Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dearth Day, part 1

Dearth Day

Earth day 2009 dawns. How deceptively benign the season appears. In New England, spring is coming on in alternations of rain showers and ever warmer sun shine. Many mainstream media outlets have sprouted a "green" page or blog. A fog of words greener than heavily fertilized lawn ascends until we, the most damaging consumers, can convince ourselves that things are turning in the right direction and we are shopping green to save the planet. Lest we call it a tax, "cap and trade" is murmured in our legislative chambers. Advertisers stretch language and sense to the breaking point to classify their wares as eco-friendly in some way. I survey and repeat the bad news here just to mark what I think is the state of the earth and to justify what I may do about it. Beyond fluff and posturing, there is a dearth of good news. There are things that we could do to avert the worst scenarios...we simply won't do them.

But those darned thermometers and satellites keep alarming those darned scientists. Every denial of our planet's warming, and particularly every denial of humanity's role in that warming is overturned and refuted with fresh reports and studies in every week's crop of journal articles. And still a Google search for "climate change hoax" finds over half a million matching web pages.
The polar bears are drowning for want of ice and 2500 year old pinion pines are finally meeting their end in heat and drought. Did you note the latest observations of atmospheric probes? They show that the recession is the only thing in recent history that actually set emissions back a notch. That is not the solution most were looking for, I suppose. In Washington DC, it is at last official: the CO2 you and the coal burning power plants exhale is a pollutant that will [already has!] harm your health. No scientist worth listening to [Sorry Freeman, you iconoclasm looks like pure ego trip from where I sit] doubts the combustion products spewed thoughtlessly for prosperity's sake are baking the planet. Neither engineers nor economists have a realistic plan to brake the machinery of climate destruction. We have collectively posed ourselves the false choice of prosperous vs. pristine. We will bear more children, building and burning where ever locally possible and not feeling responsible personally for the global changes that result.

We are supposed to think of the earth today, our only home. I don't like the word sacred very much becuase its general use is to put the questionable beyond question. However, since we have only this one planet to live upon and since the alternative to living sustainably is living unsustainbly, i.e. running out of crititcal resources and dying a grinding, bitter extinction, perhaps accelerated by uselessly waring over the dwindling supplies...sacred really ought to be the status we accord our environment. We are supposed to think of the earth one day a year. But all we can do that would actually help in the long run is to change how we think about ourselves and our gratifications. What earth needs is very simple and almost impossible: fewer and more responsible humans. That 70% reduction in greenhouse gases, now the number put out as our last best hope, is not a program the present herd of humans is disposed to mount. be continued in later installments...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Listen to Uncle Tom

This one is important. Read the comments too: a lot of readers understand that while Friedman is addressing the world-trade dominated economic structure as one of the roots of our unsustainable growth pattern, he has not scratched the surface of changes needed in our cultures, values and family sizes.   Friedman talks as if the solutions will still some how be found within the institutional and cultural frameworks we now take for granted.  He may become like Gore, one of the establishment's pet casandras.

So its good that a name brand opiner gets at least some of the problem's dimensions and uses his reach to put out the word.  But who is listening?  It can seem that virtually no one in this nation will put down his cheeseburger long enough or stop conniving for a bigger house soon enough to even think there IS a problem.  

I have been on this theme since I started this blog, and others more learned and foresightful, have been warning us far longer that our nation and all nations that aspire to consume as we do are headed straight over an ecological cliff.  And as we go, we pull the climate and the economy under with us.

I have my own solutions but such talk is likely to make me few friends in the land that could not see through Cheney nor find Bush ideas about energy and pollution self destructive.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Economics exhibits business cycles of some regularity or frequency. Stocks form small asset bubbles to the rhythm of these cycles. Other assets may participate to a greater or lesser degree. An engineer would observe that negative feedbacks or restoring forces must be at play some how, working against each other but out of phase so as to produce these oscillations which seem, primarily in hindsight, so predictable. The changing times and the technical resources and the speed of information conspire to change the frequency but one way or another excitements and depressions follow one another in our economies just as they do in some mental disorders of individuals.

What makes mighty sand dunes and the crashing ocean waves? The steadyness of the wind, more than its strength, will find the harmonic of the medium, sand or water, and according to its steadiness, shape mountains in it to suit that harmonic.

Even without the blatant bias of tax law to help the rich and keep the poor in their place, we have always had rich getting richer [how old is that expression?]. It occurs to me that certain habits in commercial behavior or pecuniary personality traits, out of synch with the greed and fear of the mass of economic players, might be the more natural way of the wealthy than lobbying for tax loopholes.

If your habit was to not be caught up in euporias nor anxious to show off as much buying power as your neighbor, you might save liquid wealth while others use it to bid up inflating assets. Wealth defined as "having more money than you need for living expenses" is a definition that finds an alternately growing and shrinking population meeting its standards. What matters is what you do when you are thus "rich".

[btw, note in that Vaknin essay that he was calling "Ponzi scheme" on the whole of our vaporous financial market, well in advance of the collapses of the summer and fall and way ahead of the revelations that Madoff had made off with billions. He is, effectively, agreeing with Krugman that an unregulated market is an open invitation to and ultimately hard to distinquish morally from a Ponzi scheme. I particularly like the essay because it emphasizes the universal emotionalism and intellectual weakness of insecure humans that drunkens and finally unhinges our economy. Until our upbringings are founded on spiritually or psychologically healthy values , our markets will always be a way to stalk each other. A basic econ lesson would suffice to show how irrational market bubbles are, but who thinks in terms of equations?]

If others become needy for liquidity while you have cash, if asset prices decline and by their very decline motivate the needy owners to dump their own goods driving prices lower "before it is too late" to cash in, then your savings can obtain a muliplied quantity of that asset so dearly bought at recent market peaks. It sounds too obvious: "buy low, sell high" but real people have too much herd animal and not enough selling discipline. Plan, on the very day you buy, exactly the condition in which you will sell AND a stop-loss. The wind is steady, the economies have had millenia of hungry people and middle men between the earth's bounty and the gaping mouths and bare shivering shoulders. With your discipline, now go surf those waves.

Is that cyclying behavior the natural consequence of capitalist systems given the limitations of the humans who operate them? The "obvious" superiority and appearant dominence of capitalism as the "end of history" has been pronounced by bullshitting Neocons. But conversion of the world to liberal democracy and capitalism is not a done deal. This reality gap holds with an especially fierce irony for the economic and moral failures of the US, which for the last eight years has idiotically claimed to be the champion of those ideals even as it gutted them. My opinion FWIW, is that democracy is a fine idea and we should try it some time. Capitalism is not an idea so much as a label for the du jour mix of government support and proprietary rights that any given country uses to perpetuate the personhood of wealth...which is more or less the same as the personhood of personal power manifest in political terms. The basic flaw here is still the failure to see the psychological at work. The parties touting the political system do not realize how much they identify that system with themselves and its power with their power. They can promote liberal democracy so energetically because rather than the complex reality of culture change needed to make it work, they are merely promoting themselves.

The end of nature has also been pronounced. Unlike the Fukayammering, that trend spotting has been amply confirmed. With Obama's choice for the head of EPA, climate science has finally, pushed aside the oil-funded deniers. When too many mouths gape for food from a depleted nature, our steady winds become a cyclone, a vicious circle of unmet needs. That time is coming though it will not come all at once like $150/bbl oil. And when it comes, as intersecting trendlines dictate it will, then no amount of money is enough to buy food when one must grow it or yank it at gunpoint from the larder of a more prudent neighbor. When the psychological value of money is no longer the quivelent of power and security, there will be and end to economic oscillating.