18 February 2006

The big World Bank news is that the World Bank itself has announced that Latin America needs to cut poverty to boost growth. This has inspired lively commentary on The Economist's View, and Majikthise seems to regard this as a positive development. Machination.org mentions it briefly. Opinions Nobody Asked For offers this insight: "It won't last long - they'll be back to keeping third-world countries under mountains of debt before you know it. It's nice to dream, though."

A google search on the term "World Bank" has also turned up this blog. I would rate it as worthy of bookmarking -- it has an article on sustainability, and one of the primary concerns of anyone concerned with the vocabulary of "sustainability" (a loaded word indeed) should be the debunking of the way the academy would like to chop up the world into "factors" which can then be analyzed separately, maintaining the jobs of statisticians while posing no threat to the existing system. This is what the whole statistics profession is about -- trying to make inferences as to what is probable using "data" that have not been conceptually analyzed in anything approximating a thorough manner.

If, for instance, you take a look at the blog's critique and the study and its citation of the Yale team's response to critics, you can see how an even more radical path is possible. For instance, this give-and-take:

Critique: Measuring relative performance is meaning-less if all countries are essentially on unsustainable trajectories.

Response:It is true that no country appears to be on a truly sustainable path. But relative perform-ance is nevertheless an important thing to measure.

The Yale team's response here has accomodated a certain resignation to the inability of their measures to get at the problem they claim to assess. The problem with measuring sustainability, of course, is a matter of identifying causes of unsustainability. If national entities, i.e. "countries," are not the only, or even the primary, causes of unsustainability, then mathematical play with the "factors" as measured within each country is likely to get us further from, rather than nearer to, a determination of what causes unsustainability.

16 February 2006

The good liberals at commondreams.org, echoing the good liberals at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, rightly decry the proposed Federal selloff of public lands, but portray it as the Bush Administration's digging a hole even deeper. A greater wisdom, however, recognizes that economic reality and environmental sentiment are more fundamentally at odds. Capital, the force behind the Bush Administration, will continue to accumulate wealth until all the world is consumed for its profit-lust, and consuming the national forests is only one way of doing that. "Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!" said Marx. Expect some future, mellower Administration to sell off these same lands with little public outcry.

15 February 2006

Kurt Cobb of Resource Insights makes the obvious point that the colder areas of the globe will indeed not be aided by global warming, as climate change occurs on a scale too rapid to permit of natural adaptation.

I'd like to suggest that, in dealing with global warming, one of the best things we can do is to create nomadic education programs to spread both words and trees... fruit trees are a carbon-dioxide reducer as well as an immediate, transportation-free source of food...

And since the Australian Peak Energy blog notes an increase in nuclear power subsidy, we should review the evidence surrounding the availability of nuclear-power-accessible uranium (and not just uranium per se: some uranium does not have the EROEI to be meaningful as a source of energy). David Fleming argues that there is enough uranium to supply the world with electricity for four years.

The standard green solution to the coming energy crisis, the correct one in my opinion (echoed by Fleming himself), is to use less energy. The main problem with the implementation of such solutions as are offered by the Flemings of the world, however, is that the "Lean Economy" vision, thus proposed, seems to run contrary to the trajectory of history. Here's how it plays out: today, we are stuck in a historical trajectory characterized by the triumph of neoliberalism, while the future of planetary resources being coerced by that triumph suggests a total failure of said neoliberalism and an entirely different economy altogether. We are, in short, headed full speed down a cul-de-sac. Fleming's version is as follows:
All civilisations crash. In the end, the political economy flips into a quite different, lightweight, decentralised order requiring a drastically reduced quantity of goods and services, minimal transport and much less specialisation. In response, people and localities start to provide most of what they need for themselves. This is the inevitable sequel to the closing stages of a civic society.

In the past, those closing stages have led to a collapse into dark ages, with the population, as the Venerable Bede put it, being "cut down, like ripe corn". I would argue that the sooner we start to build distributed, decentralised, broadly competent local economies, the more realistic they become: the less the pain; the less the grief; the greater the prospects of evolution beyond the market economy - making something of what we have inherited, and building on it.
The great contradiction of all this, however, is that "distributed, decentralised, broadly competent local economies" existed already in much of the world until recently. It is mainly the relatively recent phenomenon of triumphant neoliberalism that needs to be prevented from destroying what the David Flemings of the world would otherwise already have to defend.

This can only happen, I here argue, if the "distributed, decentralised, broadly competent local economies" of the world are put on a communal basis. Only if all participants (and not just a small owning class within the population) have a vested interest in sustainable economic formations will such formations survive socially. Are we to expect the great multitudes of humanity to spend their life fighting the high-consumption corporate system only in order to end up with permanent subservience to an "ecologically-friendly" owning class, amidst the same old poverty?

14 February 2006

Of course the public schools in America are problematic, with how they teach young people to write empty essays full of vague platitudes while getting them to hate reading and classroom discussion. But before that can be changed (keeping the ultimate goal in mind of preparing America for democracy), the test-taking frenzy needs a coalition against. Here is Gary Orfield's sally against the No Child Left Behind act. Orfield, for those who don't know him, is Jonathan Kozol's favorite researcher...

and, speaking of education, here is the origin of the internet term "spam," so I do not want my students complaining anymore that they do not know this stuff...

13 February 2006

James Howard Kunstler tells us:
The failure to lead in this country now includes all the major fields of enterprise and resolves into a general and total failure of authority that threatens to drag us into darkness. Leaders in politics, business, the news media, science, medicine, education, and the organized religions have all failed to prepare the public for the hardships that will attend a global energy crisis supercharged by climate change, disorder in the financial markets, and almost certainly more war.
The rest of his post substantiates all this, though in the end, he argues:
When the public finally discovers how they have been let down or played by these leaders, there will be a convulsion more severe than the one that tore this country apart in 1861.

This would certainly be a felicitous conclusion to the mass-delusion problem currently experienced by the United States. But it is unlikely for two reasons:

1) What Gramsci called "organic intellectualism" is today in the same state of decline as the "intelligentsia" that Kunstler excoriates. Very few people are putting the pieces together in anything approximating a serious fashion. Institutional education has become of little consequence toward enlightenment anymore, as the public schools crank out test-takers while the college population is obsessed with the market value of its degree efforts.

2) Continued confidence in our existing consumer society continues for the same reason the US dollar is still the world's pre-eminent currency: there's no place else to go. Create a transformative alternative, and people will go there.

In short, the whole of society is still on a "capitalist development" path, and the "failure of leadership" is only a symptom of the direction seleced by that society. Those of us in the know are merely not going in a favored direction.

Meanwhile, anticipating an assets freeze, Syria has started to dump its dollars for Euros. Financial collapse looms closer...

Furthermore, a raging debate has morphed onto Swans as regards Venezuela...

12 February 2006


From this report:
Some scientists have been reluctant to talk about the overall global warming effect of all the greenhouses gases taken together, because there is another consideration - the fact that the "aerosol", or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming.

As Professor Shine stresses, there is enormous uncertainty about the degree to which this is happening, so making calculation of the overall warming effect problematic. However, as James Lovelock points out - and Professor Shine and other scientists accept - in the event of an industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, and then the effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together would suddenly be fully felt.
So industrial pollution keeps the world from frying. I imagine Dana Carvey as the Church Lady at this point: "Well isn't that special?"