Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Still waiting....

The very first post I ever produced for public consumption (all three of you) was a little embittered. In waiting for the old people to die I painted a picture of the world as I saw it. Full of injustice and entrenched complacency. I have not really softened, but my views have changed. I am no longer embittered when I think about the generation that is in power currently. The truth is I feel very sorry for them.

The paradigm they live in is one where the single biggest economic driver is killing us. Petroleum was a boom for the development of our nation. I have been reading "The Prize" by Daniel Yergin, and it is hard to not feel a certain sympathy for those who strove their entire lives to build such an extensive and powerful industry. There is no doubt that petroleum exploitation has shaped our nation much the same way the discovery of fire must have transformed our ancestors.

Climate change denial is to be expected from such a paradigm. They grow up in a world of limitless resources, and immutable environment. The main focus of humanity for the last two thousand years was to separate its self from nature. The natural world has been maligned as primitive and as something to be conquered. Now we are facing the backlash of the natural world in the form of ecosystem collapse. There is no longer any debate internationally about the validity of the anthropogenic causes behind climate change.

But like the Widerstand standing up to Hitler in Nazi Germany, being right is simply not enough. There is still a strong economic force in America clinging to petroleum like a caveman resistant to adopting an electric stove. My sympathy goes out to them. They are not equipped to deal with a post carbon economy. The world they created is becoming increasingly inhospitable, and the cognitive dissonance they must maintain has become unbearably complex. 

Where is gets scary is in the context of the american political system. These strong economic forces have shifted the debate so far from scientific credibility that many of political leaders in our nations capital are not even capable of understanding the scope of the problem we face, let alone bring about effective policy against it. That is where my sentiment of "waiting for the old people to die" comes from. They seem to have no interest in working towards a livable future for my and subsequent generations. 

But don't worry, pretty soon we will be taking their keys away, in the mean time, just stay out of their path as they careen the wrong way down the freeway.

As always I welcome your comments and criticisms, and will not edit or omit any.   

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Economics as an ecosystem, pt. 3.

Alternative economic models might exist in nature. There are many different types of cooperative systems in the natural world. I propose that capitalism is an attempt to create a natural like system of economics. However it was created when the idea of "Nature, red in tooth and claw" was the common representation of evolution as decent through natural selection. In reality, many of the systems that have grown to become self-perpetuating rely on some form of natural cooperation between or within species.

We all think we are better adapted than squirrels to exist on this planet right. We have larger brains, we have mastered technology that the squirrel world might never be able to utilize (though it is fun to imagine squirrels making use of trenching equipment and GPS technology to bury and keep track of their nuts). But when it comes to economics, they beat us hands down. Considering their short life, they bury thousands of seeds and nuts, it is estimated that a full third of these will never be found. These abandoned hordes germinate and generations later, supply food for the great-great-great-grand-squirrel of the planter.

They contribute a third of their labor towards forest management! They are actively creating conditions to ensure the success of their species well into the future. This is most likely not the direct result of a big squirrel meeting, where they mandated a percentage of "lost nuts", but squirrels have not adapted the organizational trait that characterizes humans. Yet despite our "advanced" adaptation, we are still collectively unable to match or trump this level of sustainability.

Ant and bee populations also present another possible natural economic system. Here we have social stratification; workers, warriors, queens and her drones, all with specific job descriptions and traits to match. There is considerable evidence that they even have basic intra-collective communication skills. Decisions made by individuals tend to lopsidedly favor the collective welfare of the hive or nest. This often translates to inter-generational success and empire expansion. But at the cost of individuality and the personal freedom.

Despite the success of the hive model, it is somewhat antithetical to apply to humans. Unfortunately for vertically integrated models (corporate type), we do not preform our best when we act exclusively through directives from the top (micro-management). Ants however do not receive "orders" per-say, they have intrinsic behaviors that are triggered by the actions of others. That is to say, they act autonomously, but with the single interests of the collective as their highest priority. If only business could generate this single-mindedness with in its ranks. (They probably could if they would forget about cost benefit analysis when it came to how they treat their employees, but that is a different story.)

Both of these models do have (imperfect) parallels in human behavior. The squirrel is like the bottom up approach to sustainability. Creating resilient sustainable communities from personal involvement; programs like the capital hill food forest in Seattle is an example of this. The other model is top down management, Japan's highly successful forestry management program through careful accounting and enforcement. One thing both of these models share that capitalism in general is completely ignorant too, is sustainability over profit.

For the squirrel, the energy it spends to amass the surplus could easily be spent on much more personal gains, expanding territory and harem for example. For the ant colony, if the interests of individuals were to become more important that the collective good, the nest would surely collapse in decay within only a few generations. The take-away is basically, individualism be it bottom up or top down, is somewhat at odds with sustainability.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ecosystem Services

One of the biggest revelations that comes to most people who study biology is the intrinsic nature of our interconnected lives with biodiversity. From birth we are propagandized to believe we are something different and apart from the natural world. This most likely grew from the admittedly hostile environment we compete in. But like a bad jr. high school yearbook photo, we cannot escape our true dependence on our ecosystem.

Take a basic meal for instance, steak, potatoes, peas and fruit cobbler for desert. It is easy to imagine that only four or five organisms were involved, maybe if you really think about it, grain and grazing pasture for the steer and bees to pollinate the fruit trees. Think that is it? Not even close, we are forgetting the host of AMF fungi that are necessary for most plants to be productive enough to have harvest-able growth. But why stop there, almost nothing would grow with out nitrogen fixing bacteria, and what about the birds and bats that keep insect pests in check, or detritivores that allow for nutrients to be converted from waste. 

The point is, we have never and will never take a bite of food or breath a single lungful of air that didn't come to us through the complex interactions of hundreds if not millions of organisms. Like it or not we all deeply depend on natural land and water ecosystems. Researchers at Stanford University have taken the first step towards quantifying the value of these complex systems. InVEST is a GIS based modeling tool that can be used to quantify data from biological field experiments among its myriad of uses. 

We have the tools now to place a concrete value in economic terms to natural resources without having to resort to "aesthetic appeal". In the right hands, this has immense potential to change the way we look at natural resources. From water resource management, to farming, and even city planning. Best of all (through the link above) the program is free. But you do have to purchase the accompanying GIS software package (second link) if you do not already have it.

Better than any "cap and trade" model for environmental stewardship, this could revolutionize economic policy to actually account for the systems now taken entirely for granted. It is better than learning the hard way, like when we found out after installing a dam that NW cedar forests require the input of salmon to maintain a viable nutrient store. 

As always, I welcome comments and criticism, and will not edit or omit anything.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vote with heart, not with fear.

I have advocated for writing in or voting for a 3rd party candidate this election. Several of my lefty friends (I call them centrists) have preached fire and brimstone to me for it. They see Romney as the worst of the worst and any vote "wasted" will only strengthen his position. I am not so easily dissuaded nor will allow my vote to be cowed with fear developed by in group/ out group tactics.

A professor once told me while we were discussing ground water resource management that "people are not going to care about clean drinking water until green sludge comes out the tap" and to a large extent he is right. The apathetic majority are perfectly content to mill along in the traces of their social construct despite the world crumbling around them.

To this end I see Romney as sort of an anti-hero. Romney represents the last wave of capitalism. His business experience is based on swooping in on an organization in trouble and selling off everything he can, firing everybody employed, and pocketing the profits. Despite all of his american exceptionalism rhetoric, his record shows that he is quite flexible when it comes to acting in the narrow capitalistic business interests. His short sighted policies will surely disenfranchise a large segment of the population, especially considering the challenges climate change will present over the next four years.

Secondly, the scope of the changes needed for our nation to shift to a post carbon economy will be much easier with the majority of Americans slipping into abject poverty. Poor people consume less. They have a lower standard of living. So greener transition elements will be seen as nation building in the post Romney era. As more and more of the apathetic majority find their personal interests on the wrong side of a cost benefit analysis, I predict greater involvement in politics.

Romney sees himself apart from the general population because of his religion, and he probably sees america as nothing more than another troubled asset to glean a profit margin from. Maybe seeing what the principals of purely capitalistic motivation combined with a religious zealots ambitions being applied to our government can do will wake more people up in the long run.

As always, I welcome your comments and responses and will not edit or omit any of them.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The True Majority

I hear politicians and pundits, toss around the term majority often. The moral majority, or even the 99% is truly a misleading tool to wield. But there is one actual majority in America, The Apathetic Majority. Often you find them crouched behind excuses like "busy" or sometimes openly admit they don't care. Often these overly busy people still find time for trivialities such as mind numbing television programs or following sports.

Participatory democracy only works if you participate. There are far too many citizens in our country for everyone to have their interests fully realized. Ideally, if there are enough people who share a common interest, that becomes clout to be addressed politically. In today's political environment however, wedge issues are used to wrangle the voting minority while the only real change happens for the benefit of those who control public opinion.

I believe this apathy has been manufactured by those who have the means to control public opinion to further their own personal agenda. They want you more interested in sports, entertainment and which celebrity is sexing up another celebrity. They want you more interested in the product than the manufacturing process behind it. They want you more interested in "fitting in" by having the symbols of success than standing out and up for what is currently not "popular".

This is not crazy fringe conspiracy, it is based on real science, in fact one of the best funded areas of cognitive science. The marketing industry really wanted to know how people tick and now that they know, they exploit the techniques developed with a level of sophistication that is truly frightening. They can sell products that known to contribute to; obesity, or even cancer, and people "willingly" line up to buy them.

Nothing in our regulatory bodies stops the practice of applying those same techniques to influencing politics through public opinion. Marketeers are willing to manipulate consumers into acting against their very health in the name of corporate profit, and they are willing to manipulate voters into voting against their own interests. The only weapon we have left is research and awareness. Choose apathy at not only your own peril, but at the expense of our collective best interests.

As always I welcome your comments, constructive or otherwise, and will not edit or omit any of them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Have you ever lost your voice?

When the supreme court ruled in favor of citizens united in the landmark case citizens united vs. federal elections commission, the language of the decision expressly equates the capital expenditures of a corporation to influence an election as free speech. So where does that leave the rest of us who do not have billions of dollars in capital to advance our causes? Basically voiceless.

The voice of the 99% (used in this case as meaning anyone who cannot get corporate sponsorship for their cause) is essentially wiped out by this "constitutional interpretation". It is like saying "sure you have your right to free speech, but every time you open your mouth I am going to scream in a bull horn so no one can hear you". I ask you, my readers (all three of you), does this infringe on our freedom of speech?

It is like the "free speech zones" they set up during campaign events, only in stead of separating dissenting voices from public events, they are separating the American people from the elected officials that write the laws we live by.

There is no doubt about it, if we don't put aside the artificial differences created by partisan bickering (see "wedge issue voting") and put forth a collective effort to enact meaningful change we no not stand a change of having any of the most important issues our nation faces resolved properly. Think for a second, does the issue you care about the most in politics have a chance at gaining corporate sponsorship? It there a way for a singularly profit motivated entity to benefit from it? If not, then you better get involved soon, or give it up entirely.

Don't be fooled into becoming what I call the "apathetic majority". Gather signatures or at least sign the petition, or accept that the only direction our country will travel in the future is towards what is best for a handful of the most lucrative industries.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear Congressman Broun.

I am not a constituent of yours but it has come to my attention that you are professing a disbelief in evolution. Normally this kind of ideology is to be expected coming from the right and wouldn't be so alarming. Your particular case as a Medical Doctor and appointee to the committee for science and technology makes this particularly worrisome. 

Any physician who practices medicine is our nations front line against disease. It is written into the oath that as a doctor you must do no harm. Choosing to be blind to a important part of how the human body works in the context of how it evolved is exactly antithetical to that oath. 

I strongly believe that a competent understanding of evolutionary biology directly contributes to a person's effectiveness at protecting our nation as viral pathology and immunology including antibiotic mechanism, all require understanding the problems we face in the proper context. 

Please in the interest of national security step down from your post on the science advisory counsel. As for any individuals who might be harmed by poorly made decisions please stop practicing medicine. 

Thank You.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Get involved!

The current (US) presidential election cycle is unprecedented. The supreme court ruling in the case of Citizens United vs The Federal Elections Commission has changed the political dynamic in profound (and profane) ways. By opening the door to wealthy corporate influence, our political leadership is no longer beholden to the American people, but to those who brandish the stick of public opinion.

This is not a failing of government, but a gross manipulation of political system that was not designed to handle the modern worlds technologically interconnected nature. Today, the political leaders who are supposed to represent the interests of our nation are under constant threat and pressure by those who wield propaganda or direct campaign financing. The story of stuff project made a simplified video explaining how the mechanism works.

The answer is simple and can only be accomplished by direct action  by the american people. We must free our political system from the stranglehold of regulatory capture and other manipulations of the system.  The link above redirects you to a campaign to amend the constitution. How involved you want to get is up to you, but make no mistake, this is your fight.

The political climate of today is such that no cause will gain any traction on capital hill with out corporate sponsorship, making this is a truly bi-partisan effort. I understand that in such a politically divisive time it is hard to conceive of a universalizing movement, but every one; from conservatives who worry about immigration reform or the moral framework of our nation, to environmentalist who strive to make a better planet, to social justice fighters who work for equality, have this problem in common.

This is the first step towards the ONLY way to bring our nation back to a place where an idea lives or dies on the senate floor solely based on the merit of its argumentation and not whose lobby is supporting or against it. Short of revolution, supporting this amendment is the last, best hope for restoring any semblance of a representative democracy in our nation. Are you a patriot?

As always I welcome your comments and will not edit or omit any of them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The truth about "Chem-Trails".

I wanted to do a piece on a topic that has been becoming more and more prominent on the internet. The so called "Chem-trail conspiracy". With over 90,000 hits on YouTube it is becoming one of the fringes biggest agenda items. 

But there is a simple explanation for increasing persistence of jet con-trails, global climate change. According to NASA (under "Global Surface Temperature") the earth is warmer today than it was before air travel became commonplace. Warmer globe means more Atmospheric water vapor. Con trails start out as the emission of combustion bi-products, as these cool they are composed of and attract water vapor. Higher vapor density means longer lasting con-trails.

Even more convincing is the economics of the concept. Of the 11,000 MILLION gallons of jet fuel consumed by the US last year alone, even a one part per thousand additive of the kind of chemical capable of causing the kinds of diseases cited would be seriously cost prohibitive. Secondly, regulatory bodies like the FAA, EPA through the ASTM tightly regulate jet fuel composition.

Looking for some kind of dubious tie to a phenomena that has a sound scientific explanation to blame the declining birth rates or increase of disease is not science. But it might be an GCC denier astro-turfing campaign in response to the 1990 IPCC report that indicated an increase in global atmospheric water vapor.

Besides there are much better point sources to investigate first. In the same time frame that "chem-trails" have become more common so have; cell phones (a point source of microwave radiation), plastics, chemicals in food processing, bio-accumulation of chemicals in everything from seafood to beef, paint compounds have changed, volatile organic compounds (VOC's) are everywhere as the bi-products of most manufacturing technologies.

The point is, it is impossible to blame something that even at its highest concentrations (if lets say half of all jet fuel was "chem-trail" chemicals) is still significantly less present in anyone's personal environment compared to car exhaust or manufacturing chemicals left over on the plastics ubiquitous in modern daily life.

As always, I welcome your comments, and will not omit or edit any of them (even from conspiracy theorists).