Already figured out

A list of things we have already figured out, ways of living that support the planet’s future, to be quite frank about it.

Fast(er) trains – take the best one in the U.S., the Acela in the northeast corridor. We should have deeded it over to France or Japan years ago. They would charge us less, the trains would already be faster and more efficient, likely easily spread south and west for obvious reasons, displacing an over-reliance on regional airline traffic. Because we… see title.

Live close to work, school and play. This supposed magic to happy living requires no reverse engineering, and actually very little engineering at all. Just incentives and penalties, zoning, bikes lanes, public transport, and host a host of things we… see title.

Eco-friendly products, ‘perils’ of greenwashing (who’s, exactly?), and renewable energy generation. The barriers holding us back to realizing these are… the decisions not to embrace them. It’s very much akin to not funding pre-K or other early childhood education that we already know works really well. They all exist right now and have for decades. Renewable energy is in its early adulthood, and the so-called ‘perils’ are only fueling the corporate campaign to delay changing anything:

The peer-reviewed paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, analyzed all known climate predictions produced or reported by scientists at ExxonMobil and its predecessor from 1977-2003, and found that they were “at least as skillful” as those by independent experts (Exxon merged with Mobil in 1999). Like those independent models, most of Exxon’s proved to be accurate.

“They didn’t just vaguely know something about global warming decades ago, they literally knew as much as independent academic scientists did,” said Geoffrey Supran, the paper’s lead author, who recently left a research position at Harvard University to become an associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science. “We now have this airtight, unimpeachable evidence that Exxon accurately predicted global warming years before it turned around and publicly attacked climate science.”

How much longer we’ll have to let the debates about ESG rage on, die off, and make comebacks are more about the fate of business news operations and PR than they are about investments in viable products, power, or even politics. Getting past what we’ve already figured out is the only route to splashy new breakthroughs like, hey, the coral reefs might actually survive.

Image: ACC Transportation and Public works

Unutilitarian Pursuits

Because I consider him an honorable mentionee for Quintessential Misanthrope, I am almost embarrassed by my affinity for Bertrand Russell. Almost.

The Why Work? site has his 1932 essay, In Praise of Idleness, in which there are so many nuggets, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one to post on your blog. But one thread from then to now – from the reality of his perceptions about work to what should be ours – is the perspective shift. If you took a cross section sample from their (early industrial) fascination with machines and what they could do for us and compared it to one from 2009, we should see elements of cliche and fatigue with the machine age, not to mention some not-so-subtle exasperation.

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organisation of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organisation, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous.

It’s a highly informed discussion of surplus and leisure, all the while however, as certain elements of our fidelity to work remains unchanged, even in the face of the gargantuan contributions of machines of all sorts, it is also the story of our wastefulness, growing ignorance, passive recreations… in a word, how western civilization has become unsustainable. Mostly because of being too tired to understand our over-reverence for hard work.

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilisation and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.

And eventually he gets to the two ways in which we have ultimately been misled about “moving matter about” which has led us to the array of choices otherwise known as today.

The fact is that moving matter about, while a certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. If it were, we should have to consider every navvy superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, for thousands of years, to preach the dignity of labour, while taking care themselves to remain undignified in this respect. The other is the new pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in the astonishingly clever changes that we can produce on the earth’s surface.

Ouch. The new pleasure in mechanism… it sounds so quaint. What has this sly little combination turned into? Now that we are astonishingly terrified about the changes we have produced on the earth’s surface, to what do we turn to turn things around? Machines. Can I make this sound any more foolish? The crushing waste of time, resources and intellect involved in the creation of our present crisis can be no better summed up than in the last couple of lines of this A.O. Scott review of the new transformers movie.

But that’s the perverse genius of Michael Bay. Despite the tediousness of his stories and inanity of his visual ideas, he always manages to keep you laughing and shaking your head in disbelief at the outlandishness of his cinematic spectacles, with their orange explosions, armament fetishism and even their noxious stereotypes. The man just wears you out and wears you down, so much so that it’s easy to pretend that you’re not ingesting 2 hours and 30 minutes of warmongering along with all that dumb fun.

Maybe my dislike of Russell is itself a kind of misanthropy, but in reverse, turned against just him for calling us all out so clearly.

Four. Hours. A. Day.

Imported and Distorted

Insight on the new Honda Insight (hybrid automobile) from a climate change skeptic, whose cruel sense of humor almost circles back around to making sense. Sample.

The nickel for the battery has to come from somewhere. Canada, usually. It has to be shipped to Japan, not on a sailing boat, I presume. And then it must be converted, not in a tree house, into a battery, and then that battery must be transported, not on an ox cart, to the Insight production plant in Suzuka. And then the finished car has to be shipped, not by Thor Heyerdahl, to Britain, where it can be transported, not by wind, to the home of a man with a beard who thinks he’s doing the world a favour.

Why doesn’t he just buy a Range Rover, which is made from local components, just down the road? No, really — weird-beards buy locally produced meat and vegetables for eco-reasons. So why not apply the same logic to cars?

Just so.

Reminds me of L.F. Celine’s Bardamu in Journey to the End of the Night, when the doctor-cum-mal vivant spends some time working at a Ford Plant near Detroit.

When we’d put on our clothes again, we were sent off in slow-moving single files and hesitant groups towards the places where the vast crashing sound of the machines came from. The whole building shook, and oneself from one’s soles to one’s ears was possessed by this shaking, which vibrated from the ground, the glass panes and all this metal, a series of shocks from floor to ceiling. One was turned by force into a machine oneself, the whole of one’s carcass quivering in this vast frenzy of noise, which filled you within and all around the inside of your skull, and lower down rattled your bowels, and climbed to your eyes in infinite, little, quick unending strokes. As you went along, you lost your companions. You gave them a little smile when they fell away, as if it was all the greatest fun in the world. You couldn’t speak to them any longer or hear them. Each time, three or four stayed behind around a machine…. The little bucking trolley car loaded with metal bits and pieces strives to make headway through the workmen. Out of the light! They jump aside to let the hysterical little thing pass along. And hop! There it goes like mad thing, clinking on its way amid belts and flywheels, taking the men their ration of shackles.

Since we cannot but ask for more, seconds all around.