Sunday 30 January 2011

For perspective ...

(take two giant-steps back.)
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.

Be it resolved that building an environmentally sustainable society will require an end to economic growth.

Peter VictorTim JacksonRichard LipseyPaul EkinsPeter Victor, Tim Jackson, Richard Lipsey, & Paul Ekins had this 'debate' (it was really less a debate than a serious discussion among experts) at the University of Ottawa on January 20. Here is the webcast - do not be dismayed, there is no sound in the first few minutes - best to skip to about minute 25; and you may have to download & install Microsoft Silverlight as well.

There is now an improved webcast here.

Peter Victor and Tim Jackson are the real meal deal. Get their books and read them:

Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster (at

Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (at EarthScan), but in k-k-Canada you are better off to order it by phone from University of Toronto Press Distribution (UTP) at 1-800-565-9523 or 416-667-7791.

Or from the Toronto Public Library:

Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster.

Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet.

What more can I say?

Hahaha ... here's a footnote - I started a discussion over at Rabble, read it and weep. Quelle blague!

Lester BrownHere is the Preface to Lester Brown's World on the Edge (2010). The whole thing is available here.

This Lester Brown deserves our respect and honour. He sees it all clear as can be and yet he keeps his head up. At one point I thought he was a pollyanna - I was mistaken.

God love him.

(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.)(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.)(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.)

Jodie SmithTemperance UnionWe never thought we'd get very old. We thought we'd sit forever in fun, but our chances really was a million to one. (Bob Dylan's Dream, 1963)

'Reality' TVNow people just get uglier and I have no sense of time. (Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, 1966)
The party’s over and there’s less and less to say. I got new eyes; everything looks far away. (Bob Dylan, Highlands, 1997)

1997?! Man! Has it been that long?

'Djing' from Miss Jodie, and 'yeezy' from Folasade ... turns out 'yeezy' is just a nickname for Kanye West, too bad - it's a good word and should be more than that - there is a hint of yeast in it.

Very k-k-Canadian of me. :-)Looking at this mess I see that I will have to explicitly exclude Miss Jodie & Folasade from any such nonsense as The Bad Girl's Club. I was sort of trying to lay out the four corners of a square montage in time & space - and it has obviously not been successful so now I have to go on and talk about it. Means & extremes you see; with the Bad Girl's Club & the Women's Temperance Union playing the parts of the extremes; and Miss Jodie & Folasade (admirable young women both, in my estimation) as the means. It has not come off at all ... oh well.
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Schwing! :-)
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Schwing!

Northrop Frye wrote:
In interviews I am almost invariably asked at some point whether I feel optimistic or pessimistic about some contemporary situation. The answer is that these imbecile words are euphemisms for manic-depressive highs and lows, and that anyone who struggles for sanity avoids both. (The Double Vision, Chapter 2);
and somewhere else, more left-brain:
Antitheses are usually resolved, not by picking one side and refuting the other, or by making eclectic choices between them, but by trying to get past the antithetical way of stating the problem. (sorry, no reference);
but Frye lived in Toronto after all and was pretending to be unnaturally reasonable (as they all still do in Toronto); ... He did loosen up a tad towards the end:
There is nothing so unique about death as such, where we may be too distracted by illness or sunk in senility to have much identity at all. In the double vision of a spiritual and a physical world simultaneously present, every moment we have lived through we have also died out of into another order. Our life in the resurrection, then, is already here, and waiting to be recognized. (The Double Vision, Chapter 4, last few sentences).
Imagine! Putting a modifier on 'unique'!

But ... getting back for just a sec to 'euphemisms for manic-depressive highs and lows' ... some of those of us who can survive the basketball dribble bounce of manic-depression and even thrive on it (what doesn't kill you makes you stronger ... they say) ... well, us nutters gets to see the extremes as well as the means y'see; and often enough and repetitively enough to come to a certain appreciation of it as 'spectrum'. And if it ends up in a kind of atheistic stall; them's the breaks.

Steve Smith knew he was dying of cancer when he wrote God's Kaleidoscope:
when my speck of green
first turned the brown of Job's dunghill
I looked up to curse
but then I saw
that in God's eye
all turns are just as beautiful.

(quoted here from memory, and here and
here - but I have a copy coming in the mail and when it arrives I will correct this if need be)
So ... he got to the same place - all turns are just as beautiful.

(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.)(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.)(Keep in mind that this is just a small piece of one particular spectrum.) (Eh?)

The problem with correctitude is not always, or not even most of the time, that the pronouncements (and non-pronouncements) are not desirable - but that ... what?

Ballard StreetI have not even scratched the surface of my trite and limited insights into spectrum. I will leave it to you.

Consider the narrow reality of the political spectrum - what are the differences between the Democrats & Republicans in America? Between Conservatives & Liberals & the New Baptist Party & even the Green Party of k-k-Canada? Not very much. How much of this left-right spectrum is occupied? Not very much.

Or consider a two axis spectrum such as the christian cross; and from there the multi-dimensional axes in the arguments of Charles Taylor.

Consider the media as they make meaningless mountains of molehills.

Consider Sarah Palin running against Michele Bachmann for high & powerful office.

Peter Kent is just a puppet mouthpiece for a paranoid power freak. Oh well. Barack Obama spends too much time reading stuff from teleprompters. He's afraid to make a mistake I guess. Oh well.

If he will not other wayes confesse, the gentle tortures are to be first usid unto him, & sic per gradus ad ima tenditur. (King James I, referring to Guy Fawkes, November 1605)

I was built on a Friday and you can't fix me, you can't fix me, you can't fix me. I was built on a Friday and you can't fix me; even so I've done ok. (Bruce Cockburn, Mystery, or have a listen on YouTube)
Next week maybe it will be Sturm und Drang, Fugue, Berserkers, who knows what-all? Meanwhile gentle reader, be well.


Last week I was having fear & trembling around what I said here, so I thought about it and then went ahead - the organizers are pretentious numbskulls; but this week I am gobsmacked over this.

My little brain has a hard time walking around patterns. Maybe it is time to close the blog for good.

Queues de CastorRCMP on duty in Davos.I'm from the government and I'm here to help you.Pierrot le fou


1. World on the Edge, Lester Brown, 2010.

World on the Edge, Lester Brown, 2010.


When I meet old friends and they ask, “How are you?” I often reply, “I’m fine; it’s the world I am worried about.” “Aren’t we all” is the common response. Most people have a rather vague sense of concern about the future, but some worry about specific threats such as climate change or population growth. Some are beyond questioning whether civilization will decline if we continue with business as usual, and instead they are asking when this will occur.

       In early 2009, John Beddington, chief science advisor to the U.K. government, said the world was facing a “perfect storm” of food shortages, water scarcity, and costly oil by 2030. These developments, plus accelerating climate change and mass migration across national borders, would lead to major upheavals.

       A week later, Jonathon Porritt, former chair of the U.K. Sustainable Development Commission, wrote in the Guardian that he agreed with Beddington’s analysis but that the timing was off. He thinks the crisis “will hit much closer to 2020 than 2030.” He calls it the “ultimate recession” — one from which there may be no recovery.

       These assessments by Beddington and Porritt raise two key questions. If we continue with business as usual, how much time do we have left before our global civilization unravels? And how do we save civilization?

       World on the Edge is a response to these questions. As to how much time we have left with business as usual, no one knows for sure. We are handicapped by the difficulty of grasping the dynamics of exponential growth in a finite environment — namely, the earth. For me, thinking about this is aided by a riddle the French use to teach schoolchildren exponential growth. A lily pond has one leaf in it the first day, two the second day, four the third, and the number of leaves continues to double each day. If the pond fills on the thirtieth day, when is it half full? The twenty-ninth day. Unfortunately for our overcrowded planet, we may now be beyond the thirtieth day.

       My sense is that the “perfect storm” or the “ultimate recession” could come at any time. It will likely be triggered by an unprecedented harvest shortfall, one caused by a combination of crop-withering heat waves and emerging water shortages as aquifers are depleted. Such a grain shortfall could drive food prices off the top of the chart, leading exporting countries to restrict or ban exports — as several countries did when prices rose in 2007-08 and as Russia did again in response to the heat wave of 2010. This in turn would undermine confidence in the market economy as a reliable source of grain. And in a world where each country would be narrowly focused on meeting its own needs, the confidence that is the foundation of the international economic and financial systems would begin to erode.

       Now to the second question. What will it take to reverse the many environmental trends that are undermining the world economy? Restructuring the economy in time to avoid decline will take a massive mobilization at wartime speed. Here at the Earth Policy Institute and in this book, we call this massive restructuring Plan B. We are convinced that it, or something very similar to it, is our only hope.

       As we think about the ecological deficits that are leading the world toward the edge, it becomes clear that the values generating ecological deficits are the same values that lead to growing fiscal deficits. We used to think it would be our children who would have to deal with the consequences of our deficits, but now it is clear that our generation will have to deal with them. Ecological and economic deficits are now shaping not only our future, but our present.

       Beddington and Porritt deserve credit for publicly addressing the prospect of social collapse because it is not easy to talk about. This is partly because it is difficult to imagine something we have never experienced. We lack even the vocabulary. It is also difficult to talk about because we are addressing not just the future of humanity in an abstract sense, but the future of our families and our friends. No generation has faced a challenge with the complexity, scale, and urgency of the one that we face.

       But there is hope. Without it this book would not exist. We think we can see both what needs to be done and how to do it.

       There are two policy cornerstones underlying the Plan B transformation. One is to restructure taxes by lowering income taxes and raising the tax on carbon emissions to include the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate change and air pollution, in fossil fuel prices. The amount of tax we pay would not change.

       The second policy cornerstone is to redefine security for the twenty-first century. The threats to our future now are not armed aggression but rather climate change, population growth, water shortages, poverty, rising food prices, and failing states. Our challenge is not only to redefine security in conceptual terms, but also to reallocate fiscal priorities to shift resources toward achieving the Plan B goals. These include reforestation, soil conservation, fishery restoration, universal primary school education, and reproductive health care and family planning services for women everywhere.

       Although these goals are conceptually simple and easily understood, they will not be easily achieved. They will require an enormous effort from each of us. The vested interests of the fossil fuel and defense industries in maintaining the status quo are strong. But it is our future that is at stake. Yours and mine.

Lester R. Brown
October 2010


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