"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Gore is the Middle

One of the problems with framing Gore as holding an extreme position is that it doesn't give much voice to people actually holding extreme positions that are worth considering. Consider, for example, James Gustave Speth's new book, The Bridge at the End of the World, reviewed in the Washington Post by Ross Gelbspan. From the review:

One might assume, given this setup, that Speth would argue for a revitalization of the environmental movement. He does not. Environmentalism, in his view, is almost as compromised as the planet itself. Speth faults the movement for using market incentives to achieve environmental ends and for the deception that sufficient change can come from engaging the corporate sector and working "within the system" and not enlisting the support of other activist constituencies.

Environmentalism today is "pragmatic and incrementalist," he notes, "awash in good proposals for sensible environmental action" -- and he does not mean it as a compliment. "Working only within the system will . . . not succeed when what is needed is transformative change in the system itself."

See, the way I look at it is like this. The optimal change is the smallest social change that achieves environmentally sound objectives. That may be large but we should try to make it as small as possible to maximize the chance of avoiding a human population crash. Postindustrial postcrash humans are likely to be an extremely nasty ratlike species.

So I am with Gore on methods. It infuriates me that even NPR casually characterizes this position as extremist when in fact it is by far the most market-friendly and least culture disruptive position consistent with the circumstances. What we need is an optimally small transformative change, small enough that it can actually happen.

This ties in with new evidence about the priorities of the press and of the government which seem finely tuned to the twentieth century, which would be very excellent, except for that that one is over, guys.

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