Saturday, December 9, 2006

Does economic analysis run your life?

One of the arguments being used against solar installations on homes and businesses is that from an economic perspective, photovoltaics stink, even when partially subsidized by local utility companies, because the payback period is so long.

If economics were the only thing that really mattered, this argument might hold water, but it ignores what's actually going on in the world today and their interconnections. The global growth economy is a completely fabricated reductionistic fantasy--the only things that are growing are sprawl, destruction, and the printing presses that create the money. It's no longer a question of if it will collapse, but how soon and how spectacularly.

On the energy front, Peak Oil is here today. It will most likely be possible to stretch the plateau out for a bit longer, but this just makes the eventual descent even steeper. There goes our plastic throw-away economy--everything from iPods to the elastic in your underwear.

Catastrophic climate destabilization is also here today. When people finally arouse themselves from the stupor of the consensus trance, coal fired power generation will be a thing of the past. Even if a technological miracle were to occur so coal could be burned "cleanly" and not just be a bit less polluting, the only way to get the quantity of coal at the rate necessary to continue powering the doomsday economy of the Industrial Growth Society is through mountaintop removal, and that is simply not worth the environmental and human suffering it creates.

Nuclear is a chimera. Processing all the concrete necessary for a reactor is energy intensive and polluting, uranium mining is environmentally devastating and toxic to life, core safety and decomissioning are still problematic, and a safe method of handling the waste is still a pipe dream. 50,000 year (or even 500 year) deadzones so people can run their hair dryers? I don't think so.

This leaves solar, wind, and hydro, which all have drawbacks as well, but these drawbacks are mainly related to the fact that our beleaguered planet is vastly overpopulated and much of this population is either already addicted to overconsumption in order to make up for loss of natural fulfillment, or clamoring to get to this point.

But currently available renewables also represent our best hope of creating a sustainable future. They allow people and communities to regain control of their lives, their well-being, and their economic destiny. Being asked to consider an economic payback of 15 years on a solar installation is a total red-herring when basic survival over the next 5 years is what we should be considering. This means a whole lot of rebuilding and retrofitting, combined with redevelopment of city design on a more human scale instead of being totally automobile dependent.

Of course, the vast majority of people still go into full tilt denial mode when asked to consider the bigger picture.

Energy descent will be combined with increased energy efficiency and energy conservation, of that there can be little doubt. One very radical suggestion would be to tax at about a 90% rate the profits of the pollution economy and use that to invest in renewables, efficiency, and sustainable development within relocalized steady-state economies. This would take the onus off the individual and put it square in the realm of the polis--used in the original Greek meaning of the term.

In all the schemes I've evaluated, the only one that continues to make long-term sense, for both the human species and the planet, is one where people generate the majority of their energy needs at the home, business, and neighborhood levels, with a community or regional utility picking up the slack. This also requires a global population about 2/3rds smaller than it is today, with about half of this population involved in some aspect of biointensive organic food production using permaculture techniques. This social and economic system will stay within bioregional carrying capacity limits, as well as be administered by democratic confederations within these same bioregional boundaries.

Or, we'll continue to elect maniacs on the national stage who will continue to promise a better tomorrow just as soon as we exterminate an "other" who is keeping us from this better tomorrow. In the meantime, we'll continue to drive the SUV to MacDonalds on the way to the Mall to buy plastic closet organizers, where the biggest hill that land yacht is ever going to see are the speed-bumps in the parking lot.

As always, it comes down to choices. Which story do we decide to put our faith in? Which one not only feels right to you, but makes the most rational sense? Which one seems to be in alignment with the way natural systems have been self-organizing mutually beneficial attraction relationships that have supported life for billions of years?

Friday, December 8, 2006

Speedbumps on the road to sustainability

I'm just semi-randomly posting stuff I've written in the past few months to kinda lay a foundation for where I see changes occuring and the evidence I use to come to some of these conclusions. When it has no known basis in fact, I'll try to point this out. Usually.

Yesterday was three articles I'd written immediately after the 2006 mid-term elections. I needed something to fill some space as I was getting the blog setup and seeing how it looked.

I was originally thinking about calling this blog "Goring Sacred Cows: More Inconvenient Truths," but decided it would be way too limiting, as well as not really expressing the positive and creative focus I like to take on where we direct our effort, and on what do we base our choices. But it's going to be a recurring theme as we can't continue making bad decisions, and especially bad decisions that involve little more than making more money. Let's be honest about the sorry state this mindset has gotten us into and what a more rational and sensual alternative might get us.

And then let's just do it. It's all just a story that we believe in, and we can not only choose the interpretation of the story, we can choose an entirely different story as well.

Originally written in October, 2006, here's one in a set of Goring Sacred Cows: More Inconvenient Truths

Speedbumps on the road to sustainability

One of the biggest uphill battles in the quest for sustainability is going to be getting the "progressive" sector of the population to come to grips with their complicity in sustaining the doomsday economy and its voraciously expanding military budget. The denial that runs rampant, not just in the "limousine liberal" set, but with middle-class Democrats and Republicans, is more deep-seated and entrenched than anything you'll find at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

While it's true that you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and that beating people over the head with the coercive emotional forces of fear and guilt will only produce resentment and defensive rigidity, getting help in overcoming one's addictions starts with admitting you have a problem. This entails becoming aware of the consequences, both personal and social, of daily lifestyle choices before healthier alternatives can be evaluated. One reason this admission may be so difficult is because so many Americans interact with daily life through a Prozac haze. The latest figures show that about 50% of Americans take at least one prescription drug daily, and 20% take three or more. When you add in alcohol and other recreational drugs that are self- prescribed, somewhere between 70-80% of Americans desperately need some type of chemical salve to either make it through their day or to be able to tolerate their day.

I once ran an ad for my non-profit's counseling services announcing the creation of a consumer's support group to help overcome the addiction to materialism and actually got a few calls, but no one followed through. It is more of a taboo subject than what gets classified as sexual deviancy. It seems most people would rather talk about why they masturbate than why they continue to drive the mini-van to the mall.

That the materialistic and mechanized mindset of Western Civilization's Industrial Growth Society is a root cause of systemic problems is something that even many social and environmental justice non-profits don't want to deal with. This first became apparent to me about five years ago. Our non-profit was invited to participate in an educational fair. A large regional mall was trying to show how much they cared about the local community by allowing a dozen tables to be setup one day a year for non-profits to interfere with the shopping experience and pass out literature. This basically gave them the justification to chase anyone off during the rest of the year who would dare attempt to awaken people from the consensus trance.

I decided that I'd put a large sign above our table that said, "We can help you overcome your addiction to shopping." The other groups wouldn't let me put the sign up. They didn't want me "causing problems" or distracting from their own messages. They were afraid that the mall management wouldn't invite them back next year. They didn't want to address the fact, or even be reminded, that the whole reason their non-profit group even had a mission was because the mall existed in the first place.

Does human happiness need to be opposed to the needs of the planet? Can satisfaction be found that is harmonious with nature and with people's inner nature? By seeking satisfaction through consumerism, we are doing as much harm to the planet as is caused by overpopulation. Not only does consumerism fail in its promise of happiness, but by decreasing our free time and by keeping us from developing satisfying relationships, consumerism makes us less happy.

Consumerism -- the concept of growth through consumption -- is US economic policy's primary goal. We are 4.5 times richer than our great-grandparents, but are we 4.5 times happier? In the effort to turn consumption into a ritual to deliver happiness and fulfillment, we have fooled ourselves into thinking that material goods can fulfill what are actually social, psychological, and spiritual needs.

Surveys have consistently shown that people have believed for decades that if they only had twice as much money they'd be happy, no matter if their yearly income was $15 thousand or $15 million. But surveys also show that the number of Americans who report they are very happy -- 1/3 -- is the same now as in 1957, despite a doubling of GNP and personal spending since then.

People are unsatisfied, without knowing why. They think they need more of what they have now. But, if what they have now is what makes people unsatisfied, will more of it make them more satisfied or more dissatisfied? Perhaps people are tuning in to the fact that if human desires are infinitely expandable, it is physically impossible for material consumption to provide fulfillment -- a fact either ignored or vigorously denied by orthodox growth economists.

Consumption fails to make us happy, and advertising then cultivates and preys on that unhappiness. Ads make people self-conscious about being human and unique; to be unhappy with whatever they have that doesn't match this year's fashion. The advertising industry then assures people that the corporate gods have the proper synthetic salvation for their falsely created, non-existent problems.

The things that people say make them happy and life rewarding include developing talents, building stronger family and social relationships, appreciation of nature, pursuing education, and having quality leisure time. These are all sustainable and non-consumerist. But the race to keep up with the Joneses is subverting these desires. Instead of having more leisure time, Americans devote one billion working hours per year to buying more leisure wear.

It's time to create a NewStory. The People's Declaration of Interdependence, known as the Earth Charter, points toward a path for doing this based on our common shared values of respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, nonviolence, and peace. The Earth Charter provides a framework for the NewStory of sustainable development. Remember that the antidote to despair is righteous action. The more we focus on what we don't like, the more it increases. It thrives on that energy. We must focus on what we're for, instead of spending so much time protesting what we're against.

It is also instructive and empowering to realize that we are far from alone in the desire to consciously make new choices that are in balance with natural systems. The voluntary simplicity, Cultural Creative, and relocalization movements toward a post-corporate and post-carbon economy can combine with political progressives to make up about 45% of the electorate. It is estimated that about 90 million people in the U.S. are included in these groups, which makes them about nine times larger than the radical right of Christian fundamentalists, and three times larger than either the current Democratic or Republican Parties.

As the German Greens say, we're neither right nor left--we're in front. Would you like to help lead this parade into a sustainable future based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy?

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Congrats to the Dems, Part II: Where Next?

This is the post I actually first tried to write, but all that other stuff just had to come out first. Not so much cathartic, as simply laying an honest foundation for where we are, what we have to work with, and where we need to go.

Because the one thing that should be apparent, above all else, is that America voted for change, although as usual managed in some--perhaps not insignificant--ways to shoot itself in the foot while doing so. Such was the case with the defeat of Lincoln Chaffee; and I can't find enough positive terms to describe my elation that Santorum was beaten, but the anti-abortion, pro-gun Casey was the best the Dems could come up with to do so?

Anyway... whatever... I'll let that go for the time being.

So, in the spirit of bipartisanship being called for, how about building a bipartisan relationship between people and the planet they depend on for their health and well-being, and that provides all of the raw materials for any type of economy. Even a steady-state economy, which more people are finally beginning to realize will be necessary as the growth economy implodes and more natural resources disappear, will depend on the sustainability of a productive, vibrant and non-toxic natural world.

I've been working on an article for the past few weeks now dealing with some of these issues. Hopefully, you should find it more balanced and less ranting than these last couple that I've dashed off in under an hour since the election results. Before I finish that article up, though, let's begin looking at some of the things progressives must do to enlighten their new representatives on the people's desire for change, the direction it should go, and how to best enact it. Wouldn't it be great to expand and extend the rightful and long overdue celebration of the defeat of right-wing extremism and religious fundamentalism?

The new Democratic majority in Congress should take a long, hard, and honest look at what the majority of people in America are clamoring for. The Republicans who survived the election should join them in this inquiry. The Democrat's election win was not a "centrist" call to maintain the status quo.

The war in Iraq must come to an end. Actually, let's continue in the spirit of honesty and admit that the war against Iraq, which was really an illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign nation, has been won and has been over since pResident select Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." What the U.S. is now engaged in is a brutal occupation for which the U.S. military is ill-equipped and ill-trained to maintain. It's time for serious rebuilding instead of profiteering to begin.

No one of right mind would say that Saddam Hussein didn't need to be removed from power. Allowing the barbaric and self-serving methodology of a neoconservative ideology to hold sway was the mistake that has proven fatal to thousands of U.S. military personnel, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the ecology of the entire Middle East, and to both the U.S. treasury and its standing as a moral beacon on the world stage. Whether or not this standing has actually been earned and is deserved after hundreds of years of imperialist policy to protect corporate interests is another issue that merits serious discussion as we move forward in discovering ways to build a sustainable culture of peace based on ecological wisdom and social justice.

Fighting terrorism, however, must be recognized as the oxymoron that it is. If we're to have any hope for success in becoming secure from terrorist threats, we must remove the reasons for terrorist activities to arise.

These issues cannot be divorced from their relationships with the even more serious threat facing humanity of catastrophic climate destabilization, the threat facing a global growth economy that has the moniker of Peak Oil, and the loss of our sovereignty to corporatism. This is what I call the Triumvirate of Collapse.

The growth economy is how we've come to define reality and is the basis for our modern notions of prosperity and security. Its immanent collapse due to the decreasing availability and increasing cost of fossil fuels, with no _realistic_ replacement on the horizon, could prove catastrophic for humanity if government continues to ignore the issue and does nothing to help people prepare for energy descent and relocalized economies. These issues are all intimately intertwined and must be evaluated in the context of dominator control hierarchies and how they have led the shift from the founding American ideals of a democratic Republic toward the current Plutocracy that is running America. I would say running into the ground, but with so much topsoil disappearing, it's more like a bottomless cesspool of toxic waste.

The typical progressive band-aid approach of regulatory incrementalism, which we're told by the elites that continue to benefit from it is the only realistic response to corporate abuse and exploitation, must be replaced by a systemic approach that effectively deals with root causes. Only by effectively dealing with these root causes can a sustainable future be built.

Sustainability should become the agenda to unite progressives from the peace, justice, environmental, and grass-roots democracy movement. Adhering to a comprehensive definition of sustainability that includes the concept of carrying capacity must be used to help inform the decision making of our newly elected congress. Meeting the goals for a sustainable future will also provide the yardstick to measure the new congress's progress and success.

The question on everyone's mind should be whether the centrists of the Democratic Party will awaken from their consensus trance? To be honest, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen. What I am hopeful for, however, is that the millions of caring activists, and the tens of millions of caring citizens, that have traditionally identified with and pinned their hopes on the Democratic Party will finally awaken from their own self-imposed consensus trance and realize that their only hope for systemic, sustainable change that is equitable is to join en masse and empower the Green Party. This would transform the landscape of American politics as quickly as Hurricane Katrina transformed the landscape of New Orleans. Our very survival may very shortly depend on it.

The next two years is more than enough time for the current Democratic majority to prove their mettle. Excuses should not be tolerated. If they don't, and in 2008 we are again presented with the typical choice of two appointed party losers who will most likely be McCain and Clinton (and I can't for the life of me decide which of these two is further to the right, and actually trust McCain more as he's closer to a true Republican than Hillary is), the Green Party would be foolish to not seize upon the best opportunity, presented quite literally on a silver platter, they'll likely ever come across.

Outreach and education, passion and compassion in helping people connect the dots between what is actually oppressing them and keeping them from their potential, and what they can actually do about it as the unsustainable system collapses around our feet may be the best chance for electing not only a Green president in 2008, but a solid majority of legislators as well. There is no time like the present to start prepping candidates.

What better gift to the world than providing the Ten Key Values of the Green Party as the foundation for the planet and humanity's future? Because the bottom line is that corporations and their quest for profit and their consolidation of power and control cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged; the planet cannot survive its destructive and self-serving onslaught for too much longer.

The process of relocalization based on the natural systems principles of mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity not only adheres to the Ten Key Values, but provides both the path to sustainability and the antidote to corporate globalization. It seems to me to be the real platform that people across the political spectrum are clamoring for.

Congrats to the Dems: Part I

Ok, it's been pointed out to me that I should, if not accentuate, at least give due congratulations for what the Democratic Party managed to accomplish yesterday.

Because, on the surface it seems like a good thing. The Republican Kleptocracy was run out of town on a rail, which, of course, is an excellent thing indeed.

But, it sure seems like the only thing the Democrats did was ride the coattails of a popular uprising against a criminal, arrogant, GOPedophile class that the Democratic leaders have pretty much fully backed for six years--except for those times they have publicly stated they could do a better job of it. Bankruptcy bill, cloture, the supremes, Patriot Act, CAFTA, tax breaks for the wealthy, defense spending... all supported by the majority of the Dems. Only one Democratic Senator voted against giving the shrub imperial powers. They did however, thanks to people like Cantwell, keep the oil rigs out of ANWR.

Truth be told, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters and a small handful of others are the only Democrats who are members of the vertebrate class.

It seems everybody's pissed at the shrub for bringing the stark reality of American imperialism into the light of day. After all, Clinton was so much better at keeping it covered up with NAFTA, the WTO, and his criminal sanctions and weekly bombings of Iraq which were responsible for at _least_ 5 times more Iraqi deaths that what the shrub has been able to accomplish so far. But Clinton knew a much better way to distract the masses, as evidenced by Monica's blue dress. I myself could care less about hummers in the oval office, but how many more people knew where that spot on the dress was than where Bosnia was?

Anyway, let's see what the *Democratic Party* actually offered as an opposition party during the 2006 mid-term elections to the vast majority of the American population so desperately crying out for change.

Their platform on catastrophic climate destabilization was... missing in action. They didn't even have one for global warming, except for a very meager cap and trade system that two or three candidates mentioned in passing.

Their energy plan is what? more nukes? It sure doesn't involve telling the people the truth about Peak Oil and what it means for a future of energy-descent, the end of a growth economy, and what will most likely be massive die-off if a plan for relocalization isn't put into place by, oh, let's say tomorrow.

Their plan to abolish corporate personhood is... shhh... don't bring that up. Their re-election coffers will shrink up tighter than a male's scrotum after jumping into a Minnesota lake in January.

Their plan for election reform is... what? It sure doesn't include IRV or making it easier for third parties to get ballot access. They know where the balance of power would shift if the progressive majority in this country could vote in good faith and had more to choose from than the typical two selected losers.

And what exactly is the Democrat's actual plan for Iraq? Last I heard it was to send more troops in order to do the job "properly."

The current Senate and House minority leaders are on record as saying if the Dems took either house, they wouldn't press for impeachment of a presidency that the _entire_ rest of the world knows is criminal and which your average third-grader could successfully prosecute.

Are they afraid they might make their corporate masters angry?

I'm now supposed to somehow feel better about my and my children's future, and the future of this planet, because the colors changed from red to blue? Based on what evidence exactly, is my question.

So, I hearby offer my hearty congratulations to the Democratic Party for successfully pulling the wool over everyone's eyes with the myth that the overall system is now going to change for the better.

Post election musing

What's this foreboding feeling I have after the elections yesterday?

After seeing the way the candidate voting went (the shift to the Democrats) and the way the proposition voting went here in Arizona (the support for racism and the special interests destroying the world) the main thing that should be apparent--but obviously won't be--is how miserably the American education system has failed the past five generations.

It seems the majority of people who can read have limited comprehension skills and zero skills in critical thinking and analysis. The average voter bought the lies and spin lock, stock, and barrel and seem quite proud of themselves for doing so. Just read a handful of the comments on Tucson's Arizona Daily Star website in regard to the various proposition's outcomes and see if you don't come to this painful conclusion yourself.

So, Arizona retains its image as a racist state of heartless money grubbers willing to lead the race to the bottom as we tax to death current residents to pave (quite literally) the way for those who don't live here (yet) which will maximize the profits of those wanting to bulldoze half the desert to make it easier to drive bigger cars to ticky tacky sprawl and the other half for golf courses kept green with water we don't have.

When the inevitable whining on the left starts--which should start occurring in less than six months (and across the nation, not just in AZ)--it probably won't do any good to remind them that they elected Democrats whose major campaign promise (Giffords being probably the best local example) was that they'd be better Republicans than those currently serving.

All I can say is I hope I'm proven wrong.