Saturday, February 24, 2007

Finding Meaning in War and God

Keywords: Chris Hedges; Christian right; fascism; Stephen Colbert; El Salvador; divinity; DRD4 gene; addiction to war; Bosnia; Eros and Thanatos; Freud; Michael Lerner; meaning; embedded journalists.

I’m getting psyched up to interview (see photo) in the next few days. He’s a former war correspondent who five years ago wrote , and now has published a new book, , which depicts US right wing religious groups as fascists. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between the two topics, but I do see a common unspoken thread: that both war and religion can be powerful sources of meaning — at least for people whose lives otherwise seem empty. I’m ambivalent about both books, which I have just re-read, but more favorable toward the first than the second one.

I met Chris Hedges very briefly, about a year ago in Berkeley when he gave a talk about war. He was staying in my hotel and appeared to be milder and more introverted than the flamboyant war correspondent one might have expected to meet. Then a couple of nights ago I saw him again, this time on ’s satirical television show. Colbert, in his customary persona as a right-winger, playfully gave Hedges a hard time, but it seemed to me that one of his punches actually landed pretty hard: He said that Hedges sounds angry in the new book, which is true. In fact, his attack on is ferocious in comparison to his description of the fighters in wars. I think he pities people in war for being caught up in a delusion, but he has no compassion for the fascists he sees in America today. I think they are equally pitiable — and possibly equally dangerous too, for people caught up in a delusion may go to any length.

Still, his credentials are impeccable to speak on both subjects. The son of a liberal protestant minister, he holds a masters degree in from Harvard, but instead of being ordained, he went off to war as a newspaper reporter. He writes well and he has a soul, though he seems rather cautious about disclosing his own spiritual orientation or even his own psychological needs. It was hard to imagine what drew him into the pursuit of violence.

He does describe his conversion experience, if I may call it that. It was in when he wandered around where were zinging past him, and for several minutes expected to be killed. Thereafter, other people would stay away from scenes of that kind, he says, but instead, he was “hooked.”

Although I can barely imagine getting addicted to war, his description of that experience was what I admired about the book, for its unusual honesty. (In choosing that word, I remember having heard it recently when Angelina Jolie described the shocking times when she used to cut herself. She explained it as “honest,” which I did not understand, but now I see that it must be related to the warrior’s quest for violence and a source of intensity and hence meaning.) People who are addicted to war normally deny it; the honest acknowledgment of that is worthy, though the experience itself is not.

My own explanation of the is . I will ask Hedges about that when I interview him. There are people with a variant gene who have a shortage of and cortisol. They crave it and seek to stimulate themselves by undertaking dangerous activities. I don’t have any such gene and it’s hard for me to empathize with those who do.

But I certainly can empathize with anyone who wants a meaningful life. Everyone wants meaning, but perhaps not all to the same degree. Hedges says that there’s a mythology about war that imbues it with because it portrays fighters as struggling nobly for a cause, sacrificing themselves for the sake of their people — often a nationalistic shared identity. You have to believe in that myth to become addicted to war, he says. When people stop believing in it, they stop going to war. He, however, spent 15 years covering wars, trying to recapture the excitement of El Salvador, though none of the later battles quite matched up to it. He didn’t say anything about a genetic predisposition, nor did he say that he had become habituated to battle over the years.

What I wonder is, what, exactly, is the that you have to believe in order to get satisfaction from warfare? I can piece together some of the elements, from clues Chris left along the way. For one thing, there has to be a cause that you believe in. And you have to believe that the two conflicting sides are not equally culpable. Your side is the good side. Everyone gets caught up in that polarization. are hardly ever even-handed. Their reports are biased. Chris says that he still believes that the Serbs deserve 80 percent of the blame for the war in Bosnia. So in that regard, perhaps he’s still susceptible to craving war. I think it’s generally true that all sides in a conflict differ in their culpability. Still, even believing that, I don’t think I’m susceptible to being caught up in war madness.

He offers a brilliant description of the contrast between wartime and peacetime attitudes. As soon as the first person is killed, a huge transformation of mentality occurs that affects almost everyone. The lines are drawn. There can no longer be any tolerance of the – even tolerance toward members of that group who have always been close friends. But then, when the war ends, people just switch back into the peace mode. Interpersonally they act as if they have forgotten what had just been going on, Nevertheless, there are terrible psychological wounds. Almost every combat soldier is a casualty.

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning is one of the most powerful anti-war books I have ever read. It is explicit in arguing that the myth of war is a lie. And yet, Hedges does not propose any alternative – sky diving, firefighting, vulcanology — and he says he thinks people will go on making war forever. There’s no cure for it. He personally got over it somehow (he doesn’t say quite how) but there’s no way to inoculate others against the madness.

He uses Freud’s and concepts to explain the attraction to death. He leaves us without any useful message. The only consolation that he provides is the message that can surpass the power of war. But even here he is ambivalent, for he says that the first phases of a war are similar to love. I don’t understand that point.

He does insist on one important point: that the reason for war is that it gives to people whose lives seem empty otherwise. I think that’s probably true for the instigators, the willing fighters. Surely most people do not get anything positive from war at all. They want to get away from it. That’s true even of war correspondents. He says that the press claimed to dislike being “embedded” during the Persian Gulf War, but they actually preferred it. Most of them did not want to go into dangerous places, and so they preferred the protection. The few who did as he did – escape from the pool and go out on their own – were scornful toward the who wanted to remain safe.

What was he telling himself about the value of his work? How was he helping society by reporting the gruesome things he witnessed? What “cause” was he serving? How did he gain meaning from this work?

He doesn’t say so in his new book, American Fascists, but the reason people are so hooked on these extreme, harsh, fundamentalist religions is that it confers meaning to their lives. But he really hates these people. His is quite a different perspective from that of , who argues that the spiritual left is not given a legitimate space within left-oriented politics and that the only place open to them is right wing Christianity. The left liberal politicians are simply driving people into the arms of the fundamentalists. I think that’s true, but I don’t think Chris Hedges sees it. He is one of the people doing the driving, in that he says there is no room for religious discourse in public. It must be confined to the private sphere. He told Stephen Colbert that he’s a Christian – presumably the kind of liberal Christian that I am and most Holy Trinity members are. In public he restricts himself to discourse. So do most of my left liberal friends.

The search for meaning – that’s a powerful motivation. But people can find it in all kinds of ways. For example, I was deeply engaged in some cult-like groups long ago. For others it may be an (say, the fervor of peak oil theorists nowadays) or a political movement (most obviously, Marxism).

And meaning can come from other movements that actually offer correct, enlightening analysis of problems instead of violent or deviant ones. They may offer intense experiences or be rather ordinary, yet still be fulfilling to those with faith. The started off as and emotional movement and now are rather boring, but the whole time their social values have been benign. What is doing is certainly meaningful, and she can share it with millions of viewers. I get a vicarious boost from her altruism once in a while.

High-intensity meaningful work can remain meaningful for a long time, even while the intensity is diminishing, but then there may come a sense of dryness. and other Christian mystics had intense feelings, followed by long periods that he called “the ” when there was no evidence that he was doing anything pleasing to God. The mystics say those long dry periods are part of the process, part of growth, part of the formation of faith.

I understand what it is like to feel that a life pattern has become dull and that some new meaning must be sought. You can get it from an amazing variety of sources, and it’s not always possible to be sure whether those sources of aliveness are beneficial or monstrous. During the early phases of a war, the exaltation may seem real and valuable – evidence that one is serving a cause greater than oneself. But that may nevertheless be a lie. There is never any proof that one is not making a mistake, never any certainty that one is on the right road. Think of all the soldiers killed in warfare and all the Marxists who sacrificed for socialism, which turns out to have been a terrible social invention.

So I pray for – but not too much conviction, whatever my cause may be.


Monday, February 19, 2007

The Ethics of Travel

Keywords: climate change; travel; greenhouse gases; George Monbiot; airplanes; CO2 emissions; hydrogen airships; bunker oil; Terra Pass; cargo ships; rationing

You’ve seen some of the new studies that show definitively the necessity of taking extreme measures to keep the planet from cooking. The basic fact is that we must do everything humanly possible to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees — and it has already risen 1.6 degrees. I’m spending a lot of my time figuring out how to assign priorities to the various responses that are possible. Fortunately, there are satisfactory solutions to almost all our problems. We won’t need to suffer much.

Except when it comes to . We have to adopt forms of that emit 90 percent less greenhouse gases than at present. (Greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated and chlorinated gases, ground level ozone, and especially carbon dioxide — CO2.) We can reduce emissions a bit (around 30 percent) by driving a recent model hybrid car; indeed, even newer and better models will be coming out. However, this is far from enough to solve our problem.

’s (see photo) book, Heat, is the best research I’ve found, and I’ll draw heavily from it, though his data are based more on Britain than North America. Nevertheless, the basic ratio holds true everywhere. On page 180, he shows this table:

Carbon dioxide emissions from London to Manchester per passenger (kg).

plane (70 per cent full) 63.9
car (1.56 passengers) 36.6
train (70 percent full) 5.2
coach (40 passengers) 4.3

Monbiot notes that,

“while the mean distance traveled by car in the United Kingdom is 9,200 miles per year, in a plane we can beat that in one day. On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the very quantity we will each be entitled to emit in a year once a 90 percent cut in emissions has been made.”

Worse yet, there are other issues besides emissions that make air travel harmful. Planes release several different types of gases and particles that, taken together, have a warming effect 2.7 times that of CO2 alone. (One of these effects is the white condensation trail that streaks across the sky behind a high-flying plane. These “” are water vapor that trap heat in the atmosphere.) So we have to multiply the London to Manchester flight — 63.9 kg per person — by 2.7 to estimate the actual impact of each passenger on our planet’s climate. By my calculation, that comes to 172.53 kg. per passenger.

The message is clear: Don’t fly. Take a train or, better yet, a bus. If you drive, fill your car with passengers so as to reduce your emissions per person.

Monbiot writes that

“we must cut flights by over 96 percent. If long-range propeller planes took the place of jets, however, and flew below the level at which condensation trails are formed, we might be able to get away with a smaller reduction.”

For short trips, these changes are not onerous. The problems arise only when it comes to long distance journeys. We of the airplane generation are not used to slow travel. Fast trains could be built, but the faster they are, the more greenhouse gases they emit. They would be okay only if powered by electricity provided from renewable power.

Besides, when we are crossing an , we don’t even have that option. Monbiot favors the development of hydrogen , though even they are not swift. A trip from London to New York would take about 43 hours. “But if we really have to cross the Atlantic, and we are to prioritize the reduction of carbon emissions, airships, surprisingly, might be the best kind of transport.”

I need to go to Russia in a few months on a research trip, but I want to do so in an ethical way. Should I travel by ship? Monbiot acknowledges that it is quite hard to find good data about the greenhouse gas emissions of various types of . He did find data about the Queen Elizabeth II, which is exceedingly luxurious and far from fuel-efficient. A return trip from London to New York on the QE II uses almost 7.6 times as much carbon as making the same journey by plane.

I hunted around the Internet for numbers myself with no great success. There are web sites for “green travelers,” which mostly promote travel on . I’d be willing to sail instead of fly, but it is not certain that I’d be helping to save the environment that way. Freighters use “” for fuel — the dirty stuff that’s left after crude oil has been refined. The CO2 emissions may be fairly low (though I have no firm proof even of that) but bunker oil emits other noxious substances such as sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide.

According to Bluewater Network, a single emits more pollution than 2,000 diesel trucks. The on-line green traveler guru apparently has pangs of concern about this, but he finally justifies freighter travel by arguing that the freighters are going to be sailing anyhow, with or without passengers, unlike the case with airplanes. So he’s not adding anything to the emissions that are going to be spewed out anyhow. Well, that’s a pretty thin justification. The point is to improve the emissions of the shipping industry, just as we must improve everything else on this pretty little globe.

Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions are declining — at least according to the official records. However, those records are incomplete, for they only include domestic emissions, not international ones. Thus both international aviation and shipping emissions are omitted from the records, while both forms of travel are increasing sharply rather than decreasing.

How can air travel be reduced? Monbiot says that the government simply has to stop building . The more they build, the more people travel. If no runways had been built, we’d not have the problems that exist today.

Others suggest rationing air travel, along with other greenhouse gases. You’d get a card every year with your quota of credits, which would be deducted gradually as you fill your gas tank or buy heating oil or airplane tickets.

Still others say that high prices alone will do the trick. Raise the and the travel will drop off. I’m not so sure.

Some people are trying to have their cake and eat it too. One way is by purchasing “offsets” to make their travel “carbon neutral.” There’s nothing exactly wrong with doing that — I just sent a $50 cheque to an outfit called Terra Pass, to assuage my guilt for driving my 1997 Chevrolet Lumina all year. Terra Pass will do something good with the money, such as planting trees to absorb CO2 in Africa. But I don’t kid myself that I’ve really made my driving “.” And no amount of money that I could pay would make it okay to take a pleasure trip by airplane. A working trip, maybe. I’m not sure.

Certain kinds of trips are billed as socially responsible. Some people take their vacations on the Great Barrier Reef, where they snorkel and tag turtles. Others help build housing for orphans in Peru. My niece is going to help poor children in Indonesia. That’s truly generous, but her trip may unknowingly do more harm than good. So too may my trip to Russia, whether by cargo ship or plane. As Mark Ellingham, who has published The Rough Guide to Climate Change, writes,

“I’m not convinced there is such a thing as a ‘responsible’ or ‘ethical’ holiday....Ultimately, we need government action to limit flights. I would like to see a significant levied on all flight departures.”

Lots of luck, fella. In my experience, very few people consider their airplane trips to be ethically problematic. They have to become conscious about this before political changes can take place in a democratic society.

As George Monbiot has written the The Guardian,

“What all this means is that if we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit.

“This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening.”

Monbiot is a modern prophet, and nobody likes prophets. I wonder whether there were any prophets on warning that the society would die if they didn’t stop cutting down their trees. If so, we can guess what response they received — a strange, distant smile, and averted eyes. The moral dissonance was deafening.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Canada is Not Cuba

Keywords: Castro; Cuba; dictator; oil; agriculture; transportation; greenhouse gases.

Fidel has actually done quite a few things right. The emphasis on and , especially. That’s why Canadians, by and large, admire him — even though they admit he’s a . Personally, I loathe the man, just as I loathe all dictators, but I can see his achievements as well.

Another thing he did well was let people take care of themselves when the Soviets cut off their oil supply. Suddenly in 1990 (or was it ’91?) the Soviets faced collapse of their Union, and ceased to provide free oil to . No warning. Cold turkey.

The Cubans almost starved to death. They had counted on subsidies, including virtually free oil, from the communist bloc, and when it ended, there was catastrophe. The average Cuban lost twenty pounds. I talked to some people during that period who described what was going on. They had only rice and beans to eat. So instead of coming up with a coordinated game plan, Castro pretty much left them to figure out how to survive in their own varied ways. They are still not out of the woods, but things are much better now, partly because Chavez is supplying them with to some extent again. Anyway, we can learn some things from their experiences.

The first thing that changed during the “Special Period” was farming. They broke up the collective farms, which depended on machinery, and switched to , since and pesticides were no longer available. They began breeding oxen and using draft animals to plough the fields. It’s better for the soil than heavy machinery, which compacts the earth too much. The Cuban diet had to change radically. Meat became prohibitively expensive, and they could not even afford rice, for it had been created during the Green Revolution and hence required a lot of energy and water. They eat vegetables and starchy foods. People began getting a lot more exercise because they had to walk or ride bikes, plus work on the farms. The farms moved to Havana, for that matter, so they don’t have to transport produce hundreds of miles. There are raised beds full of soil in every vacant lot or back yard now. These beds are places where soil has bee imported and is being enriched. Having the strips of garden raised also makes it easier for people to bend over and tend the plants. Despite nearly starving there have been obvious health benefits, especially since the medical system continued to function well, with an emphasis on prevention, since few drugs were available anymore.

Transportation was no longer organized. People simply hitchhiked, or shared rides, or built buses from old trucks. This pattern continues. Instead of a regular schedule of public transportation, people improvise.

There are still almost no new homes. People renovate old buildings, mainly to share the space with others. Some people try to form clusters of housing so they can cooperate in farming and work. Their housing space is typically limited to 500 square feet or even less.

How much does this situation point to our own future here in Canada? I was reading an article about it by a “peak oil” lecturer, who anticipates that we will encounter much the same fate. Perhaps so — but the differences strike me as more significant than the probable similarities.

The thing about Cuba was that the whole crisis was caused by a shortage of fuel. Energy had to be conserved drastically – at least by 50 percent, with no time to prepare for these shortages. The rest of the world is also going to run into a crisis very soon, but it is not really because oil will become scarce. It’s because we can’t use the fossil fuels that we have. There will probably be enough oil and coal to keep going for a generation, but we don’t dare use it. The carbon emissions are going to kill the whole planet, so we must curtail the use of energy until we have the renewable kind in large quantities.

The Cubans simply went into a mode. They did not try to develop or solar power, or any other renewable forms of energy, as we shall do. There may be a period of twenty years when radical conservation is necessary, but in time we will get the alternative systems up and running. There is no shortage of energy on earth – just a shortage of time for developing technologies to harvest and use the abundant renewable energies.

Conceivably the need to conserve fuel will require us to use organic farming, if the fertilizers become scarce, but organic farming is not a bad idea anyhow. It is possible to produce as much per acre as with mechanized agriculture, though it does require more human agricultural workers.

The Cubans had no warning. We have enough time to develop wind turbine farms and condensing solar power installations, if we use our wits. But in the meantime, we must immediately stop using the fuel that we already have, for it is the greenhouse gas emissions that have to be reduced.

So the whole transition for the world may be done within fifty years. Even twenty years from now, renewable energy ought to be fairly abundant. The painful shortages in Cuba just lasted a few years, but they are not doing the things even yet that would enable them to resume life as an affluent industrial society. We can do so. Our “Special Period” will not be indefinite, as that of Cuba appears to be.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I Want a Classy Kind of Woo Woo

Keywords: Zen; dependent origination; Buddha; Tapestry; Oprah Winfrey, PEARS; Dean Radin; Jeane Dixon; John Edward; Brian Josephson; parapsychology; channelling; mediums

In my bathroom I keep a huge, intellectually challenging book on by a . I’ll never get through it all but I’ve been sampling it for over a year. It mixes high-falutin science with first-hand descriptions of experiences. I don’t have the patience to because I know I’m not good at it, but I have no doubt that there is something to it — something powerful enough to be worth the hard work that's involved.

Intellectually, I acknowledge that there’s also something to “” — the Buddha’s way of describing the reality that everything in the universe is connected to everything else, everything is causally related to everything else. (Or something like that.) In fact, those insights, if I could attain them, are pretty damn classy kinds of awareness. So I offer no resistance to . Indeed, if I had what it takes, I’d be one myself.

Even in the laboratory is dignified enough for me to take seriously. There was a CBC radio show on Tapestry a few weeks ago about , a lab at Princeton where some guy runs experiments showing that whenever the whole world is having a common experience (e.g. on September 11, 2001) his random number generator goes off kilter. I don’t know what it means, but it’s interesting and I am not particularly skeptical about the finding.

But today, I happened to tune into when she was interviewing mediums who contact dead relatives and pass along messages. The TV (see photo) is one of them. The other is a woman who is the real-life medium on which the TV character Medium is based. They showed clips of “readings” that both of these psychics did for bereaved persons, transmitting messages from their dead loved ones.

Everyone was convinced except one woman in the audience who was pointed out as a determined skeptic. She remained that way. Oprah asked her what she thought about God and she said she’s a . That figures. “Humanist” means . In my experience, there are more atheists in this world than disbelievers in parapsychology. I don’t know why, but quite a few people who say they are atheists still believe in “some kind of energy out there,” or “a presence,” as they often put it. I myself find it far harder to question the existence of God than spooks.

But why is that? If the bereaved families are satisfied with these greetings from the “other side,” why should I question them? Because they are so banal. These are not powerful emotional experiences. The spirits do not have anything wise to say. They refer to such things as their nicknames. These are cheap picture postcards of heaven: “Having a great time, wish you were here.”

Of the two mediums (media?), John Edward seemed the more convincing. His face looked un-managed, with genuinely spontaneous feelings. The other woman, who got more air time, seemed to be a nice enough person, but with a Pan American rather than a . They both came up with tidbits of information that seemed to satisfy the relatives of the dead persons. If Oprah herself had any doubts, she didn’t show them — but then I wouldn’t expect her to. She’s deeply warm and caring. My own problem is that the messages from “the other side” were so trivial. In fact, the performances seemed cheesy. We were spectators in a sideshow instead of worshipers in a temple.

And in the audience was the psychologist who had done the PEARS experiments with the random number generators. Oprah called on him twice and he looked very credible — a class act — bald and intellectual-looking, with nicely-chosen rimless glasses. He convinced me to go look up his web site, and I’ve even ordered his book on-line. It’s called Entangled Minds, and his theory seems to be Dependent Origination dressed in the language of quantum theory. It was good enough to win applause from the Nobel laureate physicist , so it ought to be worth the $14 Canadian.

Oprah came up with a story of her own about , the late medium who predicted (I believe) the death of John Kennedy. It seems that she, Oprah, had been doing a show for a few hundred people with Dixon and after it was over she got the word. Dixon told her that she was going to be a powerful woman, speaking to millions of people and living like a queen. So there you are. QED.

I sound more cynical here than I actually am. It’s just the camel’s head under the tent. Once you open up the possibility that anything weird is going on, then every weird thing on earth has as much right as anything else to crawl into the tent.

My way of managing this is to forget things. I’ve had a few weird things that convinced me at the time. But then I forget them and act as if I never believed any of it. And that’s what I’ll do this time too. What else is there to do — sit around all day wondering whether every stray thought that crosses your mind is a message from the other side?

Because there’s not much you can do that’s practical. Even Radin admits that the success rate is not generally a high percentage – just enough higher than statistically predicted to be way beyond chance. Say 56 percent when one would expect 50 percent. And those additional six percentage points are not packed with profound insights. Me, I want a classy kind of woo woo.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 12, 2007

Uppers, Downers, and TV

Keywords: television; drugs; empathy; autonomic nervous system; physical violence; Rob Morrow; Don Eppes; Numb3rs; Angelina Jolie; James Lipton; The Actors' Studio; United Nations; David Mamet; Barack Obama; expository writing; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; Matthew Perry; Matt Albie; Harriet Hays; Sarah Paulson; Aaron Sorkin; narcotics.

I don’t do . Sometimes, however, I do . I figure that’s safe — I’ll never die of an overdose — and it usually works pretty well. Lately I’ve been doing some serious writing for publication, not for you friends. The articles are about sociological theory, love, and climate change, and I need to keep on an even keel to be productive. I’m not sure that other writers have to retain such close emotional stability, but I use television dramas as sort of a regulatory thermostat. Since I’m a heavy empathizer, there’s always a chance I’ll become vicariously upset about something and lose my focus for writing, so during a productive stint I don’t often visit with my friends or even get enough exercise. In my entire life, I’ve never had a bright idea while exercising — even walking briskly — and it takes hours for me to settle down again enough to write.

Some television shows can regulate my with precision, up or down, while giving me an outlet for my need to . However, I have to know what to expect so I can choose the right ones. I usually need warm, pleasant, mildly amusing situations involving intelligent, warm, interesting people who are feelingful and insightful but never in distress. The plot cannot be obviously formulaic, and I must not form a deep attachment to a character who gets into serious trouble that is not resolved by the end of the episode.

Oddly, I can tolerate physical better than psychological . Probably I have become de-sensitized by seeing too many homicides to feel the slightest anxiety anymore; I wish that were not the case, but I have to acknowledge that it is. It’s moral and emotional problems that hold my interest — at least if I empathize with the character — and may upset my equilibrium. There have been three such shows within the past ten days that left me too disturbed to work.

Take Numb3rs, for example. I don’t much like the show. Catching bad guys is not a useful or inspiring activity, so I barely empathize with the FBI agents — especially Agent who is unexpressive and all-business. I only watch it because of personal loyalty to , a fine man who almost became a friend of mine a few years ago. He is able to play expressive characters supremely well, so it’s a pity to waste his talent on this wooden FBI guy. But the writers surprised us about ten days ago with a plot that questioned Eppes’s psychological well-being. He had shot more than the usual quota of bad guys, so even his colleagues and family began pushing him to get some and examine himself. He refused until another incident arose; this time he shot an innocent man. Suddenly he turned himself over to a counselor, requesting a thirty-minute session. Thirty minutes? That’s a start, I guess, though we aren’t informed what they talked about.

Okay, if we’re going to explore Eppes’s emotional interior, I’m game. I’ve followed the show three seasons without seeing anybody grow much. True, the Eppes brothers are now able to date women, which is a little progress, but we don’t understand the hang-ups that previously blocked their love lives. So I was shaken, sympathizing with Don Eppes’s anguish over his trigger-happy shooting, even as I prepared myself for a sensitive exploration of his character in subsequent episodes.

It is not to be. The following week, we see another ordinary hunt for bad guys, but incidentally, Eppes’s new girlfriend wonders why he’s ignoring her. The most he’s able to say is that he’s “going through some stuff” that he doesn’t want to discuss. Listen, if you’re going to put me through this and ask me to follow Eppes as he mistakenly kills someone, at least make him take it seriously and reveal this emotional “stuff” of his. Otherwise, he’s not worth it. If he’s emotionally that retarded, I’m a chump for willingly caring about him at all. Don’t fool around with the audience. You’re messing with our emotions, which actually influence the way we live our lives.

Moving on, we come to . I had recorded her talk with on yesterday. What a downer! She is probably the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on. I’d never seen her in a film, but I’ve seen her make appearances on TV as , and she was superb — regal, warm, intelligent, compassionate, inspiring. Just go to the United Nations web site and look at the list of projects she has carried out during the past six years in that role. It is amazingly impressive. But instead of discussing refugees, the Actor’s Studio inquires into the personal background of each actor.

Remarkably, Ms. Jolie did not hide anything about her disturbing past, nor did she appear to think it unusual. She recalled “making out” with boys in kindergarten and getting into trouble over it. By age 14 she and her boyfriend were living together — with her mother, which she thought was a good arrangement. However, their sex life was evidently unsatisfying. Wanting more intensity, she picked up a knife one day and cut him. After that, they would frequently cut themselves in order to feel more “honest.” Asked about her , she said that, yes, she has lots of scars. (I saw no actual scars but several ugly tatoos.) She talked about her relationship with some women in the film “Gia” about lesbians, but her description was not particularly insightful or nuanced. Lipton asked how she had decorated her trailer and, for the first time, she seemed flustered. “There was a lot of ,” she replied. Why? Once more she explained it as “honest.”

When asked about addiction, she acknowledged knowing about “in every form.” (Drugs? Lipton asked) “In every form,” she repeated smoothly. If you’d watched the interview with the sound off, you might guess she was describing her happiest memories. Here we were being told about a suffering girl, but the narrator is a poor storyteller, unable to articulate what was going on in herself, or even to identify it as suffering. Lipton asked whether she had undergone therapy. Yes, she had taken some in high school for “extra credit.” I wondered, how could a gifted actress depict her own inner life in such shallow language?

Angelina Jolie apparently places a high value on . She lives by it, exposing facts about herself without hesitation. Why did hearing it bother me so much? I think it was the absence of commentary about her life that made her seem shallow. Just owning up to some negative experiences is insufficient; she needs to reveal her reflections about those experiences, from her most mature perspective, to show us who she is now and what those early events meant.

Compare that to . He was on yesterday and I liked him immensely. He too gave straight, plainspoken answers to questions about negative aspects of his life. Yes, he had tried and in his youth. But sitting beside his wife as a mature man, he showed that he wasn’t particularly proud of it, but explained that lots of young people try drugs as a means of rebellion, as a way of exploring who they are. He neither condemned nor denied this past, but you could see that today’s Obama has thought deeply about the earlier Obama and has grown beyond him. I had to question where today’s Angelina Jolie is, for I couldn’t see her. Her flat, factual description of past actions lacked the dimensions that come with age. It hurt to watch her. Indeed, I turned it off.

Which reminds me: This morning there was a review of David Mamet’s new book in today’s Globe and Mail. His main point, according to the reviewer, is that the action should speak for itself without exposition. He hates expository conversation in a movie. The reviewer then poked fun at Mamet’s own wordiness, quoting a lengthy paragraph that was loaded with words but lacked significance.

There’s an optimum amount of exposition in any writing. No act speaks entirely for itself. A simple, flat fact does not tell us anything about what should have happened instead, or why it did happen. An act without exposition reveals nothing about intentions, meaning, or interior life. Good exposition may be pithy or a prolonged rumination, but some of it is always required. Otherwise we are watching a two-dimensional picture instead of a life with depth. Angelina Jolie is gorgeous and — I can’t help believing — exceedingly compassionate. I wish she had a third dimension. Empathizing with her, in the absence of expository insight, was an experience that I can only call “shallowing,” instead of “deepening.”

And the same goes for — but I feel actively distressed by that. It was my favorite TV show this year, even though I would not ordinarily be interested in a variety show such as Saturday Night Live, which it depicts. I love the two male protagonists and thus vicariously love the two (less interesting) women whom they love. Aaron Sorkin makes us work hard to follow his plots — actually, too hard for my taste. I can’t keep up, though Garrison Keillor has led me to believe that my IQ is above average. With my PVR working on my behalf, I can always replay Studio 60 and try to figure out what is going on. Sometimes I replay it several times, for the audio is poor and the characters often speak at the same time. Besides, there are occasionally touching or humorous scenes that I want to watch again and again. But the characters are consistently likeable, even when they argue — which Matt Albie () and his beloved Harriet Hays () do all the time.

Yesterday’s episode was entirely different. Matt and Harriet had broken up and Matt is falling apart emotionally. The tone of the show is dark, dark, dark. Matt is so engrossed in his memories about their relationship that he cannot respond when others ask him questions. He furtively swallows some unidentified pills. He visits a singer in her dressing room who gives him even more pills which are supposed to be some kind of narcotic. (, perhaps?) Nothing in any previous episode has revealed Matt’s vulnerable, damaged personality, nor do his co-workers in the show recognize or respond to the crisis he is experiencing. He is alone in free-fall, a tragic narrative written without exposition. I feel disturbed today, worried about my friend.

Dear Aaron Sorkin, I chose Studio 60 as an “upper.” I have never been addicted to drugs, as you and the actor Matt Perry himself have been, but I use television for mood management, which is even riskier. I need to know how much pain you’re going to give me. I don’t take pills that I cannot identify, and I hate television that tricks me into going where I’m not willing. I don’t want to form attachments toward light characters who then turn into tragic or ignoble figures. Let's have truth in advertising from the outset. Promise me, Aaron Sorkin, that if I follow you through this story, I will be able to function normally as a writer while on the journey, and that I’ll end up wiser for the experience. And please, give me a little pleasure along the way.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Sahara’s Carrying Capacity

Keywords: Malthus, Marxism; Adam Smith; ideology; EROEI; wind turbine; net energy; photovoltaic cells; Concentrating Solar Power; sustainability; limits to growth; Jane Jacobs; Daniel Ben-Ami; carrying capacity; Ashley Singer; Club of Rome.

I’m continuing my debate with my Malthusian friend whose lengthy response to my last blog entry you can see in his comment. We both take this dispute seriously, as we should. I can’t remember the quotation, but someone once said that the course of human history was determined by the popularity of particular economic theories. It’s true. What would the world have been like without Marxism? Or without Adam Smith? Or Malthus? Gosh – imagine that! All these dead economists are still influencing the way we live. Nowadays maybe is even more influential than .

Some other kinds of ideology besides economic notions also shape the course of history. Religion, for example. I think fundamentalism wrecked my mother’s life, just as it is destroying Islamic lives today. People used to climb willingly to the top of pyramids in Yucatan to have their hearts cut out. But not all religious people are so ideological.

It must have been ideology that destroyed the . Why else would they have cut down all their trees? Any idiot could have seen what was coming, but they continued right until the end. Even animals don’t necessarily do that. Where there is a predatory relationship between wolves and moose, the wolves might be expected to eat all the moose and then starve to death themselves, but they don’t. They start practicing birth control of some sort, and inhibit their reproduction until the moose population recovers. But human don’t change their ways, no matter what bleak future can be foreseen. I hope our economic discussion can be more rational than that.

I have two issues with my Malthusian friend, one factual and the other theoretical. The factual one has to do with his claim that all renewable sources of energy have lower net energy than fossil fuels. I went hunting some more for evidence and found a few more estimates of (Energy Return on Energy Invested). Some of them fit the disappointing generalization about renewables, but others do not.

Big Scrub Environment Center wrote in the winter of 2005:

“Both solar parabolic dish and wind turbine return 30 times more energy than was used to manufacture them – about the same return as the cheapest oil discovered in Saudi. Oil, on average now, has an EROEI of 8.4. Oil’s chief advantage is its high energy density as a transport fuel. Coal’s EROEI is about 25 now and dropping. Nuclear power plants with an EROEI ranging from 3.84 to 4.5 take about 10 years to build. PV panels themselves have an EROEI of 4 and if batteries are included the EROEI is 2.”

A journal article about biomass fuels in Nigeria calculated these net energies:
• biogas from livestock manure: 10-11
• ethanol from sorghum 2.6
• ethanol from sugarcane 2.8
• ethanol from cassava 1-2
• ethanol from maize 1

C. J. Cleveland gave these figures:
• Crude Oil in 1930: 100
• Crude Oil in 2000: 20
• Coal in 1950: 100
• Coal in 2000: 80
• Gasoline: 10
• Corn ethanol: negative
• Oil Shale: about 5
• Coal liquefaction: 1.1

Another journal article, “Permanently dispelling a myth of photovoltaics via the adoption of a new net energy indicator,” recommended changing the way of measuring the net energy of photovoltaic cells. The authors propose an indicator called “EYR” which seems comparable to the EROEI. They define it as “‘how many times the energy invested is returned or paid back by the system in its entire life.’ ... Unity is established as the break-even point, and above that the higher the EYR the better.” They give the following estimates:
• EYR for a rooftop PV mounted on grid system:
Australian insolation levels: 11.2 N. Europe insolation: 6.2
• EYR for a solar home system (off-grid)
Australia insolation: 6.0 N. Europe insolation: 3.3

Several times I found references to wind turbines as having EREOI results at 20 or above. A journal article on tidal generators (“underwater windmills”) estimate that they will have an EROEI of 40; they will pay back the cost of their construction within 4 to 6 months and continue operating for 20 years.

The most remarkable sources of electricity are not yet operational on a significant scale, but their net energy will be exceedingly promising. One innovation consists of kites tethered to the ground but flying in the jet streams, where there is no problem of intermittency, and the wind is phenomenally powerful. The developers are comparing these devices to nuclear power plants in terms of the energy they will generate. They will provide electricity at 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour — the cheapest power source in the world.

But that’s not all. Coming up next are “” generators, which are already mature technologies that can be brought into play very soon. The one shown above has already been functioning at Barstow, California for fifteen years. There’s a “power tower” surrounded by a large field of sun-tracking that concentrate sunlight onto a receiver at the tower’s top. It creates steam and generates electricity, and the price compares favorably to that of oil, though no specific net energy numbers have been published yet.

That's enough about net energy. My conclusion is that most renewable sources at present do not yield as much power as most non-renewables, but there are a few exceptions already and is moving fast. The future looks bright.

Now I want to turn to the theoretical dispute with my Malthusian friend. There are several facets to the debate, all somehow reflecting our differing opinion about whether there are inherent tendencies of living organisms to reproduce up to the limits imposed by the finite material subsistence base. The limit of growth to Malthus was primarily food, but other writers expect limits to be imposed by the depletion of energy and raw materials.

I agree that some societies have become extinct as a result of this problem, but I don’t think it’s inevitable. The truth is, human intelligence can usually invent solutions that make for greater efficiency and allow for economic growth to continue. That’s why Malthus’s predictions, as well as those of in 1969, failed to come true. The ecological economists such as my Malthusian friend like to discount the importance of improving efficiency. For example, they claim that whenever efficiency is introduced, people will just consume more in a “rebound,” so that the total use of energy remains as high as before. That’s not correct. There have been studies (I’m not giving footnotes in this blog but I could) showing that there is a small rebound, but it doesn’t amount to a major part of the incremental efficiency. Industrial and post-industrial society have become vastly more efficient, and we enjoy the benefits.

That brings me to another point: the question of .” The assumption underlying this concept supposes that whenever we develop or grow economically, it is by “using up” resources that we should be saving for future generations. For example, in 1972 the “” report predicted that the world’s supply of gold would run out in nine years, mercury in 13 years, natural gas in 22 years, oil in 20, silver in 13, and zinc in 18 years.

Not only were these predictions totally wrong, but the whole theory of sustainability behind the predictions forgets that future generations may actually be helped if we develop our economy and our technology today. Yet it is true: Entrepreneurial inventiveness and creativity today are the most useful contributions we can give to future generations.

For example, once wrote a book challenging a similar faulty assumption. When I was an undergraduate, I was taught that throughout most human history there had been no and therefore no cities. Only after surpluses occurred (owing to the excellence of environments such as Mesopotamia) did cities emerge. What Jacobs argued instead is that cities paid their own way. Cities are always the centers of creativity. Where cities emerged, smart elites lived there, inventing new ideas that enabled agriculture to produce the very surpluses that supported themselves.

The same idea applies today. Half of the human population now lives in cities. These urban environments are challenging, but they are also the locus of human creativity. They pay their own way. Technological inventions require cities and will continue developing if populations become urbanized. The greatest contribution we can make to the future is not to reduce our standard of living (though if you want to do that, okay) but rather to figure out how to make our economies more efficient and effective.

Fortunately, we are in a position to do so. We live in “post-industrial society,” and instead of producing tangible objects, we do such intellectual activities as I’m doing now — writing a blog — or as I will be doing tomorrow: writing an article about climate change for a book. This is the application of “human capital,” the source of our economic efficiency. To run a financial institution, say, requires only a small fraction of the BTUs required by manufacturing or construction companies.

The economist Robert Solow pointed out in the 1980s that technology is the real driver of economic development, but he expected there to be diminishing returns to capital investment in machines, so that each country would eventually reach a steady state instead of continuing to grow. More recently, however, mainstream economists have emphasized the crucial importance of human capital, which in fact has increasing rates of return. Therefore, investment in human abilities does not bring the economy to a steady state, but (joy, joy!) will make it continue to grow.

However, during the past year or so has in turn pointed out the error of that theory too. Education does not necessarily pay off as hoped. Instead, it leads to growth only when it leads to lucrative employment. If there are no good jobs, education does not help. And when there are good, high-tech jobs, the knowledge tends to “leak,” for, unlike material things, information is not conserved. People learn technology from others, then apply it in their own work, making their economies more efficient and making themselves more prosperous, healthy, and able to defend against natural disasters. Economic growth requires technology, which does not arise automatically. Technological know-how emerges only in response to actual financial incentives.

My friend says that I am mistaken in claiming that the earth’s is increasing. (Sigh.) Very well, let me question the concept of carrying capacity. A dictionary of biology defines the term as “the maximum population of a particular species that can be supported indefinitely by a given habitat or area without damage to the environment.” But as Daniel Ben-Ami notes,

“ the carrying capacity of the earth in relation to humans is its productive capacity divided by one person’s basic needs. But the productive capacity of the earth has grown enormously as the world has become more efficient economically. So ‘carrying capacity’ is not a fixed quantity but at most a statement of a particular ratio at a particular time....For instance, bauxite or uranium have no value in a primitive society where they cannot be utilized, but in an economy that produces aluminum or harnesses atomic power they become valuable resources.”

There is nothing fixed about the carrying capacity of a piece of land. Take the , for example. Its carrying capacity for human beings is almost zero. Hardly anyone lives there. But now think of the Concentrating Solar Power installation that is going to be constructed there. As Ashley Singer writes in The Guardian of November 2006,

“The researchers say a relatively small amount of the world’s hot deserts — only about half a percent — would need to be covered in solar collectors to provide the entire world’s electrical needs.”

My point: What yesterday was hot, dry, miserable land with no carrying capacity whatever may become tomorrow a perpetual source of power for the whole of humankind. Given that reality, the concept of “carrying capacity” loses significance. Ironically, the main organization promoting this solar power generator in the Sahara is the — the group that used to promote the “limits of growth” theory. And in creating this new source of energy, they are increasing the world’s carrying capacity, bless them.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rich is Better than Poor

Keywords: poverty; economic growth; Peak Oil; Paul Ehrlich, EROEI; oil; Malthus; Rudolf Rechsteiner; carrying capacity; happiness; wealth; innovations; Kenneth Boulding; Johan Galtung.

I never thought I’d have to explain this to anyone, but it’s better to be rich than poor. Accordingly, I hope the population of the earth keeps getting richer.

Why would anyone think otherwise? Those holding the contrary opinion probably never have been poor. I have been poor, and it wasn’t great. It didn’t even make me a better person, but actually worse. Honor and dignity are often so costly that only the affluent can easily afford them.

The leading members of the “poor is good” club nowadays are a small subset of the environmental movement — those who expect the impending shortage of oil to lead to millions, maybe even billions, of human deaths. Convinced that we are rapidly approaching immutable “,” they believe that we must drastically curtail economic expansion and live with the poverty that lack of fuel will bring. Still, they reassure us, this is not entirely bad, for the poor are as happy as the rich.

Oh, yeah?

I’ll call these people “Peak Oil pessimists.” They are not necessarily cruel. Indeed, they favor equitable sharing, while nevertheless forecasting that humankind must retrench to lower standards of living and “steady state” economies. Since the size of our pie won’t expand, their solution is to keep dividing it into smaller pieces. Yet because the population will continue increasing, these portions cannot suffice. Many will die, leaving some survivors subsisting until another epidemic, war, famine, or energy shortage thins out our species again. In the meantime, the Peak Oil pessimists recommend that you move to a farm and grow your own food.

You’ve heard versions of this theory before. Previously, as with Malthus, the predicted scarcity was supposed to involve food, whereas now it is energy. Almost everyone who ever took a social science course now knows how wrong Malthus was. In 1969 it was Paul Ehrlich who predicted looming famine on the basis of malthusian logic; his book, The Population Bomb, argued that we’re outstripping the means of our own subsistence. It was so convincing that in 1970 I sent out about 25 copies as Christmas gifts. (Sorry, friends — what was I thinking?)

As Ehrlich predicted, the world’s population did double between 1960 and 1998, but the world’s food production tripled and its price dropped almost in half. So did the price of several finite mineral commodities that he predicted would be used up within a decade or two. Like Malthus, Ehrlich supposed that human population growth rates would remain at the maximum possible level, whereas in reality global population growth reduced from 2.1 percent to 1.1 today. This decline was not caused by increased deaths but rather by the steep, voluntary reduction of birthrates, even when food was plentiful — a change that malthusians never expect.

Now, to be sure there are compelling reasons to worry about the future of humankind — but mainly because of climate change, not the impending shortage of oil. Fortunately, the solutions to both climate change and looming oil depletion are the same: shift quickly to renewable forms of energy. Yet the Peak Oil doomsayers doubt that alternative forms of energy can be harnessed in time to prevent one or both of these new calamities. Why so?

It’s not because energy is ultimately scarce. (In only 24 hours the solar energy absorbed by the Earth is equal to 9252 times all the fossil fuel, nuclear, and hydro used by people in 24 hours.) The problem, claim the Peak Oil pessimists, is that so much energy is required to obtain renewable energy that we can’t come out ahead. The jargon term for this relationship is EROEI: “energy return on energy.” The EROEI of early oil wells was as high as 100, whereas — according to these pessimists — the renewable sources are vastly lower, if not actually negative.

But they are mistaken. The various sources of energy differ markedly with respect to EROEI, and neither renewables nor fossil fuels are consistently superior to the other. I spent some time this week looking up such estimates. According to Wikipedia, oil has become much harder to produce, so that its EROEI in the United States is now only 3, and in Saudi Arabia about 10. Compare that to electricity produced by wind turbines: 20.

Another estimate from an Australian group is even more favorable to certain renewables. “Both solar parabolic dish and wind turbine returns 30 times more energy than was used to manufacture them — about the same return as the cheapest oil discovered in Saudi Arabia. "Oil on average now, has an EROEI of 8.4. Oil’s chief advantage is its high energy density as a transport fuel. Coal’s EROEI is about 25 now and dropping. Nuclear power plants with an EROEI ranging from 3.84 to 4.5 take about 10 years to build. Photovoltaic panels themselves have an EROEI of 4...”

A Swiss parliamentarian, Rudolf Rechsteiner, is even more enthusiastic about wind’s return, which he claims is in the range of 80 to 100. He writes, “Recently, wind power enjoyed dramatic cost reductions. In many locations the generation cost of electricity from new wind power plants are lower than those of new coal or nuclear-fueled plants of equivalent capacity.”

Compare the EROEI of these fuels. By most estimates, oil from Alaska is 11; Natural gas onshore is 10, and offshore it’s 17. Hydro is 11. Solar photovoltaic ranges from 1.7 to 10. Ethanol from corn is about 1.3 and from sugarcane about between .8 and 1.7. Probably the new cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from waste products, will be considerably higher, but these numbers are not established yet.

In any case, it is clear that some new renewable fuels can easily pay their own way in the world just as well as today’s fossil fuels, allowing us to introduce rapid substitutions and thereby prevent the catastrophic results of either Peak Oil or the genuinely menacing climate change.

Why, then, do the Peak Oil pessimists still insist that economic growth must come to an end? Their reasoning goes like this: there are too many people on earth, and if we all keep producing and consuming, we’ll be putting amounts of natural resources through our industrial system, wrecking forests, fish, minerals, coral reefs — the whole of nature. Even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide from our cars and factories, our processing of other raw materials will destroy our planet. The only solution, they say, is to stop growth.

That’s unacceptable! In 2001 there were still 2.7 billion human beings living on less than $2 a day. In fact, 1.1 billion of them lived on less than a dollar. Their future prospects depend entirely on the continued growth of their economies. Every small decline in growth has measurable effects on rates. As Lant Pritchett and Lawrence H. Summers have written in an article appropriately titled “Wealthier is Healthier,” “...we calculate that over a half a million child deaths in the developing world in 1990 alone can be attributed to the poor economic performance in the 1980s.” Economic growth is essential.

Besides, far from being the problem, economic growth is actually required if we are to manage climate change and other looming disasters. The only real possibilitu for changing over to renewable energy systems is through private investment. fortunately, the new , for example, are exceedingly profitable to manufacture. Where profits can be made, innovations will be forthcoming. We must offer all kinds of positive incentives to encourage human creativity, so as to solve the problems such as pollution that tend to arise within a rapidly growing economy. As the world has become more efficient economically, the “carrying capacity” of the earth has increased enormously and can continue increasing — especially in richer, more developed societies, which are able to address environmental challenges.

And human innovations need not use up the . Economic growth can take place while conserving the environment. This will, of course, require changed attitudes about how to live well and enjoyably, but many affluent people already live rather simply anyhow, Instead of keeping a country house, or traveling for pleasure abroad, there are other sources of pleasure that require few materials. We live in , where instead of producing goods, most jobs involve the exchange of services — especially the “knowledge” industries.

The main feature of the post-industrial economy is and — unlike cars, rocks, clothes, houses, and oil — information is not conserved. It is not scarce. If I give money to you, I have that much left for myself, but if I give information to you, you and I both have it. We can both pass it on to others, endlessly. Information is the opposite of . According to the second law of thermodynamics, the physical world is running down, disintegrating into disorder, chaos (entropy). But there’s an opposing process going on — the creation and dissemination of information, which counteracts entropy by making the world more orderly. Specialists who do knowledge work may rarely handle physical materials. We who make our livings as teachers, writers, therapists, dramatists, or financial counselors, need few tools besides a telephone, computer, and a pencil or two. And we're happy doing it.

What kind of lifestyle makes us happy? Some scholars (notably Richard Easterlin and Richard Layard) claim, with some evidence, that above about $10,000 income per year, additional money does not make people happier. There are several possible explanations for this finding — the most important being an apparently genetic “set-point” for each individual’s happiness level. People tend to hover around a given level of happiness, despite a little fluctuation based on their changing circumstances. Prisoners in jail go back to their typical happiness level after they get used to their new, confined living arrangements. However, there are some psychological circumstances that also affect one’s . Among the chief ones is a sense of control over one’s own life, and the existence of challenges and incentives for taking charge of one’s life in an active way. As Johan Norberg has shown, money does help make us happier – but only money that we have gained by our own efforts. Giving people money does not make them happier if it does not also empower them.

Social justice is often considered a matter of equalizing wealth, but that is generally a false solution. Fair allocation is not the main issue.

Kenneth (see photo) once wrote a paper about his friendly disagreements with Johan Galtung. One of the contrasts had to do with their diverging notions about how to foster equality and well-being. thinks a great deal about how to redistribute the existing wealth of humankind, said Boulding. He imagines a big pie and reflects at length on the optimum way to divide it up. But Boulding himself claimed to think in terms of many small tarts, all representing the national economies of the world. These tarts are growing at different rates. For Boulding, the question was how to encourage the growth of the smallest tarts.

That’s the real challenge – not how to encourage redistribution but how to encourage growth. And by doing that, we can solve the world’s climate and energy problems, even while making unhappy people happier, for growth is the most interesting challenge of all.