Saturday, November 22, 2014

#327 / Map Of Doom

I am told by some that I have an entirely too negative view of the world. According to these friends, I am always looking for "gloom and doom." There is some truth to that, I will have to admit. My interaction with the online universe, for instance, usually spotlights resource tragedies, not playful kittens. Fracking is featured. Comely comestibles are hardly ever pictured. 

For any readers of a similar mind, here is a resource library designed for you. It's called "Doom For Dummies," or "Universal Map of Doom." It also goes by the name "The Apocalypsi Library at the End of the World."

Doom For Dummies has a concise list of major impending disasters, plus a brief commentary that is worthy of note: 

7 major scourges of Doom (and why their adherents squabble over the scraps rather than accomplish anything useful together whatsoever).

  • Peak Oil (rarely recognizes peak anything else, generally fixated on doomsteading) 
  • Ecosystem Collapse (an ecological perspective about pollution, whole systems destruction) 
  • Climate Change (yes, it's real, it's caused by humans, and it's an existential threat) 
  • Overpopulation (no, the world doesn't need your offspring because you're "special") 
  • Habitat Destruction (deforestation, mining, fracking, drilling, paving, etc) 
  • Economic - (includes debt Ponzi schemes and inequality, social justice issues) 
  • The death of the Oceans (from agricultural runoff, warming, overfishing and acidification)

Here's why none of the activists, scientists, and followers of these disparate but interconnected sources of potential doom can work together - Everyone who discovers that we are on an unstoppable trend towards global collapse becomes instantly enamored of two overpowering, egotistical (and often remunerative) convictions...first, they are sure they have defined the precise problem (which usually has to do with how they came about to notice) and second, they are sure they, and they alone, know the solution (ditto). Nobody will ever cooperate to fix the problems, because their ego won't let them.

Despite my propensity for "gloom and doom" thinking, I would like to believe that I am not one who puts myself forward as having a unique understanding of just how doomed we are, and I am certainly not advertising myself as someone who knows the solution!

I do have this to offer, by way of a commentary on the Universal Map of Doom. None of the incipient dooms listed above are inevitable. In every case, human activities are causing the problem. Our "doom," if doom it's going to be, is not coming by way of an asteroid from outer space that we can do nothing to avoid. 

Our dooms are avoidable.

The way I see it, that's actually pretty good news!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

#326 / The Second Amendment

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.


Maybe we need to reevaluate how the Second Amendment has been interpreted!

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

#325 / School Shootings

All classes were cancelled at Santa Cruz High School on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. Classes were cancelled because the school received a credible threat that there would be a mass shooting at the school. As you can see from this picture of the High School, printed in our local newspaper, there was a little rain. That was unusual, considering the drought that California has been experiencing.

School shootings, sad to say, are not that unusual. Check this list, available online. documenting school shootings in the United States. Since the year 2000, there have been an average of eleven school shootings each year, and on Thursday November 20th, the day I am posting this, the list got longer; at least two people were shot, early in the morning, at Florida State University.

A school shooting is defined for the purpose of the list I have referenced as an occurrence in which an individual discharges a gun at an educational institution, such as an elementary school, secondary school, or post-secondary institution.

Some people think that putting armed security forces into the schools is the way to deal with the problem. 

I doubt that is a solution. It seems unlikely that deploying more guns in the schools is the solution to too many guns in the schools.

Maybe some classes in nonviolence!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#324 / Distributed

I have mentioned the Rocky Mountain Institute before. The last time I mentioned RMI I was talking about "grid defection."

RMI is an energy "think tank" that has developed new ways to conceptualize and actually construct better energy systems. Their 2013-2014 Annual Report has recently been released. It makes an important point:

The U.S. electricity grid largely hasn't changed in a century. But as more and more customers adopt rooftop solar, smart thermostats, electric vehicles, and other technologies, the need to change becomes more and more urgent. Distributed energy resources like these can make the grid more affordable, enhance reliability and resilience, and drastically decrease carbon emissions. 

Let me also note, for those who like to worry about terrorism, that a system that relies on "distributed" energy resources is also much less susceptible to terrorist attack than our current, centralized energy distribution system.

Huge energy utilities don't necessarily like the idea that we could get our energy from many small "distributed" sources, instead of having to rely on the central power stations and power lines that currently provide the energy upon which our civilization depends.

So what?

How we do it now is not how we have to do it. The entirety of our human world, including the arrangements we have made to provide the power we need for our activities, is absolutely susceptible to change. 

It may not be easy to change the momentum of the past, which drives us forward, always along the same track. 

But it can be done. 

Should be done. 

MUST be done.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#323 / Just A Quibble

I like Paul Krugman. And I liked his recent commentary on the announced agreement between the United States and China on global warming. Krugman's column ran on Sunday, November 16th in my local newspaper.

But I do have a quibble with the way Krugman outlines the situation (just as I have a quibble with the picture, above). 

It is common for human beings to believe that they are in control of everything, that they have "the whole world in their hands." As I try to point out in this Two Worlds blog, that is only partly true. Human beings are "in control" of the human world that they create. This is the world that we most immediately inhabit. In our world, we can truly do "anything." No laws constrain us in "our" world, because we make up the laws, and the law is what we say it is. Nothing is impossible within our human world. Not that it's easy to make changes. It's not, and the momentum of past choices makes it extremely difficult to make the changes we might need to make, or want to make, to change our human world. 

Past (and continuing) human choices and human activities have caused global warming, and global warming is a good example of how we have put in place, within the world that we have created, processes that we find are very difficult to change. We have based our world on the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. Now we need to change that. We can change it, but it's not easy to make change happen. 

This very situation is what Krugman writes about in the column I read on Sunday. Here's my quibble. Krugman says that the actions we need to take are necessary to "save the planet." Let's be clear. The "planet" is not a human creation. It's not part of "our" world; it's part of the World of Nature, a world that we did not create, and the world into which we come, and within which we construct our human world.

When we think we are equivalent to God (or to Nature, for those who are shy of any admission that there might be a Creator of the World of Nature that we ultimately inhabit) we are making a mistake. We can't save "the planet." We can only "save," or protect and extend, human civilization. We can "save" the world that we make, but the World of Nature, which came before us and all our human creations, is not subject to our decision. In the World of Nature, we don't make the law. Those laws of Nature, in fact, make us!

Krugman gets it wrong. Conservation International gets it right. "Nature is Speaking," as Conservation International says, and it's message is this: 

Nature doesn't need us. We need Nature.

Anyone who hasn't seen the "Nature is Speaking" videos should watch them. Let's celebrate the recent United States - China announcement with Krugman, but as we do that, let's not forget who, and where, we are!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

#322 / Top Cop

A "Saturday Essay" by Bret Stephens appeared in the November 15, 2014 edition of The Wall Street Journal. The print edition carried this headline: "America, World Cop." The online version puts it this way: "Yes, America Should Be The World's Policeman."

Stephens is, apparently, an award-winning journalist. He lives in New York City. His views about the desirability of utilizing the United States military as "world cops" is apparently motivated by what he thinks has been the success of the "broken windows" approach to law enforcement in New York City. 

Whether or not that approach to local policing has been a success may be open to debate; however, even presuming that the "broken windows" focus for local law enforcement is a total winner, it is difficult, at least for me, to see how military interventions by the United States, around the world, are analogous to a "broken windows" approach to local police work. 

As an example of what he means, Stephens suggests that: 

A broken-windows approach to foreign policy would require the U.S. to increase military spending to upward of 5% of GDP. That is well above the 3.5% of GDP devoted to defense in 2014, though still under its 45-year average of 5.5%. The larger budget would allow the Navy to build a fleet that met its long-stated need for 313 ships (it is now below 290, half its Reagan-era size). It would enable the Air Force to replace an aircraft fleet whose planes are 26 years old on average, the oldest in its history. It would keep the U.S. Army from returning—as it now plans to do, over the warnings of officers like Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno —to its pre-World War II size.

The key to building a military ready to enforce a broken-windows policy is to focus on numbers, not on prohibitively expensive wonder-weapons into which we pour billions of research dollars—only to discover later that we can afford just a small number of them.

Broken-windows foreign policy would sharply punish violations of geopolitical norms, such as the use of chemical weapons, by swiftly and precisely targeting the perpetrators of the attacks (assuming those perpetrators can be found). But the emphasis would be on short, mission-specific, punitive police actions, not on open-ended occupations with the goal of redeeming broken societies.

So, the "broken windows" concept that Stephens proposes, translated into U.S. military policy, means a vast (43%+) increase in the United States' military budget (already far and away bigger than the military budget of any other country), plus unilateral interventions into conflicts in places like Syria - to use Stephens' example. 

Color me skeptical. In fact, color me totally opposed!

What I perhaps find most disturbing in Stephens' "Saturday Essay" are two things not actually touched upon in the article itself. First, if our "military" actions around the globe are equivalent to local law enforcement, then it would make sense to think of local law enforcement as "military" activity at the local level. In fact, this is exactly what is happening, whether by design or not. The U.S. government is increasingly helping to transform local law enforcement agencies into local military forces. See below for a picture of some of the "law enforcement" equipment now being used locally by police forces, thanks to the generosity of the U.S. government.

Second, and perhaps most terrifying, Stephens appears not to understand that the forces of local law enforcement are supposed to be responsible to, and subservient to, the public in the communities in which they are enforcing the laws. "Civilian control" of law enforcement puts the people in charge of law enforcement. But how does that work in the global context?

If the United States is going to decide, on its own, when the "broken windows" of other societies justify its application of military force to restore the "order" that the United States finds lacking, then that means that the United States is asserting the right to tell every other nation in the world what to do. If they don't do it, they will suffer the pain of drone strikes and bombings, and (why not?) "boots on the ground," as the U.S. "police force" arrives on the scene to make things right. 

Let's give it a rest, America. Who elected the United States to run the world?

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

#321 / Power

Are there still American values worth fighting for? This was the question posed at a conference held in October of this year by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. The official conference title was "The Unmaking of Americans." That title suggested to me that maybe the conference organizers thought that the correct answer to the question might be "no."

After attending the conference, that wasn't the idea I came away with. Quite the opposite. My impression is that conference participants thought that there were American values "worth fighting for," and that maybe "we, the people" ought to start fighting for them once again.

One of Hannah Arendt's insights, made clear at the conference, was that the true objective of the American Constitution was not to limit power, but to create more power.

Power, in other words, is "good," and the people should have it.

When governments have the power, and the people don't, that's when we have problems.

And (look around) that's where we are today.

Empowering ordinary people to be in charge of everything that pertains to them: that's an American value (still) worth fighting for.

But we're going to have to fight.

For those who would like to watch the conference proceedings, videos of each one of the conference presentations are available, free, by clicking this link.

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