Tell us the truth so we can start right now, together, to work toward real solutions