Solutions & sustainability - May 27
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You're happy. Imagine that!
Judy Stoffman, Toronto Star
Why people are so bad at predicting what will make them feel good
Real estate agents say you should buy the worst house in the toniest neighbourhood rather than the best house on a modest street.
But Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard University psychology professor, believes such a purchase is rarely a prescription for happiness. Before you sign that offer to purchase, consider how you'll feel coming home each day to a dump amidst the mansions.
"It will make you feel bad because the brain is a difference detector; almost everything that it senses, it senses as a comparison," he says in Toronto to talk about his book Stumbling on Happiness.
The capacity to imagine future happiness or unhappiness — called "affective forecasting" — is, Gilbert says, what distinguishes us from other animals.
As he puts it, "We don't have to actually have gall bladder surgery or lounge around on a Caribbean beach to know that one of these is better than another."
Gilbert has spent 15 years at Harvard's Social Cognition and Emotion laboratory investigating how people imagine what will make them happy, and why they so often get it wrong.
He has found that small pleasures like coming home to a house no worse than the neighbour's is more likely to yield long-term joy than inheriting $1 million, getting a big promotion or being elected president.
"It's the frequency and not the intensity of positive events in your life that leads to happiness, like comfortable shoes or single malt scotch," he says.
(21 May 2006)
The field of "happiness research" has great potential in a post-peak world. Do we need to expend vast quantities of energy to travel or accumulate material possessions in order to be happy? Researchers say no. A century ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote about the same phenomenon in How Much Land Does a Man Need. -BA
Sarah Rich, WorldChanging
There aren't too many tools that are as ideal today as when they were invented, in just the same form as they were originally conceived. But the bicycle is one. Simple, cheap and accessible, absolutely no existing transportation solution could be better for reducing greenhouse gases, untangling snarled urban streets, and improving human health than getting more people on two wheels. But challenges are many and varied.
While accelerated use of motorized vehicles in developing world cities is quelling traditional dependence on bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles (NMVs), industrialized cities are pushing people to forego auto transport for pedal power. All over the world, bicycles are getting much-deserved reconsideration as a no-brainer solution to fundamental problems in transit, community, and the environment.
(25 May 2006)
The Next Greed Revolution
Michael Steinberg, Monthly Review Webzine
"Green-minded activists failed to move the broader public not because they were wrong about the problems, but because the solutions they offered were unappealing to most people." -- Alex Steffen, "The Next Green Revolution," Wired Magazine, May 2006
-- It's about time you woke up to the good news, Jimmy! If we can just unleash the forces of innovation, like the creativity that made Silicon Valley the hub of the Information Revolution, we can lick the environmental crisis once and for all!
-- Gee willikers, Mr. Caring Capitalist! I thought that unrestrained growth and ever-expanding energy consumption created insoluble problems!
-- Oh, Jimmy, don't make me laugh! You've been listening to those killjoy hair-shirt environmentalists again. They called for tightening belts and curbing appetites, turning down the thermostat and living lower on the food chain. They rejected technology, business, and prosperity in favor of returning to a simpler way of life. No wonder the movement got so little traction. Asking people in the world's wealthiest, most advanced societies to turn their backs on the very forces that drove such abundance is naive at best.
Those old fogey tree huggers didn't realize that technology can be a font of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future.
-- Why, that sounds great, Mr. CC.
-- It certainly does, Jimmy. In the long run we won't have to give up anything. Remember Jimmy Carter's sweater? Boy, did he ever look silly! You can turn that thermostat up. We can afford it. Just as soon as we get our hands on clean, inexhaustible power: wind turbines, solar arrays, wave-power flotillas, small hydroelectric generators, geothermal systems, even bioengineered algae that turn waste into hydrogen.
-- Wow! What a terrific future! That'll be whole lots of windmills! But what about the sealife disturbed by the wave-power structures? And don't hydro plants create reservoirs with silting problems and release CO2 from the vegetation they drown?
-- Don't worry, boy! The sea life will adjust. And I'm sure we'll come up with a fix for the hydro problems, too.
(24 May 2006)
A satire of green capitalism from Monthly Review, the most prominent independent socialist publication. This interchange is a continuation of the socialist-environmentalist debate that started more than 50 years ago. -BA