System Status: Mail server SSL certificate updated; some older mail clients (e.g., Eudora) are having problems. See welltech.374 for more info.


inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #51 of 200: Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Mon 30 Aug 04 06:58
    
As I've said on WC, I'll say here:  I think that it's highly arguable
that China's population policies have been ecologically effective. If
that is the only example of ecological totalitarianism we have to
debate the point, then it's not convincing, at least not to me.

>So -- if I'm not stretching that point too far -- I'm really still
interested in the question of how to change that kind of a fundamental
or core value.

David, I think we are actually IN that fundamental shift right now.
It's just that the 'right now' is lasting for several decades,
proceeding apace with appalling levels of destruction to systems that
may not be replaced--or easily replaced--like the health of the world's
oceans and ocean species, or the presence of great forests.  

For all the significant faults with current U.S. regulatory systems,
say, they are nonetheless constant arenas of debate, flux, and change. 
For example: why was it worth it for the energy and chemical
industries to co-opt the United States Environmental Protection Agency?
 The two-ton elephant answer is greed, but more compellingly it was
because Americans really are extremely invested in the ostensible goals
of EPA to control and reduce, and at least in the public's mind,
eliminate, pollution and other impacts on clean air and water, how
pesticides are formulated and used, etc.  

The entire Bush environmental agenda (to harp on what I'm steeped in
at this time) has been conducted with fair amounts of skill, sometimes
stealth and sometimes pure power politics, but always with an eye to
spinning it to sound positive to the middle-of-the-road American,
because these same Americans support most "environmentalist" goals.  

So I'd argue that the mindset is there.  What about the popularity of
SUVs, I hear you cry?  Well, it's got very little internal consistency.
 But the foundations are there. 

(Now, there is a whole 'nother discussion I'm evading here, about 
doing less harm as opposed to no harm--this might be the next
fundamental change we need to make in regulatory systems, uh, if we
manage to wrest those systems away from industry.)

I think what's hard and heartbreaking is to be living in the midst of
this very gradual change, when we have a clear view of what's being
lost--or what will need serious effort to repair, thinking of Jamais'
posting to WorldChanging about biodiversity arks--even if we emerge
into more positive and sustainable systems in the future.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #52 of 200: John S. Quarterman (jonl) Mon 30 Aug 04 08:49
    
Email from John Quarterman:

``The SUV is an example of what I meant by forces that will drive change. 
People will stop driving SUVs (and will drive automobiles less) as energy 
becomes scarce and expensive. Even hybrid SUVs will suck energy because of 
their inherent size and weight, and people will naturally decide against 
that drain.''

Will they? Or maybe more efficient SUVs will promote economies of scale. 
It's much easier to carry a whole family with paraphernalia (sports gear, 
nursery gear, building materials, whatever) in an SUV than in a coupe.

In other words, if SUVs promote car-pooling, and SUVs become more 
efficient, aren't SUVs then more efficient *in aggregate* than traditional 
cars? If it takes 1 efficient SUV to carry what 2 efficient traditional 
cars could carry, isn't the SUV preferable?

Perhaps worldchanging should avoid prejudices such as "SUVs are bad simply 
because they're big." Big can mean economies of scale. Why talk about "we 
are all to blame"? Why not talk about how to leverage market demand to be 
an advantage?

Similarly, why less air travel? Why not more efficient airplanes and 
*more* air travel so people will become even more familiar with foreign 
climes? It's harder to attack a place once you've been there. How much 
does a war cost vs. how many years of air travel to the potential war 
zone? Does anybody have a handy chart of increases in efficiencies in 
airplanes over time? Also of efficiencies due to Southwest Airlines style 
organization of air travel?

As to the United States being replaced as a role model, remember that the 
U.S. is one of the very few places that has a whole continent's resources 
to draw from. The few equivalents (China, Brazil, India, Russia) are all 
still quite a bit behind in development.

However, as Tawn Kennedy says, ``It is heartening to think in terms of 
'leap frogging' nations and the flexibility that a lack of entrenched 
infrastucture allows for the implementation of cheap green technology.''

Right now we have an example of a country with much its infrastructure 
destroyed, an educated populace, and gigabucks of foreign investment 
pouring in: Iraq. Why not try some leapfrogging there to sustainable 
distributed green technologies?

As for everyone worldwide being able to enjoy the same standard of living, 
are we not able to imagine ways to do that? And without aggregating 
everybody into highrise apartments Hong Kong style? For example, in most 
of Texas, solar cells on the roof can eliminate most draws on the power 
grid. And significant reductions in energy usage can be had simply by 
putting solar screens on windows to reflect most sun before it hits glass, 
and by replacing dark roofs with reflective colors. Much of the middle 
east and Africa could do the same, especially once solar cells become 
sufficiently inexpensive. We're talking factor 10 and higher reductions in 
energy usage from currently-available technologies, before even getting 
into building houses to be more efficient in the first place.

Look at what Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute 
http://www.rmi.org/ have done in other climates; he's got a tropical 
garden growing in his house in the Rockies with no draw from the power 
grid. His adventures in bringing new economies to many industries are well 
documented over many years.

If you think of standard of living as about spending a certain amount of 
energy, of course it's not possible for everyone to have the same 
standard. But if you think of it as having convenient housing temperature, 
communications, transportation, etc., then why can't it be possible?

Meanwhile, look at refrigeration. An African, Mohammed Bah Abba of 
Nigeria, recently invented a refrigeration technique involving two pots 
and water that could have been implemented thousands of years ago: 
http://www.rolexawards.com/special-feature/inventions/abba.html (This was 
reported on Worldchanging, which is probably where I heard of it.) People 
want better than factor 10 improvements in efficiency; this one is from 
nothing to more than something for zero draw on the power grid: what 
factor efficiency is that?

What else haven't we thought of yet?

-jsq John S. Quarterman
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #53 of 200: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 30 Aug 04 08:57
    
John, I think we were making the same point regarding SUVs - that we'll 
demand efficiency. My view is that, if the SUV changes to become more 
efficient, it becomes something else. But that's my view, and your thought 
is just as valid.

Re. standard of living, perhaps we haven't done enough to define that
standard; perhaps we need data that defines the average American SOL
before we define whether the rest of the world can match it with available
resources. I think when Jamais says that everyone on the world can live
comfortably, he's still thinking about a lower overall standard than Jim
White was when he said you couldn't bring the whole world population as it
stands now to the U.S.  level.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #54 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Mon 30 Aug 04 09:31
    
Nope, but I do mean *different* characteristics for that standard of living. As
a crude example of what I mean, a bit more than a century ago, a high standard
of living in the US would include some number of household servants, and even
what we would now call "middle class" households had a couple; few people have
household servants now, but fewer still would argue that the American standard
of living is worse now because of that. The definition of what constitutes a 
high standard of living changed.

(This points to a problem inherent to the standard of living concept, though:  
in any material-goods-based definition (such as refrigerators per 1000 people),
the choice of what to include is an intrinsically political one. We can see
that in recent arguments put out by some conservative group (and I don't have
the reference in front of me, so I may be misremembering the source) that
Europeans have a lower standard of living than Americans because they have
fewer air conditioners per capita. The quick counterpoint raised in response
was that you'd get a different result if you measured health coverage instead
of per-capita AC, but that simply underscores my argument.)

So when I say that I believe that it would be possible for the planet's
population to live sustainably with a high standard of living (given enough
effort, a measure of technological advances, money, political will, etc. --
that is to say, probably not soon), you're correct to think that I don't mean
everyone with sprawling, inefficient ranch homes, gas-guzzling cars, and
overworked air conditioners. But that doesn't mean I imagine people having to
make do with less. I imagine them being happy with better.

JSQ: The questions you ask are good ones, and on the right target. It's likely 
that the path of the discussion here in Inkwell has mischaracterized the bulk 
of the conversation on WorldChanging itself -- we don't spend screen after 
screen arguing that SUVs are evil, etc. We spend most of our efforts exploring 
the ways to resolve the big problems, and asking questions very similar to 
those you posed in #52.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #55 of 200: from VINAY GUPTA (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 11:29
    



Vinay Gupta writes:



I had an idea last night. A way to create a Constitutional framework to
protect the earth. It's really simple.

Corporations are "persons" in the legal sense - they can have a lawyer argue
that they own something, that they are being defamed, that they have the
protection of the law.

What if we did that for the planet?

Seriously: if we legally ruled that The Planet is a Person in the same way
that IBM, Inc, is A Person, and thereby extended the full weight of law to
the protection of the planet? You could then say "but how does The Planet"
hire lawyers, and I think we can find a body of law in things like advocates
for children in divorce cases or for people in comas - just because The
Planet isn't able to make it's wishes expressly clear in a legally binding
sense doesn't mean that it can't have legal representation.

Makes me wonder, you know? This actually seems like something I could imagine
seeing within my lifespan: if the Corporation can go from anathema, a banned
institution, to Corporate Personhood in a hundred years or so, why shouldn't
The Planet make the same journey in less, say two generations?

Doesn't being arrested for "Assaulting The Planet" make so much more sense
than having the EPA come along and point to some silly regulatory framework
which can't keep up with current technology anyway?

$0.02, but you heard it here first ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #56 of 200: from PAUL WAGGONER (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 11:32
    



Paul Waggoner writes:



Hello WorldChanging,

I would like to solicit some opinions on global agricultural security.  It
seems that in terms of all of the poorly designed gadgets that assist us in
our daily lives, the SUV being the poster child, there is a great amount of
room for improving efficiency.  However, some elements of our material lives
may always require the exact same amount of material and energy inputs.  The
human body will always require a known amount of food and water over time.  A
tomato of a certain size is always going to require a known pile of Carbon,
Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Oxygen, and no amount of ingeneous engineering is
going to reduce that pile by a factor of 4 or 10 or anything.  The C's, H's,
and O's are somewhat abundant but a number of articles I've read recently
have called into question the long-term availability of the N's.

http://www.harpers.org/TheOilWeEat.html
http://www.dieoff.org/page69.htm
http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html

All of these articles cover the exact same material, namely the relationship
between fossil fuels and food production.  The basic suggestion is that the
fertility of our agricultural soils has already been severely weakened and we
only manage to produce the massive yields of grain that we do thanks to
fossil fuel derived nitrogen fertilizers, not to mention the oil consumption
of farming machinery and distribution.  The articles also suggest that it was
the very introduction of heavy machinery and nitrogen fertilizers that made
the Green Revolution of the 50's and 60's possible, without which the Earth
would have never generated 6 billion plus people in the first place.  Allow
me to put forth an axiom, and hopefully one of you WorldChangers can refute
this for me, because otherwise we face an extremely dark future:

Human populations will always expand to fully utilize the resources made
available to them.

In the absence of a population control program, how will any amount of gains
in the efficiency of food consumption, water consumption, energy consumption,
material consumption not be immediately offset by a larger number of
consumers?  Recent posts have begun to address the "population X average
standard of living = total consumption" equation, but I am hoping to get some
perspectives on the fundamental limiting factors in the standard of living
like food and water, especially given the implication that dwindling oil
supplies will mean dwindling food supplies.

Thanks,

Paul Waggoner
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #57 of 200: from VINAY GUPTA (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 11:33
    



Vinay Gupta writes:




Emily, I'd like to point you at:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0999/is_7215_319/ai_57041726

I quote:
The policy has eased some of the pressures of rapid population increase on
communities, reducing the population by at least 250 million.
end quote

That's roughly a quarter less Chinese than would exist without the one child
family ruling, and these are disproportionately urban chinese. So One Child
Family has likely reduced the *total*environmental*impact* of China by
somewhere in the region of 25%, and likely significantly more. I'm aware that
the correlation between population reduction and reduced impact is not
linear: perhaps the remaining population simply consumes more, but in the
absence of a detailed analysis (I can't find one) I'm going to suggest 25% is
a reasonable estimate.

I do not like how One Child Family was implemented. It has left enormous
problems, which are likely to grow worse in coming years. I am not holding it
up as a model, or suggesting we should copy it. I am suggesting that it
worked, nothing more, and nothing less.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #58 of 200: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 30 Aug 04 12:07
    
Paul, what you're saying speaks to the issue I have with Jamais' 
contention that we can deliver a high standard of living to everyone on 
earth, and sustain it.  As Jamais says, the standard of living concept is 
difficult; we don't necessarily agree what constitutes "high" - but I was 
actually thinking of the average American's standard as high compared to 
the majority of the world's population.

I think Jamais and I are having semantic differences. The standard of 
living for most Americans is not just high, it's excessive. 

Actually, though, on the question of a high standard for all humans, I
don't know the answer. I haven't done the math. We're looking at a lot of
variables, probably more than you would ever load into a single
scenario... so I suspect none of us has the answer.

But I think what we want to do at WorldChanging is find people who are
building alternatives that we could factor into the more positive
scenarios, and create a context for action based on those scenarios. The 
discussion of limits is irrelevant when you're brainstorming in a big way.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #59 of 200: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 30 Aug 04 12:09
    
I shouldn't say irrelevant. It's probably relevant to consider limits when 
brainstorming... but consideration of limits shouldn't be taken as an 
absolute constraint.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #60 of 200: from VINAY GUPTA (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 12:19
    



Vinay Gupta:




Paul, the Harper's article is great. I'll note that a lot of it is about the
energy intensity of food production, which could certainly be reduced, and
about wasted fertilizer causing problems downstream, which is likely a
problem that whole systems thinking could reduce or eliminate.

For some work in this direction, take a look at Precision Farming

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

If we could produce bio-available nitrogen exactly where we needed it, and in
the quantities required, seems like we could take most of the energy inputs
out of the system. And, from what I know of the background science, that
sounds like a job for genetic engineers.

Now, I LOATH and FEAR genetic engineering. I'm a computer programmer, and I
know how dangerous self-replicating code is. The idea of tacking poorly-
written human routines on to already sublimely sophisticated natural systems,
and "hoping the results are roughly what we expected in the wild" is, from my
point of view, slow motion suicide by carelessness.

But I'm actually rather a fan of bioreactor-based GE. If the organisms at
hand *only* live in nice tight stainless steel vessels and die, immediately,
forthwith and completely in the wild, and if we make damn sure that they're
sneaky genes don't escape through some poor worker's recombinant cold virus
or whatever (you can't tell I'm not a biologist here, right) then I think
it's not unreasonable to imagine bioreactors with genetically engineered
organisms which live off farm waste or human sewage or the like, and produce
a fertilizer stream.

Hell, some of those "Living Machines" folks would probably take the GE out of
that loop entirely and do it with natural organisms.

But either way I think there are solutions. We don't need oil to farm, any
more than we need it to drive.

And I'm aware of how double edged that statement is.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #61 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Mon 30 Aug 04 12:33
    
>consideration of limits shouldn't be taken as an absolute constraint.

That's the key. Too many assertions about the state of the world assume a
static environment. It's not. Technology, for example, can be game-changing,
and there are plenty of signs that potentially transformative technologies (as
well as social models, and cultural movements, and economic approaches) are
here and available, but as of yet in insufficient use. And there are
technologies (etc.) with even greater potential on the near horizon. Don't
confuse this for an argument of "we'll grow our way out of trouble" -- we have
to be smart about it. Doing this the right way is not a given, and probably 
wouldn't happen (at least not in sufficient time) if we relied exclusively on 
an unconstrained market to bring them about.

Jon, my concern about standard of living reduction arguments mirrors what
Vinay suggested a few posts back: if a change is perceived as a loss, even
if it's for a greater good, there will be a *lot* of pushback. That doesn't
mean that making such changes is impossible, only that they'll require a
great deal of political pressue to bring about. Solutions which are
perceived as attractive options -- because they're cheaper, because they can
do more, because they're "cooler" -- will inevitably get a better response.

Paul, you raise some troubling issues. Fortunately, there are some solutions 
for some (many) of them. With regards to agriculture, you will want to learn 
more about a process called "smart breeding." Alex wrote a great essay about 
this issue just this last week:

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001097.html

and this older WC post links to a recent Wired article explaining how smart 
breeding differs from biotech agriculture:

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000636.html

As for population, fortunately, all signs point to global human population
growth slowing, with the planet maxing at about 10 billion people in the
mid-late century. It turns out the improvements in life expectancy (for infants
as well as for adults) that come from successful economic development are in
nearly every case matched and exceeded by shrinking family size. The
"population bomb" simply isnt' a problem.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #62 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Mon 30 Aug 04 12:34
    
Vinay slipped, with an alternative to "smart breeding." Hey V, post about
that on the site!
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #63 of 200: Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Mon 30 Aug 04 16:01
    
Wow! Great converstaion unfolding here!

I think the essential question we need to ask ourselves, when it comes
to imagining the environmental future, is "Will people voluntarily use
enough less stuff to live sustainably on a global basis?"

If you think so, then much of environmentalism's approach to
encouraging people to use less makes sense. I don't. If I'm right,
we're left with two approaches: forcing people to use less, or finding
ways for people to live at high standards of living while doing less
environmental harm.

I don't find the first approach attractive, or even practical, in most
cases.

Is the second, "bright green" approach realistic? I wouldn't have said
so ten years ago. Now I'm pretty sure it is. It's absolutely clear
that we could have lives which compete in wealth and quality with the
lives we now lead in the developed world, for about half the
environmental costs, using the best available technology and practices.

But in order to make our lives globally sustainable, we have to do
much, much better -- having a tenth, a twentieth, even a fiftieth of
the impact. That, I think, is about to become realistic. Revolutions in
design, engineering, business practices and information technology are
transforming the landscape of the possible.

In fact, I'd say that visions for sustainable prosperity lag far
behind the tools, models and ideas for building it.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #64 of 200: from VINAY GUPTA (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 16:52
    



Vinay Gupta writes:




Hey Alex, could you say something more about what you mean by "the visions
for sustainable prosperity lag"? I'm interested in what kinds of areas you
think are ripe for change!
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #65 of 200: from JOHN QUARTERMAN (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 17:59
    



John Quarterman writes:





Jonl remarked:

``John, I think we were making the same point regarding SUVs - that we'll
demand efficiency. My view is that, if the SUV changes to become more
efficient, it becomes something else. But that's my view, and your thought
is just as valid.''

OK, agreed.  It seems the automotive industry hasn't come up with any name
for it other than fuel-efficient SUV:
 http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=75907

Ford is calling theirs the Escape Hybrid:
 http://www.autointell-news.com/News-2004/June-2004/June-2004-3/June-16-04-
p7.htm

We'll see how close those come to whatever our goal is for such vehicles.
I'd bet they're not there yet, but if people buy them, better ones will
follow.

``Re. standard of living, perhaps we haven't done enough to define that
standard; perhaps we need data that defines the average American SOL
before we define whether the rest of the world can match it with available
resources. I think when Jamais says that everyone on the world can live
comfortably, he's still thinking about a lower overall standard than Jim
White was when he said you couldn't bring the whole world population as it
stands now to the U.S.  level.''

Why lower?  And what does he mean by lower?  Using less energy?  Fine.
Destroying fewer species?  Good.  Having fewer capabilities?  Why?

You also say:

``I think Jamais and I are having semantic differences. The standard of
living for most Americans is not just high, it's excessive.''

What do you mean by ``excessive''?  Stated baldly like that, it sounds like
``Americans live higher than much of the rest of the world so they're
excessive.''
Saying that may make people feel virtuous, but it doesn't lead to doing
anything
about it.  Being more specific might.  By excessive do you mean Americans are
too well nourished and they should become malnourished like much of the rest
of the world?  Or do you mean Americans eat too much and are too fat?
If so, that one is pretty well documented:

 http://www.harvard-magazine.com/on-line/030407.html

The Deadliest Sin, by Jonathan Shaw

 http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0408/feature3/index.html

Why Are We So Fat?  By Cathy Newman

As the Harpers article points out, the answer is related to agribusiness,
which is related to the petroleum industry.  I do find the Harper's article's
recommendation of sheep grazing on natural grasses rather ironic, because it
was sheep that caused the Clearances in Scotland that depopulated the
Highlands.
Neither farming nor grazing are inherently good, but either one can be bad.

Personally, I think more efficient and less harmful agricultultural and
industrial solutions will become more widespread as corporations realize
there's profit in them and people realize they will provide a *higher*
standard of living, not lower.  For example, I'd consider a house that
stays cool by shading and air circulation to be at least as high a standard
of living as a house that requires an air conditioner that costs money to run
and will have to be replaced, plus a house that uses an indoor garden to
clean
the air I would consider a higher standard.

One of the biggest incentives for such changes will be oil running out,
or, rather, oil prices going up as oil gets scarce.  So I see the end
of oil less as a problem than as an opportunity.

I'd guess such changes will go easier and faster if people can see what
can be done.  It seems Worldchanging is already busy with visionary
education, and of perhaps the most important kind: education about the
connections between systems that are otherwise invisible to most people.

-jsq
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #66 of 200: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 30 Aug 04 19:58
    
> if a change is perceived as a loss, even
> if it's for a greater good, there will be a *lot* of pushback.

My thinking was that the change would be less a matter of choice than
necessity.

> we're left with two approaches: forcing people to use less, or finding
> ways for people to live at high standards of living while doing less
> environmental harm.

But the problem is not just one of damage to the environment. There is a
question of global economic balance. I think we have to consider the
probability of a leveling effect, where the U.S. becomes less wealthy
compared to the rest of the world. This is already happening: consider the
extent of foreign investment in the U.S., and the extent of offshore
outsourcing by U.S. companies. We're not as wealthy as we think we are,
and we're bleeding dollars without quite seeing it.

> Personally, I think more efficient and less harmful agricultultural and
> industrial solutions will become more widespread as corporations realize
> there's profit in them and people realize they will provide a *higher*
> standard of living, not lower.

I agree, but there's still a question how we distribute that higher 
standard.

WorldChanging has a meeting this summer to discuss plausible futurist 
scenarios. Regretfully, I missed it, however Jamais et al might have 
something to say about the relevance of that meeting to these questions. 
Perhaps we should do some scenario building in the context of this 
discussion?
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #67 of 200: from VINAY GUPTA (tnf) Mon 30 Aug 04 19:59
    



Vinay Gupta writes:



"Oil running out" is really very open terrain. Some of the smartest people I
know think that there's a pretty serious risk of Die Off style
agrisocioindustral collapse as the gross infrastructure of our society falls
apart in the face of $50 a barrel.

Sorry, that was a bad joke. $150 a barrel.

On the other hand, perhaps there's more oil that we think, and prices will
rise gradually enough to move capital into clean forms rather than simply to
destroy it. Who knows? I, for one, am much more into approaches which
obsolete oil while it's still in the ground, rather than hoping for the blood
of satan to simply run out. Efficiency is not a substitute for replacement!
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #68 of 200: Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Tue 31 Aug 04 13:32
    
Vinay sez: "Hey Alex, could you say something more about what you mean
by "the visions
for sustainable prosperity lag"? I'm interested in what kinds of areas
you
think are ripe for change!"

Most of the visions we have for what a sustainable society would look
like are either the products of the 1960s (Ecotopia, Bucky, Schumacher)
or their conceptual children. They usually feature the following ideas
prominently: local (sometimes isolationist) economies; a distrust of
technology (sometimes combined with a fetish for domed cities and other
out-dated macro-tech ideas, or, more recently, an obsession with
machines as our masters and "freeze your head" futurism); a renewed
reverence for nature, often including a retreat into a state of noble
savagery. Often there's a catastrophe which has destroyed the evil
centralized forces of control while leaving small town hippies to
rebuild the world. Usually the messy, developing part of the world just
sort of... disappears.

Here's my (obviously deeply biased and subjective) checklist for a
contemporary vision of sustainability:

1) Globalism (if not globalization) is taken for granted. Most people
in the world aren't white, aren't Christian, and don't speak English as
their first language. Many of the most innovative ideas in the world
are coming from places like China, India and Brazil. Connections
between cultures and people are multiplying rapidly across national
boundaries. These things need to be taken into account.

2) Retreating into the past is not allowed. No neo-paleolithic tribal
hippies. No small peaceful farming villages which miraculously retain
all the advantages of modern society (like vaccines) while avoiding all
the pitfalls of isolated small towns (like pogroms). No modern people
who discover themselves to be druids or shamen, period.

3) No catastrophes-which-cleanse. Real catastrophes are terrible,
sordid nightmares, in which the best people are often very quickly
brought to ruin by the nastiest among us. They often involve dying
children, burning schools, rape, murder and destruction-out-of-spite.

4) It is assumed that people's desires increase with exposure to
higher standards of living, and that, with globalism, most people are
at least vaguely aware of the standards of living of the wealthiest
people on the planet. Voluntary simplicity as a global driving force
will not do. Portrayals of lives more prosperous than our own but with
smaller ecological footprints are highly encouraged.

5) People do not miraculously treat each other better than they do now
out of choice. If people are treated better, it is because democracy,
human rights, the rule of law and other mechanisms to protect the weak
from the strong are spread more widely.

6) Ditto economic fairness. G.K. Chesterton's quip that many social
reformers "first assume that no man will want more than his share, and
then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be
delivered by motor-car or balloon" should be kept in mind.

7) Understand the incredible power of information and communication
technologies to change the material circumstances of our lives and the
nature of our societies, but also understand that they have limitations
and create problems of their own. Have at least thought about what
biotechnology will mean to us in the coming decades.

8) Understand that managing the planet is something we're already
doing -- however unwittingly and poorly -- and don't reify wilderness
or the Gaia hypothesis. At the same time, understand that the planet is
incredibly complex, that we don't fully understand the workings of
even a single organism yet (much less a whole ecosystem) and that the
precautionary principle is more than a good idea. Get what
"neo-biological" really means.

9) Cities are good. People who live in cities are good. Anti-urban
paranoia results in immediate disqualification, while extra credit can
be earned by portraying urban life which is not only sustainable but
gracious and satisfying in unexpected ways.

10) Technology does not stop. Culture does not stop. Innovation does
not stop. Wonders never cease. Everything just keeps getting weirder
and weirder, same as it always has. There's no happy ending, no
Millennium, no Apocalypse, no stable-state-society. This is a good
thing.

An incomplete list. Feel free to add or amend!
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #69 of 200: Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 31 Aug 04 13:47
    
This is great. You Worldchangers are heroes for taking up the Whole
Earth mission. 

Maybe some of you Bay Areans attended the Long Now speaker event last
month where Phillip Longman described the research for his book, _The
Empty Cradle_. His analysis of statistical trends shows not only a
shrinking world population - led by the Western industrialized nations
and China - but also a huge demographic shift to more seniors. The game
of transforming lifestyles may be determined much more by these
organic human reproductive trends than by technological invention and
marketing wizardry.

As a former "neo-paleolithic tribal hippie" on the Farm, I tried, with
my neighbors, to live a lifestyle that was attainable by people with
simple means. It wasn't just well-meaning recreation. We shared
resources, rejuvenated American junk, applied creativity to
communications media and lived off of a diet "for a small planet" that 
made the most efficient use of the land. It was a great experiment -
just like the WELL - and I'm glad I did it. But aside from refining soy
as a protein source, I'm not sure what else we did was applicable in
the developing world. When I lived in Guatemala for 2 years, there was
no junk to rejuvenate. There was no industry for jobs and shrinking
land for growing food.

I'm always driven to wonder where the thinking of great gobs of smart,
well-connected people like us will manifest as improvements in the
material world, where the rubber meets the road. It feels great to
achieve collective insight, but the world is a very big place and 7
billion (and growing) is a very big number. 
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #70 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Tue 31 Aug 04 15:12
    
I would add to Alex's list:

11) Failure will happen. It's how failure is managed that demonstrates a 
functional civilization.

* Fail gracefully. Brittle systems, which can appear reliable but fail
disastrously, are usually more dangerous than systems which seem less
reliable, but degrade rather than collapse.

* Recognize that monocultures are simple, seductive, and usually a mistake.
Diverse systems are harder to assemble, harder to manage, but are better
able to withstand problems.

* Preparation for handling failure is at least as important as efforts at 
stopping failure in the first place.

12) Remember that the future will surprise you, but that some surprises can be
expected.

* The way the world looks now is not the way it will look when your plans come 
to fruition. Don't expect stasis. Don't keep "fighting the last war."

* Don't try to predict the future, but do try to anticipate it. The difference 
is that between "will happen" and "might happen" -- think about the "might 
happens," imagine how your plans would work if they actually came about.

* Remember that you might actually win. Don't get so caught up in defending 
your position that you forget to move forward. Don't plan for every possible 
failure without having a plan for what you'll do if you succeed.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #71 of 200: Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Tue 31 Aug 04 17:16
    
Thanks, Cliff!

There is definitely a tension between the need to envision dramatic
solutions (to blue sky what might be possible) and the need to get our
hands dirty (to put rubber on the road). Finding the sweet spot where
the two meet to maximum effect -- to find where "the rubber meets the
sky" -- that's one of the biggest tasks we all have. And the stakes are
high and the time short. As you put it, seven billion is a very big
number.

As far as Longman's work goes, while I have to admit to not having
read the Empty Cradle, I'm a skeptic. The biggest baby boom in human
history is unfolding in the developing world right now. Will declining
birth rates and aging populations in the developed world have big
impact on global trends? Definitely, yes. But the real demographic
story is still the huge wave of kids in the global South, and the
decisions they make when it comes to family-planning and life choices.

But maybe I'm not doing Longman's work justice. Want to explain more?

Jamais: love this one, of course:

"* Remember that you might actually win. Don't get so caught up in
defending 
your position that you forget to move forward. Don't plan for every
possible 
failure without having a plan for what you'll do if you succeed."

Anyone else want to add criteria?
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #72 of 200: Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 31 Aug 04 17:54
    
I'm enjoying what you all are putting up here, and I don't want to cut
into your bandwidth, but I'll describe a bit more of Longman's
argument.

I was a skeptic when I arrived, too. After he spoke, I talked with
both Kevin Kelly and Stewart and we all found ourselves impressed with
his data and reasoning. I agree that there's nothing deterministic
about population trends, but his argument that a snowball effect was
possible due to changes in societal attitudes were compelling. He said
that societies don't offer incentives to have more than 2 kids, and
showed how populations in many countries - including India, South
America and the Middle East - are trending toward having equally high
percentages of dependent seniors and dependent children. That has never
been so in all of human history.

One of the meta issues that Longman mentioned is that the same global
communications that make people want to live at northern affluent
standards have also changed their attitudes about where they live and
whether or not they have more than the 2.1 kids per family required to
replace population.

For instance, he cited consistent evidence that when television
penetrates a geographic area, lower birth rates follow. Families seen
on TV - especially the affluent ones - don't have more than 2 kids.

Increasing urbanization means taking jobs in the childbearing years,
which leads to women putting off having kids until, for many of them,
it's too late to bear as many as they might have planned. Italy's
population shrinkage is accelerating even though Italian women profess
to wanting more kids than they actually end up bearing.

Urbanization has also brought a decrease in the need to birth large
families. In urban environments, having many kids is a liability, not
an asset. Because of urbanization, adults see that they can make more
money in jobs than they can through putting their kids to work.

Interesting to me, especially, was his projection that communal living
arrangements will become more practical - maybe even a survival tool -
in a world where caretaking of the elders and children will need to be
shared around as public institutions will have broken down under
overload.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #73 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Tue 31 Aug 04 18:13
    
Cliff, what does he say about the implications of lifespan-extension
biotechnologies, if anything? While I'm not about to declare myself part of
the first immortal generation, I do suspect that we're on the cusp of some
pretty big developments in extending healthy lifespans. 140 is probably
possible without too many more discoveries, and longer than that has shifted
from outrageous to plausible.

My sense is that longer lifespans won't arrive fast enough to make a
difference in Europe and Japan.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #74 of 200: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 1 Sep 04 10:01
    

Does it strike you that really long lives will be for the very rich, and
that basic vaccinations and public health for the very poor may ot be better
than half a century ago?  I've certainly got that impression, though I
haven't been doing the research to confirm the suspicions.
  
inkwell.vue.223 : WorldChanging.com: Another World is Here
permalink #75 of 200: Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Wed 1 Sep 04 10:24
    
That's certainly one plausible scenario. It's worth noting, though, that the
first wave of these life/health-extension techniques will probably be fairly
bug-laden; the first generation to embrace these technologies will really be
beta-testing them for subsequent populations. There will be setbacks and
problems, and some (many?) people will look at the results and decide that
living another decade or three isn't worth the hassle.

Another scenario is that the biotech for life/health-extension (for delaying
cell apoptosis, for example, or neuron regeneration) is released "into the
wild" by researchers working in the public interest, or by an organization able
to think beyond next quarter's profits, or by wily hackers who steal the
process and put it onto a future version of Grokster, or by researchers who
have developed it in an "open-source biology" process. The research is much
harder than the distribution. Biotech does not require a massive industrial
base; Cuba has one of the best-developed biotech industries in the Western
Hemisphere.

And to forestall the obvious question, I don't think that life/health-extension 
technology would have a radical effect on population trends, at least not 
immediately. This is for a few reasons: demography is a much, much slower 
process than we tend to imagine, and changes take a while to show up; it's 
likely that whatever life/health-extension technologies get developed will be 
most effective the younger and healthier you already are, so the real impact 
wouldn't even arrive for decades down the road; and a significant portion of 
the global population, if given the opportunity to live an additional fifty 
years (or more), may well choose *not* to do so. 

I've found that a surprisingly large proportion of audiences I've spoken to
about future technologies express doubts as to whether they'd take advantage of
life/health-extension. Sometimes it's for religious reasons; sometimes it's for
ecological ones. Often the reason is more abstract, expressed as a "wrongness"
about living longer than we do now. These feelings would change over time, but 
I don't think that, should such technologies come about, we'll see masses 
pounding on the doors of biotech labs demanding their immortality pills.
  

More...



Members: Enter the conference to participate

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

 
   Join Us
 
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us

Twitter G+ Facebook