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|NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy|
Recently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?), she provided a wonderful description of her current explorations of the universe as an amateur astronomer. My post here is something that grew out of my initial comment to her on her blog.
What I enjoy most about being an amateur astronomer is learning about the Universe through a blended process of observing distant objects and then reading about those objects in the Wikipedia which is usually supplemented by a related episode of Astronomy Cast. It adds so much to my life to be able to look up through a telescope and view the Sombrero galaxy, to really take it in and ponder its existence. I wonder, who may be there and are they looking out in this direction? In my last viewing of that galaxy I spent nearly 30 minutes allowing my eyes to adjust and taking the time to notice the details. After a time of looking through the scope and seeing so many beautiful objects, supplemented by the research, I can say that now when I look up with my naked eyes I see it all very differently. There is now a deeper awareness brewing in me, fermenting knowledge, of the details and I more fully appreciate what I see and the emotions I experience as a result.
But of course we don’t explore this Universe alone do we? At the forefront we have a global community of scientists cooperating and collaborating and challenging one another through this amazing process we call science. This open community, based on finding the mistakes and correcting the theories and adding in the details as they are discovered with newer, better instrumentation, sets the example for how we can better get at the truth. It is a never ending process, an ongoing adventure and exploration of our Universe and one we can all take part in. Those of us that are not scientists have a role as well.
As citizens of our planet it is our responsibility to make our own effort to learn and to explore. It is our responsibility to reach out, to share and engage with one another and with the knowledge being produced. The internet is allowing for increased communication between the public and the scientific community. For those interested in astronomy and related fields there are the sites I mentioned a couple days ago: CosmoQuest, the Planetary Society and the Citizen Science Alliance, all of which have at their core mission an attempt to engage the public and even to create a space for them to participate. Most of these groups are also involved with Google+ hangouts which allow for real-time video conferencing with the scientists doing the work. If you can’t be around to watch live they are all archived on YouTube. For example, here’s the Planetary Society’s Channel.
It is perhaps one of the great failings of the past 60 years that we have come to think of ourselves as alone and with that we have come to feel isolated, alienated. In that kind of world it is easy to become fearful and when we live in a culture of fear and insecurity we tend to avoid failure. We avoid growth out of fear of failure and we avoid accepting our mistakes because to do so is to admit we are fallible.
Fortunately, for us, the Universe that we actually inhabit is not one in which we can ever be alone or alienated, at least not physically. We might come to feel separated and alone in our minds due to our perception and our culture, but as far as the reality of the physical Universe that we live in, we are all very much connected:
When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
It is natural for us to share what we know or think we know and it is natural for us to be curious. It is these natural desires, coupled with critical thought and the scientific method that we can lift ourselves up and, just as importantly, lift one another up. We have great challenges before us but in teaching one another and encouraging one another we can do remarkable things. In our cooperation we have the opportunity to co-create something beautiful: each other.
We truly are in this together. There is no such thing as alone in this Universe and the sooner we remember that, feel that, and understand that, the sooner we can get on being whole again. We are but one species sharing this planet sharing this cosmos. I did not know Kaleesha or her husband or children until just a couple months ago and am thankful to Bill (another of our community and local librarian) for sending them my way when they indicated interest in astronomy. As a result they have become an important part of our little outpost of science advocates in this out of the way rural community. As long as I’m expressing my appreciation I think I’ll also mention how happy I am to have connected to Frances, Russ, Angie and Karen, all humans with which I am grateful to have met since moving to this little corner of the Universe and who have shared the exploration with me.
I’ve always been a big fan of getting at the truth of things no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable we may be getting there. It’s something I’ve insisted on and many times in my life it has caused me a good bit of trouble. That said, I don’t feel I have much choice in the matter. It’s the activist and the radical in me. It is, perhaps sad, that insisting on the truth might, today, be considered radical. I suppose when you look at the definition of “radical” it does speak to the search for truth. According to the New Oxford American dictionary, radical is: “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”
In recent months my small town life got a bit rough in terms of some of my relationships. Specifically, those relationships which I’d developed with local conservatives. It was my intent to cross lines, to try to relate to my fellow humans as humans regardless of their political or cultural leanings. As a result, I’d gotten to be “friends” with quite a few folks that I tended not to agree with on many things. They knew and I knew those differences existed but we made a go of it. But eventually those differences presented themselves front and center and some of those friendships ended in turmoil.
What I am coming face to face with in rural Missouri is the hard truth that many rural residents are not comfortable with having their beliefs challenged, most notably their religious beliefs. Some are able to co-exist with science and accept the possibility that their belief in a higher power can be retained along with an acceptance of science. Others don’t seem able to bridge the gap but tend to remain neutral. Some are resistant to the point of hostility.
I have pondering for some time what seems to be an innate tension that exists between religion and science. This is a very real and very serious problem and manifests itself in important and basic elements of science education, namely the teaching of the Big Bang, evolution and climate science. Creationism and intelligent design (a version of creationism promoted by the Discovery Institute) are not, in any way, valid alternatives to evolution. Nor does the fundamentalist Christian community provide any kind of explanation or description of the origin of the universe and yet, they have established an influence in public education on this as well. While the U.S. has downgraded and simplified math and science education other countries are making great progress.
My intent here is to explicitly advocate for science literacy and reason. Evolution, the Big Bang, climate change are all areas of science that have been, to a great degree, settled. While there are many in this and other rural areas who do understand the importance of science as a method for understanding the world and as a basis of progress, there are many who do not. A part of the problem comes from the churches, from organized religion who are crossing lines in terms of social and political advocacy which cannot be tolerated. Another part of the problem is the confused and sloppy thinking that comes from religious belief. I would argue that religion, as it is based on faith, actually requires a level of rejection of reason and the scientific method. At the core, science is the search for truth while religion is advocacy of a belief in something that can never be shown to be true.
I’d like to explicitly support a few organizations that are doing important work that you can support and in some cases actually participate in via citizen science projects.
CosmoQuest is one of my favorites. From their website:
Our goal is to create a community of people bent on together advancing our understanding of the universe; a community of people who are participating in doing science, who can explain why what they do matters, and what questions they are helping to answer. We want to create a community, and here is where we invite all of you to be a part of what we’re doing.
There are lots of ways to get involved: You can contribute to science, take a class, join a conversation, or just help us spread the word by sharing about us on social media sites.
Like every community, we are constantly changing to reflect our members. This website will constantly be growing and adding new features. Overtime, we’re going to bring together all the components of a research learning environment (aka grad school), from content in the form of classes, resources, and a blog, to research in the form of citizen science, to social engagement through a forum, social media, and real world activities.
Another is the National Center for Science Education.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents, and concerned citizens working to keep evolution and climate science in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific and educational aspects of controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and climate change, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. Our 4500 members are scientists, teachers, clergy, and citizens with diverse religious and political affiliations.
Last but not least is The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan and currently headed by Bill Nigh.
The Planetary Society sponsors projects that will seed innovative space technologies, nurture creative young minds, and be a vital advocate for our future in space.
Why we do it
Our Mission is to create a better future by exploring other worlds and understanding our own.
Current projects include:
- Fighting for funding in Congress
- Developing new technologies to deflect asteroids
- Hunting for Earth-like planets
- Searching for intelligent life in the Universe
- Creating a global network of EarthDials
- And flying our very own solar sail spacecraft, Lightsail-1.
The Zooniverse began with a single project, Galaxy Zoo , which was launched in July 2007. The Galaxy Zoo team had expected a fairly quiet life, but were overwhelmed and overawed by the response to the project. Once they’d recovered from their server buckling under the strain, they set about planning the future!
Galaxy Zoo was important because not only was it incredibly popular, but it produced many unique scientific results, ranging from individual, serendipitous discoveries to those using classifications that depend on the input of everyone who’s visited the site. This commitment to producing real research – so that you know that we’re not wasting your time – is at the heart of everything we do.
Real Science Online
The Zooniverse and the suite of projects it contains is produced, maintained and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. The member institutions of the CSA work with many academic and other partners around the world to produce projects that use the efforts and ability of volunteers to help scientists and researchers deal with the flood of data that confronts them.
My favorite thus far is Planet Hunters which I have participating in. It’s very easy and exciting to know that I’m actually doing some of the preliminary work required to find planets around distant stars.
Of course there are others but these are the ones I wanted to mention today.
Specifically my personal future and also thinking a bit about this blog. I’ve obviously not been very consistent with updates. Honestly, I put some of the blame for that on Facebook. I’m sure I am not the only one who spends too much time there. While it is great for sharing I thing the downside is that much of that sharing is just reposting. I am also leery of so much content being under one roof so to speak.
So, still here. With the crazy heat and drought of this past summer my garden suffered as did the many trees and bushes I put in over the past four years. That said, almost all of my perennials survived even if they didn’t thrive. Luckily the veggie garden was, by chance, smaller. The climate future looks increasingly scary for those of us that want to eat food, wink wink.
As for my project here, it will continue for the time being though I struggle to remain enthusiastic with the annual veggies. Something about three months of intense drought and heat seems to make my garden time outside a bit less enjoyable. Our well is shallow which means I either need to haul water from the lake or invest several thousand into a new well. Climate change is ugly.
So, I’m thinking that it is time to add in a new element of activity which reflects a new interest (actually a childhood/life interest that has been sitting in a corner of my mind): astronomy! Well, science in general, but astronomy especially. While I have no intention of abandoning the permaculture work I think having another primary activity is a good thing and in the winter when growing is out I’ll have something very interesting to explore, namely, our universe.
Which brings me back to one my thoughts on the blog. I’ve not been consistent in writing about my permaculture/homestead efforts but do think I might be more consistent in reporting on my astronomical explorations as it is the sort of interest that lends itself to data collection and reporting. Should I do that here as a supplement to my other interests or do I start an astronomy based blog? Actually, I think I just sorted it out as I write. I’ll keep it here but will not just add in my astronomical observations but will also add in other science related material.
Actually, and don’t laugh, but I have this vision of humanity (or myself?) that connects to a few episodes/films from Star Trek that have always stuck with me. In particular, those which seem to showcase small, egalitarian villages in which science seems to not only co-exist with daily life, but informs a deeper and greater understanding of the relationship between humans and nature and the larger universe. Contrast this to our modern manifestation which seems to have largely become a tool for corporate profit with little regard to ethics. A great example would be GMOs and modern industrial agriculture as it might compare to a decentralized permaculture-based system informed by local and thoughtful observation.
One outlook, the modern corporate/capitalist/industrial, uses science primarily as a tool for the accumulation of wealth. The other uses science as a method for deepening our understanding of the natural world around us not just for technological development, but for the sake of understanding. In this second outlook the ethics of use would be an important part of the overall process and would include all sorts of new questions and concerns in any sort of possible application of scientific knowledge. In fact, one might say that the second view represents a kind of democratization of applied science.
Wow. I didn’t expect to take this post in this direction but it is interesting and it is something I’ve thought about off and on over the years so, yeah, I’ll be back to this at some point. Another area that I’d like to explore is science literacy and critical thought. There has been a long trend in the U.S. which seems to be gaining a bit of steam when, in fact, it should be losing steam and that is the movement against science. Such a movement can only happen when there is a lack of communication of knowledge. When people are ignorant of established scientific knowledge and the basic method which serves as its foundation there is room for manipulation.
So, you can expect that I’ll be spending some time discussing not just science but specifically science literacy. I’m not a trained scientist but I think I know enough to discuss some issues as a citizen. Specifically I’m likely to dig into the entwined relationship of politics, religion and global capitalism have been used to undermine science literacy to further their capacity as control agents: social, political, economic, ecological… everything from the genetics of corn to humans, from crowd control to the “entertainment” that comes out of the glowing screens in living rooms. Science and technology can be used in many ways for many different and often opposing agendas. I think that will be some interesting exploration.
There is also some real life stuff I’m hoping to make happen that reflects all of this, specifically a few ideas for how I might further science literacy here in rural Missouri where it is greatly needed. I’ll share that as well.
…I would like to believe that Americans, when pushed to their limits, would rise up en mass against the corporate greed that holds them in check. But it seems this would have happened before now.
When I survey the rape of the American psyche that transpired over the past nine years, I wonder: have We, the People, become the victims of domestic violence? Just as a battered wife stays in her place, does not question her husband, does not try to protect herself or flee the abusive situation, have we become so accustomed to the abuse of our perceived authority figures that we are unable to entertain notions of standing up for ourselves? We must remember that we pay the salaries of the people who abuse us. We can choose to cut off our financial support, thus rendering the batterers impotent. But this sort of revolution is even harder to imagine than the sort with arms. The people who would most benefit from a revolution are too busy feeding their families to start one. Those who can afford to fight don’t care enough about the cause to do so. They are comfortable and complacent – as long as they have their numbing substances of choice on hand.
I have become disheartened. ‘What then must we do?’
I disagree with the idea that this is a problem which has developed over the past nine years but I agree with the general idea. I think we’ve gotten ourselves into a cultural, behavioral rut so deep that we have no idea how to get out. We’re terrified of what it might mean for our comfortable but degraded lives. Our political system was stolen several decades ago and has since been controlled by corporate capitalism. Whether the party in control is Democrat or Republican is irrelevant, the two party facade is just a distraction, a news-network soap opera.
Sadly, we’ve become twisted perversions of the citizenry we one were striving to be. We’ve allow ourselves to be remade into hyper consumers obsessed with the latest gadgets and the lives of celebrities or ranking of sports teams. We traded away meaningful lives lived in the context of community, seeking our to develop our better selves. Instead of helping one another develop to our fullest potential we accepted a bribe of cheap thrills and trinkets from China.
It’s been awhile since I pointed folks to any of my favorite blogs and when I came across this quote over at the Automatic Earth I thought I’d remedy that. First, from this post at the above mentioned site:
Joe Bageant has something to add to that picture:
Speaking of motives, there are those who worry about an American
authoritarian police state one day rounding folks up, shuffling them off to
geographically remote camps, such as the Department of Homeland
Security’s scattered FEMA Camps. But physical geography isn’t the only
geography. There is geography of the mind too, where another kind of
hellish internment may be conducted.
One without razor wire or sirens but surely as confining and in its own
way, as soul chilling as any concentration camp. One with plenty to eat
and filled with distractions and diversions enough to drown out the
alarms and sirens that go off inside free men at the scent of
tyranny. If a round up of Americans is real, then it began years ago. And as far as I can tell, everyone went peacefully, each one alone, like
children, whose greatest concern on that day when the gates were closed,
was the absence of Ranch flavored Pringles.
As someone who has spent most of the past 18 years outside of the american mainstream I can say that Bageant nailed that perfectly. Chomsky called it the manufacturing of consent in his analysis of the media which has served over the past 60 years or so as the primary tool used to control the public. In any case, do check the Automatic Earth for a fantastic daily post which offers what I think is the best take on the current economic collapse. The format of each post usually consists of a page of introductory thoughts based on a huge buffet of stories which follow. I never have the time to read those so I read the intro and skim the headlines below and then skim the comments.
Next on the list would be Sharon Astyk. While she often offers her take are various aspects of our current economic and environmental predicaments, most of her writing is geared towards helping folks actually prepare for a different kind of life. In particular she offers folks the detailed, practical information for becoming more self reliant in terms of growing, preparing and storing food as well as taking care of other necessities of daily life. She ranges from thoughts on medicine to raising kids to what food to grow and where to get the seeds. She’s a very inspirational read with fantastic posts on the importance of family and community and the general need to be connected as we work through this mess.
More I’d like to add but I don’t have much time so I’ll post this as is and add more later!
Exactly. In his latest post, The Abyss Stares Back James Kunstler writes:
In the broad blogging margins of the web that orbit the mainstream media like the rings of Saturn, an awful lot of reasonable people have begun to ask whether President Obama is a stooge of whatever remains of Wall Street, with Citigroup and Goldman Sachs’s puppeteer, Robert Rubin, pulling strings behind an arras in the Oval Office. Personally, I doubt it, but it is still a little hard to understand what the President is up to. For one thing, the stimulus package, so-called, looks more and more like national sub-prime mortgage itself, a bad bargain made under less-than-realistic terms, with future obligations fobbed onto whoever inhabits this corner of the world for the next seven hundred years — and all to pay for a bunch of granite counter-tops and flat-screen TVs.
We’ve heard it over and over and over and over from those in power in reference to this coming depression: “We have to do something.” My thought? No, no actually you don’t HAVE to do something especially when doing something is the wrong thing to do. Action for the sake of action is stupidity. But they are not just doing something. They are doing the same thing that got us into this situation. Taking on more debt to fix debt for the sake of growth that is not even real growth. Well, the consumption was real and the growth for China was real, but the debt taken on in the U.S. was just that, debt. We got in the habit of telling ourselves, as a nation, that credit and debt were wealth but they are not even close to wealth. They may create the illusion of wealth but when it comes time to pay back what you don’t have the reality comes home.
There will be no getting out of this mess, no way to navigate around it. The hard truth is that we will have to slog through it day by day. This collapse was a very long time in coming and the going will be an equally long time. Unlike the first Great Depression though, when we begin to come out of this we will not find a ready, seemingly limitless supply of oil to tap into. We’ll discover that the production peaked sometime between 2005-2007. The good news though is that by that time we will have gotten used to a scaled back, lower income, lower energy way of life.
Again, to quote Kunstler:
Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn’t get that the conventional process of economic growth — based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era — is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium? Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both. Among other things, contraction means that all the activities of everyday life need to be downscaled including standards of living, ranges of commerce, and levels of governance. “Consumerism” is dead. Revolving credit is dead — at least at the scale that became normal the last thirty years. The wealth of several future generations has already been spent and there is no equity left there to re-finance.
It really is that bad and wishful thinking will not help.
Banks, Barack Obama, Capitalism, Economic Collapse, Economic Depression, Economy, Energy, Energy Conservation, Global Depression, Great Depression, Natural Resources, Oil, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Politics, Recession
I spent many days every summer at the lake. When we weren’t fishing or in the woods we would sometimes take a ride into Fredericktown. Not my hometown but I feel connected to it more than any other Missouri town. Now that I’ve moved to the lake I’m making new memories that blur and blend with those of my childhood. This past spring I went back to the Dairy Bar and had a vanilla cone, the first I’d had from that place in more than 20 years and it was delicious. Each trip into town reminds me of my grandpa and our trips into town together. I can still hear his voice and picture him waving to the many people he seemed to know.
It’s strange, though I did not grow up here, did not go to school here or spend most of my time here, this town is the constant. Other towns or cities have come and gone at different times, but not this one. This is the town that I’ve known my whole life. I see no reason that I would leave my cabin on the lake. For the first time in my life I feel at home and so I hope that I’ll begin to develop a deeper connection to this town that lives so strongly in my memories. As I connect to the town and its people today I look forward to learning more about its history which I imagine to be very interesting.
This past summer I made quite a few treks into town and not just for the vanilla ice cream cones. Jimmy Thal’s hardware store is the best hardware store I’ve ever set foot in and the prices are great. The Madison County Farm Supply is my steady source of straw bales and staffed with very friendly folk. The locally owned “Town and Country” grocery store has everything I need outside of the other shops so I won’t need to set foot in Wal-Mart. The little garden park just east of the town square is a great place to sit and eat the above mentioned ice cream. There are two farmers markets in town, one on Saturday morning and another on Tuesday evenings.
This past fall I discovered Cowboy Coffee which quickly became one of my all time favorite coffee shops. The folks working there are very friendly as are the customers that visit. Thus far I’ve only bought coffee and brownies, both are very good. I don’t usually eat out so I’ve not tried any of the food though the pies sitting on the counter tempt me every time I visit. It’s a very comfortable place, decorated with bits of history, photographs and crafts along the walls. Sitting on the counter in the coffee shop I discovered a new community newspaper, The Madison County Crier.
After a few trips into the coffee shop and reading through this little newspaper I realized that I’d found something I had not expected. In the newspaper I was finding articles about the importance of supporting (and growing) the local food system, recycling, and the details of the goings on in the town council as well as a calendar of local events. In the coffee shop I was seeing the familiar signs of community life and connection that I was a part of when I lived in Memphis. Lots of folk on a first name basis, a meeting of the board of the farmers market, even a few folks sharing an impromptu dance lesson. I can’t help but think that locally owned coffee shops are, universally, community building blocks. They offer public space necessary for the development of the relationships that form the foundation of community and civic life.
I’m really just beginning to get a sense of this wonderful little town but I know that there is no place I’d rather be in times like these. A small town with locally supplied and supported farmers markets, thriving local businesses, an active citizenry, not to mention a pride and self-awareness of its history, is a great place to call home.
Want to get a better foundational understanding of the Greater Depression that we have now entered? Here are a few blogs I’d suggest you read every day or at least a few times a week.
Sites which discuss a broader range of issues (peak oil, self reliance, homesteading, climate change, suburbia…) related to the current collapse and what will follow:
The Archdruid Report
Here’s a little sample from November 7 post from
The Automatic Earth: Debt Rattle: Hocus Focus:
Obama’s chief of staff is a former Freddie Mac board member and fervent supporter of the invasion of Iraq. Many of the ‘experts’ are, or have been, Goldman and Citigroup execs. These people like the power and the money they have gathered while driving the economy into the ground. They’re not going to give that up just to build a financial system that would better serve the people. They’ll build one that best serves them.
Sure, some loose ends will be tweaked, but mostly they’ll spend the nation into a depression by attempting to salvage corporations that would have long since died if it were not for America’s 21st century version of Mussolini’s corporate fascism, and the unlimited access to the public trough it provides.
The broke man in the street will be broker, until he’s broken, until he lives in the street, his last hard earned penny squeezed from his hands and dumped into banks, insurers and carmakers that have zero chance of ever turning a profit again.
The taxpayer will be taxed, and will be forced to pay until (s)he can pay no more, if need be at the barrel of a gun, until (s)he no longer has a job, a home, dignity or a future. And then the growth machine will spit her out. Whoever can’t produce or consume is a write-off.
We’ve spent too much, and now we’re broke. Let’s spend more, and lots more, ‘cause then we will be whole again. Double or nothing, it’s all we know.
The dice will come up nothing.
Barack Obama, Capitalism, Conservation, Consumerism, Consumption, Economic Collapse, Economic Depression, Economy, Energy, Energy Conservation, Energy Crisis, Energy Shortage, Food, Food Production, Gardening, Global Depression, Great Depression, Homesteading, Living Simply, Natural Resources, Obama, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Recession, Self Reliance, The Long Emergency, Working Less
Apparently there is talk that Al Gore might be head of the EPA in the Obama administration and just over a week ago Gore wrote up a dream list which was published in the New York Times.
One of my current favorite authors, Sharon Astyk, in her post A New Deal or a War Footing? Thinking Through Our Response to Climate Change wonders why there is no mention of lowering consumption. This is something I’ve written about before. Earlier this year I wrote that, in fact, a global economic recession was exactly what was needed as a way of forcing the lowering of consumption and thus a lowering of climate impact. From Sharon’s blog:
Quick – what’s not on this list? I bet you noticed, too – there’s no mention of consumption, either as an economic issue or at the personal level. Rather like coming out of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ we’re left with the message that there’s nothing for us to do other than lobby our fearless leaders.
What’s wrong with that? Addressing climate change manifestly requires policy solutions – but again we see ourselves trapped in the false dichotomy I discuss in _Depletion and Abundance_ between public and private. There is no question in the world that consumption is a policy issue – 70% of our economy depends on consumer spending and personal consumption. Yet again we are being told that ‘personal action’ is something you do in the dark that makes no difference, while the really important stuff happens at the government tables.
In fact, in reality, we know differently. At US government tables we’ve seen exactly 0 major policy shifts so far – yes, we had the worst president imaginable, but that doesn’t change the fact that under Clinton, when Gore was vice-president, we saw the same zippo. At the same time, as consumers have slowed their spending, we’ve seen projections of world oil use fall dramatically – for the first time in decades, we are expecting an actual contraction in the use of oil. Earlier this year, actual driving miles fell dramatically – as much as 6% year over year. Now these things were in reaction to high prices – but they were consumption decisions made by private households that in the aggregate made more real difference in the impact of our emissions than all the treaties we’ve violated or refused to sign.
The assumption, of course, is that we make changes for economic reasons, but that we’d never make them for ecological reasons. My answer to that is simply this – no one has tried asking Americans to make major shifts in their lifestyle for the good of their country and their ecology in 30 years. We assume we know that this would never succeed – in practice, we don’t have the slightest idea what would happen.
Consumption is not simply accidentally left off the table by people who underestimate its power or prefer only to focus on legislation, it is left off because thinking about consumption undermines some of the presumptions of wholly technical and policy solutions. In fact, if we addressed consumption, we might have to change our basic assumptions about what we can accomplish.
Think about Gore’s list above in relation to consumption. The first thing, of course, that jumps out at you is the claim we have to bail out the car companies, even though, as Deutsche Bank announced, GM is worth nothing – its stock is worth absolutely nothing. Think about that one for a second, and consider what has to underly our presumptions that we should bail out a car company – underlying it is the assumption that we will all be buying cars again fairly soon – shiny new electric ones.
That is, underlying the assumptions of a Gore-style New Deal is the idea that we can do temporary bail outs because our consumption is going to go back up – only this time we’ll be consuming green products, including our electric cars. There are several problems with this – the obvious one being that it isn’t clear what will fund our ability to buy these new cars in the coming years. The assumption is that the new green jobs will do so – and perhaps that’s true, but there’s a ‘turtles all the way down’ quality to this analysis – the new deal will give us the ability to make these shifts, and the money will then only be spent for good (despite the fact that historically, the more we spend, the more we consume)….I’m not convinced anyone knows how that might happen.
Sharon offers many details in her thought provoking analysis of the energy input vs return in the massive renewable energy program that the Gore approach entails. I encourage you toread her post in it’s entirety.
American Politics, Barack Obama, An Inconvenient Truth, Capitalism, Carbon, Climate Change, Conservation, Consumerism, Consumption, Ecology, Energy, Energy Conservation, Energy Crisis, Energy Shortage, Environment, Environmentalism, Fossil Fuels, Global Warming, Natural Resources, Peak Energy, Peak Oil, Politics, Recession, Sustainable Development