Time – the Revelator

We spend all manner of time and effort trying to de-couple these things which cannot be separated, no matter how much we want them to be.

I’m talking about economic growth and any of the things we don’t want to tackle because we’re afraid tackling them might harm our prospects for growth: health care reform, immigration policy, energy policy, especially regarding carbon emissions. Not only only will addressing these policy challenges head-on not jeopardize the future of the economy – the future of the economy is pretty-well destined to leave the toilet and head toward the sewer if we don’t address them. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.



So what do you see when you see this graph? Are the prospects for growth drying up? Are they tied to other coincidental developments( peak stupid oil, the internet, the economic rise of Yurp and China? The wild swings of yesteryear and the policies that conjured them should not be the goal now. But this is a difficult idea for our better minds to grasp. We want to go back back back. Time goes forward forward forward, and well have to do way more with way less or we’ll just be like those crowds of people in old movies that are all dead now.

The prospects for and directions of future growth are changing; not in-a-phone-booth kind of changing but cloaked in the heavy disguise of things we’ve [supposedly] never done and so appear foreign and frightening, even un-American. But that charge is scurrilous and ignorant, and done they must be if the growth we crave is to become the reality we so desperately seek to escape. The extent to which we do not get this can become depressing; the extent to which we do will liberate us in the direction that turns hopes into certainty. Warning: An opposite set of outcomes may apply to the more resourceful among you.

Can you hear me, Doctor?

Warrior-Philosophers and the Nitrogen Cycle

What does Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations have to do with hypoxia zones in the Gulf of Mexico? As pointed out, if one out-sized work by a grand personage were seen as rather ordinary prescriptions for decent conduct and otherwise commonsensical, might other directives of a seemingly radical nature take their place among the more banal measures of merely astute management? So it may seem.

The United Nations recently approved the broad application of the first agricultural methodology, or biological approach, for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UN’s announcement coincides with the USDA’s analysis report that shows the economic benefits to agriculture from the U.S. cap-and-trade legislation.

The agricultural methodology, which will be used to design projects that eliminate the use of synthetic nitrogen on legumes like soybeans and cowpeas, was developed by Amson Technology LC, a greenhouse-gas-reduction and sustainability consulting firm, Becker Underwood Inc., a leading developer of bio-agronomic and specialty products and Perspectives GmbH, a Point Carbon company, a high-quality greenhouse gas reduction market solutions provider.

In the U.S., a sustainable agriculture survey conducted by Rabobank shows that nearly 70 percent of the U.S. farmers and ranchers have taken steps toward implementing sustainable agricultural practices, and dairy farmers are striving to cut 25 percent annual GHG emissions related to the production of fluid milk by 2020.

Whether via legislation, grass-roots activism or market economics, many of the more exotic-seeming solutions to the way we lay waste to the natural environment are nothing of the kind. Problems of excess can be managed with sensible long-term projections about production and the pollution horizons that will result; scaling one down until it bears a manageable relationship to the other (sustainable or better). In other words, what we need divided by what we know. In what other world would these types of reasonable management practices seem radical?

Marcus Aurelious was hailed, even at the time, as a philospher-emporer, as if that was an unusual combination. The mixed message of our age is the mythology of ‘economies of scale’, as if one can transcend the other. We’ve got no business in that business. Industrial agriculture should be seen as the grotesque distortion, not our attempts to correct it.

The Green Mile

The distance that runs between what we need to do for the planet and keeping everything going just as it is, if not a little better. This supports another reason why the green is so compelling as a word for something we don’t understand and, simultaneously, know only too well.

An article in the New Republic spoons up the conventional wisdom on green and greening, how its fashion star has faded and what that  and ten cents will get you after polls prove how we’ll chose economic growth over the environment every time, as if that was anything more than one of the multiple answers supplied by the survey. Jeesh.

And then, almost as quickly as it had inflated, the green bubble burst. Between January 2008 and January 2009, the percentage of Americans who told the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that the environment was a “top priority” dropped from 56 percent to 41 percent. While surveys have long showed that enthusiasm for all things green is greatest among well-educated liberals, the new polling results were sobering. For the first time in a quarter century, more Americans told Gallup in March that they would prioritize economic growth “even if the environment suffers to some extent” than said they would prioritize environmental protection “even at the risk of curbing economic growth.” Soon thereafter, Shell announced it would halt its investments in solar and wind power.

Alright. But let’s not underplay this ‘green bubble’ idea as just another noctural, if speculatory, emission. It’s easy to do that, but still. Test yourself. What if the bubble is actually about the fact that the virtue of this necessity is not our requirement that it must co-exist with a romanticized view of the simple life, but that the over-leveraged, wasteful, fossil fuel-dependent life as we demand it IS the bubble?

It may be pleasant to imagine resource scarcity as a kind of hype that we can become less infatuated with and leave by the roadside, but the whole point was that we have to change the way we live not becuase it’s somehow musty or uncool but because the short-sightedness on which it is based is destroying the planet.

Separating our economic troubles from our environmental concerns should be the thing that seems passe’, no?