Monday, January 30, 2006

Really inappropriate...

So, I work at Global Footprint Network, where we promote the Ecological Footprint as an accounting tool that tracks the (un-)sustainability of the human economy. We work with countries NGO's and businesses around the world to get ecological limits to human activities recognized and respected.

As you might guess, the news is pretty bad, so far as humans wrecking our environment is concerned. Most people have at least a sense of this, I think, if not the precise and
quantitative understanding of the ecological crisis that we have at GFN.

But every now and then I run across something so ridiculous, so obscene, so ecologically stupid, it stands up as an emblem of how completely screwed human "civilization" is unless we make some serious changes in our attitudes and practices right away.

I ran across one such emblem today. My colleague Mathis sent some photos of an "architectural wonder," an "engineering masterpiece," recently completed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. UAE is a tiny country on the Arabian peninsula-- and, as it turns out, the only country in the world with an average Ecological Footprint per capita greater than the United States (they are 9.9 global hectares per person, versus our 9.5).

So how insane is this little country, that oustrips our Footprint by a full 0.4 gha? Well, here's how crazy you have to be to beat the U.S.A. at a contest to see who can wreck the planet the most and the fastest.

Here's the "engineering masterpiece" under construction...

...and the finished view. Notice the palm trees, and remember, this is a desert. It's like 120 degrees F there all the time.

So what is this thing--this giant silver phallus in the desert? A ski slope.

How ridiculous is that?

This goes to show that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it. Just because the market suggests that building something like this is "economicall rational" (i.e. profitable) doesn't by any stretch make it ecologically rational.

And most of all, with billions of people living on $1 or $2 dollars per day, without access to clean water, basic sanitation services, or basic health care, it is criminal to spend ungodly sums of money, energy and resources so that rich people can go snow skiing in the middle of the desert.

I find this project offensive, and indicative of the moral bankruptcy of the social, political, and economic system that permits this type of thing to happen.

I do what I do at Global Footprint Network out of a great sense of love and compassion for humanity and all of nature. I dream of a world without war, exploitation, violence, and ecological devastation--a world with community, love, health, intellectual stimulation, wonder, awe, and a sense of harmony and resonance between humans and the rest of creation.

But seeing projects like this thing in Dubai hurts my hope for a peaceful, sane and sustainable future. It makes me wonder what the hell I am fighting for--why should I work for a sustainble human society when we do stuff like this? Do we really deserve not to go extinct? I hope so, but ski slopes in the desert make me worry otherwise.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Why growth is bad

Here's a nice article from the Guardian summarizing some arguments put forth in a recent New Economics Foundation report on why ecnomic growth is not the solution to poverty and environmetnal devastation.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Doing what needs to be done, regardless...

So, the point of this thread is to make a running list of stuff that just ought to happen, despite whatever scenario plays out over the coming years and decades.

Wait, let me back up.

The Earth is facing ecological catastrophe. It's not coming--it's
here. What can we expect to happen, when is it going to take place, and what do we do about it?

Those are real hard questions, and I don't have the answers. This thread is an attempt to identify activities, endeavors, forms of knowledge, behavior, etc. that are valuable and worthwhile no matter what happens. For example...

Permaculture. No matter what, fossil fuels will run out and we are going to have to figure out how to poduce food in an ecologically sustainable manner. (I am indebted to my workmate Justin for pointing out this example, which initiated the thread.)

Folk arts. We want more than just subsistence--something better than just scraping by. We'll depend on the folk arts to produce not just necessary and utilitarian artifacts, but things of innate and creative
beauty. Beautiful and well-made things are essential in my opinion--not just a luxury. They make life worth living, not just possible for living.

Community. "We're here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is." Gotta learn to live together, love each other.

And some counter-examples (things we don't need, and probably ought to get rid of)...

Hummers and other decadent, extravagant and wasteful status symbols. I pick on Hummers a lot--they're just a convenient target. There are so many ridiculous, anti-social, anti-environmental, wasteful objects of conspicuous consumption. I encourage you to subsitute your own favorite symbol for these if you don't want to pick on Hummers.

War and war-making devices. No room for this in a world organized around principles of ecological sanity. No purpose for them, and no one should want them. So work we do now to resist war and diminish the stockpiling of armaments is right on.

An economic mandate to
grow--to grow exponentially for an undefined (infinite?) time into the future. This mandate comes out of the idea that more is better, that bigger is better. That richer is better. Totally not true. We don't get better of as we get materially richer beyond a pretty basic subsistence level. Development and growth are not the same thing. We gotta work out how to develop (get better) without the contniual increase in demands on Earth's ecosystems (growth).

Fundamentalism, of any sort. I've yet to meet a fundamentalism I like. They're all nuts as far as I can tell--three sheets in the wind. (I guess I am just an anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist.)

OK, I'll leave it there. Let's add to the list-- maybe it will give us some insights about what to do
now, in anticipation of an uncetain but likely difficult future.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

My first blog

Hey, first post. This is hella cool.