Shoulda Toljaso

I don’t know if I’m on record at all about this, but I always thought the Euro was a crummy lousy stupid idea for the Europeans.

My reasoning is that of Jane Jacobs, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations: “Jacobs makes a forceful argument that it is not the nation-state, rather it is the city which is the true player in this worldwide game.” as Wikipedia has it. But a lot of people miss the real upshot of that treatise, which is that for every currency, a dominant city tends to emerge.
This has been somewhat masked in the United States, with its immense mobility and uniformity. It has been difficult for one region to come to dominate the others and thus benefit from the revaluing of the currency (down at times when the dominant city is relatively weak and up when it is strong). In Canada and Mexico, as in non-Euro Europe and elsewhere, the emergence of a dominant metropolis per currency has been obvious.
In America, the whole Northeast from Chicago to Boston to Washington forms a single metropolis with great mobility. Its only obvious competitors have been the two California conurbations. At this point, as commodities become dominant, the Texas triangle (including all five big cities) may emerge as the winner. But the game is still on.
In post-Euro Europe, the Ruhr Rhine valley has always been a contender for dominance. The value of the Euro is thus set high because of the success of Germany. This strangles the Mediterranean, which is prevented from devaluing its currency and thereby promoting growth of local industries.
The absolute ungovernability of the Euro zone just means that the dysfunction of the USA as a modern state has been inherited by the United States of Europe. It’s cargo cultism: the advantages of the USA can never be implemented in Europe because of the plethora of cultures and mores. The Euro zone never made much sense, except as an effort to replace the dollar as the reserve currency of the world, which never happened, and as it appears now, a good thing.
The Euro treaty should be unwound, and local currencies re-established in Europe to re-establish quasi-normal economic activity for a while. Is that a good idea? I think it’s better than trying to glue together something which can’t function properly as a whole. And in the long run, Europe’s multiple currencies present a huge competitive advantage on Jacobs’ theory.
America, however, should not opt for fifty statewide currencies. America has an advantage in its capacity to inflate its way out of debt. That America has not eagerly opted for as much inflation as it can swallow is another aspect of its political confusion these days as far as I can see. Nobody else has their debt denominated in their own currency! Plus, inflation would greatly untangle the real estate mess, as the real value of the debt will shrink relatively quickly.
I must be wrong, of course. I can’t possibly understand these things better than everybody else. So I’m open to being set straight…

Jaron Lanier and the Morita Principle

Jason Jaron Lanier defends money. (long, but excellent video rant here)

He begins in the same place I do, and Rushkoff does, essentially, that there is no longer a market for labor.

To be sure he only makes passing reference to limits to growth. I think those greatly complicate the situation.

But Lanier’s key point about money is, um, right on the money. Between smothering bureaucracy and cruel neglect, there stands only one possibility: a functional middle class.

And for this to happen, bespoke creative work has to be valued. There is no limit to the amount of art we can produce OR consume. We may be at the beginning of an immensely creative era, but only if we agree to monetize creativity. How to do this requires some careful thought. The idea that we are all in the midst of an endless apprenticeship (while traditional commercial and industrial modalities vanish all around us) doesn’t scale.

But I think we have to let go of growth, or many other things break. So that complicates the job; real things cannot constitute a vanishingly small part of the economy in any way that is stable. Else, you end up with a tulip crisis, of course.

Somehow this all has to be balanced, growth gradually and smoothly ended, fairly soon in the richer countries; somehow all the global constraints have to be fed into the incentive systems too. Nothing resembling government today is competent to do these things. But I don’t see how we manage without burning new constraints into the system.

It’s going to be enormously hard to even get people to understand the spectrum of possibilities.

I call it Morita’s principle; Akio Morita (the Steve Jobs-like visionary behind Sony for many years) frequently said “the customer does not know what is possible.

This applies to our collective vision of the future. People are selecting from a profoundly demoralizing pair of implicit competing visions (universal poverty on the left; militarized wealth in a sea of poverty on the right, both in a diminished, biologically depleted world). We need to create a shared vision of a future that is something other than extrapolation, something other than a more comfortable car to be stuck in traffic in, something other than shabby and grim and dehumanizing.

But most of our customers, that is, the people who need to buy into some new more inspiring vision, are mostly stuck in their day to day problems and just want strategies to see them through the week, not the century.

We must ask people for a lot of thought and a lot of effort and some sacrifices. We cannot succeed without a positive vision of the future, something that no political party anywhere is offering in any credible way at this time.

Book Review: A Planet for the President

A Planet for the President, by Alistair Beaton, showed up in the remainder bin at BookPeople in Austin, and thus, inevitably, followed me home.

It’s a dark comedy by a British writer about a US President of the conservative stripe (the name of his party is never mentioned but is obvious) and his cabinet finally coming to terms with the unsustainability of the American lifestyle on a crowded world. This group decides that rather than dealing with the sustainability aspect, they might just want to consider the crowding aspect…

Many hilarious incidents ensue, the situation becoming ever bleaker. For instance, the plot is almost leaked on account of a fastidious general ordering an enormous supply of deodorant, in the hopes of keeping the fumes from enormous numbers of dead Mexicans and Canadians from wafting across the border.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book, and hard luck for its author I imagine, was the scene wherein New Orleans was devastated by a hurricane and ensuing floods, creating thousands of casualties. The book was published only a few months before Katrina hit. In the storyline, the President is distracted from the disaster by his son’s publicly coming out as gay.

(In this regard, the fictitious president is actually slightly less horrifying than Bush was in the event, as Bush had no real distraction but paid no attention anyway. Sometimes truth is very strange.)

I think it may be time to take yet another president’s suggestion. Bill Clinton recently said:

“If you’re an American,” Clinton said, “the best thing you can do is make it unacceptable” to be a climate change denier. “We look like a joke, right? You can’t win the nomination of one of our major parties if you admit that the scientists are right.”

Well, unfortunately we’ve been looking like a joke for a while. And while it’s a gloomy sort of a joke, sometimes it pays to laugh.

This book is out of print, but Amazon has a dozen or so copies at cheap prices. I won’t tell you how it ends. I will tell you I enjoyed it.

Flattery Gets You Somewhere

An email from Climate Nexus:

Dr. Tobis,

I was wondering if you were aware of 350.org‘s upcoming Moving Planet day of action this Saturday, 9/24/11? We here at Climate Nexus (a new organization focusing on climate communications) are helping get the word out to as wide an audience as possible. We think that In It For The Gold would be a great outlet, given its robust readership and influential status in the blogosphere.

In short, Moving Planet is intended to build global support for moving past fossil fuels as a solution to the climate change problem. By connecting groups across the world, it hopes to show our global leaders that the time for strong climate action is now.

Attached is a 1 page backgrounder we’ve prepared for you to look over. It includes a synopsis of the event as well as some examples of what will be happening.

We would absolutely love it if you could provide a mention of it on your site so your readers can connect to groups in their area, or even better, organize your own action to mobilize your local readers!

Aw, shucks. Well, if you put it that way:

Moving Planet is an international day of action planned by 350.org. It is intended to build support for moving the planet away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable transportation. On September 24, 2011 participants from over 170 countries will hold events aimed at solving the climate change crisis by eliminating our global dependence on fossil fuels.

Movers on a Mission

On September 24th, 2011, hundreds of thousands of people across the world will be working together to send the message that it is time to move beyond fossil fuels. Through independently conceived creative rallies, groups will promote sustainable transportation for the future by walking, biking, skating or whatever creative and non-fossil fuel based methods of transportation they can imagine!

The day of action intends to build support and demand for a comprehensive clean energy plan to be reached in the November session of the UN Climate Meetings in South Africa, as well as the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil next spring.

The message is clear-the time has come to move past fossil fuels. We will no longer tolerate inaction on climate change as severe weather continues to threaten lives and livelihoods around the world. Climate Change is a global problem that requires a global solution. The time for comprehensive action from the UN is now, and anything less will be unacceptable. We will all bear the brunt of a changing climate, and we must all now band together to end our reliance on fossil fuels.

Emissionless Examples

  • These are just a few of the hundreds of events planned!
  • Organizers in Indonesia have already begun a 350 hour cycling trip, collecting petition signatures on the way.
  • Students in the Dominican Republic are painting the first bike lanes in Santo Domingo.
  • Hundreds in Ukraine will be “flash-dancing” in the main square of Kiev. (err…? -mt)
  • A massive parade is planned in Egypt, where participants will wear blue clothing to form a giant human Nile river.
  • Hundreds of Parisians will unite to form an image of a wind-turbine.
  • In New York, a giant bike ride calling for climate action will end at the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Amateur astronauts in New Zealand will “launch” a rocket in search of a new planet to colonize. Once that fails, they’ll try and save this planet.

See this map to find an event near you. Or, there’s still time to plan your own!

I’ll be at the Texas State Capitol protesting the impending tar sands pipeline from Alberta and headed thisaway. Watch for my clever picket sign.

You?

Major Cuts to Environment Canada

From a promising young researcher at the University of Toronto. James emphasizes that he is speaking for himself here, independently of his supervisor and his department.

Canadians, especially, please take note.

Over the past several months we have seen major cuts to Environment Canada that have left it without any real scientific or research power. These cuts include the Environment Canada lab I presently do research at under Dr. Brad Bass of Environment Canada’s Adaptations and Impacts Research Section (AIRS). Almost the entire Section – which focuses on measuring impacts and responding to climate change across Canada – has been cut, alongside many other departments. Dr. Bass and many other Environment Canada scientists have had their jobs cut and we’ve seen in recent days rather strong political intervention from above in what EC scientists can and cannot mention to the public, whether it’s research critical of present policy or even just discussion of the cuts.

We have seen many prominent scientific jobs cut, research funding slashed, and our ability to effectively do environmental assessment and management largely neutralized (see here, here and here). Our scientists have been muzzled, and their ability to go to press has become tightly managed by a new “media relations office” put forth by the Harper Government. There is no more money to do research on Adaptations and Impacts as we do, projects on water quality have been halted (including those serving Aboriginal reserves and northern communities), and many of the tools and researchers necessary in order to adequately measure the consequences of the Athabasca Tar Sands are presently in a questionable state of limbo. This rearrangement of staff – preceding the 5-10% first round of budget cuts coming in February as part of Harper’s “balancing the books” will effectively leave Environment Canada powerless and effectively useless. They even went so far as to slate twenty-one out of twenty-four water quality monitoring stations in the Northwest Territories for shutdown – an act that managed to embarrass Harper (who was touring the region at the time) sufficiently for it to be reversed. But the cuts and targeting of research in the public interest continues.

Tony Clement perhaps put it best: Environment Canada is now “open for business” – you may now hire their award-winning scientists at will, privatize their research and keep them from working in the public interest.

One of the most prominent areas to be hit was climate change research and adaptations: exactly what our thirty-person lab has focused on and our broader Adaptations and Impacts Research Section has pioneered in for the past seventeen years since its formation. Dr. Bass is a co-recipient of the IPCC Nobel Prize, and the work many of our researchers do is critical to the advancement of science and the development of viable responses to climate change the world over. Because Environment Canada scientists cannot go to press over this, coverage (and response) has largely been muted – and the Canadian public, by and large, is unaware of the changes that are taking place. This is, to put it lightly, a major problem not just for Canadians but for the whole of the international community.

Our lab in particular, based at the University of Toronto, does cutting edge research on community energy systems, energy conservation, urban agriculture and food security, new methods of waste management, and urban sustainability through design and green infrastructure to address many of the problems we now face as Canadians. Our research is open, our results are available to the public, and we are presently slated to lose everything – much like many other prominent Canadian research institutions if nothing is done and no attention drawn to the changes we now see. Government research partnerships with universities are likewise slated to be terminated.

Myself and a number of students working with Dr. Bass have independently decided to attempt to address and draw attention to the cuts as we now see them. We have put together a list of very simple things even ordinary Canadians can do in order to fight the changes we now see. These include writing to your MP or school board trustee – just a short “I don’t want to see this laboratory gone” should do – and spreading the news about the cuts. The CBC recently drew attention to one aspect of our research , and our team is rushing to put up a website to draw attention to some of our projects to address the food crisis, do away with plastic waste, make desalination cheap and easy to do and much, much more.

I hope you can help with this matter. Please feel free to respond with questions, ideas or even just support, and I’ll answer you as best I can.

All the best,

James I. Birch

Student Researcher,

Adaptations and Impacts Research Section,

University of Toronto

Is There a Swarm Solution?

Coalition Of The Willing from coalitionfilm on Vimeo.

It’s a stupid name; about grass roots environmentalism rather than about wars of invasion.

It starts off strong and then gets into some frantic handwaving and saccharine and not entirely well-grounded reassurance and encouragement.

I honestly don’t think the swarm they describe will be enough. And perhaps what swarming there will be doesn’t need this kind of cheerleading. The makers will make and the thinkers will think. It is perhaps a bit early to get the B Ark folks too interested. And not everyone will be too attracted by the piece’s 60’s utopianism, though I for one think the cultural history is presented about right. And the amount of oversimplification in this little pep talk is astronomical.

I really liked it anyway.
It is, at least, a start toward a vision of the future that isn’t a horror. And if the cloying narration starts to get to you, you can turn the sound down and enjoy the excellent and creative animations.