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.

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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.

There are folks who never seem to get it. As I said in my introduction I like to read science blogs, and in general like to read science. Doesn’t matter what, biology, ecology, geology, physics, astronomy, climatology, you name it and I find it interesting.  Sometimes the mathematical models get a bit beyond me, but most of the time I can follow the arguments.  The most interesting aspect of many science blogs is the comments. Most comments are by other scientists discussing and arguing about some aspect of the data or research findings, often offering other references to scientific material. What always amuses me are the non-scientists who occasionally blunder in with some really simplistic question (they should do some basic research first) or who have some harebrained idea that is more science fiction than science, and some how expect the scientists to take them seriously.

Ran across one of these this week on a climate science blog, where a non-scientist was complaining that no one there was paying attention to his idea for polar cities as a solution to global warming.

There might be a time, in the not too distant future when humans find themselves moving further north, and there just might end up being permanent settlements along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. But this fellow is advocating the construction of these cities in the polar regions now — “when we have time and resources and air transport and fuel available, and get them ready for the future when the world MIGHT need them” before, as he says it’s too late — and deciding what fraction of humanity will get to take refuge in them when the world comes undone.

Let’s see, this guy wants some one to ante up enough money now to build cities to hold 100,000 to 1 million residents on the shores of the Arctic ocean, as a hedge against a possible future in which the mid-latitudes are uninhabitable.  There are so many reasons why economically and politically this is not feasible, but how about simple practicality.

Chersky, Russia

Chersky, Russia

Currently most of the land at the Arctic circle is still in permafrost.  So one begins building one of these cities now, on the currently stable permafrost land. Then if the warming he’s predicting occurs, all that permafrost melts (releasing its store of methane) and totally rips to shreds everything that was built on it. Like the building pictured to the right in Chersky, Russia cracked like an eggshell by the melting of permafrost.

Add to this the enormous amounts of fossil fuel energy that would have to be expended to air lift materials, food, supplies and workers, and provide power for the project. Because there are no roads from here to there, and no reliable ocean passages (yet).  How does one combat global warming (since that does seem to be what this person is about) by cooking up a scheme that will use dramatically more fossil fuel resources?

No wonder the guy can’t get any feedback from the scientists who frequent the site!