Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Going for a bigger blog

Regular readers may know that I have kept work on INVENTING separate from my consulting work with A Very Beautiful Place. Recently, realised that the two really do fit well together so I'm migrating my main blogging over to

I came to the realisation that peace and sustainable development go hand in hand. And that they are as much about realising who you are as knowing the benefits of e.g. urine separation.

Shall I post my imagestreams in future? I'm not sure. Your feedback is welcome!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


At the last meeting of our Oil Awareness group, one concern seemed to be shared by everyone present: ”why don’t they get it?”. What members are referring to is the feeling that colleagues, government, officers of authorities just don’t seem to ”get” the significance of
1) the vast amounts of energy we are using to sustain daily life
2) the sources of this energy are rapidly depleting
3) our current economic system is dependant on them

I know why they don’t get it. If you are interested in knowing bear with me. I need to tell you a few stories first.

When Christopher Columbus arrived in what is now America, natives standing on the shore did not see the ships approaching. The explanation is that they had never encountered anything like it in their life before, and their brain simply did not register it. A priest noticed strange wave patterns (the wake of the boats) and stared at them trying to make sense of them. Eventually he saw the ships, called others to him, and they stated to see the ships too.

The other story is of research I have read into perception. Researchers showed rather upper class middle aged women a series of pictures and words rapidly, and asked them to remember them. Interspersed with “ordinary” words were foul language expressions of the sort these ladies would never use. Interestingly when asked, these subjects remembered all the ordinary words but were certain they never saw the foul ones.

Obviously they “saw” the words, but in terms of perception, like the natives on the shores of America, they did not “register” them.

Countless other experiments and stories illustrate the same thing: that people do not always perceive what they are seeing. Sometimes because it is outside their experience, sometimes because to see it would change them in some way.

This is a powerful mechanism. People often do not perceive things in situations where their position in society, for example their job, would be threatened.

So why do our neighbours, politicians, not “get” the significance of the peaking of oil production and the consequences for life on Earth?

One reason is because it is not in their life experience to even contemplate a serious, long term global energy shortage. Another is that their jobs, position in society etc depend on it. You have to remember that we are flock animals. In our DNA, our wiring, is that exclusion means death.

For sustainable development fanatics this can have drastic consequences. Say, as a friend of the environment, you start to think how the bus lane over a narrow bridge into town could be used to promote lift –sharing. Say every car with three or more passengers would be allowed the fast route past the queues.

Good for the environment… so you think of proposing it. But, the unseen forces of flock pressure will work against you. Think about it…. That could be a third of the cars used, a third of the petrol, a third of the gas sales, a reduction in staff needed, a reduction in tax income.. and so on. What you are suggesting will impact economic growth, something the flock is committed to. That will make you an outsider. You will find many reasons why this suggestion should not go further. For example “ no one will listen to me anyway”.

So any good ideas that could come up get squashed by your internal monitoring machine that is wired to keep you OK with the flock.

There ARE ways around this machine. Something for my next post……

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.
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