Tag: environmentalism

Saving the Earth is Not An Ego Trip

Saving the Earth is not an ego trip.  Saving the Earth is not something you do so that you can say you planted more trees or created more hybrids or wrote more academic papers or bombed more SUVs or fed more hungry people or arranged more peace deals or wrote more grants or have a purer method or better ethics than the next guy.  Saving the Earth is not something you do so that you can stand in judgment of the human race and ask it, “so what have YOU done?”  

No, saving the Earth is actually saving the Earth, and understanding it requires a degree of humility that seems at some point to be beyond the current reach of mainstream environmentalism, which wishes to simplify the act of saving the Earth to that which is politically and economically expedient.  Saving the Earth, however, must be something that actually saves the Earth, not something which makes us feel like we’re doing it when we’re not.

(crossposted at Big Orange)  

Critical theory as a discipline for the 21st century

In the hectic run-up to an important election, we need to keep minds focused on the larger picture, and on the potential for epochal change in light of environmental and economic crises.  

Critical theory was begun in the 20th century as an alternative to capitalist “social science” and also as an alternative to Leninist forms of “dialectical materialism.”  It sought to look at the world in terms of history, philosophy, and science, criticizing “mainstream” social science as infected by ideological attitudes while recognizing the persistent longevity of the capitalist system and wondering what to do about its injustices.

This diary will explore the possibility of critical theory, a 20th century “bigger picture” way of thinking about the world, as an intellectual and social discipline for the mind and for understanding the 21st century world.

(Crossposted at Big Orange)

The ANWR Trust Fund

   What are the benefits?  Kotchen and Burger estimated that the oil had a value of $374 billion (writing in July 2007, they assumed a long-term price of $53/barrel), but that it would cost $123 billion to extract and market.  The net return of $254 billion is divided consists of industry rents of $90 billion, Alaska tax revenues of $37 billion, and Federal tax revenues of $124 billion.

Under the authors’ understanding of incidence, consumers wouldn’t benefit much at all because oil prices would not fall noticeably.  Still, drilling makes economic sense if the loss of environmental amenities is valued at less than $1,141 a person (per American, not per Alaskan) and that was with a price of oil roughly half of today’s price.

At today’s price of oil, a rough estimate of the benefit — not counting environmental costs — is over $600 billion.  So the whole issue seems much more important than I had thought just one hour ago.  Some approximation of taxes and transfers and auctions are available, so these gains can be redistributed to some extent if you wish.

That’s economics professor Tyler Cowen at his blog, Marginal Revolution.

The point that Cowen brings up is a profound one.  The common argument against expanding oil drilling both off-shore and in ANWR has been twofold: the amount of oil is not significant enough to alter the world price (which will always be true), and the value of the oil does not significantly outpace the amount of environmental damage that would be caused.

But when the price of oil changes, the value of the oil does as well.  Indeed, if the price of oil continues to rise in the long term, the value of the oil will be significantly more than the value of the environmental damage (to the extent that any value can be placed on that – but, it is easily imaginable that at future oil price X, the profits will be significant enough that huge sums from it could be used to finance environmental cleanup in many places).

Therefore, I predict that at some point, the value of the oil in ANWR will be large enough that it is politically irrational not to exploit it.  The oil in ANWR will become a sort of national trust fund, where at a certain expected value, the government is certain to exploit it.  I see no way of avoiding this, or by which this is not the rational course of action.

Off the Capitalist Path: A Second Look at Speth’s “Bridge”

This is a review of James Gustave Speth’s Bridge at the Edge of the World, intended as a supplement to the short review given of this book in the Monthly Review.  Speth is a prominent environmentalist who has worked with the Democratic Presidential administrations of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  His words, then, deserve our attention for their connections to political effectiveness.

(crossposted at Big Orange)

Updated – Burma’s Military Junta Deports Aid Workers

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar said Friday it was not ready to let in foreign aid workers, rejecting international pressure to allow experts into the isolated nation where disease and starvation are stalking cyclone survivors.

One week after the devastating storm killed tens of thousands, Myanmar’s ruling generals — deeply suspicious of the outside world — said the country needed outside aid for those still alive, but would deliver it themselves.

The foreign ministry announcement came as a top UN official warned time was running out to move in disaster experts and supplies to prevent diseases that could claim even more victims.

Instead, the ministry said some relief workers who arrived on an aid flight from Qatar on Wednesday had been deported.

link: http://afp.google.com/article/…

Al Jazeera has an exemplary in-depth analysis of this tragedy, including an extended round table featuring UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes, Bo Hla Tint, spokesperson for the Burmese Government in Exile and Marie Lall of the Asia Programme at Chatham House:

Updated (2x) – 80,000 Dead In Burma: The High Cost Of Oil

Despite economic sanctions against Myanmar by the United States and the European Union, Total continues to operate the Yadana gas field, and Chevron Corp. has a 28 percent stake through its takeover of Unocal. Existing investments were exempt from the investment ban.

Both Total and Chevron broadly defended their business in the nation.

“Far from solving Myanmar’s problems, a forced withdrawal would only lead to our replacement by other operators probably less committed to the ethical principles guiding all our initiatives,” Jean-Francois Lassalle, vice president of public affairs for Total Exploration & Production, said this week in a statement.

link: http://edition.cnn.com/2007/BU…

ABC News Australia is now reporting that the death toll from Cyclone Nargis in Burma could be as high as 80,000 right now, and a perfect storm of lack of sanitation, food and aid workers to – among other things – dispose of dead bodies decomposing in rice fields and local water supplies could lead to an even larger human tragedy. link: http://www.abc.net.au/news/sto…

In Praise of John McCain

Earlier this year I decided to take a break from the bullshit. This site and and a few others have been outposts of sanity in a medium literally choking in crap. Is it just me or has the level of all round mendacity reached the point where it all blurs into a numbing howl of white noise?

Anyway, as I understand it all opinions are welcome as long as nobody is intentionally trying to piss anyone off. If you’re looking for the same old screams about evil Republicans you won’t like this piece.

Book Review: The Environmentalism of the Poor

This is a book review of Joan Martinez-Alier’s 2002 classic “The Environmentalism of the Poor.”  This is a book about the history of environmentalism that tries to fit the struggles of native peoples into that history.  

My last review was of a recently-published biography of Sup Marcos, the EZLN (Zapatista) figure; my next review will to a certain extent integrate the insights of Zapatismo into Martinez-Alier’s framework.  This, to a certain, extent, forms the knowledge background for my interest in people’s movements (centered on, but not exclusive to, peasant movements) as a counterweight to the environmental predations of the mainstream of capitalist industry.

(Crossposted at Big Orange)

Critical Theory for the 21st Century: Alf Hornborg’s The Power of the Machine

This is a review of Alf Hornborg’s The Power of the Machine, a book by a professional anthropologist offering a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary critique of our global society.

The review is in four parts: the first part is an introduction to critical theory, the second part will detail Hornborg’s main concern, which is that we are trapped in a “fetish” of economic “machines,” and that this is why we keep offering “technological” and “capitalist” solutions to problems like abrupt climate change.  The third part is a short critique of his central concept, “machine fetishism,” and the conclusion will summarize the book chapter by chapter.

(crossposted at Big Orange)

William F. Buckley Interviews Al Gore

William F. Buckley:  We are so delighted to have you here, Mr. Gore.  I seldom see another conservative like myself with maudlin thoughts dressed up in convoluted prose that the Great Unwashed don’t understand.  Your obfuscation of the issues is majestic.  You even managed to be elected president as a [heh heh] Democrat.  Took Scalia to overrule the electorate.  But perhaps you will tell us why, as one of us, you despise environmentalism so much.  Is it because you are looking forward to owning ocean front property in Tennessee?

Economic Anthropology, Capitalism’s End, and an Ecological Solution

This is a literary essay examining the question: “Why do people do what they do?” in an economic context.  Its starting point is the three-fold explanation given in Wilk and Cliggett’s new text of economic anthropology, Economies and Cultures: people do what they do because 1) of economic self-interest, 2) for the sake of other people, or 3) with moral/ ethical motives in mind.  I use that framework as a starting point to examine what sort of economic motives would be best in light of the ecological crises of the present, and of the advanced state of capitalism and of “capitalist discipline” as it has shaped our society.

(crossposted at Big Orange)

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