Read a piece in the March 08 Harper’s entitled “Fear of Fallowing: The Specter of a No-Growth World” (normally a subscription is required but it’s available here in PDF) by historical analyst, Steven Stoll. It’s a review of three books on the economy published last year. Economic growth as we know it is impossible.
Our trouble lies in a simple confusion, ont to which economists have been prone since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Growth and ecology operate by different rules. Economists tend to assume that everyday problems of scarcity can be solved by subsititution, by replacing tuna with tilapia, without factoring in the long-term environmental implications of either. But whereas economies might expand, ecosystems do not. They change–pines give way to oak, coyotes arrive in New England–and they reproduce themeselves but they do not increase in extent or abundance year after year. Most economists think of scarcity as a larger labor problem, imagining that only energy and technology place limits on production. To harvest more wood build a better chainsaw; to pump more oil, drill more wells; to get more food, invent more pest-resistant plants.
That logic thrived on new frontiers and more intensive production, and it held off the prophets of scarcity–from Thomas Robert Malthus to Paul Ehrlich–whose predictions of famine and shortage have not come to pass. The Agricultual Revolution that began in 17th C. England radically increaased the amount of food that could be grown on an acre of land and the same happened in the 1960s and 1970s, when fertilizer and hybridized seeds arrived in India and Mexico. But the picture looks entirely different when we change the scale. Industrial society is roughly 250 years old; make the last ten thousand years equal to twenty-four hours, and we have been producing consumer goods and CO2 for only the last thirty-six minutes. Do the same for 1 million years of human evolution, and everything from the steam engine to the search engine fits into the past 21 seconds. If we are not careful, hunting and gathering will look like a far more successful strategy for survival than economic growth. The latter has changed so much about the earth and human societies in so little time that it makes sense to be cautious than triumphant.
The whole piece is a useful church key to think about our present times. There is hope if you continue reading…
I had lunch in the restaurant above this basement karaoke bar but it was pretty unremarkable. Empty restaurants are even more creepy when the staff wanders around doing nothing looking sad. Maybe I’ll go back for karaoke and do my Jim Morrison/Ian Curtis.
My pal Foot Foot was telling me about a reality TV show she was watching based around funny animal tricks. In this one, a dog was trying to steal a ball from an elephant. Very exciting. The other day, I saw an ad for a show called “Ice Road Truckers.” There are lots of reality shows but of course, the irony is that “reality show” is an oxymoron. It’s all stagecraft innit in the same way a baseball or football game is stagecraft. Somebody has really funny ideas of what a reality show really is because “Deal or No Deal” is listed on the wiki. That’s a game show, but we get the point.
The Republican candidates have turned politics into a reality show which is [not] funny because I’m pretty sure the left coined the “reality-based” meme. Oxymoron city. I don’t wanna talk about it in this reality anymore. How ’bout that Hadron Collider? I want some of that glue that holds the universe together. That’s some real shit right there.
The short lunch the day before Hurricane Hanna hit New York…
The Taco Bell® was full except for a table next to a dude in a red and black biking outfit with a full matching backpack sitting in the seat of the table next to him. He didn’t have any stinking bicycle with him.
“Is that yours? Can I sit here?”
He nodded and put the pack on the floor next to him and said, “You should sit here cuz I KNOW you do not want to be looking at that guy.” He pointed to a guy sitting on the fire pipe on the other side of the front window. I had a book and didn’t think I would be spending any time looking out the window and said, “No thanks, this cool.” He went on. “That guy’s on acid or something. He come in here like lookin’ around, staring. Then he go outside and stand in the middle of the street holding up traffic. Staring. Then he finally sit there. Man. You know. I’m just trying to relax and this guy getting me all worked up like what the hell he gonna do. I got my musics and shit just trying to relax. Hey that chairs fucked up — you sure you wanna sit there?”
The chair was fine and I looked at the pile of CDs he had on the table. The top one was Paul McCartney’s first solo record with the cherries and the bowl of red juice on the cover. Under that was Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. There were five more but the titles were turned away from me. “No thanks. Just gonna read my book and eat my crappy burrito,” I said.
He started spieling again about the guy outside but I started reading and eating my crappy burrito and he finally shut up. Just trying to relax. He listened to Paul McCartney and opened the other CD cases one by one and nervously cleaned each one with a Taco Bell® napkin.
In between my book and my burrito, I checked the guy outside. He had a reusable shopping bag from the Time/Warner® Whole Foods® store with some clothes and a black basketball on top. He also had a white Listerine® box with another bag inside it. I read the blurb about killing germs on the side of it five times but I can’t remember it. He was dressed in a blue basketball jersey and had black basketball shorts on and was sporting a black headband. Probably just lost a street game at West 4th Street that he had some money on.
When I went outside, the guy was standing up and holding his bag and Listerine® box under his arms and talking to a very short and wide girl about finding a job.
I walked past, got a coffee at the deli, and went back to work.