Monday, September 17, 2012
Our scientific, technological and modern world is built on a strong belief in the autonomy of the natural system and the unbounded resourcefulness of science and technology as tools to understand the universe. This belief has brought us the nuclear threat, pollution, defoliation and a ravaged wilderness, all symptoms of an environmental crisis that puts the very existence of the human race and life on earth in jeopardy. It is time for a new relationship with nature, one motivated by equity, liberation and harmony.
The golden age of science that ushered in the industrial revolution began with Copernicus who set in motion a series of inquiries that culminated over 300 years ago with the publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. Methods of scientific explanation spread widely, permeating the social fabric of Western Society and the globe. Science would free us from the burdens of scarcity and help us conquer nature. Our productivity and consumption would increase. It certainly did, and we are now in an age of bondage to materialism and estrangement from each other, where middle class sensibilities motivated by self interest have brought us to the environmental precipice.
We are working harder and craving more in an effort to fulfill an internal emptiness which no level of material consumption can satisfy. The priority assigned to production must be de emphasized if we are to deal successfully with the ruin that our technical society has bestowed on us.
Our technology, dominated as it is by a Newtonian mechanistic paradigm that emphasizes quantity over quality, fails to recognize the elementary law of matter based on the second law of thermodynamics which says that any productive process is simply an irrevocable and irreversible transformation of low entropy into high entropy: in other words, the greater the level of activity, the less the availability of resources for the future.
It is regrettable that the field of Economics has not fully realized its entropic nature and underpinnings. It might have warned that bigger is not always better. The world, intoxicated with the idea of consumption, measures progress in quantifiable terms. A larger gross domestic product must go hand in hand with a “better” standard of living. Our strong identification with material consumption has led to misguided, false and even sacrilegious principles for economic development that are based on the central role that capital is expected to play in the transformation of a traditional society to an industrial one. The phrase “Economic Development” is itself culturally imperialistic because it denotes a specific pattern of consumption, production and behavior that is to be aspired to by all regardless of whether qualitatively the new level of aspiration is desirable. Growth-mania is a concept that is predicated on an anthropocentric view where everything is sacrificed for the attainment of growth even though the process may be built on greed and hedonistic acquisitiveness, a lack of meaning and purpose and with no distinction made between good and bad. This spirit of greed was best captured by J.S. Mill when he said: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer than other men”. Neither the welfare of generations to come nor the irreparable deterioration of our delicate ecosystem are issues in our economic growth models. That threatens us all with a horrific future.
Nonetheless, an economic system is shaped by the mores and values of society, and there lies our hope for the future. We must change our values and adopt a new paradigm that respects Earth, looks to the future and concerns itself with equity and sharing. We must go outside the realm of science and examine what kind of economic and political order should prevail.
A society cognizant of the law of entropy would reallocate finite resources towards socially and environmentally responsible uses. The more we use our resources the less we will have for the future. Anthropocentric visions need to be modified and developed to teach an eschatology that liberates and makes progress meaningful. No level of activity, economic or otherwise, is justifiable unless it is simultaneously sustainable. We must learn to respect and protect nature since we are part of it and not apart from it. It is only then that we will be imbued with the high sense of ethics that is a prerequisite for correcting our environmental transgressions.
The environmental crisis has given us a future of uncertainty. Let that challenge us to introduce hope into our models by adopting:
(1) Consumption habits that can promote sustainability by putting to rest the infatuation with economic growth.
(2) Eliminate dependence on fossil fuels in an effort to contain the damage done through global warming.
(3) Preserve ecological diversity by protecting the intrinsic rights of all specie.
(4) Adopt measures that will prevent the human population from any further growth.
Unless the above are to be incorporated into our global policies and models then humanity will be looking towards a future with no hope. And that will be tragic.
And finally, dear reader, ask yourself the question whether the current political, social economic , demographic and environmental policies of any country in the world are sustainable?
Monday, September 10, 2012
Those of us who live in NYC or at least visit regularly will have soon to face the new proposed restrictions on the size of sugary drinks that one can order at city regulated food establishments. If you are used to having a 32 oz soda with your pizza pie or a 54 oz container of non diet soda with your hamburger then you have to find a different way to get your fix. Nothing larger than 12 ounces from here on. Do you know that the 54 ounce "cup" is almost 2 liters. I can still remember when the Pepsi and Cola bottles used to be only 6 ounces and no one complained.
Is mayor Bloomberg making the NYC government into a nanny state? Does he have the right to do so or should the citizens take the matter into their own hands and refuse to abide by these regulations? This is not a simple question with an easy answer. Did the state have the right to tax cigarettes and pass motorcycle helmet laws? If you answered yes then why not tax sugary drinks? They are just as harmful and some would suggest even more harmful to the national health than the bicycle helmet laws. If the state does not have the right to prevent us from "killing" ourselves slowly but surely through obesity then does it have the right to mandate recycling? What about mandating levels of emissions and protecting forests and rivers forexample.
Watch the following short video clip that was prepared by NBC:
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
But Heather Coleman, Oxfam’s senior climate policy adviser, sees this (ever-so-thin) overlap of (ever-so-tenuous) agreement as an opportunity. “Those of us who are truly aware of the impacts of climate change find it appalling that climate change could be used as a laugh line,” Coleman said in a Skype interview. “[But] there’s a lot more that needs to be done and I think we can all come together on this issue of agriculture.”
A new Oxfam report released today hopes to close this understanding gap between climate change and global food prices, arguing previous research grossly underestimates future food prices by ignoring the impact of severe weather shocks to the global food system.
The report, “Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices,” argues current research paints only some of the picture by relying on steady increase in temperatures and precipitation. To get a more accurate picture, researchers threw down wild cards — the crazy weather events like droughts, hurricanes, and floods we’ve come to increasingly expect — to “stress-test” the system. They’ve come up with some disturbing numbers. Let’s start with the base-level expectations: The average price of staples like corn could more than double in the next 20 years worldwide compared to 2010 numbers, with rises in temperature and precipitation accounting for up to half of that increase. Then, add the extreme events which researches warn will cause shortages and destabilized markets, risking of a repeat of the 2007-8 food crisis that rocked Africa’s poorest. That crisis contributed to an 8 percent jump in the number of underfed people in Africa.
Here are the scenarios Oxfam outlines as possible superchargers of world hunger by 2030:
The report arrives during a week in which the U.N.’s three food agencies put out a joint statement issuing a warning to tackle food prices now or risk the third food crisis in four years. “Until we find the way to shock-proof and climate-proof our food system, the danger will remain,” the U.N. said. Expect a week of foodie data: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is releasing fresh household food security numbers, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is expected to update numbers on how the U.S. drought is impacting global food prices.
Watch Coleman discuss findings from the new Oxfam report:
This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.