In a video I linked to previously, a visiting speaker gave a pretty rousing, if pessimistic, take on the current state of affairs in our lurch toward inalterable climate change, with added emphasis on how our renewable fuels development strategies are exacerbating the situation. He offered a pretty concrete demonstration of what happens when glaciers melt, using a chair and a table at the front of the room. It’s not like they slowly melt away to nothing over the course of eternity; instead, like a chair leaned against the end of a table, they reach a point, a tipping point, where their melting slide dissipates the friction holding it in place and allows the glacier to fall into the sea. Like the chair falling to the floor. Very dramatic.
Understanding them is simply one of the things you would expect of a highly developed civilization.
In a week or so, I’ll film and subsequently post an interview with one of the premier thinkers in the area of Ecological Network Theory. I’ve been refreshing on some of these ideas and they really… well, shed as much light on the mile-wide, inch-deep phenomenon of green as anything. Complexity is real, the science behind it is new and needs to be developed like chemistry and physics were.
Networks (like the one you’re reading on) are everywhere and they link us to everything. This is a new force in evolution, for a single species to have a global character to its selection and coming evolution. It has to do with holism, as different from reductionism or partness – something not well-understood but essential to this idea.
The nickel version (you get what you pay for) is that the problems of environmental complexity will not be solved by old methods. “Just not going to happen,” as the man said. We live in a world that selects for small problems – our scientists mostly do research only on well-defined problems. We need to develop this particular branch of science (ecology), and to develop the science, we need to develop the theory. And this, THIS, flies in the face of the nature of our can-do society right now.
Old capital must be invested in the development of new capital, for it’s own sake. When we do that – fund basic research – there are no guarantees about what we’ll find. It’s not supposed to “produce anything”, it’s supposed to learn and add increments of knowledge for its own sake. Meanwhile, we’re turning universities into vocational technical schools.
It all speaks of a course correction, in a language which puts higher order terms back into the thinking and looks at them more closely.
There was absolutely no single reason it had to turn out the way it has. There were many smaller reasons that shaped our path to now, which added up, are mostly still with us in one form or another.
In the long shadow of that most elegant document, we began to suffuse our fate with God’s, which is natural enough if you’re predisposed to delusions of grandeur. At least the Greeks lived in fear of their deities. But our cherry picking knew no limits, absolute or otherwise, for so long that coming up against some now is leading to quite a bit of confusion. Ah, now.
Running out of some things, ruining many others… were we not actually supposed to run roughshod over fish and fowl? Was that dominion-thingy some kind God-forsaken metaphor? You see how messy this can get. Antagonized by talk of external events like global warming and peak oil, many Christians among us just block it out as liberal politics. But I don’t mean to castigate them. I am curious about how we have connected our God-given rights to our license to plunder, and how, as this license seems to have expired, we plan to pivot toward a conservation-oriented policy.
I often consider and occasionally voice my consternation about the loss of imagination in our society. For the most part, because of my circle, this usually takes focus on people’s general inability to have opinions on the visual arts, especially painting. People are uncomfortable and search for simple meanings instead of considering the nasty possibilities right in front of them. The focus with painting is a basic unfamiliarity with the form, and the lack of comfort to decide whether something is good or not that typically ensues – the “I don’t know, so I can’t say” gambit. But the culprit-in-essence is collective experience: that we have abdicated thinking on an individual basis and need the validation of mass acceptance or rejection to filter any sort of experience. You can see how this would stand in the way of far more than simply appreciating Klee or Rothko.
Here is a very similar take from a different angle. The very limited sources from which people receive information make us all vulnerable to having our passions manipulated, simply because we have become passive and have lost the ability to follow basic plots. There is all kinds of recent evidence on this front. How would you know who was telling the truth or if they had a reason to lie to you if you weren’t doing your homework?
Making the shift to a sustainable society is going to be massive feat of imagination on many fronts; we simply cannot rely on others to make informed judgments on our behalf. It is a symbiosis of vigilance, in its way – Everyone with their eyes open keeps everyone honest. I know you work too much, you’re tired and you don’t have time – but these are the prices we pay to indulge such vices. All these time-saving devices are exhausting us. There is much yet required of us if we insist on living this way.
It is just a big volleyball match, after all. Just supply your own analogies for what is the net, the ball, and the score… because we ARE the players.
Underlying all of the re-contextualization of what we mean by green, however just, is a plain redefinition of the American way of life. It’s got to be fluid – the reason the word is useful is its very multi-purpose. The only way we can achieve that re-definition is to re-evaluate what is what and be clear about what is going to happen, and what we are going to do, hereby.
We can step through this gingerly, arms locked in solidarity, or we can drunkenly smash from one connection to the next, from 1876 to the Eisenhower’s prophetic admonitions to the post-suburban shift that already looks so much like yesterday. I’ll keep coy about my preference. But we should go ahead commit funds to new museums about how subdivisions were named for the things they replaced (Whispering Pines, Thousand Oaks, etc.) Ridicule as the path to redemption, and self-ridicule, at that. There’s gold in them hills.
Some stunts are usually called for, of course. We’re always looking for new ways to make the point.
Olympics television coverage has been a boon to advertising agencies who front for the big conglomerates, though some of the leaps border on the vertiginous. This may be doing for Green what the sundial did for time, but there’s more to like from the We campaign, mainly because it seems to assume a little more on the high side about our general intelligence and willingness to change our façon de vivre.
The inescapable marketing angles can have a positive effect, if we continually break their message down to the personal. Live close to work, get out of the car, realize how producing waste is built into our day-to-day and begin to eliminate it in the small ways that can become larger. But none of this is inevitable; we might find the best way, or we might continue to use the hour glass.
Some recent words about the Danes and energy independence brings into focus one or two of the tautologies that have us by the throat: That
Roughly speaking, in America when energy gets expensive quality of life declines. And Denmark has adopted policies that make energy expensive. Ergo, you might conclude that in Denmark quality of life is low. But in fact, Denmark is a rich and happy society in which people enjoy a great quality of life. The reason is that cheap energy over a prolonged period of time doesn’t buy you happiness — it buys you infrastructure that’s adapted to wasteful use of energy.
Yglesias goes on to hint at Green as a foreign policy issue, not just the nebulous, energy security aspect but also that we do not factor in the cost of wars as part of the way we subsidize our wasteful lifestyles.
And relatedly, from the Bob Costas interview with GWB during the Olympics Sunday evening (EST), amid all the pain caused by his every word choice Bush recalled going around Beijing on a bicycle in 1975. He marveled at how so much had changed since then, when everyone was on bikes, to now when, presumably many millions more are driving.
Still putting it all together, but with most precincts now closed in the East it looks like the wound is greatly self-inflicted. The thread running through the denial-shaped impulse to Green our way out of an increasingly disastrous set of consequences is the inclination toward stupid. We can, of course, attribute malevolence and run-of-the-mill skulduggery to the use of such tactics; but the acceptance of them is pure stupid.
This is strictly counter to the self-preservation mode of our tribal instincts. And it’s a potent combination – electing and re-electing people (especially in our humble state) who think so little of us that they can outright lie about any number of issues, knowing that a simple majority (no pun intended) will nod along all the way to the Diebold machine and back to their armchairs. That, plus the great pride taken in vilifying intelligence and sophistication as evil liberal attributes – these create the view to the straits we are in. I wanted to get out of the self-fulfilling prophecy business, but we can ask for no quarter where none is given… electing people to run the government who believe the government is incompetent… tasking people to deal with climate change who don’t believe it is real… following an education policy designed by those who do not believe evolutionary biology. Asking yourself to what degree people have internalized a staggering degree of absolute bullshit is beginning to resemble that question about who is the sucker in the room.
All this, and there is still a presidential candidate who believes he can win on the merits. Amazing.
Problem solved? As a writer of press releases about science and engineering research, I know personally that we shy away from using the term ‘Major Discovery’, but there it is in the headline. Seems you can add up some targeted federal funding, visionary thinking based on the fundamentals and some intuitive hunches et voila’… MIT reseachers hit upon a simple, highly efficient process for solar energy storage.
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.
As we’ve said, solar will be the only source that can address our energy needs and climate change.
Reading such an article, I wonder how much we even think about the consequences of the following:
Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.
There is more to this than merely imagining the situation as it exists. Explain it to yourself like you are a ten-year-old, and see how well you do. This is not a test or condescension, but an attempt to see how much of this we really understand. WALL·E did a great job of this, but we all need to challenge ourselves in this way.
Just to hear yourself explain the progress we have made on the back of energy supplied by fossil fuels – acknowledging* the reasons why it cannot continue – opens the door to reconciling its unforeseen consequences with a lower impact existence. Are we not smart enough to do this? And wouldn’t it be the next height of civilization?
*The amount of savvy required to continue to ignore all of this also being within our grasp may provide a wagering element for sporting types.