Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Pride and…?

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. (No, this is relevant, I swear!) Recently I finished reading a book about the laws and customs of nineteenth-century England, with the cumbersome title of “What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew”, by Daniel Pool. It’s a fun read if you like that sort of thing, as well as being a really good resource for looking things up in.

Not to mention, it was a good distraction from the news this week, since I would otherwise have pretty much spent every evening glued to the television watching the progress of the Gulf oil slick. (Someone explain to me why newscasters persist in referring to it as a “spill”. It’s not like it spilled out of a tanker. If it were a spill, we’d know how much oil there was, for one thing. Okay, pedantic linguist hat off.)

Anyway, here’s an interesting fact from this book: “[e]xcept for railway shares, no one would have had stocks or bonds from private companies until the second half of the century, for the excellent reason that even the smallest shareholders were 100 percent liable to the extent of all their goods and land for any debt incurred by the business of which they were part owners”.

In other words, if a company did something like, oh, let’s say, caused an entirely avoidable disaster due to not putting in failsafe machinery that they had promised they were going to and wiped out a large chunk of the fisheries industry to the tune of several billion dollars a year, then anybody who owned stock in this hypothetical company, which I expect would include all of its upper management, could have everything they owned seized to pay off their debt. No claiming that the corporation is somehow a separate entity; your creditors could come in and take your fancy cars and your million-dollar house and your big fat bonuses that you “earned” at the same time as working people everywhere were losing their jobs and their homes.

I’m not necessarily advocating this (well, not really). There are very good reasons why stocks don’t work this way anymore. Mostly it seems to have to do with encouraging innovation and helping new companies raise capital; also a lot of people’s savings are in stock investments, and they’d be as hard hit as petroleum executives, or more so, by having to be on the hook for this. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would be really good to bring some personal responsibility back into the system. Because I guarantee you, in five years the management at BP are still going to be in cushy jobs (whether there or elsewhere) and the people whose livelihoods they made collapse aren’t going to see much if anything in the way of assistance from them.

There are people who are working on this. (There are people working on everything!) There are municipalities that have already abolished corporate personhood and others that are working on it.

I’m not without hope on this issue. I don’t expect the oil leak to be the wake-up call that some people are hoping it will, because I’m pretty sure that a lot of major corporations are run by sociopaths (ecopaths?). But I do think it’s something visible enough (unlike climate change) that people will get together on it. Most people are not scientists, and the climate change “debate” is murky and unclear to them. Oil washing ashore in Louisiana is pretty damn clear. Maybe we’ll be able to stop new offshore drilling because of this, maybe it’ll convince more people to buy electric cars, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this will finally be enough.

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Glaciergate

Found a great article today by journalist Gwynne Dyer, Climategate and Disbelief. Y’all know how much I love recommending things for you to read, but this is a good one, and quite short.

The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world’s two hundred governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the “Anglosphere.” The United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.

From being the least ideological countries fifty years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the right, and evidence is no longer relevant.

This wouldn’t matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important.

F(l)ail: How the Establishment Protects Itself While the Earth Declines

Today’s special guest post comes from Professor Peter G. Brown of the McGill University School of Environment, co-author of
Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy
and author of two previous books.

* * *

HOW THE ESTABLISHMENT PROTECTS ITSELF, OR THINKS IT DOES WHILE THE EARTH DECLINES.

1. DROWNING IN OUR WORRIES. One of the common problems of our news-saturated culture is “idea fatigue”. People are so overloaded by the constant barrage of new things to worry about, that they become narcotized and unable to be roused to action. We get tired of hearing about the environment, about Afghanistan, about the federal government’s latest shenanigans, about the spread of wildfire zones north and south, about countless other issues – precisely because they *are* countless and no-one’s mind can deal with them all at once.

2. APPOINT A COMMISSION. This is another of the ways in which entrenched institutions protect themselves: by encouraging a sense of powerlessness in people who might otherwise feel called upon to change them. The internal reform efforts which are then put forward by these institutions are welcomed despite their toothlessness – because they allow people to put that issue at the bottom of the worry pile, comforted that at least something is being done.

3. NARROW THE MANDATE. The current Angelides “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” is very much a case in point. Even leaving aside its actual inquiry process, which remains to be seen, the very questions it is asking fail to do more than scratch the surface of the problem. But, because it’s being trumpeted as a major reform, a lot of people will sit back and think “Well, at least that’s taken care of” and be distracted by the next new thing to worry about.

4. PRESERVE THE FRAMEWORK THAT LEGITIMIZES YOU. The “Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission” principally looks at how to keep capital markets stable, but pays no attention at all to the fact that these very markets are destabilizing the earth’s life support systems on which the well-being of life on Earth depends. With all the talk about the “getting the economy moving again” and the “recovery” they are able to distract everyone from the biggest disaster humankind has ever experienced. Summers and Secretary Geitner have pulled the wool over our eyes.

New Year News

So here are some interesting things from around the internet on this the first EcoMonday of the new year:

Other Worlds Are Possible: the sixth report from the New Economics Foundation. If you’re looking for something to read that isn’t wholly pessimistic, this is pretty interesting stuff. Note that it’s a PDF download and pretty big.

Law requiring solar energy heaters in new homes – well, I guess if any state was going to do this, Hawaii’s the one to start it.

Chemical regulations that might actually work: the Environmental Defense Fund’s blog discusses the EPA’s new “Chemical Action Plans”.

Peace Teaching: stories from North Kivu, the Congo – by Zawadi Nikuze.

The Obligatory Bicycle-Related Link.

Finally, things to write to your MP about! Here are some private members’ bills you may be interested in.

Establishing a National Ecosystems Council

Prohibiting the Export of Water

Establishing an Oil and Gas Ombudsman

And then there’s The Tartan Day Act – yeah, I don’t know either.

Live from the centre of the Earth

I’m pretty sure we’re all watching the Copenhagen summit as closely as we can, so in the hope that this is useful to y’all, here’s a rundown of some official and unofficial live TV feeds from the proceedings.

World Wildlife Federation: Live broadcast every weekday at 7pm CET.

Oxfam: Daily videos.

OneClimate.net: 24-hour streaming feed. Does not always come through very well though. Recorded video reports too, better quality.

Al Gore’s Current.tv: Lots of videos, some of them only tangentially related, but well worth sifting through.

Vimeo vlogs at random. Not live, but they might as well be, considering how fast they’re going up. Many non-English videos here.

TckTckTck: Also non-live but frequently updated. Scroll down for videos.

Eco-economics For Dinosaurs

So…tired…

Three hours’ sleep last night and there’s a road crew banging a bloody jackhammer outside my office window. Don’t ask me how the middle of a rainstorm is a good time to do roadwork. Also, the average temperature for December 3 is supposed to be -3 C, in which case it would be snowing and I would be happy; it is currently +5 and raining. If my future biographers decide someday to chronicle my descent into madness, this would be a good place to start.

So, I feel a roundup of environmental humour is in order today, seeing as the alternative is me banging my head against my desk to stay awake. Let’s see what my entirely work-related web-surfing has turned up that I am finding hilarious in my current exhausted state:

Dinosaur comics woohoo! “Can we scientifically prove that people are wrong for getting mad at me for saying life is worth like twenty bucks? It grows in crusty milk, it is like the most free thing ever!”

The Stephen Harper “Anywhere But Copenhagen” Photo Challenge! Where would Stephen Harper rather be than Copenhagen? User-submitted photos; not as rude as you might expect! (Although I have a feeling the Liberals may be censoring NSFW entries.)

Captain Planet! Remember Captain Planet? It’s almost not worth making fun of, really. The thing that bothered me about it when I was a kid (well, one of the things, aside from LeVar Burton’s Extremely Variable Accent and the fact that the South American kid never got to do anything) was that the evil polluters never seemed to have any actual motive beyond just wanting to destroy stuff. Because they were eeeevil. If the point was to teach kids about environmentalism, then their utter failure to link pollution to the lifestyle choices probably being made by most of their viewers’ families was unhelpful at best. Granted, it was a kids’ show, but so was Batman (I mean the Paul Dini and Bruce Timm series, obviously) and they managed to have some pretty nuanced villains.

– By which I mean, of course, noted eco-terrorist Ra’s al-Ghul (does that apostrophe look misplaced to anyone else? cause it’s not, actually) and if there’s anyone you’d think I could find some sort of humourous website about, it’d be him, but apparently I can’t. Although he does have a LinkedIn profile. “View Ra’s al-Ghul’s professional profile on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the world’s largest business network, helping professionals like Ra’s al-Ghul discover each other.” Huh.

This right here is the kind of thing that made me decide not to go into science.

Biodegradable balls – whatever, this is a blog I rather like in general.

– And finally, You Might Be An Economist If… at StandUpEconomist.

Now I’m going to take a nap under my desk.

Committed

So, the big news yesterday: Obama announces his Copenhagen plan, committing to cut America’s CO2 emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

(That’s 3 percent of 1990 levels, for those who are counting.)

The sad part is that this is more or less the best we could have hoped for. And I think most of us are glad that at least the US has decided to set itself firm mandatory targets, which it was never willing to do before. But, seriously…three percent? By 2020?

China’s announced its plans as well; it’s going to reduce its emissions by 40 to 45 percent per unit of GDP. Says researcher Qi Jianguo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “In 2020, the country’s GDP will at least double that of now, so will the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the required reduction of emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with the level of 2005 means the emissions of GHG in 2020 has to be roughly the same as emissions now.” This does not strike me as grounds for optimism.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue their increasingly shrill tirades, buying radio ads here in Montreal and across the country. I’m not going to bother linking to them, as I have no interest in helping boost their search rank, but you’ve probably heard them.

The best suggestion I’ve heard on that topic comes from my friend Kielo, who wants to know why we can’t have that kind of nonsense classified as “hate speech against, y’know, the planet and stuff” and dealt with accordingly by the government. While I’m quite sure this proposal wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of, say, an actual lawyer (or probably of Ki himself if he were sober at the time), it does point up the glaring anthrocentricity (not a word out of you, Microsoft Spell Checker!) of the way we look at things.

Advocating harm to any group of people, that’s a crime. Advocating doing nothing while other species die, and pushing a lifestyle that actively implicates us all in their extermination, well…that’s free speech, it is. No, even better: that’s science.