The Limitations of Nature

What follows is my response to a friend – sparked by the premise of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. Classical economic theory is failing us. Granted, when taken as a percentage, more people have access to adequate nutrition, clean water, and shelter than 50 years ago. But in absolute terms, the number of hungry people has been steadily increasing with the population boom. Freidman-based economics is not organic – it misses the holism of life in favor of a myopic assumption that pure markets are the best regulator of culture. This places core power into the hands of corporatists, whose legal mandate is to maximize wealth at the expense of all other social metrics. It’s imbalanced, but greed is a powerful force – Friedman and his ideological predecessors legitimized it. Social studies show that people don’t really need much to be happy. What we need as a world people is access to healthy food, clean water, basic hygiene, and protection from the elements. As it is, a large percentage of the world does not have access to these basic needs. Any social system that doesn’t provide for universal basics is a failure…. which brings up the conversation on universal health care. The problem with UHC is one of scale. Health is now equated with a massively expensive Friedman-based economic system. For a price, we can do any known medical procedure. But is that wise? i think we need to re-define basic health care in light of this. That said, you can’t artificially prevent the creative spirit. This was Mao’s #1 mistake – trying to force culture into artificial common denominators. People need psychic freedom to flourish, to reflect their creativities and celebrate their differences and diversities, and those with the most to contribute should be rewarded in a free-market manner. It’s not like Friedman needs to be abandoned – just balanced with real-world empathy and compassions. Corporations can NOT run the show any longer, nor can centralized politics. I think we’re entering into an era of global participation where new social paradigms can flourish. But old systems die hard and those with power don’t let go without struggle. Maybe Klein’s thesis is better called “the denial doctrine,” for no matter how clear and concise her (and others’) warnings, the vast majority of civil culture will continue to ignore the obvious and be satisfied with apathy and trend. I’m a student of religion and it’s where I see these social dynamics at work clearly. There are natural groupings of social trends, and virtually -all- of them follow the bell curve. We’re living in the most complex, fastest changing, new paradigm creating, mass-dangerous time in history. And no matter what politics or economic theory we propose, energy (as commodity) will continue to pull the strings behind the curtain, for it is the foundation of all contemporary economic and political theory, and has been since world populations sextupled entirely from access to an “unlimited” new source of cheap energy. The choice is no longer between free-market capitalism and centralized socialism. Most of us agree that “government ownership of the means to production” is dead (except maybe in Cuba and N. Korea). The tension is now to find an economic system which is sustainable within a finite system. Thirty years ago, University of Maryland professor Herman Daly proposed an economic model called “Steady State Economics” – the Peer To Peer Foundation calls SSE “a P2P-informed approach in which non-human life, future generations, and ‘nature’ are taken as partners, from which no more can be taken, than its ability to regenerate itself.” This is where we need to be focused – a free-market system sensitive to the limitations of nature, where profit is encouraged yet balanced with all stakeholders, not just shareholders. An analogy might be drawn here to spiritual community. Institutional religious power-centers are starting to be replaced by P2P, participatory communities. It’s a small movement now, but as new generations embrace virtual connectivity, ecclesia will be thoroughly reconstructed via direct relationships, while religions of layered mediation will fade into  

Food for Thought

According to the UNFAO, thirty percent of the earth’s usable land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. What’s more, it’s said that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases – more than all fossil-based transportation. University of Chicago Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be equivalent to switching from driving a standard sedan (e.g., Camry) to a hybrid Prius. The Japanese National Institute of Livestock Science estimates that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. Energy consumption and food production are intimately related, with large animals being disproportionately more energy intensive than other food sources. As fuel costs skyrocket, so does everything else, especially food. Last year, the UNFAO’s worldwide Food Price Index shot up 40%. In one year. The EPA estimates that U.S. agriculture – much of which now serves the demand for meat – contributes to “nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.” The use of antibiotics in cattle is said to be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, along with increased incidence of diet-related disease. It gets even more personal. Stanford professor Rose Naylor shows that roughly 800 million people suffer from malnutrition, while most of the world’s corn and soy is used to feed cattle and pigs. Depending on animal and process, up to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption. For U.S. grain-fed beef, this imbalance is up to ten times higher. Diets heavily reliant on large animals are not only unhealthy and unnecessary, but one might say, unholy. By eating fewer large animals, we (1) use far less energy, (2) generate far less CO2, (3) potentially improve our health, and perhaps most importantly, (4) contribute to a more equitable and just distribution of calories into the world’s neediest communities. That, I believe, is Christ’s heart. The proteins, aminos, vitamins, and other nutrients we need can be found, in abundance, in foods other than big meat. Caveat: I’m not a vegetarian, but our family’s diet is rarely based on big