cj#880> Desmond responsd re: Malthus & World Hunger

1998-12-13

Richard Moore

Dear cj,

As you can see my email in California is working fine. But I'll be on the
road the rest of this week with Brian Hill meeting left & right activists
in northern Calif.  Will report.

---

Here's another in the malthus thread.  My take on this is that Steve & Dan
(cj#878 & 879) are misunderstanding my position. Because I focus so much on
capitalism & corporate power, they seem to assume I'm a marxist or
socialist or whatever.  I'm not.

My vision of the future (as can be seen from draft 1 of the book on the
website) is on sustainability, decentralized power, etc.  The reason I
focus on capitalism is first of all to emphasize that it is not and could
never be sustainable, and second, because capitalist political power must
be overcome before we can pursue _any alternate vision of the future.

rkm

----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From: "Dan Desmond" <•••@••.•••>
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: RE: cj#879> re: Malthus & World Hunger
Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998

Richard, that's the problem with hastily written, short replies to issues
that are as profound and complex as these.  I certainty do not dismiss the
effects of industrialization on carrying capacity.  But neither to I believe
that a collectivist political agenda will somehow makes us more mindful of
the environment or more equitable in sharing earth's resources.  (At least
my experience working with governments of the former USSR for the past
decade tell me that the capitalists are pikers when it comes  to ecocide).
I believe that the decentralization of government is more the key to
sustainability than simply another brand of big government.  In addition, I
believe that one of the greatest obstacles to engaging the business
community in better stewardship is the "obligatory" political baggage that
environmentalists feel is essential for a moral being.  When the occasional
capitalist does  finally get religion, they are as passionate and perhaps
more effective than those who scold from the left.

The problem we face at present is that the per capita median income for our
planet is $ 2 per day.  So with half the population at less than that
figure, there is no likelihood that they can become sustainable under a 20th
century industrial paradigm.  The best estimates for that model I've seen is
about 500 million people for the whole planet, and even then they'd have to
move to a solar/hydrogen economy before the next half century had passed.

One of the issues to be faced is that we need a path for industrialized
societies to make money from regeneration rather than from resource
depletion.  So for example, if we begin to market electric power from
distributed "electro-farms", we can do the following: 1) move from cereal
grains in drought-prone prairie regions to C-4 perennial reeds, like
switchgrass - 15 foot deep roots, no fertilizer, builds tilth in the soil,
etc. 2) Gassify the reeds in a low temperature reactor, there's no Nox and
the hydrogen rich fuel can power a fuel cell (1 MW in 300-600 acres). 3)
The C02 released from the reformer could be sequestered by a continuously
harvested crop.  4) Farming becomes less dependent on the ups & down of
commodity markets and more secure with long term power contracts.

So take that example and extend it to developing countries, but always with
appropriate technology in mind - that is, appropriate to the economic
capacity and social culture of the region. They need to move towards a more
sustainable economy, but their path should not be that of China, which is
taking the cheapest, dirtiest path to technology possible.  Since most
people on the planet live within 200 miles of an ocean coast, they might
look at some of the new piezoelectric ocean generating technologies -
benign, recyclable, no moving parts and long-lived with 3 cent power and
maybe a 50 year useful life. Let me give you a concrete example of what I
mean by non-subsidized, appropriate technology:  I've designed a prototype
solar evacuated tube cooking device that is optimized for the needs of
families in Central America ( where my wife and I are doing some work with
indigenous peoples re sustainability).  The local diet is corn tortilla,
beans & rice.   The cooker can pasteurize water, operate in pressure cooking
mode, as a griddle, and has no moving parts.  The design life should be
30-50 years or more.  That means that even very poor families could lease
the device.  There are similar opportunities with solar PV and a few compact
fluorescent lights - in that instance, the PV package when leased is cheaper
than kerosene or candles, which is the current means of indoor lighting -
and this with families whose annual income is less than $ 700 per year.

But here's the real rub, in my opinion:  few nations on the planet are
environmentally sovereign.  True sovereignty in that sense would mean that a
nation should have a fundamental sufficiency in soil, water, energy, and
essential raw materials.  Less than a quarter of the countries flying flags
at the UN meet that test.  For most countries, trade is mandatory and not
discretionary.  That means that we end up metabolizing some other
bioregion's food and requiring yet others to metabolize our waste.  For
example, here in Eastern Pennsylvania, our landfill tipping fees are so much
lower than New York or New Jersey, that we bury millions of tons of their
garbage at our sites.  Truly sovereign bioregions must have that
"fundamental sufficiency", and that means that not every bioregion can have
the same kind of economy or technology.  The minute we begin  using
transportation technology to subsidize other regions, we lose the capability
to control or maintain stewardship in our own back yard.  So the desert
kingdoms of the Arabian Peninsula really should not expect to continue with
their Western style growth and development plans.

I do agree that the track record of industrialists (and the capitalists who
are their enablers) is dismal.  But I mistrust the far left and far right in
equal measures, believing that politics is circular rather than linear;
villains abound at either extreme.  So my solution is decentralization and
bioregional optimization - no central planning please.  Its entirely
possible that the Internet and telecom technologies will make that vision a
reality.  Its still a question of economic policy.

If government really wants to help, then it could do more to level the
playing field and stop subsidizing the depletion of resources.  That is, if
the U.S. government would factor in the $ 55 billion it costs to keep our
6th fleet in the Persian Gulf, it would show up as a 50 cents/gallon tax at
the pump - more than enough incentive to accelerate the shift to hybrid
electric automobiles.   The question is, where do we focus government
policy?  In regulating the market or simply in refraining from distorting
the market?

To conclude, I think that our peril is tied to a lack of perspective and
vision among humankind.  I suspect that few nations survive in the coming
century, and that if sustainable societies exist in their wake, it will be
because a resource-depleting economy is no longer possible.  Indeed, much of
my work for the past 30 years is in demonstrating "the art of the possible",
if not for our generation, then perhaps in archive form for our children's.

----------

Dear Dan,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.  My suggestion: be more bold and
radical. Asking capitalism to reform itself is like asking a shark to go on
a diet.  It's a waste of time.  I disagree that "humanity" lacks
perspective and vision.  Instead, I suggest, humanity has never been given
a chance to decide anything.  We're ruled by a tiny, selfish, greedy elite.

rkm



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