Monday, March 16, 2009

My darkest fears: faith in business as usual is being killed once and for all - intentionally

(Thanks to Paul Heft and Dave Pollard for contributing sections of this article via e-mail conversations.)

The New Scientist magazine, I believe, is an indicator for how those of us with a scientific bent (I see myself as one of them, despite my sojourn in business the last few decades) are thinking:

The article "How the economy is killing the planet" is one of them

Earth may be entering climate change danger zone

Sea level rise could bust IPCC estimates

Lastly, hacking the planet, the only solution left

These headings reflect the view of the science community: that climate change has gone into unacceptable risk, that the economic system is at the root of it, and that geoengineering is a serious option.

The schism between the scientific community and the economic one has gone so far that scientists, unable to communicate the risks, downsides and just plain nonsense of ”business as usual” are desperately turning to look at re-engineering the planet rather than adapting society to it.

I am scared of geoengineering, just as I am scared of genetic modification, nanotechnology, and nuclear energy. The unintended side effects could be huge. The book “the Black Swan” has demonstrated how events totally unforeseen can change whole endeavors for the worse.

Instead of helping business as usual and prolonging the inevitable, another path could be considered, It is just as risky but might be easier. Let the economy crash--since it's happening anyway. That might wipe out some of the parties interesting in maintaining our "non-negotiable" way of life. There's a chance that people will decide that the only way to continue forward is to drastically reorganize the economy (at a lower level), thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Of course whether that's done along the lines of relocalization, fascism, or just chaos is a roll of the dice.)

But what does it mean that non-scientists are behaving in this way? (We biologists always look at behaviour nowadays after centuries of killing things and dissecting them)

Observed behavior: Despite evidence that end of oil means end of economic growth, despite evidence that the economic system is killing the planet, despite evidence that the market system of today is an abject failure at feeding the world, let alone providing a life in dignity, world leaders insist on taking measures to try to get it to work.

What follows are my darkest fears:

The OTHER explanation is that there is a master plan. Those whose job it is to “pretend” to fix the system have been promised jobs later, depending on how well they “perform” now.

Imagine the ”order from high”: Let the whole thing implode. Help it along with government loans, especially to failing and corrupt businesses. Prepare to release an abrupt about swing via the media that makes sure that people understand, once and for all;

1) economic growth is not possible in a finite world and that economists just simply got it wrong (let them go on spouting their theories so they give themselves enough rope to hang themselves with.)
2) corporations are NOT good for the common good. In good times they take all profits and in bad times they ask for handouts and use them for high salaries. They are basically ”taking the piss” as we Brits say. Make sure people feel bluffed by highlighting a trusted banker’s ponzi scheme.
3) the basic idea of national democracy is flawed. You cannot vote for a Prime Minister who says British jobs for British workers one moment and then spouts free trade and globalisation the other
4) the nationalistic approach will never get people to agree on emission targets as they are all jostling to get the best deal. Governments HAVE to, they have been voted in for that.

As the realization comes clear, the message will be given with a dose of ”we are all complicit” in this as we all "wanted a share of the cake”. Everyone should feel bluffed, lied to and guilty.

A new idea will emerge that people will clamour for, just as they clamoured for a central US bank. Remember that the master plan is to get people to clamour for what the plan intends. So much more effective than trying to convince anyone anything...

World Government. A world minimum wage, world emissions rules, world currency. It might start with three regions in harmony: EU Americas and Asia. It will sound so good that in some countries it will be the left that clamours the most, in other countries, the right. In some it will be the environmentalists, in other business as they like ”a level playing field”; in some the humanitarians. After all, one sixth are nigh on starving.

The ones who control the money are the ones who end up with true power in this scenario. We know already what a farce the world bank is so we can all see where this is headed.

The attempt at One World Government (lefty Peter Singer wrote the book on it), will never succeed, because ultimately, for better and for worse, no one is really in control.

As the cascading crises worsen, especially when the real impact of the End of Oil and Water kicks in, we're going to see more of the kind of alpha and non-alpha behaviours that Edward Hall describes in his work with rats in overcrowded situations in labs, specifically violent hoarding among the alphas and suicide and eating of the young among non-alphas. This is all hormonal chronic stress response stuff, what all creatures do when the normal short term responses to stress fail to alleviate the problem.

However, the real crisis is further off than we think, so for now we should be doing what we can and enjoying life and not worrying about what we can't change. The real crisis will befall our grandchildren in the second half of the century, and coping with it will not be our job.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sustainable development and volunteerism

It has been striking me more and more recently how the positive developments in sustainability are coming from a spirit of volunteering. ”Going along” is a central theme of my book, ”Inventing for the Sustainable Planet”. The book was imagestreamed and insights can take a long time to sink in. I see how I have emphasized the few technical solutions that came up rather than the social ones, even though these are the central thesis of the book.

Some signs: Firstly, the Transition Movement is picking up speed. There are now Transition Movements in every US state, and other initiatives like 1 Million gardens are gathering supporters.

Then there are the countless numbers of websites run by volunteers, with everything from Peak Oil to sustainable gardening.

I am getting a sense that the funnymoneyfest we have all been complicit in has brought a lot of people to their senses. The only business worth having as business as usual is the voluntary, or go along, business in a society that offers security. From the research in my book I’d suggest a number of reasons why this could be so.

One has to do with basic human nature and the need for security. If your security comes from the tribe, then you will gladly ”pay taxes” to the tribe, in the form of helping out, encouraging and teaching others.

For many years Sweden’s high rate of taxes was defended by citizens as actually giving good value for money in terms of social security and free schooling, low cost local transport, medical care, etc. Nowadays the level of service has been eroded, the burden is nearly as high, and there is much less a feeling of security. In fact, the tax authorities see it their role to ”make sure everyone does their bit” which sounds like extracting a pound of flesh with a modicum of threat.

Another reason might have to do with our genetic propensities. The reason you need to be in a group is because together the mixture of personalities, perspectives, feelings, inspiration of the moment, all combine to create an ideal pool from which to handle a situation.

In volunteering, the feeling comes from within each individual and whatever the person does is an expression of wanting to do something and feeling inspired to do it. Contrast this to the situation of work. Even work functions better when people can volunteer for jobs within their areas of responsibility.

I like the Transition Handbook's approach of mutual planning of what could be done or needs to be done, and then asking people to consider what they would LOVE to do, would feel UNCOMFORTABLE doing and what they would be GOOD at doing.

The prospect of Peak Oil, Peak money, Peak everything in a world that seems to be running on a delusion that economic growth is the only fix-it in town, seems daunting and cause for depression.

My advice is: look at what could be done, how you feel about it, and go out and volunteer for something you’d love to do. Who knows, it might just be the small effort that helped turn the tide.

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