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Friedman: Mother Nature’s Dow

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times
While I’m convinced that our current financial crisis is the product of both The Market and Mother Nature hitting the wall at once — telling us we need to grow in more sustainable ways — some might ask this: We know when the market hits a wall. It shows up in red numbers on the Dow. But Mother Nature doesn’t have a Dow. What makes you think she’s hitting a wall, too? And even if she is: Who cares? When my 401(k) is collapsing, it’s hard to worry about my sea level rising.

It’s true, Mother Nature doesn’t tell us with one simple number how she’s feeling. But if you follow climate science, what has been striking is how insistently some of the world’s best scientists have been warning — in just the past few months — that climate change is happening faster and will bring bigger changes quicker than we anticipated just a few years ago. Indeed, if Mother Nature had a Dow, you could say that it, too, has been breaking into new (scientific) lows.
(28 March 2009)

Size, Complexity, and Gluttony

Russell Bangs, Volatility
In my online work this morning I read three pieces which synergized for me. (links at the bottom)

The subjects of Dave Cohen’s latest column, The Secretary of Synthetic Biology, Joe Romm’s Climate Progress post on the putative nuclear renaissance, and Simon Johnson’s Atlantic piece on the financial crash and oligarchy seemed to have a common thread:

1. A will to maintain size, complexity, and exponential debt;

2. The enlistment of science and engineering toward this strategy;

3. All for the sake of oligarchy and debt consumerism.

I’ve written a lot recently about oligarchy so I’ll give that a rest for now, but in this post I want to jot down some notes on the other elements here.

Cohen details how Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu is fixated on a broad vision of technological heroism to keep Americans in their personal cars. The project combines every gigantist engineering nightmare: GMOs, aggrofuels, and CCS, all to be RDDD’d over the next 20 to 80 years. The goal is to develop “4th generation biofuels”. Genetically modified feedstock, engineered to be ever more photosynthetically efficient and to sequester unnatural amounts of carbon, is to be grown with hyper-efficiency on minimal acreage. (Or so they claim – that’s how it’s not supposed to compete with food production. But Jevon’s paradox aside, how are you supposed to control this GMO? As Cohen writes, “The mere fact that evolution has placed upper bounds on the efficiency of primary productivity in plants suggests that there are very deep reasons why this is so”. We may be contemplating kudzu of mass destruction here.) It’ll then be burned in biorefineries to produce liquid fuel while the carbon is sequested underground. They say it’ll also produce better matches than any computer dating service.

And what grand millennial goal is this all to be toward? What societal vision and strategy? None – it’s all for the sake of debt consumerism and profligate car use.

The same can be said for the dreamt-of expansion of nuclear power. Romm’s latest restates and summarizes the truths. It is tremendously expensive, complex, and unmanageable by any measure which correctly discounts black swan events.
(28 March 2009)

The End of the Women’s Movement

Courtney E. Martin, The American Prospect
The era of the singular feminist agenda is over. But that doesn’t mean gender-based activism is.

… Is there a formal feminist movement anymore? Does there need to be?

Members of the second-wave generation developed their feminist identity during the heyday of direct action. They had ecstatic, very physical experiences of feminism. They went to meetings — so, so many meetings. They pounded the pavement. They participated in direct-action spectacles like taking over the offices of The Ladies Home Journal. They yelled until their vocal chords were raw.

Now these women are older, many of them happily shifting into what Jane Fonda calls “the third act” — a stage of life when they don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks, and they want to see the world live up to its God damn potential, once and for all. They start dying their hair funky shades of red. They urge their husband to get a hobby as they head out for another expletive- and laughter-filled lunch with their friends — other women who are funding feminist causes, editing feminist publications, and leading local feminist efforts. In some ways, it’s a return to their earnest youth — a time less fraught with the compromises that come with juggling families and careers. They’re prioritizing changing the world again. And as such, they seem to experience an old hankering for an unapologetic women’s movement that they can see, hear, and touch.

I don’t blame them. All of their stories — about marching in the streets, about taking over offices, about riding around the country in vans, falling in love – not only sounds like they had a whole lot of fun, but also managed to make some profound political changes. But I also recognize that it is a time that has passed.

… Many of us, myself included, believe that change is created through strategic communication, alliance-building, and a million little grass-roots movements all over the country that fight for justice and may or may not call themselves feminist (I don’t actually care much).

During the Sackler Center event, Broner shouted, “We need another Bella!” But young women are used to a more fractured, niche-driven world where there are no Bella Abzugs or Gloria Steinems — just thousands of notable blogs with vivid analysis, hundreds of smart, energetic community organizers, a few notable young female politicians. People within feminist circles may recognize names like Jessica Valenti or Jennifer Baumgardner, but the general public doesn’t. This is largely due to what Wired editor Chris Anderson calls “the long tail” — the decreasing presence of a mainstream culture and the increasing influence of more diffuse communities organized around specific interests. In other words, we don’t have a leader because it’s hard to even pin down who “we” are. Leaders are useful for galvanizing movements, but they also rise to fame at a critical cost. Young feminists should count ourselves lucky that we don’t have one face representing our generation — which would mean one race, one socioeconomic class, one ideological bent. Nothing could be less representative, actually.
(30 March 2009)
Also at Common Dreams.

Doesn’t just apply to feminism, but to the environmentalist, labour, and 1000 other movements. Also – dare I say it? – it probably applies to peak oil as well. -BA