Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Great Pause Week 84: Hacking Group Think

"“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (W. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140–141)"



Can we design our way out of the climate catastrophe? We know the technical solutions. In Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Paul Hawken puts the potential of the natural climate solutions (all forms of accelerated photosynthesis — tree-planting, soil recarbonization, ocean regeneration, etc.) at 1.6 trillion tons CO2e drawdown by 2050. That seems like a bunch but it is only approximately half of what will be needed to hold the line below 2 degrees of catastrophic warming, if that is even still possible. The other half would need to come from engineered solutions, assuming our man-made additions can be brought to zero.

Getting to zero by whatever date is a dicey proposition at the moment, as we watch mainstream media regard the filibuster of essential but insufficient climate legislation by 52 Senators as just normal political gamesmanship. It is considered standard, unremarkable, expected, that one political group or an individual politician would use whatever means available to obtain or hold office in a forthcoming election cycle and the particulars of what get destroyed along the way are of no significance — just collateral damage. Any visiting Venusian would see this for what it is — collective insanity. With a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead because of its greenhouse atmosphere, Venus should know.

Kathleen Draper and I, in Burn: Igniting a New Carbon Drawdown Economy to End the Climate Crisis, pegged the potential for all-natural climate solutions at greater than 50 GtCO2e per year for the better part of a century. That comforting knowledge should temper the rush for fragile, expensive, energy-draining engineered inventions (artificial trees and orbiting sunscreens), remembering Sevareid’s Law (“the chief cause of problems is solutions”), but my point here is not to debate what kinds of solutions are best but that we know these solutions already exist. We have them. Done.

The problem lies not in our stars but in ourselves; not in our prowess but in our vulnerability. Genetic metaprograms that served us well through earlier evolutionary stages do us great disservice now and may augur our extinction unless unlearned or retrained. Hacking our genes directly is likely impossible, or at least highly improbable in the time remaining. Still, an epigenetic switch is not out of the question, and we know from history what can be done in a single generation with proper motivation.

The genes at issue are not specific to humans. Early in Cambrian speciation many creatures adopted herd strategy. Consider the wildebeest crossing a river full of crocodiles. Not all will reach the far shore, but most will. A lone individual would not stand a chance. 

Many animals hunt in packs. They coordinate by sight, sound and other senses to surround and box in their prey. Our upright ancestors’ packs were so skilled they could skewer mastodons and whales on wooden spears with flint points. They would cluster around a central fire to protect their young. Later these would become towns, then cities.

When we go to a stadium today to root for the Red Sox or the Dodgers, or Packers, or All-Blacks, we signal to others in our tribe. We may not know their names, but we signal through what we wear, what we yell, when we leap to our feet and cheer. Sadly, the Olympics has become less about individual effort and more about national medal counts. 

At the very least, the pandemic and climate catastrophe has brought disruptions of nature to our front doors, indeed to the spaces between us, our mutual respirations.

 — The Alternative UK 

When as babies we were passed between relatives, when we grew up in a family home, or even in a foster institution, school, or on a street corner, we exchanged epigenetic data with everyone we came in contact with. Our growing cells internalized that information, as did the cells of those who donated to us. We “tribed” at a cellular level. Later separations, as they inevitably came in life, were only less traumatic by degree than separating Siamese twins. 

We learned to signal tribal allegiance as teens when we wore the latest in-group bling, Nike Air Jordans, or whatever. Maybe it was a tattoo or a piercing. The colors of a gang. Sometimes it was forced upon us. The badged blazer of boarding school. The khaki fatigues of boot camp. As we got older and tried to climb the social ladder, the signals we used might have been hairstyle, a pants-suit, a Harvard tie, a designer scarf. We signaled tribal intentions, whether we were members or just wannabes. We are scant different than fan-tailing peacocks or throat-puffing frigate birds.

Since Neolithic hunting packs first fought rivals over territory, those hard-wired proclivities were weaponized by tribal elders to breed for strong and fleet youth, train adolescent soldiers and pack them off to war, in platoons and companies loyal to flags, letters, numbers or totem animals — the Screaming Eagles, the Werewolves. Recent studies by Facebook and others confirm what psycho-anthropologists have long known: we are more easily angered by “them” than reinforced by “us.” We are easy prey to demagogues.

Our tribe bolsters us psychologically in myriad ways — ways used by advertisers often to profitable, although individually deleterious, effect. But it is the outrage emotion that really pushes us to sacrifice comfort, rest, and personal advantage for the sake of family, tribe, and nation. It is outrage that drives eyeballs to social media platforms and makes their monetized algorithms sing.

And we have a new study out where we found that the biggest single predictor of making something go viral is dunking on the out-group; saying something negative about the other side. And that’s 67% more likely to get shared. And so people learn this by getting reinforced and they realize this is the language that wins on social media.

 — Jay Van Bavel, author of The Power of Us: Harnessing our shared identities to improve performance, increase cooperation and promote social harmony.

When Nelson Mandela went from prison to president, South Africa was deeply divided. Nobel Peace Prize or not, to many white South Africans, he was a criminal and a terrorist. Mandela flipped that by uniting his nation behind the Rugby World Cup. When the S.A. Springboks prevailed in overtime against New Zealand to take the prize, (white) team captain Francois Pienaar said, “I couldn’t sing the anthem because I knew I would cry. I was just so proud to be a South African that day.”

Shankar Vedantam, host of NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast, added a study guide to that story: 

Across the country, black and white South Africans cheered together in triumph. Nelson Mandela knew that getting enemies to cheer for the same sports team was only a start. Much work remained to heal the wounds of apartheid. But his intervention revealed how a psychologically astute leader can find ways to create connections among people, even bitter enemies.

Jay Van Bavel, a psychologist at New York University, researches how our group loyalties affect our behaviors in all manner of situations. He told Vedantam

I ran studies like this, in Canada and the US, and many universities and online, and I’ve seen this same pattern over and over again. The moment that people are assigned to a team or a group, even though they often can know it’s a coin flip that’s determining this, means that they like those people more. They want to be friends with them. It shapes their automatic evaluations of those individuals. … what is referred to in the literature as “basking in reflected glory” is that when your in-group does well, it makes you feel good. You have a response in your brain as if you won or something good happened to you. And the same thing I think happens to sports fans. You can be sitting at home, watching the TV all alone and running around and jumping and cheering as if you’ve accomplished something when your team wins.
“Isms” are all ridiculous as far as I’m concerned. 

— John Dennis Liu

Vedantam then bought up the dark side: 

Groups offer us a sense of belonging, and they can bring out the best in us. But the flip side of most in-groups, there’s an out-group. … So, when I look out at the United States or other countries, I feel there are endless examples of how our group loyalties divide us. … So, many Americans increasingly believe that they don’t just disagree with people on the other side, but that people on the other side are inherently evil or untrustworthy. 

The metaprogram shifts us from healthy disagreement into civil war. If you start to think people in the in-group are good and people in the out-group are evil (I confess to having shared this emotion) you may be tempted to do anything you can to stop the evil. 

Walgreens recently shuttered four of its stores in San Francisco because shoplifting had become epidemic — several times per hour people were rushing the door to escape with stolen goods. A TV crew went to report on it and did not have to wait long to film shoplifters in the act — it was unexpectedly easy. Walgreens installed plexiglas and locks on shelves but that proved insufficient to stem their losses. The “us” versus “them” narrative took down their franchises.

Van Bavel says, “you’ll even support an in-group member or vote for a leader who you don’t like or don’t respect or don’t trust, simply because you can’t let this evil out-group take control. And so this is now a driving factor, behind many people in their decisions to vote, volunteer, donate money.” The latest surveys of Republicans show that 80% would like Donald Trump to run again in 2024. Forty percent would like for him to be unopposed in the primaries. Make America Great Again.

Andrew Yang, Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy

Social media algorithms are designed to give little dopamine rewards by getting “likes” and “follows.” The more controversial your posts, the more likes and followers they draw. The object of the platform operators may be to drive ad revenues by glueing eyeballs, which doesn’t seem like a nefarious conspiracy, but the result is social corrosion, fake news, Brexit, Asian-hate, rigged elections in small countries, and demagogues who declare themselves Emperor for Life. Those algorithms are driving us toward climate, biodiversity, and nuclear Armageddon, and for what? To get likes.

Van Bavel says: 

Research suggests that our Thanksgiving dinners are getting shorter by roughly half an hour over time. If you’re interacting with family members in a place where there’s going to be disagreement, politically, it becomes intolerable and people just don’t stick around for dessert…. [P]eople refuse to date somebody who voted for the other party. And so now there’s in fact, dating websites dedicated specifically to your political preferences.
… And what we’ve seen since January 2020 in the US, is that Republicans have seen the pandemic unfolding very differently than Democrats. And the leaders of the Republicans, this was Donald Trump, have downplayed it. And this affected people’s judgments of risk. It affected willingness to engage in spatial and social distancing. And we’ve studied that in my own lab and found that over time, the partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans in their willingness to engage in distancing actually increased as the pandemic spread. You might expect the opposite, which is that as people learn more about the risks, as people dying get in the hospital in your local state or city, you would actually follow the guidelines more. You wouldn’t be guided by partisanship. If anything, we found the exact opposite. And now you’re seeing that with vaccines. The big single biggest predictor of vaccine hesitancy continues to be identification with the Republican party. Thirty-two percent of Republicans don’t plan to get the vaccine while only 3 percent of Democrats don’t plan to. So that’s 10 times as many people are vaccine hesitant on that side of the political aisle.
The important thing to understand about social media is that nearly four billion people are on social media now and the average social media user scrolls through 300 feet of news feed a day. So it means if you have a six inch iPhone or Android, that means you’re scrolling down 600 times. It’s the height of the Statue of Liberty.

Climate deniers are reinforced with every swipe into thinking the problem is fake and action advocates are leading us to economic ruin. They get little dopamine hits with every like on a Looney-Tunes tweet. Climate action advocates are reinforced the same way. Their dopey tweets convince them that the deniers are stupid or misinformed. So they waste a lot of time doing scientific studies and webinars, blogging, making documentaries, and hosting concerts to “raise awareness,” none of which will ever be seen or heard by those they wish to influence, only by those who already agree with their point of view. In either case, people get their daily dose of outrage dopamine, affirm their tribal identity, and go to bed happy, or angry, or whatever floats their boat.

It doesn’t solve the problem. 

What can solve the problem is using a strategy similar to what militaries do to recruit and inspire their innocent cannon fodder to heroic, lethal self-sacrifice. What if we recruited idealistic youth to an elite legion of superheroes, dedicated to saving the planet? The Climate Conservation Corps. Ecosystem Restoration Camps. Transition Network. Global Ecovillage Network. Permaculture Association. International Biochar Initiative, Trillion Tree Campaign. The enemy is not our fellow humans, who are at worst misinformed, not evil. The enemy is time. These ministries for the future can close that gap, planting mangroves, making biochar, harvesting kelp, rewatering peatlands, and permaculturing the desert

That will give the human tribe something to tell its grandchildren some day.



The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity I have been involved with since its inception in 1974. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

#RestorationGeneration

“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”

— Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.
How it works:
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4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Great Pause Week 83: Permaculturing the Great American Desert

"Zhao harnessed the river not by damming it, but by dividing the water. He spread it, slowed it, sank it and stored it."

In my noir mind I am reading the part of the comic where crime boss Cobblepot from his throne room at Mar-A-Lago makes an (unrecorded) call to Kyrsten Sinema.

“How much would it take to get you to vote against the infrastructure bills?”

“I don’t know. Do you like my nails with fluorescent lime or passionfruit? Maybe I could alternate them?”

“A billion? We could get that.”

“Looking at my crypto wallet. Not moving. Not moving.”

“Done.”

“Why yes, well there it is. How nice.”

In the 30s President Franklin D. Roosevelt put tens of thousands of people to work, with hoes, wheelbarrows, and horse-drawn graders, building hundreds of miles of embankments across the Midwest, from the Sonoran Desert north to Canada. The new embankments held back the runoff from rain and allowed it to soak, dropping silt and making tree planting almost unnecessary, because passing birds did that. 

Between 1930 and 1935 Franklin Roosevelt had 3 million Americans out with supervisors and engineers repairing America. It was the first time in American history, and the last time, and one of the rare times in the history of the world, that anybody in charge of a country has put the country to work to repair the damage. 

 — Bill Mollison, The Global Gardener: Part 2, Drylands (ABC-TV 1991).

 

Besides the Loess Plateau, which I described here in week 66, another example from China is the massive Dujiangyan earthworks project constructed in 256 BCE and still in use today. 

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Min, the people were very unhappy. In spite of the fertile soils of the valley floor, life was an endless struggle to provide. No sooner was the rice ready to harvest than the Min River would rush down from the steep Western mountains, slow abruptly upon reaching the Chengdu Plain, drop its mud and make disastrous floods. 

Surveying the mountain, King Zhaoxiang (秦昭襄王) devised an audacious solution. Over four years, using tens of thousands of villagers, Zhao constructed a water-diversion levee resembling a fish’s mouth, using long sausage-shaped baskets of woven bamboo filled with stones (known as zhulong) held in place by wooden tripods (known as macha). This was before gunpowder was invented, and the bronze and iron tools available at the time could not penetrate the hard rock of the mountain, so a combination of fire and water would be employed to heat and cool the rock walls until they cracked and could be removed to fashion the new river channel.

After eight years of such work, a 20-meter (66 ft)-wide channel had been gouged through the gorge, dividing the river to two sides of a central island. In this way Zhao’s engineers could allow floodwaters to escape harmlessly to one side while taming the channel on the other for irrigation. 

After the system was finished, no more floods occurred. The irrigation made Sichuan the most productive agricultural region in China. The construction is also credited with giving the people of Sichuan a laid-back attitude to life and taste for spicy food. It eliminated a constant disaster, ensured a predictably bountiful harvest, and left the Kingdom of Min with plenty of free time to engage in pleasure-filled leisure.

Zhao harnessed the river not by damming it, but by dividing it. He spread it, slowed it, sank it and stored it. Millions visit the Dujiangyan fish mouth still today, to watch it renew by rain, gravity, and the weight of water as it irrigates over 2,000 square miles (5,300 km2) of high dry plains.

We know we are capable of this. Why then do we read in The New York Times of August 27 that desertification of half the continental United States is all but inevitable now? As a permaculturist I often teach by using a 5 minute excerpt from the 30 minute Drylands episode of The Global Gardener where Bill Mollison walks through some WPA/CCC swales in Arizona and describes how they have prospered, untended, for 60 years (now 90), reforesting the same desert landscape that in the 1930s had blown dark sandstorms into Washington DC. 

Today those forested swales are refreshing the deep water desert aquifer for future generations. That is, among other things, one element of the Biden infrastructure plan, held hostage by 52 Cobblepot-loyal minions in the United States Senate this week. It proposes a modern Climate Conservation Corps under the auspices of Deb Haaland’s Department of Interior. Her plan:

Action #1: Promote Climate-Resilient Lands, Waters, and Cultural Resources
Outcome: Lands, waters, and cultural resources threatened by climate change are managed, protected, and/or preserved for current and future generations 
Action #2: Advance Climate Equity
Outcome: Vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by climate change have equitable access to opportunities, services, and resources. 
Action #3: Transition to a Resilient Clean Energy Economy
Outcome: Climate-resilient infrastructure supports current energy and mineral resource needs and future energy needs will be increasingly met through renewable and sustainable sources. 
Action #4: Support Tribal and Insular Community Resilience
Outcome: Tribes and Insular areas are provided technical and financial resources to support climate-resilient investments. 
Action #5: Empower the Next Generation of Conservation and Resilience Workers
Outcome: A new generation of Americans are empowered and equipped to bolster resilience and tackle the climate crisis.

We know how to do this. The costs are vastly smaller than the benefits conferred. Nature does most of the work. All she needs is a bit of help to get started and then to be left alone.

Americans are about to face all sorts of difficult choices about how and where to live as the climate continues to heat up. States will be forced to choose which coastlines to abandon as sea levels rise, which wildfire-prone suburbs to retreat from, and which small towns cannot afford new infrastructure to protect against floods or heat. What to do in the parts of the country that are losing their essential supply of water may turn out to be the first among those choices.

 —The New York Times, August 27, 2021

 _______________________________

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

#GenerationRestoration

“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”
 — Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.

How it works: 
1. Open the Amazon app on your phone 
2. Select the main menu (=) & tap on “AmazonSmile” within Programs & Features 
3. Select “Global Village Institute” as your charity 
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Great Pause Week 82: Cars that Solve for Climate

"We may see a largely carbon-free road transportation system by 2030."


There were omens in the 1880s that rough times lay ahead for buggywhip makers and blacksmiths. The smart money was backing future unicorns like Gustave Trouvé, Gottlieb Daimler, Armand Peugeot, and Karl Benz.

In 1896, Benz designed and patented his boxermotor for the Motorwagen. Three years later, Benz was the largest car company in the world. Nimble wagon- and coach-makers like Studebaker switched horses midstream and started building kerosene cars and electrics, hoping to catch Benz. The carmakers’ downstream ecosystem, from harness-makers to oats and manure haulers, never saw it coming.

Benz Patent Motorwagen 1885

 

Of the 13,000 carriage makers operating in the U.S. in 1890, only a handful were still in business by 1920. Model T’s delivered 4x the speed, 10x the distance per day, with the cargo capacity of four horses at one tenth the cost of one. By 1913, assembly line innovations from Ransom Olds and Henry Ford had taken the costs of cars below the breakeven point for the carriage. An entire 6000-year-old industry was put out to pasture. The 93 million acres in the US used to produce feed for horses and mules shrank to just 5 million in 20 years.

“Humankind has traveled for centuries in conveyances pulled by beasts, why would any reasonable person assume the future holds anything different?”

 — Carriage Monthly, 1904

As I was delving into the precision fermentation issue a few weeks ago, I had my mind changed about something besides cows: self-driving cars. I have been reading the stories of autonomous Teslas attacking emergency vehicles. Would you really trust one of those at a school crosswalk? 

Daimler Lastwagen 1896


In May 2017, RethinkX published a Seba Technology Sector Disruption Report, Rethinking Transportation 2020–2030. Some key findings:

  • Within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals.
  • The average American family will save more than $5,600 per year in transportation costs, equivalent to a wage raise of 10%. This will keep an additional $1 trillion per year in Americans’ pockets by 2030, potentially generating the largest infusion of consumer spending in history.
  • Uber, Lyft and Didi are already engaged, and others will join this high-speed race. Winners-take-all dynamics will force them to make large upfront investments to provide best in class software and the highest possible level of service.
  • Million-mile vehicle lifetimes (drivetrains are already there), and far lower maintenance, energy, finance and insurance costs. Far fewer cars will be needed in the U.S. vehicle fleet, and therefore there will be no supply constraints to building out rapidly.
  • Transport-as-a-service will be four to ten times cheaper per mile than buying a new car and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing vehicle in five years. It will be similar for the cargo fleet.

…the same processes and dynamics that drive S-curve adoption of new products at a sector level repeat at the level of civilizations.

 — James Arbib, Introduction to Rethinking Humanity

  • By 2030, individually owned internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will still represent 40% of the vehicles in the U.S. vehicle fleet, but they will provide just 5% of passenger miles, contributing to cleaner, safer and more walkable communities.
  • Many municipalities will see free transportation as a means to improve citizens’ access to jobs, shopping, entertainment, education, health and other services within their communities.
  • Productivity gains as a result of reclaimed driving hours will boost GDP by an additional $1 trillion. As fewer cars travel more miles, the number of passenger vehicles on American roads will drop from 247 million to 44 million, opening up vast tracts of land for other, more productive uses.
  • Demand for new vehicles will plummet: 70% fewer passenger cars and trucks will be manufactured each year. This could result in total disruption of the car value chain, with car dealers, maintenance and insurance companies suffering almost complete destruction. 
  • Oil demand will peak at 100 million barrels per day by 2020, dropping to 70 million barrels per day by 2030. This will have a catastrophic effect on the oil industry through price collapse (an equilibrium cost of $25.4 per barrel).
  • Approximately 70% of the potential 2030 production of Bakken shale oil would be stranded. So too offshore sites in the United Kingdom, Norway and Nigeria; Venezuelan heavy-crude fields; the Canadian tar sands; and infrastructure such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
  • Assuming a concurrent disruption of the electricity infrastructure by solar and wind, we may see a largely carbon-free road transportation system by 2030. 
  • While the geopolitical importance of oil will vastly diminish, the importance of lithium, cobalt, neodymium and other elements will rise.

Adoption Rates: Autonomous Vehicles; Ride Share


Already some of Seba’s estimates are proving overly conservative. Four years ago RethinkX estimated electrics would be 60% of the vehicles in the U.S. vehicle fleet by 2030. In Norway, electrics are already 72% of cars on the road and it is only 2021. Ford has announced that all the cars and trucks they will sell in Europe in 2030 will be electric. GM has said it will produce only EVs by 2035.

Blinded by the Light

Of course all this depends on regulatory approval and customer adoption. My question — would you really trust one of those at the school crosswalk? — turns out to be the swinging hinge on the whole proposition of autonomous vehicles. Tesla claims that their cars with autopilot engaged were between six and nine times safer than the average human-driven car in 2020. That was before ‘Full Self Driving’ (FSD) Teslas started kamakazi-ing into police cars, fire trucks and ambulances (17 injuries and one death in 12 crashes to date). It may be that segregation will have to come first — separate lanes, separate highways, separate safety rules for AVs.


“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
 — Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, April 2007

There is really no need to look back a century for disruptive change. Many of us alive today witnessed what happened to newspaper publishing when Google created AdWords in 2000 or how the music industry counted success in album or CD units sold until Spotify came along and showed that the number of plays per song was where the money was. AirBnB hit hotels. Uber devastated the taxi. Smartphones killed Garmin, Eastman Kodak, the Walkman, and some would say democracy. An EV doesn’t just take kids to soccer practice, it can power your house for a few days in an emergency (or a few weeks if you live in India). 

 Sales of internal combustion engine vehicles peaked in 2019 and were declining but fortunes suddenly changed in late 2021 when VW, Honda, Ford, GM, and Toyota halted assembly lines due to semiconductor chip shortages. Resale values on used vehicles were at zero or below in many regions and used car dealerships had been closing until they were rescued by climate change. The worst drought in over 50 years struck Asia and a lack of monsoon rains forced Taiwanese chipmakers — 63 percent of the global market — to ration water. It didn’t just stall car production, it stalled new products from Apple, Samsung and Xbox. These lapses and rescues are short-lived however, because the revolution will not be denied.

Tony Seba says disruptors tend to come from outside an existing industry because “Incumbent mindsets, incentives, practices, and business models blind existing businesses to the new reality. They double down on the old model rather than create the new.”

Paul Hawken’s new blockbuster, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, ranks climate solutions in much the way his earlier bestseller, Drawdown, did. “EVs and Mobility” come in second in 2030 with 38 billion tons of CO2 avoided or removed (behind “Tropical Forest Restoration”’s 40 GtCO2) but slips into number one with 122 Gt by 2040 and soars ahead of the pack with 226 billion-ton drawdown potential by 2050. When you consider that all man-made emissions summed are now approximately 40 GtCO2 per year (and still rising), this means that a significant part of those could be avoided or withdrawn by transportation changes alone, just in this decade — and 5 times that by 2050.

The new system can be fundamentally different to the old in terms of the structure of the value chain, how value is delivered (business model), the metrics and incentives that drive consumers (demand), producers and investors (supply), and policymakers (regulation).
***
As we enter the most disruptive decade in human history, with every sector of the economy on the cusp of disruption, this failure matters. Whether we are planning investments, education, social and environmental policy, or infrastructure spending, narrow linear mindsets blind us to the emerging possibilities and the pace and scale of change approaching — society is hurtling towards the future with a blindfold on.

— Tony Seba

These kinds of smart tech transformations — in communications, food, energy, and transportation — are changing everything, rapidly, including, maybe even, the climate. 

Insha’Allah إِنْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ,

 

__________________________

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

#GenerationRestoration

“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”
 — Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.

How it works: 
1. Open the Amazon app on your phone 
2. Select the main menu (=) & tap on “AmazonSmile” within Programs & Features 
3. Select “Global Village Institute” as your charity 
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Great Pause Week 81: Two Fish

"The choice is between extinction of species and fast food."

 

There is a river on the west coast of North America that begins in arid plains and ends in temperate rainforest, a strange quirk The National Geographic called “upside down.” For 7000 years this area was the exclusive domain of Chinook-, coho- and steelhead-catching-peoples — the Yurok, Hupa, and Karuk along the coasts and canyons of the lower river, the Shasta in the long middle, and the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskin in the dry highlands. They fished with weirs, basket traps and harpoons when the fish ascended from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake. They vied with brown bear and grizzly at the falls and eddy pools. They also hunted beaver, lynx and fox along the tributaries or brought down geese with bow and arrow.

Originally Ishkêesh and Koke, the name of the river today comes from the Upper Chinookan word /ɬámaɬ/, literally “they of the river.” It was renamed — or “christened” — “Klamath” by trappers from the Hudson Bay Company who hacked the Siskiyou Trail in the 1820s, followed shortly thereafter by gold-hungry Forty-niners. Within a matter of years, the plentiful beavers in the Klamath Basin had been mostly wiped out. Without their dams there was nothing to moderate floods and sustain the extensive wetlands. The loss of the beaver dams then began to cause severe erosion over a drainage of 16,000 square miles (41,000 km2), larger than Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The ruthless peoples who eradicated the beavers in search of shiny yellow stones are today commemorated in the name of a popular California professional football team.

The native populations fared no better than the beavers. Ancient volcanic activity had sprinkled river beds with the yellow dust that drew in placer miners like bees to nectar. Villages full of men, women, children and infants were either hacked up or shot. Unprotected, in 1864, the tribes signed away 20 million acres and moved onto reservations. 

“So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is. Trees and rocks and rivers really do have things to say to us.” 

 ― Derrick Jensen, What We Leave Behind

Humpies and chum salmon reproduce close to the ocean and spend the least amount of time in freshwater. Sockeye, also known as redfish, can spend anywhere from 3 months to 3 years upstream. During the spawning phase the head and caudal fin become bright green and the body turns scarlet. The fry mature in lakes before migrating oceanward, although some remain. Land-locked populations are known as kokanee.

Coho live 3 to 5 years, about half of that spent in freshwater. Some populations may travel over 1000 miles upstream to spawn. Relatively rare, they make up only about 7 to 10 percent of the annual river catch. Chinook, also known as the king, tyee, or blackmouth salmon, are the largest, and even less abundant. They grow up to 30 pounds (13.6 kg) and 40 inches (102 cm).

Red-throated or “cutthroat” trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii var.) come in three versions. Two types spend their entire lives in freshwater and one is anadromous. Steelies — steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) also called coastal rainbow trout, silver trout, salmon trout, and ironhead — have winter runs and summer runs, leaving the ocean at up to 20 lb (9.2 kg) but not feeding while in freshwater, rather spawning quickly and returning. Moving briskly up and down stream, with some urgency, they have historically been idolized as a trophy game fish and have the greatest mortality during their migrations.

In 1919, the first timber crib dam raised Upper Klamath Lake by about 16 feet (5 meters) to permit steamboat passage and mail delivery to settlements along the river. More dams followed. The Bureau of Reclamation built them for irrigation. PacifiCorp and California-Oregon Power Company (COPCO) built them for power. Between 1908 and 1962 the salmon and steelhead run plummeted. Gone too was the population of bull trout that relied upon salmon fry. Coho recently made the threatened species list, not a distinction one might seek. When drought returned in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney and Interior Secretary Gale Norton personally intervened to ensure water went to big farms regardless of tribal rights or the Endangered Species Act. Phosphorus, nitrogen, and biochemical oxygen demand from cattle runoff took its toll. Not surprisingly, the Klamath River had the largest fish die-off ever recorded. With the high water temperatures and low flows, a gill rot disease killed at least 33,000 salmon in September 2002 before they could reproduce.

Following that calamity, Klamath farmers twice sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for more access to irrigation water and both times were defeated by the superseding rights of the indigenous tribes. Then, miraculously, years of closed-door negotiations among farmers, tribes, fishermen, conservation groups and government agencies produced a 2008 management plan calling for the removal of four hydroelectric dams, starting in 2020. In 2013, the tribes’ water rights were enforced for the first time in what is known as a ‘Water Call.’ The Klamath Tribe called upon their in-stream water right, which was enforced by the BoR Water Master. This resulted in almost total upper-basin irrigation curtailment, and with it, massive losses to alfalfa, potatoes, onions, hay and cattle ranches.

“You’ve been given a promise by the United States government to provide you water,” Scott Seus, a third-generation farmer, says. “When they take that water off of that land, you have something that’s worth nothing. A piece of barren ground doesn’t mean a thing.” 

“What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to taste each other’s sweat and feel the delicate pressure of finger on chest, thigh on thigh, lip on cheek? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to the birdsong, to watch the dragonflies hover, to look at your lover’s face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving together in the breeze? What if the point is to invite these others into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, to experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?” 

 ― Derrick Jensen, A Language Older Than Words

Third generation or not, Seus is non-conservation farming in an environment that no longer produces the amount of water that it had a century earlier. Worse, when it rains, the runoff from Seus’s farm, and hundreds like it, flows into the upper lakes, carrying manure, topsoil, and fertilizer that builds toxic blooms of algae on the overheated water. The anoxic zones suffocate fish. 

The tribes won the dam removal in the lower Klamath but 100,000 acre feet of water that had been promised national wildlife refuges in 2008 was later cut by Congress. This latest drought year the refuges will only get 10000 acre feet from rain, trapping migrant fish in mud flats and dooming some 100,000 birds to death by botulism in their molting stage. 

The choice is between extinction of two species, sockeye and Chinook, and production of all-beef burgers. A continent away, Congress prefers its burgers. But lately, there have been warnings about a coming crisis that could endanger the flow of meat to the Capitol’s cafeteria. Drought — cattle require prodigious volumes of water — and heat waves, wildfire-and-flood-endangered pasturage, and declining soil fertility have been taking their tolls. A mid-2021 cyberattack on the nation’s second largest producer of beef, pork and chicken hit meat processing like a hurricane striking Gulf oil rigs and refineries. Supplies plummeted and freezers emptied. Coronavirus restrictions at meat processing plants — only about half of Tyson workers chose to get vaccinated — had already reduced throughput but restaurant demand was similarly constricted so the Covid effect was nearly a wash. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs prices today are up only 6 percent over a year ago and so the threatened meat shortage is not really all that big a deal in the near term. Long term, it will be.

NOAA Fisheries determined in August 2018 that five Pacific salmon stocks are now “overfished.” If we really want to address Coastal fish populations, according to think tank ‘RethinkX’, we’ll need to expand our options for seafood. By 2035, PFCA (precision-fermentation-cultured-analog) foods, some identical in flavor profile to salmon and steelhead, will be providing high quality protein 10x cheaper than animals at 100x more land efficiency, 25 percent more feedstock efficiency, 20x more time efficiency and 10x more water efficiency. This means that 2.7 GHa (10 million square miles) of land and a lot more ocean will become available for rewilding, leading to huge emissions reductions and drawdown. Do you or I want to be eating lab grown food? It won’t much matter what we want. With a world population at around 9 billion, we will.

Lab grown cultures of fake fish, made from roots, stems, seeds and leaves, and from starches drawn directly from captured CO2, should greatly benefit endangered wild populations by significantly reducing the overfishing and polluting of streams, lakes and ocean. The rewilding won’t end at the abandoned onion farms in Oregon and Washington, it will extend out into the deepest depths of the dark blue sea.

_________________________

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

#RestorationGeneration

“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”
 — Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

 


Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.

How it works:
1. Open the Amazon app on your phone 
2. Select the main menu (=) & tap on “AmazonSmile” within Programs & Features 
3. Select “Global Village Institute” as your charity 
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Great Pause Week 80: Getting to Littleness

"What do Finland, Iceland and Estonia have in common, apart from less sunlight and high snowfall? Littleness."


W
hen we see events
like the Arab Spring, the January 6th Insurrection, or the irrational pushback against mask mandates in the midst of a devastating pandemic, we think of the NIMH mouse utopias experiment. One must ask whether what we are seeing is a gradual unravelling, in fits and spurts, of civil order. In the pressure cooker of climate change, viral assault, competing theocracies, competing narratives, and peak everything, will we be able to defuse this bomb in time?

Ivan Illich described Leopold Kohr as “a funny bird — meek, fey, droll, and incisive.” I first met him in a villa in Lombardy a little over three years before he passed, at 84. Although nearly deaf, he looked 20 years younger than his age and had a wry wit that never failed to make me laugh loudly. He described himself as a “philosophical anarchist” and professional crank, but was quick to recall what E.F. Schumacher had said:

“Some people call me a crank. I don’t mind at all. A crank is a low-cost, low-capital tool. It can be used on a moderate small scale. It is nonviolent. And it makes revolutions.”

Kohr grew up in the small Austrian town where Silent Night had been composed. He was making preparations to return there from his final home in Wales when death overtook him. Three-quarters of a century before, after studying in Paris, Vienna and London, getting a law degree and doctorates in political science and economics, in 1937 he ran off to do the Spanish Civil War thing, “armed with nothing but a Spanish dictionary and a copy of Don Quixote.” There, crouched behind stone walls being bombed or sitting in smoky bistros mixed with scents of rum and coffee, he would befriend George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Andre Malraux. He describes one such scene:

One day a fellow came, gangly, tallish, and asked whether he could sit by my table. Everything was crowded: I had one seat free and, as a matter of fact, there was only room for two and I said, “Of course,” and he said, “Well, anyone who introduces himself nowadays uses a false name. At any rate, my name is George Orwell.” And of course this was a false name. His real name was Eric Blair. But from that day on, for a week, we always met. I had no idea who he was. But what struck me was our conversations and his attitude towards the emerging age of mass dominance. People said afterwards that he was a prophet anticipating things to come in his 1984. He didn’t anticipate things to come. We talked about what was going on around us, in 1937.

Orwell, as he recorded in Homage to Catalonia, was already disillusioned with the alphabet soup of ideologies at play in Spain and must have had a lot to say about that to Kohr. After the Fascists won, Kohr got a visa out of Austria, slipped aboard the Orient Express to Paris, and escaped to America in 1938 ahead of Austria’s Nazi annexation. Lacking proper papers, he found sanctuary in Toronto and later managed to get back into the USA where he taught at Rutgers until 1955. He wrote The Breakdown of Nations “in three weeks, in a snowed-in Christmas period, no one there, everything deep in snow, everyone on holiday.”

From the late 50s through the early 70s he taught economics as the U. of Puerto Rico and UNAM in Mexico. After many rejections, Breakdown was published in 1957 by Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and is still in print from Chelsea Green. I read it for the first time just now and discovered it fit nicely into my thoughts about population.

After a lengthy description of how a process of devolution might work, Breakdown’s 11th chapter “But Will It Be Done?” might be the shortest chapter ever written — just 3 characters — “No!” on an otherwise blank page. Perhaps Kohr had been looking out at the snow and was in a Zen frame of mind.

When I proposed ten years later at the Boston convention of the American Economics Association that the question was no longer how to expand but how to contract; not how to grow but how to put limits to growth, I still drew nothing but blank stares from fellow economists, who dismissed my ideas by referring to me as a poet. And they might have dismissed me along with my ideas had I not benefited from an academic policy that was well expressed by a Jesuit friend from Ottawa when he said: “I always felt that every great university must have some crackpots on its faculty. And if it has not, I consider it the sacred duty of every dean to see to it that some are appointed.”

In an afterword penned for a US edition in 1978, Kohr described how the book evolved through a series of lectures and his experience with the politics of Europe leading into the Second World War. Soon after the conclusion of the war he was giving one of those lectures to a gathering of military planners at the Imperial Staff College — “then a hundred highly realistic staff officers from all corners of the British Empire” — and he showed maps of how Europe might be reorganized not as a single state standing in opposition to the Soviet bloc, but as a federation of little states organized by watershed.

A growing society, when it reaches a given point, has always exploded, like the supernova in the stars. So the annihilating element awaiting us all is not disunion but growth, overgrowth.

Kohr believed that even though devolution from empire to small states was inevitable, no-one would believe in it soon enough to see it coming and plan for it.

It will not explode. Like the aging colossi of the stellar universe, it will gradually collapse internally, leaving as its principal contribution to posterity its fragments, the little states — until the consolidation process of big power development starts all over again. This is not pleasant to anticipate. What is pleasant, however, is the realization that, in the intervening period between the intellectual ice ages of great-power domination, history will in all likelihood repeat itself and the world, little and free once more, will experience another of those spells of cultural greatness which characterized the small-state worlds of the Middle Ages and Ancient Greece.
***
The young people of today have yet to grasp that the unprecedented change that has overtaken our time concerns not the nature of our social difficulties, but their scale. Like their elders, they have yet to become aware that what matters is no longer war, but big war; not unemployment, but massive unemployment; not oppression, but the magnitude of oppression; not the poor, who Jesus said will always be with us, but the scandalous number of their multitudes.
Nor have they as yet shown any understanding for the real conflict of this age, which is no longer between races, sexes, classes, left and right, youth and age, rich and poor, socialism and capitalism — all hangover confrontations from the past. The real conflict of today is between Man and Mass, the Individual and Society, the Citizen and the State, the Big and the Small Community, between David and Goliath. But as long as our youth and campus leaders have the same tendency as their national leaders whom they want to succeed to measure their grandeur by the size of the organizations they command, there is little reason to assume that they will do more for smallness than provide it with an Ark and salute it in tribute to its poetry and beauty as it drifts away on the rising waters of the Deluge.

Before Kohr passed away he might have read Joseph Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies (1988) but could not have seen Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Civilizations Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). He would have recognized the parallels between their case studies of the Maya Theater State, Easter Island and the Norse colony on Greenland with his own studies of the Holy Roman Empire and Ancient Greece. He was also on familiar terms with Toynbee’s studies of 28 civilizations and the conclusion that once a sustainable growth peak is exceeded, people resort to archaism (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future), detachment (removal from the realities of a decaying world; science; and authoritative sources of information), and transcendence (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight or by following some sort of charismatic prophet).

In the 1990s, the evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin applied equations used to model the populations of predators and prey to describe human societies. He showed how income inequality augured political instability, with a long “secular” cycle lasting two to three centuries before the lower-class became so miserable and the upper-class so obscenely wealthy that detente fractured. This precipitated a shorter cycle at progressively turbulent intervals of 50 years — 1870, 1920, 1970, 2020. The mathematician Safa Motesharrei applied Turchin’s predator-prey models to an all-devouring consumer society of “predators” and rapidly depleting natural resource “prey.” He found that neither unequal competition nor resource depletion necessitated collapse unless both arrived at the same time. Then Katie bar the door.

Kohr told a CBC interviewer,

What animates the waves of water, as Da Vinci said, also explains the waves of wind, of sound and light. So this is a meta-economics, these are physics outside…beyond economics. And then I am at the door of economics, I open it and see another wave: business cycles. And the reason why economists can’t grasp this is that this structure of cycles has changed. These are no longer caused by the irregularities of business activities which produces spells; they have entirely different, non-economic, meta-economic, physical origins. What we confront is size cycles. At a given size of integration, things become uncontrollable, not only by capitalist intervention, but by state intervention, by communist intervention. There are cyclical fluctuations and size cycles in the Soviet Union, but without a Marxist theory to explain it, it can’t be in a controlled economy. So they shoot the business managers. So this is what I mean. To understand economic phenomena, one must not mathematicize or statistify them, but philosophize them, go back to the laws of nature.

Kohr compared the traffic patterns in cities to the rush of students to get out of a classroom when the bell rings.

… one entrance door for students is ample. Reluctantly they filter through at slow pace, but when the bell rings at the end, they get stuck in the doors, because the exit velocity is much faster, and the higher velocity has the effect of increasing the pressure.

He said the proper size for governability depends on velocity, or more precisely, integration. As a society prospers it gains communication needs, commuting to work, shopping, business travel, tourism, and more. These add “velocity,” or what Paul Ehrlich lumped under “affluence.” It is a population force multiplier. Kohr said a billion people living unintegrated in Siberia might not be a problem, but integrated into a modern consumer society they represent five or ten times their number in terms of pressure.

Now the only way of reducing this is not necessarily birth control, but size control of states, to reduce the distances each of us has to cover to perform our daily functions. Not decentralization, but centralization writ small — the small community, which slows down the need for fast movements.

When next the G8 gather in Davos, they should read this from Kohr:

So, when I suggest that the solution to bigness is break up the big powers, I often use the analogy of an avalanche coming from the Austrian Alps.
The way avalanches are dealt with is the controllers put small barriers of concrete sticks over a field. So when an avalanche begins to develop, just as it begins to enjoy the mass of its weight and power, it runs into these partitioning pillars which turn the awful thing into a harmless spray, without damaging the beauty of the snow. And the thing is that, politically, nothing at all is lost by returning to smaller communities.

In his forward to the Dutton edition, Kirkpatrick Sale wrote:

In the real political world, in other words, there are limits, and usually fairly conscribed limits, beyond which it does not make much sense to grow. It is only in small states, Kohr suggests, that there can be true democracy, because it is only there that the citizen can have some direct influence over the governing institutions; only there that economic problems become tractable and controllable, and economic lives become more rational; only there that culture can flourish without the diversion of money and energy into statist pomp and military adventure; only there that the individual in all dimensions can flourish free of systematic social and governmental pressures. Thus, the purposes of the modern world might better be directed not to the fruitless pursuit of one-worldism but to the fruitful development of small, coherent regions, not to the aggrandizement of states but to the breakdown of nations.

Kohr’s own introduction to the 1957 edition of Breakdown rolled his entire philosophy into a simple idea: that there seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Conversely, the antidote to all the problems we face is equally simple: littleness.

Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable if we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really much more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever something is wrong, something is too big. If the stars in the sky or the atoms of uranium disintegrate in spontaneous explosion, it is not because their substance has lost its balance. It is because matter has attempted to expand beyond the impassable barriers set to every accumulation. Their mass has become too big. If the human body becomes diseased, it is, as in cancer, because a cell, or a group of cells, has begun to outgrow its allotted narrow limits. And if the body of a people becomes diseased with the fever of aggression, brutality, collectivism, or massive idiocy, it is not because it has fallen victim to bad leadership or mental derangement. It is because human beings, so charming as individuals or in small aggregations, have been welded into overconcentrated social units such as mobs, unions, cartels, or great powers. That is when they begin to slide into uncontrollable catastrophe. For social problems, to paraphrase the population doctrine of Thomas Malthus, have the unfortunate tendency to grow at a geometric ratio with the growth of the organism of which they are part, while the ability of man to cope with them, if it can be extended at all, grows only at an arithmetic ratio. Which means that, if a society grows beyond its optimum size, its problems must eventually outrun the growth of those human faculties which are necessary for dealing with them.
Hence it is always bigness, and only bigness, which is the problem of existence, social as well as physical, and all I have done in fusing apparently disjointed and unrelated bits of evidence into an integrated theory of size is to demonstrate first that what applies everywhere applies also in the field of social relations; and secondly that, if moral, physical, or political misery is nothing but a function of size, if the only problem is one of bigness, the only solution must lie in the cutting down of the substances and organisms which have outgrown their natural limits. The problem is not to grow but to stop growing; the answer: not union but division.

At the end of the Second World War, Iceland, Finland and Estonia found themselves in foreign clasp. Finland bought its way out, ceding 10% of its territory, including its fourth largest city, Viipuri (Vyborg), paying out a large amount of war reparations to the Soviet Union, and formally apologizing for having fought alongside both Nazi Germany and the Allies against Russia. Today Finland always tops the World Happiness Report and has one of the most comprehensive social welfare systems in the world. It mints unicorn tech startups (>billion-dollar capitalization) with amazing frequency. It has the highest concentration of cooperatives relative to its population.

Iceland is the world’s most sparsely populated country with the world’s oldest Parliament. In May 1944, under Allied occupation, 97 percent of Icelanders voted to end their union with Denmark, abolish the monarchy, and establish a republic. Thanks to its FinTech sector, Iceland in the 21st century became one of the most prosperous countries in the world, with a slight hiccup during the credit default swap crisis of 2008 when its four major investment banks declared bankruptcy and Iceland declined the requests from investment banks in Europe to consider that a national debt. 

Since October 2017 Iceland’s coalition government consists of the Independence Party, the Progressive Party and the Left-Green Movement, headed by Katrín Jakobsdóttir. It had 81.4% voter turnout during the most recent elections. About 85 percent of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. According to the Economist Intelligence Index, Iceland has the second-highest quality of life in the world. Based on the Gini coefficient, Iceland also has one of the lowest rates of income inequality in the world. Its people retain good health long into old age, on average.

After its non-violent Singing Revolution in 1991, the last units of the Red Army withdrew from Estonia in 1994. Today the Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, elected in 2021, looks like Nancy Pelosi when she was 25. It is the only country in the world to currently be led by both a female President and Prime Minister. It has full e-government, with 99 percent of the public services being available on the web 24 hours a day. Broadband is universal and fast. In 2019 parliamentary elections 44% of the total votes were cast over the internet. 109 languages are spoken. A balanced budget, almost non-existent public debt, flat-rate income tax, free trade regime, competitive commercial banking sector, innovative e-Services and even mobile-based services are all hallmarks of Estonia’s market economy. Its GDP growth rate is 5 times the EU average. It too has a surfeit of unicorns and the reassuring knowledge of a healthy, long-lived, and well-cared-for elderly sector.

In my meeting with Leopold Kohr in 1990 he related a story of the time he got an invitation to visit the President of Luxembourg. While he was seated alone with the President, the phone rang. The President picked it up and answered, “Government.” Kohr told me that he always thought that was how small the government could be but this was the first time he had actually seen it.

What do Finland, Iceland and Estonia have in common, apart from less sunlight and high snowfall? Littleness. When they understood where they needed to go, they got their people’s support and got it done.

The first rule of holes is, when you find yourself in one, stop digging. When approaching the edge of an abyss, the right move is retreat. Population growth and economic growth are not a matched set. Neither is an end goal. The end goal is a happy, healthy, informed citizenry living in harmony with nature.

 _________________

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.

As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.

Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. Please help if you can.

#RestorationGeneration

“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”
 — Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

Want to help make a difference while you shop in the Amazon app, at no extra cost to you? Simply follow the instructions below to select “Global Village Institute” as your charity and activate AmazonSmile in the app. They’ll donate a portion of your eligible purchases to us.

How it works:
1. Open the Amazon app on your phone 
2. Select the main menu (=) & tap on “AmazonSmile” within Programs & Features 
3. Select “Global Village Institute” as your charity 
4. Follow the on-screen instructions to activate AmazonSmile in the mobile app

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