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Archive for June, 2011

Full present contribution to humanity.

Vocations are odd these days. Most of us work for institutions, either businesses, government, schools, not-for-profit organizations. So much of the work that gets done is bureaucracy, created to protect society from abuse.  There are a few entrepreneurs serving members of the community.

An inventory of what people can offer:

  1. Time
  2. Skill
  3. Attention
  4. Money/capital

Working people have time, skill and attention to offer. They/we have to devote all three.

Affluent people have money, time, skill and attention to offer. They need not offer anything besides money. The contribution of time, skill and attention is voluntary, not a necessity. It takes persuasion/education to motivate them to use their time well, all things considered. We do live in somewhat of an aristocracy these days.

Preparation for future contribution to humanity.

Education (social capital) and funded (financial capital)

Education in the US in particular is an uphill struggle. The costs of education are high and increasing. Public funding for education is decreasing. All at a time, when the prerequisite education requirements are increasing. And, at a time, when the specific education needed for the globally competitive occupations are more obscure and divorced from day to day experience.

The effects of centralization of businesses serving a global marketplace more than a regional, has a detrimental affect on the prospect of on-the-job education (beyond training), in that the skillsets needed by those businesses are more divorced from day-to-day life. There are just fewer venues to learn in.

The modern world of investment is also odd. I read in a professional finance journal today (CFO Magazine), that the number of publicly traded companies is diminishing fairly considerably. (Many are going private – purchased by individuals and families. Many are going bankrupt. Many are being acquired by publicly traded companies and privately held companies and trusts.)  Much of current finance is speculation. Much is for business to business trade. Little is invested into productive activity.

There are multiple contributing factors to the investing trends. One significant one is the tax code, that rewards investment and speculation in pre-existing enterprise and securities over investment in productive.

A second contributing factor is the difficulty that local and regional businesses have in raising investment capital. The costs of soliciting funding are high and fixed. The cost of developing the documents to solicit a $5,000,000 capital drive are in the $100,000 range (2%). The costs of developing the documents to solicit a $1,000,000 capital drive are in the range of $50,000 (5%).

Regional businesses tend to seek smaller amounts of funding, of which a higher proportion goes to professionals and brokers, with a higher risk of failure of operations. All of the preliminary costs must be privately pre-funded.

Most businesses then must raise their capital by earnings or from family and close friends.

The “oxygen rich blood” just doesn’t get around much anymore.

Full enjoyment of this life, my own, my family’s, my friends and community.

The flipside of contribution, duty, effectiveness, is enjoyment. In Jewish life, the shabbot provides an opportunity to shift gears. No work at all on the seventh day. Universal permission to not even think about it.

Contemplate. Make love. Read. Sing. Eat. Sleep.

There is definitely enjoyment in one’s work. Those that are affluent and/or psychologically courageous or intoxicated have the opportunity to get to that place. Most working people, financially underwater relative to their needs, are far far less psychologically free to enjoy, and their enjoyment is colored by other concerns.

Work                                                                    Play/rest

Lets change these norms, so that work is more available, more fulfilling, more remunerative. And, so that there is room for and education for enjoyment.

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I spent the weekend in New York, in Brooklyn to be exact. Its a different world than I am used to. Greenfield, Massachusetts is much much quieter.

I saw much that I loved. I spent the weekend with family that were all loving, intelligent, active. While walking the streets of Park Slope, I passed two community gardens, the large Park Slope food cooperative, a block party (with jump ropers improvising their tempo to the rhythms of a roots bluegrass band, of all things).

I again was struck with the religious question of where we find reminders and socialization to be righteous, kind, thankful people. In Greenfield, MA, I look primarily to nature for those reminders. The ecology of a forest is an amazing example of cooperation between very very disparate species, comprising a dynamic collaboration, a unique culture if you will in each setting.

In the city, as the majority of what we see is people, people themselves and what people individually and collectively construct, is our reminder, how we interact.

I used to think that cities were impersonal, anonymous. That definitively isn’t the case. Brooklyn is a neighborhood. In walking down the street with my first cousin, she spoke with a dozen acquaintances all through our two-mile walk. Geographic. Not just disparate family and old friends, professional, or cyber connections.

Even getting lost crossing the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan, I had to navigate Chinatown (Canal Street). A very very different feel. My wife immediately declared she felt like we had arrived in Calcutta (where we originally met)., crowded, chaotic, stalls, animals.

People.

Our species is recent. Our purpose as individuals is largely driven by our species’ drives.

We’ve passed key turning points culturally as a species. The primary one that I consider important is the recognition articulated in various religious and philosophical traditions, that our purpose on the planet as individuals, cultures, species, is not only self-preservation (even cooperative preservation, even inter-species cooperation).

The question of purpose is still partially a mystery, an important question.

My own understanding is that it includes our survival as individuals, community, species. I understand that our purpose extends further to a distinct obligation to sanctify all of reality, instant by instant, setting by setting.

How do we do that?

Pretentiously? or quietly (in daily life)

Individually only? or culturally (both)

Similarly to one another? or uniquely (both)

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We organize about what is important, and what we can effect positively.

My preference: social well-being. Individual/families/communities/regions/macro-regions.

As I’ve written previously, I’m a gadfly on two prominent modern socio-environmental concerns.

1. Global warming – My feeling is that it is obviously occurring, and human induced, but that there is literally nothing that I or even a globally consented movement can accomplish to eliminate the introduction of excessive carbons into the atmosphere currently, or in the time frame of even my children’s lifetimes. The most that we can do currently is assist in the response to its symptoms, to think ahead, to be of help.

2. Peak oil – My understanding is that current oil price hikes are entirely driven by a near-fully consumed supply chain for oil with bottlenecks in refining and transportation, and virtually no current limitations due to well-head supply relative to demand. In between 20 and 40 years, the wellhead supply limitations might periodically comprise a real bottleneck.

What is the solution to a problem that isn’t in fact relevant? Its not even a question.

And, if the focus of organizing efforts is misguided, then the solution to those stimuli will also be misguided. A difficult example for me is the advocacy of nuclear power by some environmentalists and intellectuals like Stewart Brand and colleagues. They conclude that carbon toxins in the atmosphere are a primary problem, and in putting their minds to solving the problems they come up with what they believe is the least-worst solution – nuclear power.

My own evolution of social-environmental consciousness included first as a late teenager a sense that we were spoiling our nest, that we had made a beautiful world into an ugly one. I joined utopian efforts (real ones) to make a better world. In an attempt to proceed to pragmatism, from a utopian fantasy approach (communes), I sought to learn skills and to articulate arguments against the status quo, to persuade others to participate in creating new institutions with a critical mass to sustain as institutions and systems.

It was ultimately not successful. The needs to continue in the rat race, with existing partially successful options, was a better individual choice than to invest in new principles of economy that were still gambles.

Then the concept of global warming came along. We had already concluded that the world was screwed up, but didn’t have a measurement, a scientifically authoritative declaration. I/we new that car emissions were horrid. The global warming thesis was a global phenomena, not just utopian. It required international policy decisions to implement solutions.

Global warming became the reasoning to support “the world as it is must change”.

I’ve come to feel that the thesis is of a religious nature. Individuals that would achieve a simple life by eating together, carpooling, sharing a large house for their own merits, have been asked to first reference global warming as a conditional credo, a prerequisite to eating together, carpooling, or sharing a house.

So, I prefer a different primary motivation for doing ecological good.

I believe that there are real goals in the world that require attention, summarized as the effort to improve social welfare within an ecology so social scales. (Person, family, community, region, macro-region)

The concentration of wealth in society is a real problem. It renders the marketplace less of a responsive mechanism for optimizing the utilization of scarce resources. It relies on the fancies of a few families to direct capital to provide for all of the “blood-flow” of the economy. As money chases after dependable profits, it tends to invest where services are already developed. The concentrated wealth system is structurally designed to neglect locales and communities where capital is needed. It devalues the contributions of nature to services that humans must benefit from in favor of human-created services, and thereby then devalues rural value addition and life.

The creation of increasing masses of unassimilable toxins in the environment is a real problem. There is no downstream ultimately. In many locales where toxic wastes have been “successfully” dumped, that is no longer feasible. In the oceans for example, toxins have circulated widely, and even in parts per million of some substances have hindered reproduction, caused species-wide dysfunctional mutations, disturbed the food chain, and created larger and larger pockets of dead zones at the mouths of major river systems particularly that affect regional ecologies and the people that rely on them.

We’ve used much of key materials and have not instituted the degree of recycling required to continue to benefit from the use of those materials. Such formerly common materials as copper and zinc, that are used WIDELY in our industrial society are now scarce.

We overconsume. We’ve depleted fisheries, land, water, forests.

We have high fixed costs of living, including high debt.

The solution to these problems resemble the solutions are also solutions to issues of global warming, but solutions to global warming are not solutions to these overarching social problems.

I suggest that we emphasize comprehensive social welfare as our rallying cry, with the spirit of “enough”. When we’re confident that we’ve achieved a critical human need, lets be content individually and socially with enough, and move on.

By “comprehensive social welfare”, I mean the measuring of a person’s/family’s/community’s/region’s well-being per one of the comprehensive assessments systems now “on the market”, and then committedly endeavoring to improve social welfare imaginatively and synergistically.

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I saw Bill McKibben speak this week. A very natural, articulate, funny man.

But, I’m still a gadfly on global warming.

I’m not a gadfly on the fact that there is human induced global warming. That seems to me to be confirmed, true.

But, I’m a gadfly on the significance. In other words,  so what.

20,000 years ago, the site in Brattleboro that I saw Bill McKibben speak was under 6,000 ft of ice. Yes, 6,000 feet.

The planetary sea level was 300 feet lower than currently. Yes, 300 feet.

Between then and now, there was climate change.

All of the symptoms of extensive climate change that is posed as dangerous currently, occurred more severely in those 20,000 years. Mass extinctions from radical changes in habitat. Volatile storm activity. Forced migration of peoples.

The only thing that could be new is if the levels of carbon in the atmosphere will project the planet towards a venus-like positive feedback loop of warming.

I don’t see it. I don’t know of anyone that proposes that that is the case.

The earth is resilient.

Our current social institutions, that are based on a couple thousand years of what appears to be consistent climate, are threatened. Property rights as authoritative are difficult in a world in which hundreds of millions migrate. (Migration occurs from both direct and then secondary causes, a community forced to move displacing another, which is then forced to move which displaces another.)

There is a high likelihood of war. The period of international law asserting that our current borders and international political civil norms is permanent, isn’t in fact. Tribalism will grow in relevance, not decline in relevance.

There is an ecological danger of artificially delaying or eliminating the subsequent period of glaciation, but that has happened in the past, and the earth survived. Our great-grandchildren ^4500 generations could be screwed, if the warming prevents another cycle of glaciation.

The earth’s story is a very interesting one.

5 million years ago, the earth was warm everywhere and the differences in average temperature between equator and Arctic and Antarctic Circles was moderate, maybe 25 degrees F.

In contrast, between 4 million years ago and the present, there have been 30 recurring periods of glaciation, where there had been none for 70 million years.

What happened?

North America merged with South America.

Prior, there was open ocean near the equator leaving three paths for ocean circulation throughout the planet, Arctic, Antarctic, equator. The ocean was effectively open. There were large equalizing currents that transferred heat globally.

When North American and South America came close and then merged, the equatorial ocean exchanges disappeared, and the only places that the Atlantic met the Pacific was at the far Antarctic (at the tip of South America, intense) and at the far Arctic (if that).

Whereas there was limited seasonality prior, at that point seasonality became grossly distinct. The range in ocean temperature was no longer 40 – 65 degrees F, but 10 – 95 degrees F.

So, how did glaciation start? There are three planetary oscillations that effect climate on large scale. The actual affect on annual temperature is slight, but it occurs at the threshold between annual snow melting and annual snow accumulating, and in only a few locales on the planet.

The most pronounced oscillation is a shift in the shape of the earth’s orbit from close to circular to more elliptical. This shift accounts for the 100,000 year cycles of glaciation that have occurred repetitively. The change in tilt of the earth relative to the sun cycles every 41,000 years from 22 to 24.5 degrees, is the recurring stimulus to start the glaciation period within the background of a mostly circular orbit.

Its a little counter-intuitive. One would think that the more elliptical path and the larger tilt would favor a snow buildup, longer winter due to being further from the sun. The opposite is true. The periods when the earth’s orbit is more circular and when the earth’s tilt is less divergent are the times when glaciars start.

Two years in a row of snow cover is not a big deal. Ten years in a row even. But, 1000 years in a row of no full snow melt allows for glaciars to form, and then spread. At some point, the reflection of sunlight off of the snow cover back out to space creates a positive feedback loop (a snowball rolling downhill) that reduces the global absorption of sunlight (the opposite of a greenhouse effect).

40,000 years of full glaciation (varies).

It will happen again. Even if we continue to burn fossil fuels for another 300 years, the atmospheric carbon won’t likely reach the level that would permanently prevent another glaciation, and then we’ll be out of fossil fuels.  Carbon levels would decline again, and we’d have to adjust to another iteration of a glacial world.

It is a truth that if we consume all of the buried carbon (next 300 years) that we will literally NEVER have access to it again. We will have to live within our means of current solar input and current biomass production.

 

I’m not a gadfly on the benefits of a sustainable society and economy. Ironically, the same proposal that results in reduction in global warming, also results in a high quality of life. Sustainability. The complement best of the technological and the natural.

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