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E. O. Wilson on preserving biodiversity

5 Mar

This week he publishes his 32nd book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, in which he argues that we must set aside half the earth a preserve for non-human life. Claudia Dreifus interviews him in The New York Times:

Q. Why publish this book now?

A. Because a lifetime of research has magnified my perception that we are in a crisis with reference to the living part of the environment.We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along.

Reading your book, one senses you felt a great urgency to write it?

The urgency was twofold. First, it’s only been within the last decade that a full picture of the crisis in biodiversity has emerged. The second factor was my age. I’m 86. I had a mild stroke a couple of years ago. I thought, “Say this now or never.”

And what I say is that to save biodiversity, we need to set aside about half the earth’s surface as a natural reserve. I’m not suggesting we have one hemisphere for humans and the other for the rest of life. I’m talking about allocating up to one half of the surface of the land and the sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

In a rapidly developing world, where would such a reserve be?

Large parts of nature are still intact — the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, New Guinea. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife. In the oceans, we need to stop fishing in the open sea and let life there recover. The open sea is fished down to 2 percent of what it once was. If we halted those fisheries, marine life would increase rapidly. The oceans are part of that 50 percent.

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Peak Paper

22 Feb
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Over at Crooked Timber John Quiggin has a post on peak paper:
In 2013, the world reached Peak Paper. World production and consumption of paper reached its maximum, flattened out, and is now falling. In fact, the peak in the traditional use of paper, for writing and printing, took place a few years earlier, but was offset for a while by continued growth in other uses, such as packaging and tissues.
China, by virtue of its size, rapid growth and middle-income status is the bellwether here; as China goes, so goes the world. Unsurprisingly in this light, China’s own peak year for paper use also occurred in 2013. Poorer countries, where universal literacy is only just arriving, are still increasing their use of paper, but even in these countries the peak is not far away.

Why does this matter? Because it means that we’re moving beyond the industrial mode of production and so must move beyond the ideas that go along with it, including the idea of perpetual growth:

Peak Paper points up the meaningless of measures of economic growth in an information economy. Consider first the ‘fixed proportions’ assumption that resource inputs, economic outputs and the value of those outputs grow, broadly speaking in parallel. Until the end of the 20th century, these assumptions worked reasonably well for paper, books and newspapers, and the information they transmitted. The volume of information grew somewhat more rapidly than the economy as a whole, but not so rapidly as to undermine the notion of an aggregate rate of economic growth. … In the 21st century, these relationships have broken down. On the one hand, as we have already seen, the production of consumption and paper has slowed and declined. On the other hand, there has been an explosion in the production and distribution of information of all kinds.

On Diverse Uses of Public Lands: An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul

9 Jan

The armed standoff in Oregon concerning the Malheur Wildlife refuge is only the latest is a long series of conflicts over “public” lands, as R. McGreggor Cawley has pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. In a quick overview of that history he points out:

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask — “return the land to the people.” Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior’s federal Grazing Service — an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

But things, as we see, didn’t work out. Conflicts remain. He concludes:

This is what’s important about public-land conflicts: They raise thorny questions about abstract political concepts like democracy. Creating wilderness areas, or instituting environmental regulations, inevitably restricts someone’s access to the land or the purposes they would prefer to see it put to. For those who are restricted, the government’s action may not appear very democratic. It’s in these disputes that we get outside the abstractions of political science and reckon with big questions in a very immediate way: How do we all decide what this land is for, how best to use it, who can be trusted to administer it and how our competing visions for it can be heard — right down to each acre of grass, each deer and each gallon of creek water?

It is in this context that Charlie Keil has drafted an open letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul in which he urges that recognize a diversity of use categories for public lands – the Federal Government administers an eighth of the nation’s landmass – and that we listen seriously to “the armed cowboys in Oregon”.

* * * * *

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul,

Could you both endorse a statement along the following lines?

We need to recognize a variety of different kinds of public lands: Wilderness, boondocks, the commons, public property, all increase the value, the sacredness, the importance, the preciousness of private property.

We need to create 1) true wilderness areas, 2) wilderness corridors, 3) boondocks surrounding the wilderness areas and corridors working as buffer zones where only a very few people are specially permitted to go there (mostly for religious or spiritual reasons), 4) commons for grazing and other seasonal usages, and 5) public properties with rules for local community sharing. The more we do this, the better off all the diversity of species and diversity of socio-cultural systems will be. The healthier the wilderness, boondocks, commons and public lands are, the happier the human individuals and societies will be.

Finally, the values and treatment of private properties will be enhanced in direct proportion to the amount of land we can safeguard, keep beautiful and healthy all around our human settlements. What might be called a win, win, win, win, situation for all of Creation! And for all of humanity too. The very opposite of a “race to the bottom” or a “tragedy of the commons” in which everyone (people, plants, animals) become losers as a few people with big machinery plunder MotherNature some more.

I don’t believe the armed cowboys in Oregon are Jefferson’s yeoman farmers wanting to homestead. They seem more like the thugs that genocided the Native Americans to steal their lands. They are there in sympathy with convicted arsonists? Burning trees to create grasslands for cattle and more hamburgers? They want to renew the war between grazers and farmers? Do they stand for a land redistribution of some kind that I don’t understand? Let’s hear them out, amplify their message, have some discussions, explain the urgent needs for more wilderness, and then restore the land to wildlife refuge, this time with a boondocks perimeter, plus a commons where Wes Jackson’s perennial grains can be tried out.

Wish I could sign off as a vegetarian but I still crave some free-range chicken once in a while,

Charlie Keil

Why is there so little opposition to the hegemony of the super-rich?

21 Mar

What we have here is a failure of political memory and imagination.

In 2014, when Oxfam arrived in Davos, it came bearing the (then) shocking news that just 85 individuals controlled as much wealth as half of the world’s population combined. This January, that number went down to 80 individuals.

Fraser terms out current era the second Gilded Age. The first ran from the end of the Civil War through to the stock market crash of 1929. In that first Gilded Age:

American elites were threatened with more than embarrassing statistics. Rather, a “broad and multifaceted resistance” fought for and won substantially higher wages, better workplace conditions, progressive taxation and, ultimately, the modern welfare state (even as they dreamed of much more).

So far there is little popular resistance in the current Gilded Age. What’s missing?

Fraser offers several explanations for the boldness of the post-Civil War wave of labor resistance, including, interestingly, the intellectual legacy of the abolition movement. The fight against slavery had loosened the tongues of capitalism’s critics, forging a radical critique of the market’s capacity for barbarism. With bonded labor now illegal, the target pivoted to factory “wage slavery.” This comparison sounds strange to contemporary ears, but as Fraser reminds us, for European peasants and artisans, as well as American homesteaders, the idea of selling one’s labor for money was profoundly alien.

This is key to Fraser’s thesis. What ­fueled the resistance to the first Gilded Age, he argues, was the fact that many Americans had a recent memory of a different kind of economic system, whether in America or back in Europe. Many at the forefront of the resistance were actively fighting to protect a way of life, whether it was the family farm that was being lost to predatory creditors or small-scale artisanal businesses being wiped out by industrial capitalism. Having known something different from their grim present, they were capable of imagining — and fighting for — a radically better future.

It is this imaginative capacity that is missing from our second Gilded Age, a theme to which Fraser returns again and again in the latter half of the book. The latest inequality chasm has opened up at a time when there is no popular memory — in the United States, at least — of another kind of economic system. Whereas the activists and agitators of the first Gilded Age straddled two worlds, we find ourselves fully within capitalism’s matrix. So while we can demand slight improvements to our current conditions, we have a great deal of trouble believing in something else entirely.

The Germans are worried about high-tech corporate cowboys

12 Oct
Anna Sauerbrey, an editor of the daily, Der Tagesspiegel, in today’s NY Times:
How can Germany be both afraid of and in love with technology, and the companies that make it? The key is to look beyond those things, to the corporate model they represent.
The true origin of the conflict lies in the economic culture innate to those former Silicon Valley start-ups — now giants — that are taking the European markets by storm. To create and grow an enterprise like Amazon or Uber takes a certain libertarian cowboy mind-set that ignores obstacles and rules.
Silicon Valley fears neither fines nor political reprimand. It invests millions in lobbying in Brussels and Berlin, but since it finds the democratic political process too slow, it keeps following its own rules in the meantime. Uber simply declared that it would keep operating in Germany, no matter what the courts ruled. Amazon is pushing German publishers to offer their books on its platform at a lower price — ignoring that, in Germany, publishers are legally required to offer their books at the same price everywhere.
It is this anarchical spirit that makes Germans so neurotic. On one hand, we’d love to be more like that: more daring, more aggressive. On the other hand, the force of anarchy makes Germans (and many other Europeans) shudder, and rightfully so. It’s a challenge to our deeply ingrained faith in the state.
Very interesting. She’s right to be skeptical about these high-tech corporate swashbucklers. And it’s clear that the nation state is increasingly in trouble (see this post on virtual feudalism). If national governments can’t regulate these behemoths, who can?
It’s time to convene the Jivometric Advisory Committee of the New World Order.

Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com

22 Sep

John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels.

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.

The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.

In recent years, 180 institutions — including philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments — as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies from their portfolios and to invest in cleaner alternatives.

via Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com.

Symposium on Universal Basic Income (UBI)

13 Sep

Appearing in the Boston Review, discussion took place back in 2000. Philippe Van Parijs makes the opening statement and then replies to comments on it. Here’s the first few paragraphs of that statement:

Entering the new millennium, I submit for discussion a proposal for the improvement of the human condition: namely, that everyone should be paid a universal basic income (UBI), at a level sufficient for subsistence.

In a world in which a child under five dies of malnutrition every two seconds, and close to a third of the planet’s population lives in a state of “extreme poverty” that often proves fatal, the global enactment of such a basic income proposal may seem wildly utopian. Readers may suspect it to be impossible even in the wealthiest of OECD nations.

Yet, in those nations, productivity, wealth, and national incomes have advanced sufficiently far to support an adequate UBI. And if enacted, a basic income would serve as a powerful instrument of social justice: it would promote real freedom for all by providing the material resources that people need to pursue their aims. At the same time, it would help to solve the policy dilemmas of poverty and unemployment, and serve ideals associated with both the feminist and green movements. So I will argue.

I am convinced, along with many others in Europe, that–far from being utopian–a UBI makes common sense in the current context of the European Union.

Responses by: Herbert A. Simon, Emma Rothschild, Brian Barry, Anne L. Alstott, Fred Block, Katherine McFate, Gar Alperovitz, William A. Galston, Wade Rathke, Edmund S. Phelps, Elizabeth Anderson, Ronald Dore, Robert E. Goodin, Peter Edelman, Claus Offe.

Devolution: the basics | DEVOLUTION MATTERS

12 Sep

Aka smaller is better.

In essence, devolution is a way of enabling Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have forms of self-government within the United Kingdom. The UK Parliament has conferred various sorts of legislative powers on the elected Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly to do this.

via Devolution: the basics | DEVOLUTION MATTERS.

Extra! Extra! Japanese Government Funds Distance Education on the Rez

1 Nov

No, it hasn’t happened yet. But who knows, stranger things have happened.

By “the rez” I mean, of course, the reservation. In this case I have no particular reservation in mind but rather am thinking of all 300+ of them as a collective entity that encompasses 2.3% of the landmass of the United States. While most of them are rather small, a few are quite large, with nine larger than the state of Delaware while the lands of the Navajo Nation are roughly the size of West Virginia.

What’s interesting about these Indian reservations is that the tribes possess tribal sovereignty, which means that in some respects these reservations are foreign nations. That’s why a few tribes have been able to get rich from gambling casinos on the rez. Federal and state laws don’t apply on the reservation, and if the reservation happens to be in the middle of are populated by people with money they’d like to gamble away, when then come on down!

But I’m not interested in gambling. I’m interested in poverty. Many reservations are, in effect, third world countries within the territorial United States. Over a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty as compared to 15% nationally. Poor people generally get lousy education and that, in turn, makes it difficult for them to work their way out of poverty.

And that’s where the Japanese come in. As I indicated in my post on Takeshi Utsumi, the Japanese government funds distance education in third world nations. Why not fund distance education in these third world nations that just happen to live within the territorial boundaries of the United States of America? Continue reading

Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment

25 Sep

War drove the formation of complex social institutions such as religions and bureaucracies, a study suggests. The institutions would have helped to maintain stability in large and ethnically diverse early societies. The study authors, who tested their theories in simulations and compared the results with historical data, found that empires arise in response to the pressure of warfare between small states.

via Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment.