TUESDAY, FEB 28, 2017
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TOPICS: ENOUGH, FROM THE WIRES, SOLUTIONS
TUCSON (A-P) — Favorable academic and other author praise, including William Rees, Noam Chomsky, and Paul Ehrlich with foreword by Herman Daly suggests a book that merits consideration. Most of the 'Praise' section is from other authors or academics in fields unrelated to systems ecology. References are in the 'Notes' end section of the book, so I first, after reading Daly's foreword, looked over the sources—all of them, about 350. Lite on biophysical science, heavy on what I regard as the 'intelligentsia press' (marginally literate, innumerate, inecolate), i.e. books, articles, and media of, by, and for the intelligentsia who, though they quibble and form factions, 'know' what the problems are and how to solve them. Those cited are the current minority within the intelligentsia inclined to consider the author's views on economic, political, environmental, sustainability, and social issues. So authors citing select authors who share similar concerns/POV/solutions.
Next, vet the authors. Rob Dietz, main author, has background in environmental studies, BA economics, graduate environmental/engineering studies, work as economic analyst and consultant, and 'stint' in government service. Dan O'Neill has 'big picture' science background, BS degree in physics, with MS in environmental studies. Reading Daly, he got his doctorate in ecological economics and became chief economist at the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economy.
After the environmental movement got underway, government/society/business had to deal with 'environmental issues' and formulate policies. Meanwhile the pace of planetary destruction did not slow (rate of species extinction increasing). Science is involved, but as with 'sustainability issues' human interests/'needs' are foundational. Making policy and doing science are quite different endeavors. Though basing policy proposals on science is a good sign, both authors are working to reform the SYSTEM (maybe).
I usually start by vetting authors and sources. At risk of sounding like an Odumite, all environmental/sustainability pundits (and students) who don't know H.T. Odum's ecological system science should consider the possibility that they don't know enough to have an opinion. To 'get good with biophysical reality' take a look through Odum's macroscope. Odum may have been marginalized (and still is), but for two hundred years so was Copernicus, and for the same reason.
The two-page preface starts by listing some numbers relating to: population/poverty, carbon dioxide levels, public debt in US, income inequality, and ocean dead zones. The effect on 'real' people is emphasized. Given finite planetary resources..., yes, never-ending economic growth fails, which was news to many in the early 1970s, but 'how do we share this one planet and provide a high quality of life for all?' The need to 'provide a high quality of life for all' is assumed as is that we will, and what's not to like?
'The 7 billion of us have to do better... need to find ways to reverse the climate change we've set in motion and halt the extinction crisis... eradicate poverty... erase the divide between the haves and the have-nots... build an economy that meets our needs... an ecologically sound economy... for achieving a prosperous, but nongrowing economy (also known as a steady-state economy)... a plan for solving the sorts of social and environmental problems described by the numbers above... change the economic paradigm from more to enough... remaking our economic institutions, healing degraded ecological systems, healing relationships with our neighbors, and healing the lives of people who have been left behind by the current economic system'. We need to end war too, but that goes with eradicating poverty, and erasing the divide between haves and have-nots takes care of the equity-fairness-justice issues. Nothing non-feel-good here.
The content of the book 'stems from workshops, presentations, and discussions that took place at a remarkable conference held in Leeds, U.K., during the summer of 2010. Participants at the Steady State Economy Conference offered a wealth of ideas, and these ideas form the core of this book'. So environmentally informed/concerned steady-state interested economists/academics consider 'solutions'.
To be brief, I'll not vet each of the 15 chapters, but ofter a few words of no particular value as I'm just a know-nothing from the hood; no expertise in anything.
My first impulse was to run naked through the dark of night singing 'amazing grace how sweet the sound' as what wretch doesn't want to be saved? Every concern (almost) ACKNOWLEDGED! Four-fifths of a book full of solutions! I got as far as Sentinel Peak. It was 3 am., rather cold; I wished I had brought some clothes. At least I had shoes on, so the walk back was merely brisk and I had time to think. Walking worked for Kant and Thoreau. Did Emily Dickinson walk much? Must have. Someday I hope to be a Walker Errant as the Knight Errant thing didn't work out.
And then there are solutions to consider:
The book's title could have been Enough Sustainability: Towards feel-good solutions. Inventor types have a saying, 'An idea is not an invention'. Ideas have to 'be reduced to practice' to maybe become inventions. In systems, what may work marvelously on one scale, may utterly fail on another. Ideas for solutions are not solutions. Systems (even comparatively simple ones like the economy) are not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can know.
When the book was written they had over 7,000 Steady State Economy (SSE) signators. Let's say that after the book, they have two million SSE supporters ready to take to the streets to demand a SSE NOW! That would seem like progress, a hopeful sign, especially if each made an average donation of $27 and could be counted on to show up at protests.
But wait, let's see, 7.4 billion people, but 30% are too young to vote. Exclude those who spend more than five hours watching TV or using post-truth social media daily as they have been subsumed by the SYSTEM. That leaves two billion adults who could become supporters if they read the right books. So the two million are the 0.1%. The 99.9% remain committed growthers wanting more. Even if we work tirelessly and get 20,000,000 supporters, 1% doesn't trump 99%. So redouble effort... and the ranks of committed SSEers swells to 2%. Double again and again, and 160 million supporters wave signs and raise clenched fists, and maybe the remaining 92% will have a teachable moment... and.... All two billion join the Steady State Party, but, let's see, still over three billion who support growth so still not a majority.
We have to try. Not trying doesn't feel good. Meanwhile the pace of planetary destruction continues.... But don't succumb to the pessimism thing, it just doesn't feel good unless you're a committed prepper who is way ahead of everyone else with lots of ammo inside your safe space which feels ever so good. You could become a realist, but that wouldn't feel good, so the 99% won't consider it.
The authors are not pessimists. They say so in writing (p. 10). They don't say they are optimists, but as one who praised the book noted, 'They explore specific strategies to conserve natural resources, stabilize population, reduce inequality, fix the financial system, create jobs, and more—all with the aim of maximizing long-term well-being instead of short-term profits. Filled with fresh ideas and surprising optimism, Enough is Enough is the primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all.'
The optimist/pessimist spectrum may be a near universal. There are some who do not self-identify as either (on one or all issues), but others will have no difficulty placing them on the spectrum. If you don't support the views of an optimist, then you are a shade of pessimist, and the pessimist will paint you a shade of optimist. To a Doomer, everyone else is a shade of Cornucopian who just doesn't get it, and so on. Both optimism and pessimism are cognitive disorders. Is it possible to be outside that box?
As Haydn Washington noted in Demystifying Sustainability: Towards real solutions, being a 'realist' is alternative. Realists (e.g. James Lovelock, David Suzuki, Haydn Washington, William Rees, E.O. Wilson, Herman Daly, the Ehrlichs and Meadows, et al.) want to know, to see the what-is stand naked before them, and perhaps as an afterthought consider the good or bad of it, whether to be for or against, like of dislike....
Understanding climate is of interest—then climate change, then the effect of climate change on the system, especially the ecosystem, then the effect on specific ecosystems, in which species will be favored by the change, forced to migrate (to higher elevation or towards the poles), or go extinct. Then maybe consider the effects on humans (the 'anthro' in anthropogenic)—those who benefit and those forced to migrate. Humans will demand more ACs and use them more. If solar panels made by cheap coal in China can't power them, fossil fuels will have to be used (for the sake of the poor people who don't have solar panels because they didn't benefit from the tax write offs subsidizing solar installations), so less coal will be shipped to China... and then what?
Realists are different. They may tell us things we don't want to hear. They ask annoying questions. Hu-mans don't like them, tend not to read their books or like them if they do, and those wanting to write popular books do well by not being one (or pretending not to be). The Tucson Library system has four copies of Enough is Enough. It has zero copies of Demystifying Sustainability: Towards real solutions and nothing by Herman Daly. But denialism has a downside. Some do listen to realist concerns, their minds get all dissonant, and those wanting to be 'right with reality' and write influential books people will read, and maybe turn things around..., have to add something to the reality stuff to leaven it so it is palatable enough (but just enough) for average intelligentsia types to consider.
So realists point out the limits to growth, of per capita consumption x population, and are marginalized until optimists come along and acknowledge every biophysical concern before extolling the feel-good fair and equitable solutions. I could add a few more concerns, but Dietz and O'Neill would surely acknowledge them as would any professor at Schools of Sustainability. Even if none of the solutions work, hundreds more can be generated at will. Humans are such clever apes. Doing so is child's play, a lot of fun, and students of environmental and sustainability studies can think up and believe in six different ones before breakfast.
Maybe the authors are realists in optimist disguise. Perhaps all the professors at Schools of Sustainability are too. It could all be part of a grand strategy. They are all so much smarter than I am, so it is easy to believe that any day now they will collectively demask and say, 'It's time all you people got right with biophysical reality!' and their collective credibility will overwhelm the forces of obscurantism within the intelligentsia. They'll have a plan, a new OS for us to upload. The media (being part of the intelligentsia) will tell us what to do. The OS will be rapped. Lady Gaga will go Godiva and do a music video that will go viral. Graffiti artists will paint the town(s) in SSE slogans. We'll get right with reality. I want to believe.
So there was the environmental movement from 1962 to 1992, and the pace of planetary destruction, most tellingly measured by the rate of species extinction, did not slow. Air became less visible and rivers stopped catching on fire, but the pace did not slow. I recall the fine words and many solutions believed in; the ardent, committed activism. Now there are fine words on sustainability, and ardent talk of solutions, meanwhile the pace of planetary destruction increases.
Estrangement from what-is serves no purpose, though denialism may feel better. From 1987 (the Brundtland Commission) on, another 30 years of 'development' has marched on, and meanwhile.... Hundreds of Schools of Sustainability have grown like weeds within academia as Schools of Environmental Studies once had. All the best and brightest young people are again committing themselves to saving the world, as they did in the 1970s as environmentalists and conservationists, with some putting Earth first.
Almost all ended up subsumed, serving the SYSTEM while talking about and at times serving Nature's system. On university campuses, there is still the coming and going of those who will serve their turn. They are at high risk of serving the SYSTEM and not saving the world. At some point serving the SYSTEM will become untenable, and the adaptive will endeavor to serve, though unpaid in currency, the system of Nature and Nature's laws as Younger Brother/Sister Mámas who will learn and teach the proper use of machetes and such technology as deemed by data to do more good than harm. Enough is enough, but there is a learning curve. Or not.
There are environmental enthusiasts; sustainability enthusiasts; transitional enthusiasts; technology enthusiasts; Anthropocene enthusiasts; growth enthusiasts.... All enthusiasts like and dislike, are for or against, and are not 'right with reality'.
'The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease. When the Way is not understood, the mind chatters endlessly to no avail.' —Jianzhi Sengcan, sixth century CE