I am a professional analyst of society; my training is in social research, my primary employment – my bread and butter so to speak – requires me to engage in ongoing research and analysis of social, economic, environmental and political trends. So what follows are not the observations of your ordinary citizen observer or even of a journalist (not at all sure why so many people these days accept journalists – such as Thomas Friedman – as experts on social and economic trends). I spend my days immersed in data, examining the nitty-gritty of income distribution, education attainment, crop reports, tuition costs, energy production figures, employment trends, Arctic melt patterns and extreme weather events, economic investment patterns.

What I see emerging from all this data is stark and disturbing for advanced capitalist industrial nations, but more so for the United States than countries that have made an effort to blunt the contradictions of industrial capitalism with social policy.  We are simply running out of places into which to “bury” the toxic effects of industrial capitalism.  Two types of contradictions exist within industrial capitalism: one has to do with the fact that every single successful capitalist enterprise must draw in more revenue than it gives out in wages/salaries and other costs; the second with the impossibility of the constant growth in production required by industrial capitalism meeting the barrier of finite resources.

For two hundred and fifty years we managed to avoid the first problem by finding sources of revenue that were outside the realm of industrial capitalist societies (undeveloped or underdeveloped nations), and avoid the second problem because we had yet to come close to the limits of key resources like petroleum and natural gas, or the limits of sinks for waste products like carbon dioxide and toxic chemicals. But today, there is no country where capitalist industrial enterprise has not taken hold and converted nations of peasants and artisans into wage earning laborers. And today the limits of resources like petroleum are all too visible, as are the limits of sinks for carbon dioxide and other wastes.

The United States is heading straight for an economic, social and ecological brick wall. To all those Tea Partiers who “want my country back,” I’m sorry, but your country is gone, irretrievably broken and disintegrated, and even if the majority of Americans actually wished to return to days of racial, ethnic and gender inequality that you hold with such great reverence it cannot be recovered. To all the liberals who have “Hope” for the future based on “Change,” sorry, the course is set, there’s not enough resources left to pull us out of the dive we began more than a generation ago.  The next several generations of Americans will have less in the way of material goods, less time, less energy, less ease, less of everything.  There is no changing this. Conservatives who want to reclaim the past can’t stop this from happening. Liberals who want to subsidize the future can’t stop it from happening either.

We are in the condition of “overshoot” warned against by Meadows, Randers and Meadows in their 1972 The Limits to Growth, and then again in the 1992 follow-up Beyond the Limits, and yet again in their Limits to Growth: Thirty Year Update in 2004. Industrial capitalism is the 52,000 ton Titanic. The iceberg is right in front of us. There’s no way to steer a ship of that size around the obstacle. We are going to “crash.” There’s no avoiding it.

So why not give up? Why vote? If the course is set, the disaster is unavoidable, decline is inevitable, why does it matter who wins in 2012? It does matter. Because every disaster, including the Titanic can have survivors. It matters, because the two parties have very different views on how many “lifeboats” and “life preservers” there should be and who should have access to them. I’m going to vote for the party and the candidate, that is going to do its best to make sure that both rich and poor have a chance at surviving. The party that will provide enough life boats for everyone, and won’t be excluding people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or income. Life boats may not be a luxury liner, but they are the difference between death and survival. Not everyone will survive, but I intend to vote for the party and the candidate that’s going to do it’s best to make sure that the cards aren’t stacked against those in “steerage” and in favor of those with “first class tickets.”  If you can’t figure out for whom I’m going to vote you aren’t paying attention to this election.

Both right-wing and left-wing extremes (I’m part of the latter) do agree on one thing, we’re “on the wrong track” and going “to hell in a handbasket” if we don’t make some serious changes. Other than that basic agreement these two ends of the political continuum fail to agree on anything else — such as what the wrong track is, why it is wrong, and who is responsible for us being on that mistaken track, and what we should do about it. This is why the typical opinion poll which simply asks the bald question “is America on the right track?” gives us such a deceptively high percentage of people (64 percent in a March Ipsos’s poll) saying that we’re on the wrong track.

As a left winger, I think we’re on the wrong track because: 1) we keep reducing taxes on the rich and corporations when we ought to be increasing them, 2) we keep cutting programs for the poor, disabled, elderly, students and children, when we ought to be increasing them, 3) we keep giving subsidies to gas, oil and coal companies when we should be eliminating them and investing heavily in hydro, wind, solar, and everything else renewable, 4) the rich are getting richer while the poor (and the middle class and, well, everybody except the very rich) keep getting relatively poorer, 5) we’re not closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and we’re not getting out of Afghanistan, and 6) we’re letting evangelical Christians impose their version of Biblical law on us. And the cause of all these problems is unrestrained, unregulated capitalism, and unfettered capitalism is beginning to collapse from its own internal contradictions, just like Marx said it would (he was only wrong about the timing).

Anyone with half a brain knows that the right-wing version of we’re going down the wrong track is almost exactly the opposite of every point on my list.

On a blog I read occasionally I saw this proposal for moving the country to more sustainable energy use:

My proposal is that electric utility companies currently heavily invested in their own coal-fired generation consider adopting the model used by Bell Telephone in the 1950’s. In exchange for a modest installation fee (say a few hundred dollars that could be prorated over a period of time) well within the budgets of middle and working class families with “green values,” the utility company would deliver and install solar panels on the consumers home — but, and here’s what I think is a new idea (at least as applied to electricity generation) the utility company would retain ownership of those panels in perpetuity, and charge the consumer a monthly fee for the electricity consumed from those panels.

Here’s the details — the one’s that I think would make this idea appealing to both the consumer and to the utility company. The individual solar installations would 1) be large enough to provide for ordinary, peak daylight hours electricity use and 2) would be tied into the grid allowing for both inflow and outflow. The utility company would benefit, because all excess electricity generated would flow into the grid for use by other customers (and unlike the situation where a household customer owns the solar installation, the utility company would own that excess flow outright and not be paying the customer with the installation for it). With each household or business that added solar generation, the electricity generating capacity of the entire grid would be expanded. The capitalization costs would be spread out over time — no huge up-front investment in generation capacity years before any new power can be generated. Moreover, following current phone company and cable company practices, the utility company could charge a very small (a few dollars) monthly maintenance fee to consumers, to cover costs of periodic maintenance and repair.

The consumer would benefit in two ways: they would have the assurance that in the absence of sunlight they would still have electricity, and conversely, during widespread power outages due to downed transmission lines they would also still have their locally generated power. Indeed, if several households in a neighborhood had contracted with the utility for solar panels, the entire neighborhood circuit might be protected from electricity loss during a widespread outage….From the utility company’s perspective, they are able to gradually expand their generating capacity, using “green” sources, with small, periodic expenditures of capital that can be partially charged to the customer (installation fees), and also recouped by feeding all excess electricity generated into the grid. Customers without the panels who depended solely on the grid would pay the standard rate for their electricity. By dispersing solar generation through out the households served by a utility, there would be a substantial increase in efficiency, as electricity would be consumed closer to where it was generated, reducing the losses to long distance transmission. Most of all this idea allows utility companies to make the transition to renewable electricity generation gradual and incremental, and thus less painful and more acceptable.

Intriguing idea, particularly since it lays the ground work for a far more radical shift. Once solar installations had penetrated a significant percentage of housing units, the citizens could stage a take-over of power-generation. Instead of “nationalizing” the power industry, we could “communitize” the power industry. Okay, I made that term-up by what I mean is transferring ownership of means of production to community or neighborhood groups. So even though this proposal, on the surface seems to expand the power and reach of utility companies, it does have within it the seeds for a more radical, decentralized energy economy.

The longer that the oil continues to gush from the Deepwater horizon well, the more oil that contaminates the gulf, the greater the destruction of the Gulf, the better it is for the oil industry. Seriously.

What does the oil industry hate the most — all those safety and environmental regulations. Even when they don’t really follow them, they still have to waste the time of paid employees to go through the motions of complying with environmental and safety regulations, of regulatory visits and all those forms to fill out.

So, what if the gulf is so polluted, so toxic that all marine life is just gone. No dolphins, no whales, no fish, no fishing industry, no shrimp, no shrimpers. All the beaches contaminated, all the tourist industry gone elsewhere. If it’s all destroyed then protecting it becomes moot. No more need for all those troublesome regulations. The oil industry will then be able to drill where ever and when ever they wish in the gulf. No one will care (at least politically) if the wells leak because the damage is already done.

A toxic swamp gulf is exactly what the oil industry needs.

Today I read a piece that touted the objectivity and disinterest of science as an enterprise when it comes to global warming.  This completely ignores the fact that most of the people involved in the political promotion of anti-global warming policies are not scientists, and are motivated by many different agendas. Even when scientists enter into the political arena their activities in that arena are no longer governed by scientific review.

I’ve heard some people say that the real test in the difference between those who support the idea of anthropogenic global warming and those who deny it, is that no one who supports the idea really wants it to exist -they’d rather be wrong than right, and their acceptance of the rightness of it is reluctant. Well I’m here to say that’s bullshit. Of course there are people who want humanly caused global warming to be real, and I’m one of them.

First let me make a distinction between the scientists, who has a professional interest in not having his/her career go up in smoke because some one comes up with contrary findings, and some one like me who actively is rooting for a warmer earth. Most of those scientists may have career investments to protect, but they’d really rather be wrong than right, because the enterprise of science is highly dependent upon a stable, high tech, wealth industrialized society, and that’s precisely what global warming threatens.  Folks like me on the other hand, and there are quite a few of us, actively detest highly centralized, large scale, global, industrial capitalism and would really like to see a very different kind of social system in its place. We’re opportunists who see global warming as a chance to either convince people to make changes we think are necessary anyway, or force them by circumstances to change.

Now I don’t agree with the “mother earth” lovers, who whine about the earth dying and view humanity as a form of locust that should be exterminated. I think humans are a fine species. I like being human. I like most other humans.  I just think we’ve gone a very long way in the wrong direction, and need a course correction to a simpler, more localized, more decentralized, more humane way of life.

I’m not talking about reverting to foraging, or even becoming true agricultural societies. There’s not a thing wrong with computers or the Internet, or with electricity. However, I have overcome a prejudice of my youth that held flush toilets to be the epitome of civilization, and can now see that composting toilets, with the compost recycled back into local farms would be far more sustainable.

I’m a big fan of the writings of Murray Bookchin (Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future, South End Press, 1990), who envisions “decentralized communities, united in free confederations or networks for coordinating the communities of a region, …[reflecting] the traditional ideals of a participatory democracy…” (page 181).  Bookchin sees the “need to rescale communities to fit the natural carrying capacity of the regions in which they are located and to create a new balance between town and country” as an “ecological imperative” (page 185).

As I see it, if the climate scientists are right, and I suspect that they probably are, environmental circumstances will force upon us changes that will disrupt global capitalism, and combined with the loss of fossil fuels will result in greater localism whether we want it to or not. However, if we wait to be forced into this chances are the changes will come about due to more oppressive governments to deal with the extremes of dislocation and social unrest almost certain to appear.

So I’d rather use the fear of global warming as a tool to get people to willingly, gradually restructure society. Even if it turns out that the world doesn’t get warmer and the environmental catastrophe’s don’t happen, the end result of a restructured, more localized, slower, less energy intensive, more democratic society is more than worth it. But all in all, I think humanity — a  least what’s left of it — might be better off in a warmer world.

From time to time I will be recognizing others who go out on a limb. Today’s nod goes to Dr. Glen Barry at Earth Meanders – http://earthmeanders.blogspot.com/ – who really goes to the edge with his dark visions of earth’s future.  Dr. Barry does have other, more fact oriented websites, but Earth Meanders is where he really lets his visions fly.  Unfortunately, his posts are only periodic.