25 May 2008

Brazil relies on vast expanses of sugarcane...which has a conversion rate of 7 to 1...and still provides sugar. Corn has a conversion rate of 1.1 to 1...folly. We have massive inputs of petroleum products that we put into our agricultural products... We need this concentrated form of energy...petroleum...to design and produce the next generation of energy...which will not be as concentrated...we are quickly missing the opportunity to make a paradigm shift. The cheapest form of energy is conservation. We can create the equivalent of billions of barrels of oil by cutting our consumption and switching to more energy efficient appliances, lights, buildings, and modes of transportation. We can create energy by not using it...to commute, living within walking or biking distance to work. We can create energy by stopping the creation of plastic packaging and crap. It is, indeed, a case of 'a penny saved is a penny earned'... As Mark Twain once pointed out...if your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. We need new tools, new ways of thinking. And simpler local lives.

17 May 2008

Our Phony Economy

It sounds incredible, but when this nation drills its oil and mines its coal, the national accounts treat this as an addition to the national wealth rather than a subtraction from it. The result is like a car with a gas gauge that goes up as the fuel tank empties. The national accounts portray a nation getting richer when it is in fact draining itself dry. The purpose of an economy is to meet human needs in such a way that life becomes in some respect richer and better in the process. Building more cars would seem productive, but more cars can mean more traffic and therefore a transportation system which is less productive. The medical system is the same. The aim should be healthy people, not the sale of more medical services and drugs. Now, however, we assess the economic contribution of the medical system on the basis of treatments rather than results. Economists see nothing wrong with this. They see no problem that the medical system is expected to produce 30 to 40% of new jobs over the next thirty years. "We have to spend our money on something," shrugged a Stanford economist to the New York Times. This is more insanity. Next we will be hearing about "disease-led recovery." To stimulate the economy we will have to encourage people to be sick so that the economy can be well. Conservation of energy can do more for this nation much sooner than production of energy will. It is folly to use corn for fuel, using 20% of a food crop to produce a drop in a bucket...a drop which uses as much fuel to produce as it gives up. Lobbyists, oil executives and automobile manufacturers don't want us to conserve...raising CAFE standards to 45 mpg is possible within two years. There were cars manufactured in the late 70s and early 80s which achieved those numbers...and technology has advanced since then. But, we've allowed ourselves to be lulled into going backwards. An energy shock could destroy this nation because we (and our government) are ill prepared to withstand it. The time to act is now, not tomorrow...not next year. GW Bush missed a golden opportunity on 9/11...and we're paying at the pump...and in our national debt...and in our preparation for our own national security. To allow his policies to continue ala John McCain would be insanity. GDP as a measurement of the health of the nation is absurd. Growth for growth's sake, whether it is expenditures on gambling, cancer treatments, medical expenses due to obesity, pharmaceuticals, violent video games, war munitions, day care centers, child psychologists...is completely inane. A stay at home parent, according to GDP, is a non-contributor. An organic garden and meals made at home are non contributors. Walking in the evening with your family doesn't contribute to the 'health of the economy'... Simon Kuznets, who studied the economy and its component parts at the behest of Congress in 1932, wrote in The New Republic in 1962 that in evaluating growth "distinctions must be kept in mind between quantity and quality of growth, between its costs and return, and between the short and long run...Goals for 'more' growth should specify more growth of what and for what." If you are going to "stimulate" the economy, in other words, could we at least have a little debate over what exactly you are going to stimulate? (Thanks to Jonathon Rowe, co-director of a community organizing group in California...and Harper's Magazine)

As the world burns

Vietnam: As an advisor and liaison I lead native troops but nonetheless was looked upon as the "supreme local power", way too muc...