The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Summertime Blues

I'm gonna take two weeks, gonna have a fine vacation
I'm gonna take my problem to the United Nations
Well I called my congressman and he said Quote:
"I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote"
Sometimes I wonder what I'm a gonna do
But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues

I really like the way the "Is This So Difficult" thread went. Neither blogs nor usenet nor any other new media have been very effective in making progress, no more than the broadcast media that preceded them. What we need is a way for people to converge on issues, think about them together, round up the necessary expertise, and actually move toward new ideas. We had a glimmer of that in that thread.

I've always thought of climate change as just one of the more straightforward aspects of the sustainability problem. If we can;t get this one right, how can we move on to the others? Neven is proposing narrowing that down a bit: growth is the problem. Perhaps we can build a reasonable crusade on questioning the nature and sustainability of growth? After all, it seems to be at the center of the delusional structure of our time, and is a universal opinion of left and right. Full employment! Jobs! Economic Growth! Even population growth! It's so written into every transaction, every behavior, every argument. And yet it's obviously wrong, and has been obviously wrong since 1798 at the latest.

A lot of people will have a lot of resistance at that point. They'll call you communistic (though if you'd said it thirty years ago in Moscow you'd presumably be called an imperialist for that; indeed, imperialism is an ideology of scarcity).

There are other ideas that seem to have resonance with a very wide audience. I have recently had some success reaching out to military types by making the analogy of the earth to a ship, which I owe to the quirky and sporadically brilliant (but genuinely brilliant nonetheless!) Buckminster Fuller. (no relation to Tom, one presumes...)

Which brings me to another really big question.

The fact is that now that there are enough of us to rock the boat, there does need to be some authority to keep the boat steady. One hesitates to argue for a global government; not only is the concept viscerally hated in America these days but it really does have some serious dangers associated with it. Would an American teenager today even fantasize about taking their troubles to the United Nations, like the protagonist in Eddie Cochran;s 1958 song?

In the coming decades, there has to be some authority, some amount of global soveriegnty. I think recent events have demonstrated beyond doubt that we can't cope with just the current system. You don't run a ship with six big captains, a dozen less influential captains, and a hundred and forty minor captains. It seems to me that we have to press for a global decision-making process. (Anyone who is planning to fall back on geoengineering the more so!)

People who believe that such a thing is a very bad idea should reflect on the existence of the GATT and the WTO. We have had global governance for decades now. We simply don't give it any powers other than the protection of big capital. Don't get me wrong. Big capital absolutely needs protecting; the whole bloody system falls apart otherwise. (As I understand it, it nearly did so last year.) We have become quite dependent on this system. But it really lacks some important priorities. There are other stakeholders on the planet, many (one hopes) as yet unborn. The thing that has utterly failed us is the collection of nation-states each acting in its own interest.

What a stupid way to go.

Is there an alternative? Is there a way to exert pressure on a global scale? Is that the end run around idiot nations and nationalisms?

13 comments:

Dan Olner said...

All great questions. I nearly got into a big waffle, but (phew) will keep to one question: say some people wanted to learn more about Elinor Ostrom's work - looking at ways of managing common pool resources outside of the tired dichotomy of public vs private. (So e.g. maybe discussing how smaller regions might treat carbon as a common pool resource, and how exchange with other regions might work). I'd love to do that - e.g. listen to the podcast I mentioned before, then discuss with others, maybe with some framing questions.

Is that something that could happen over the interwebs? Or is that sort of learning only effective face to face? I know a lot of work is being done around online education - but climate bloggin' folks know more than most the weaknesses of the internet. Nevertheless, there's clearly potential here to bring together disparate people around a common set of goals. Has anyone seen good, successful examples of this sort of semi-structured learning work on the web?

I guess it could be incredibly simple. E.g. here's a google group, we're discussing the podcast between these dates, here's some guiding questions, maybe led by one or two people setting it up... That's just an online reading group.

Just a thought. As I say, it may just be this sort of thing just doesn't work without a much more rigorous learning structure imposed on it.

Dan Olner said...

Also, as I was commenting about limits to growth on this blog the other day, I was attacked by a limits-to-growth metaphor. See picture here:

http://www.coveredinbees.org/sites/www.coveredinbees.org/files/img2631d.jpg

Yup - that's a pigeon-print on the window. An almighty bang, scared the living bejeesus out of me while I was commenting. Kind of viscerally underscored what I was thinking about: we might not be adapted to see some of the barriers that the world may present us with. It doesn't mean they're not there.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

MT, methinks you spend too much time dreaming up grandiose institutional structures, most of which won't even begin to have a snail's chance of getting built. A grandiose institutional structure for science journalism, a grandiose institutional structure for global atmospheric action, a grandiose institutional structure for separating discussion signal from noise... what next?

It's OK to dream I guess, but if those dreams don't suggest a course of action that I can take, then personally I prefer to find something that I can actually do, rather than continually dreaming up more dreams.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

Frank, the best you can do as an individual is give up using coal.

If you think you should be trying to communicate instead, what are you communicating? That we should all get off the grid? I hope not. You would do better to communicate that we need new instituitions.

If it's a tall order it's a tall order. Maybe small gestures won't be enough.

Dean said...

The alternate to a global governance that creates some sort of enforceable structure is some way for countries to group together to apply pressure on others. This is what the UN does now, such as via sanctions. It isn't all that successful, and the Security Council system pretty much ensures that it cannot be used against the larger countries that resist. Sanctions can be approved against Iran or North Korea, but not China or the US.

So if a group of countries got together and formed a voluntary association based on a willingness to and a record of mitigation and/or adaptation to AGW (which would have to be demonstrated before being allowed to join), they could choose to apply pressure against non-members via some form of sanction.

But by definition, the countries able to block security council resolutions will generally be hard to pressure since they likely have strong economies. And also pride and patriotism to resist giving in.

It still strikes me as unlikely, but it's the only system outside of an enforceable system that I can think of. It might be able to work in a world that overwhelmingly accepts AGW and for which successful policies have been demonstrated.

Michael Tobis said...

Minor experiment clobbered all my old comments. No go for now.

So Guthrie was the guinea pig and commented:

Over here in the UK they dropped the full employment thing back in 1979 and never picked it up again. Our gvt (and as far as I can tell the EU ones as well) are entirely happy with growth and high unemployment.

The solution naturaly is revolution, but your tastes may vary.

guthrie said...

I noticed the old comments had gone, assumed you would to. At least you could re-instate the old system.

The only other thing I can see working is Dean's suggestion. I'm afraid I am not very optimistic right now.

Martin Vermeer said...

We haven't seen any nuclear explosions in the atmosphere either for a while. All done without black helicopters.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Dean:

"But by definition, the countries able to block security council resolutions will generally be hard to pressure since they likely have strong economies. And also pride and patriotism to resist giving in."

It'll be great of course if this 'AGW association of countries' can seriously dent the economy of a large nation, but perhaps it's not really necessary. What's important is whether this 'AGW association' itself can hold its own without relying on the large nations.

If the Wikileaks leak is any indication, the modus operandi of the US State Department when dealing with smaller nations, such as Slovenia and Germany, has been to go around telling them 'you had better simply do what we say or we'll be angry and you really don't want us to be angry'. However, the US administration knows that this trick doesn't really work on China, Russia, India, or (to some extent) Brazil -- because they can hold their own.

If there's suddenly also an 'AGW association' where these scare tactics fail to work, then I expect things to start getting interesting.

-- frank

Michael Tobis said...

It is beyond imagining that nobody in Europe is thinking about this. The share of the world economy that is American remains huge, but it is shrinking.

Mal Adapted said...

"The solution naturaly is revolution, but your tastes may vary." - Guthrie

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." - The Who

Be careful what you wish for!

gryposaurus said...

While I see no way to provide an overriding structural global bureaucracy to fix our unbalanced ecological way of life, I think there will always be a way to get cooperation on ideas that benefit each individual nation-state.

This would entail similar type governments. The problem right now is that the governments are of the classic liberal economics variety, meaning sell as much of the country off to create more and more capital to the multinational financiers and hope that fixes everything. It all ends up there in the long run. There are varying degrees of this in different parts of the world, but this is where we are headed.

There are other forms of government that get little discussion in world politics, except to scare people. The collective right, ie old style Torism or the collective left ie the social democrats, marxists, mutualists,etc. Then there are the technocrats (yay!). Although I tend to lean to the left, the collective right seems to be the next best alternative. The problem being the imperialistic nature when resources are scarce. When liberal capitalism fails, and it has and will, there needs to be a collective mindset that takes back control of national resources and therefore world resources from the corporate, limitless growth model to which it was sold. Or we will make no progress toward ecologically balanced goals.

If the answer is to take on the climate problem as part of the larger "balance" issue (which I've always thought should have the message), I don't see a way to fix the problem without a collective takeover, in one form or another.

Anna Haynes said...

> "listen to the podcast I mentioned before"

Folks (plural), a request - when you reference previous comments made here or elsewhere, it helps ye olde reader if you provide a link.