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Deep thought - Feb 18

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Missing: The 'Right' Babies

Kathryn Joyce, The Nation
... [Steve] Mosher, president of the Catholic anticontraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe's future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes "a decline that Europe hasn't experienced since the Black Death." The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe.

It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die.

How so? Europe is failing to produce enough babies--the right babies--to replace its old and dying. It's "the baby bust," "the birth dearth," "the graying of the continent": modern euphemisms for old-fashioned race panic as low fertility among white "Western" couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe.

The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America's culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn't ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of "antifamily" permissiveness--contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women's liberation and careers, "selfish" secularism and gay rights--enabling "decadent" white couples to neglect their reproductive duties. Defying the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply,"

Europeans have failed to produce the magic number of 2.1 children per couple, the estimated "replacement-level fertility" for developed nations (and a figure repeated so frequently it becomes a near incantation). The white Christian West, in this telling, is in danger of forfeiting itself through sheer lack of numbers to an onslaught of Muslim immigrants and their purportedly numerous offspring. In other words, Mosher and his colleagues aren't really concerned about wolves.
(14 February 2008)
Long article about population, covering a subject that I haven't seen mentioned much in the debate: the pro-population growth movement. -BA.


Hierarchy is the Result of Dependency

Jeff Vail, rhizome
This second essay in a five-part series, The Problem of Growth, attempts to identify what causes and sustains hierarchies. Humanity has long been trapped in a cycle of treating the symptoms of hierarchy-here we will attempt to discern its cause in order to treat it directly.

The first installment in this series identified the reason why hierarchal human structures must grow: surplus production equals power, and entities across all scales must compete for this power-must grow-or they will be pushed aside by those who do. But why can’t human settlements simply exist as stable, sustainable entities? Why can’t a single family or a community simply decide to opt out of this system? The answer: because they are dependent on others to meet their basic needs, and must participate in the broader, hierarchal system in order to fulfill these needs. Dependency, then, is the lifeblood of hierarchy and growth.

Dependency Requires Participation on the Market’s Terms

Take, for example, a modern American suburbanite. Her list of dependencies is virtually unending: food, fuel for heat, fuel for transport, electricity, clothing, medical care, just to name a few. She is have no meaningful level of self-sufficiency-without participation in hierarchy she would not survive. This relationship is hierarchal because she is subservient to the broader economy-she may have negotiating power with regards to what job she performs at what compensation for what firm, but she does not have negotiating power on the fundamental issue of participating in the market economy on its terms. She must participate to gain access to her fundamental needs-she is dependent (consider also Robert Anton Wilson's notion of money in civilization as "bio-surival tickets").

Compare this to the fundamentally similar situation of family in Lahore, Pakistan, or a farmer in rural Colombia. While their superficial existence and set of material possessions may be strikingly different, they share this common dependency. The Colombian farmer is dependent on a seed company and on revenue from his harvest to fuel his tractor, heat his home, and buy the 90% of his families diet that he does not grow.
(18 February 2008)


Entropy is the problem, not energy

Wendell G. Bradley, Rocky Mountain News
We can neither create energy nor destroy it. We will always have as much energy as we ever had according to the Conservation of Energy principle.

So, how can we experience an energy crisis? The crisis develops from another law of energy: The Entropy Law. It states that energy always suffers some loss of quality or availability during use. Physics characterizes this loss as entropy.

Increasing entropy seems to have a slightly different character for each system under consideration. For example, heat always flows from the hotter to the colder body, never the reverse. Perfume molecules escape their container and spread throughout the room, but never gather back into the bottle of their own accord.

While heat is flowing, or perfume molecules are spreading, they can do work-are useful. Even after heat flows down its temperature hill, or the molecules spread out in a room, overall energy remains constant, but that energy is now unavailable for use. It is no good for doing work.

Popular designations for Entropy’s inevitable increases are time’s arrow, disorder, or pollution. Entropy applies thermally, structurally, and environmentally. Just as a weight cannot supply any mechanical work once it reaches its lowest available level, thermal energy is not available for use after it falls to an ambient temperature. It simply becomes ‘waste’ heat, like car exhaust.

There are various mathematical expressions for Entropy, such as S = k ln W (where k is a constant and W is the microstates per macrostate). Due to its broad, complex, and abstract formulations, some have rejected the Entropy Law-even deemed it an illegitimate natural principle because too ‘anthropomorphic’ (as if scientific laws had any other origin).

Einstein, however, thought the Entropy Law was the one law that would never be overthrown. Some have said that life transcends the Entropy Law, but no contradiction exists since the overall entropy increase (system plus surroundings) still exceeds the entropy decrease of a structuring organism.

By extension of the Entropy Law, matter also becomes unavailable for use. High entropy copper junk (because dispersed in refuse dumps) is too costly to recycle, both monetarily and environmentally, thus practically unavailable. Economic problems develop per the Entropy Law beyond the control of price mechanisms. From an entropy perspective, economic growth can be understood as the progressive transformation of usable energy into unavailable energy. This leads to an overall decrease in our living ability-except that the sun’s outside gift of energy may compensate for this decrease. The sun’s finite input, however, can only compensate if economic activity’s entropy production is not too large.

All large-scale technical fixes such as coal, nuclear, or ethanol create quality (entropy) issues. Energy from coal results in acid rain, global warming, methyl mercury pollution of fish, and toxic submicron particles in the air we breathe. Nuclear plants create radioactive waste in direct proportion to the energy produced-some of which (Plutonium 40) must be guarded in environmental isolation for hundreds of thousands of years. Ethanol production emits two to nine times the greenhouse gas emissions ‘saved’ by substituting it for gasoline.

In short, the Entropy Law sets limits to the types and rates of energy use humans can sustain. It, however, does not govern social phenomena. We can choose to assess and respect the Entropy Law’s implications, or we can continue to make energy policy in ignorance.

Because of the high environmental costs we pay for creating high-grade energies such as electricity or hydrogen fuel, we should use them only where their quality is absolutely necessary. Electric space heating and hybrid cars remain prohibitive.

Finally, technological orderings always result in a greater loss of order elsewhere. This applies to every application-even to pollution control devices and recycling. A mix increasingly weighted toward entropy compensating solar applications (renewables) is unavoidable. Renewables are not merely a tree-hugger’s fancy; they are an ecological necessity.

Wendell G. Bradley, Ph.D,a retired physics professor, lives in Windsor.
(16 February 2008)

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