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Ch. 1 - After Growth

#36: April - June 2007 (Non-Fiction)
RaulRamos

Re: More is not always Better

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Quote:He does not answer by highlighting human greed, vanity, penchant for gluttony or disregard for the welfare of others...instead he says, "we kept doing something past the point where it worked. Since happiness increased with income in the past, we assumed it would do so in the future."I do believe greed, vanity, disregard for the welfare of others and so on are very much part of human nature (Dawkins would surely agree
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The first chapter of the book impressed me. I was afraid that this book would be a tiresome leftist diatribe (despite being a lefty myself). However, McKibben calmly makes a convincing case that the traditional economic goal of maximizing the GNP is flawed:1) Most of the increased wealth of the last few decades as gone to the richest segment of society.2) The environment has suffered enormous damage, largely as a response to the growing economy.3) Getting richer doesn't make people happier.I agree with 1) completely, and the "rich getting richer" aspect of the US economy has bothered me since I was a teenager.Item 2) has become increasingly clear, especially in the context of global warming. At a visceral level, human needs such as people lacking medical care, concern me more than environmental issues, such as forests being chopped down. However, global environmental damage has a massive human impact that will get worse in the future.Now, 3) is more discussion-worthy, because it's less known and intuitive. I've read about Kahnemen and Tversky's work elsewhere, and it's really cool stuff. Health, friendships, and relationships have exerted a much stronger impact on my quality of life than financial well-being.However, I'm not totally convinced. Even though high-priced consumer goods don't generate happiness, high-quality medical care, though expensive, is really important. McKibben's $10,000 demarcation doesn't seem quite right.
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Mad: And incidentally, welcome to Raul. Based on his contributions to this thread, I'd say he's likely to make a welcome addition to BookTalk. Ditto! Mad: "Growth" is to endemic a part of the structure of the system, and it's bound to arise as a logical conclusion or an impetus to political and social action.So, if politically, we're 'stuck' with the concept of growth, perhaps the goal should be to change the definition of growth. I'm a little heartened by some of McKibben's discussion -- the Nordhaus quote on page 25 from as late as the 1990s compared to what someone would say today about the impact of climate change on the economy shows me that rather radical change in attitude is possible on society as a whole. Perhaps what's needed to the idea of 'growth' is similar to the architectural/city planning concept of 'in-fill' -- increasing density and mulitiple uses of land & space. I think 'economic growth' needs some 'in-fill': define successful growth as something that increases the bottom line without damaging the socio-environmental foundation of one's company. Just a thought.Julian: Now, 3) is more discussion-worthy, because it's less known and intuitive. I've read about Kahnemen and Tversky's work elsewhere, and it's really cool stuff. Health, friendships, and relationships have exerted a much stronger impact on my quality of life than financial well-being.Again, I'm going to mention Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety...which in many ways is a companion piece to this one (Here's a quote from buy.com): Quote:"Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first--the story of our quest for sexual love--is well known and well charted. . . . The second--the story of our quest for love from the world--is a more secret and shameful tale. And yet this second love story is no less intense than the first."This is a book about an almost universal anxiety that rarely gets mentioned directly: an anxiety about what others think of us, about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. This is a book about status anxiety.Alain de Botton, best-selling author of "The Consolations of Philosophy and "The Art of Travel, asks--with lucidity and charm--where our worries about status come from and what, if anything, we can do to surmount them. With the help of philosophers, artists and writers, he examines the origins of status anxiety (ranging from the consequences of the French Revolution to our secret dismay at the success of our friends) before revealing ingenious ways in which people have been able to overcome their worries in the search for happiness. We learn about sandal-less philosophers and topless bohemians, about the benefits of putting skulls on our sideboards, and about looking at ancient ruins.The result is a book that isn't just highly entertaining and thought-provoking, but that is genuinely wise and helpful, too.Cheers,Lori "All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds." Loricat's Book NookCelebrating the Absurd
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Loricat: So, if politically, we're 'stuck' with the concept of growth, perhaps the goal should be to change the definition of growth.That may be possible. Presumably, there is some flexibility to the way that we operate, although, I'd say that our mode of operation is less flexible than our conception of what is suitable material for those operations. That is to say, we're not likely to alter our consumption of some energy source, because the structure of our society is bound up with the activity of consuming, but it may be possible to change what energy source it is we consume. And you can see the attitudes of industrialized populations changing along those lines -- we aren't really rethinking energy consumption itself, but we are considering using, say, fusion or biodiesel rather than fossil fuels.That sort of change seems to me like throwing in a step forward for every several steps back. By changing energy sources, we may stave off the collapse that a particular rate of consumption makes inevitable, but only for so much longer.I think 'economic growth' needs some 'in-fill': define successful growth as something that increases the bottom line without damaging the socio-environmental foundation of one's company.I'm not sure how you would popularize that idea. It seems to me that, structurally speaking, industrialized economy is heavily invested in the Cartesian ideology of controlling and transforming the natural world in order to serve human ends. So long as that remains the operable ideological assumption behind economic practice (as opposed to theory), there is probably a very limited range of alternative modes of production and exchange that society is willing to embrace.
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Raul: given that we, human beings, seem to be only capable of thinking in selfish (materialistic) terms, he tries to show by argument that the course we are taking puts us on the losing side: we are destroying our own shelter, we are depleting our food (and drink) sources and on top of that we are showing a sadder and sadder face.I don't think McKibben endorses such a hardline regarding the selfish propensities of human nature. I think he is arguing that our disregard for the welfare of the planet and others is not because we are inherently selfish, but because of our ignorance of alternative ways to live. Tied to this ignorance is a lot of bad habits that are undoubtedly difficult to break. I think McKibben will explore notions of Self and Community more thoroughly in his cahpter "All for One, One for All". I think McKibben argues that with more choices, local engagement and better information, humans can live healthier, happier lives in closer allignment with ecological necessities.loricat: To tell those countries they can't have the trappings of wealth because we've already botched up the whole world enough for everyone -- we need to be able to give them real options.I think this is an important point, but regardless of who has caused the most damage, none of us can afford to repeat or continue the mistakes made by those of us in US. We certainly don't carry a lot of credibility in the discussion (similiar to our demand that some nations reject any attempts at arming themselves with nuclear weapons). I think one important set of options we can give them is exchange in renewal energy technologies: imagine if our nations could begin a student exchange process where information regarding solar heating, bio-diesel fuel, local cooperative farming, wtaer recycling and purfication, organic livestock, was experimented across the planet and this new knowledge was shared and disseminated as vital policy making material? Julian: At a visceral level, human needs such as people lacking medical care, concern me more than environmental issues, such as forests being chopped down. However, global environmental damage has a massive human impact that will get worse in the future.It does seem like lack of medical care is a separate issue from environmental issues, but they are intimately connected. Moreso than the explicit damage that will be inflicted on human health by increasing environmental damage...is the current health disaster that results from our use of pesticides and chemicals in our agricultural and meat/livestock processing. Add to this the tens of thousands of pounds of pollutants poured into the air daily from the multitudes of industrial smokestacks across the nation...and their runoff into streams, rivers and water supplies with lead and mercury poisons (among many others). And, consider the psychological stress factor that impacts the millions of Americans stuck in rush hour traffic day in and day out...and the continual loss of wildlife habitat replaced by strip malls, asphalt, and massive suburban developments...I think McKibben is making a strong case for a holistic understanding of what makes us healthier. How we relate to the planet is a mirror for how we relate to ourselves and each other.MA: It seems to me that, structurally speaking, industrialized economy is heavily invested in the Cartesian ideology of controlling and transforming the natural world in order to serve human ends.I think McKibben captures this point very well: Quote:"If fossil fuel is a slave at our beck and call, renewable power is more like a partner. As we shall eventually see, that partnership could be immensely rewarding for people and communities, but can it power economic grwoth of the kind we are used to?" p.17If we are to transform our economy into something that creates more wealth for more people, is in accord with ecological necessities, fosters greater communal solidarity, and increases individual happiness...we can no longer view the natural world as something separate, apart from, and simply subject to our appetites and desires. I think the rest of McKibben's book is precisely an attempt to show how this kind of transformation is not only possible, but necessary. I think his next chapter, The Year of Eating Locally, provides a hopeful view of how practical awareness and intentional choices around our daily bread can fundamentally shift the Cartesian ideology you mention above.
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One of the mistakes we tend to make in considering these ideas is to fail to identify how changes occur in societies. Transforming the economy sounds like a huge task because we consider it from a top-down perspective. We think we have to change the big institutions, the dominant corporate perspective, and so on. And, of course, when the rich and powerful have great wealth invested, as they do, in maintaining the status quo, there's little likelihood they are going to be interested in changing things. However, transformations also occur from the bottom up. They may take longer, partly because of the resistance from the upper echelons, but they also may be more sustainable. Governments are rarely agents of change. They may become such, but usually only when the people have demanded it. McKibben seems to recognize the tremendous potential for change embodied in local action. People can't claim ownership of their lives waiting for others to hand it to them. The old mandate to think globally and act locally is especially appropriate here. One of the most profound insights of the last century is that we are not apart from nature but are very much a part of it. However, we can't escape the truth that our survival depends, as does the survival of all animal species, to exploiting natural resources to some extent. What we need to learn is how to make that exploitation friendlier and less destructive of the resources we harvest.Finally, I think we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion there was some idyllic time in the past when everything was in balance and all was golden. It's a fiction that gets in the way of honest answers. Whatever new models we evolve to resolve the issues that confront us--assuming we are able to resolve them--may well borrow from the past, but it's very unlikely they will bear any resemblance to it. George "Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."Godless in America by George A. Ricker
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garicker: One of the mistakes we tend to make in considering these ideas is to fail to identify how changes occur in societies....However, transformations also occur from the bottom up.That's definitely true, but in keeping with the idea of taking a realistic look at how changes occur in society, I think it's also worthwhile to note that such changes are rarely the result of a spontaneous, widespread adoption of idealism. Historically, social change has more often been associated with the introduction of new technologies (eg. agricultural technique), changes in physical environment (eg. deforestation or increased aridity), and fluctuations in population and diversity (eg. baby booms or mass immigration).
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Garicker: However, transformations also occur from the bottom up. They may take longer, partly because of the resistance from the upper echelons, but they also may be more sustainable. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, Thomas Friedman shows how globalization can be used against itself. He points to the internet as one of the key tools for globalization. But, as the sustainable farmer (I forget his name) demonstrated in The Omnivore's Dilemma, the internet is also a tool for local agricultural communities to share their knowledge. CSAs and food co-ops also use the internet to exchange knowledge, raise awareness and advertise. Friedman also mentioned how companies were pressured by the U.S. masses when the revelations of sweatshops for U.S. products became so prevalent. One company had totally redeveloped their foreign textiles industry because one bad report/story/blog on the internet affected the buying habits of their target audience (teenagers). (I'm sorry I don't have more particulars, I lent this book out.) Or consider the global efforts in the Live 8, Live Aid, and now Live Earth awareness campaigns. I think these ground-up, "power to the people," transformation efforts could incorporate many of the tools globalization utilizes. As garicker reminds us, we need to "think globally and act locally."
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Dissident Heart

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George: McKibben seems to recognize the tremendous potential for change embodied in local action. People can't claim ownership of their lives waiting for others to hand it to them. The old mandate to think globally and act locally is especially appropriate here.McKibben's argument is intimately tied to everyday people becoming intimately involved in their everyday lives: consider everything you consume, purchase, utilize, build with and throw away...careful, thoughtful, intentional attention to the stuff we make contact with and the people who give it to us and from whom we take. I think he is charting a radical transformation of not simply economic systems, but personal identity and communal organization...I think this is what he means by Deep Economy. "Claiming ownership of our lives", in terms of Deep Economy requires understanding the true costs of choices we make.I think McKibben is clear that in some cases, personal lifestyle changes will not be enough: the federal government and the full force of national policy will be essential...like his recent effort with Step It Up National Day of Climate Action--April 14th, 2007, where the rally involved mobilizing our Representatives to use the force of law to cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050. George: we can't escape the truth that our survival depends, as does the survival of all animal species, to exploiting natural resources to some extent. What we need to learn is how to make that exploitation friendlier and less destructive of the resources we harvest.Key to this is keeping our food close to home and building our homes in ways that enhance our intimacy with nature. There is a great deal in our consumption practices that do not reflect survival, but instead result from very bad habits linked to dangerous social structures and destructive belief systems. Nature involves an exchange of lives: we need to revaluate what it is we mean by death and reconsider how we pursue or avoid it. I think the closer and more intimate we become with the food we eat, the clearer we get about the seasons and rhythms of life and the more intelligently we allign ourselves and attune our appetites.
RaulRamos

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I see this thread is concentrating on whether McKibben's proposal for a change is feasible and if so how its realization would take place. I must confess that as I read on - I am presently reading chapter 4 - I am questioning more and more whether McKibben's proposal really suits my taste . But that's something I'd like to discuss in the thread of the corresponding chapters.Apart from that, I'd like to comment DH's remark on some lines of mine:Quote:I don't think McKibben endorses such a hardline regarding the selfish propensities of human nature. I think he is arguing that our disregard for the welfare of the planet and others is not because we are inherently selfish, but because of our ignorance of alternative ways to live. I have been considering this and I see some truth in your objection. It is very likely that I have interpreted McKibben's words very much in the light of my own pessimistic way of seeing human nature . However, I still see a difference between two main types of discourse: one which appeals to a desirable set of virtues that humans should cultivate, such as generosity, brother/sisterhood etc. and another one in which the appeal - though aiming at virtuous goals - is based on self-interest concerns.When I wrote those lines I had hardly finished the first chapter. Having read the first three I would still say that McKibben's discourse
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