[PLUG-TALK] Expansion, growth, the world, and time

Denis Heidtmann denis.heidtmann at gmail.com
Wed Mar 23 08:37:16 PDT 2011

On Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 10:42 PM, Michael M. Moore <
moore.michael.m at gmail.com> wrote:

> On 03/21/2011 12:14 AM, Keith Lofstrom wrote:
> > On Sun, Mar 20, 2011 at 03:20:51PM -0700, Michael Moore wrote:
> >>
> >> It seems like this whole discussion has been premised on the notion that
> >> we must keep expanding and increasing capacity and output, and it seems
> >> like our industry and government act accordingly.  At what point do we
> >> question that premise?  At what point do we let ourselves entertain the
> >> notion that maybe we can't keep doing things the way we've been doing
> >> them -- before or after we build a $4.6 billion bridge over the
> >> Columbia, before or after we both replace the Sellwood Bridge *and*
> >> build a new light-rail/bike/ped bridge over the Willamette?  At what
> >> point does it dawn on us that maybe we can't keep expanding and
> >> increasing ad infinitum?
> >
> > For some of us, "we" includes our fellow humans in the shanties
> > in Mumbai, now getting a few watts, sporadically, a few days
> > a week.  Like their fellow humans a generation earlier who
> > transformed Hong Kong from shanties to skyscrapers, Indian
> > demand for energy is soaring, and They Will Get Energy.
> Fine and dandy, but consider this:
> "Two weeks ago, the scientific journal PLoS Medicine published a study
> that sought to define the relationship between economic growth and the
> pervasive problem of undernourished Indian children.  In India, 25-50%
> of the deaths of children between 6 months and 5 years old are due to
> inadequate food intake.  This slow, sustained starvation causes stunted
> growth and puts children at greater risk for infection and disease.
> "The primary policy tool to combat chronic childhood undernutrition has
> been economic development, but despite two decades of booming growth,
> the average calorie intake in India has actually declined.  Indeed, the
> authors found that there was no link between economic growth and
> childhood undernutrition; stagnant or thriving, the status of a state’s
> economy had no effect on its number of underweight children." [1]
> You posit the problem as one of increasing demand, especially in Mumbai
> and elsewhere across the developing world.  My feeling is that the real
> problem is not one of scarce resources unable to meet demand, the
> problem is inadequate management and distribution of existing resources.
>  We know -- we have known for decades -- that our environment is
> capable of producing more than enough food for every human being alive,
> yet people still starve, even in a country like India that has seen so
> much economic growth.  We already have the technology to feed everybody,
> we have the resources, we don't need to invent, develop, expand or code
> anything.  What we lack is the will to make it happen.
> I have to wonder what makes you so sure "They Will Get Energy" when they
> can't even get enough food, despite the existence of abundant supplies.
> > We, who have the leisure to sit on our butts and think
> > about stuff, should be thinking hard about developing more
> > clean and cheap tehchnology options for them.  Otherwise,
> > they will copy what is cheap and available and proven -
> > fossil fuels and hydro dams.
> >
> > On a corner of my whiteboard is my goal for the world:
> > 10 billion people, 10 kilowatts each, for 1 million years.
> Based on current and historical behavior, I would guess it's likelier
> that roughly 1 billion of those people in the U.S. or whatever country
> or region ascends to superpower status in the centuries ahead will soak
> up far more than 10 kilowatts each, leaving whatever is left over for
> the other 9 billion in the rest of the world.  Our (and by that I mean
> human beings) appetites seem far greater than our capacity for (or our
> interest in) devising systems that meet everyone's basic needs.  Despite
> our moms' exhortations to clean our plates because there are starving
> children in Africa, in this country we still throw away enough food
> every day to feed those children for months, to say nothing of the food
> our government pays farmers not to produce.  What makes you think we, or
> someone like us, won't do the same with energy, especially since we are
> already doing that here and now?  As a species, we excel at finding new
> and creative ways to consume.  Throw a new resource our  way, and we'll
> figure out how to let 10%-20% of our numbers enjoy and exploit it with
> abandon, parcelling out dribs and drabs to everyone else, setting
> artificial limits on it when necessary to preserve the illusion of
> scarcity.  Drill a new oil well, and we'll build a new suburb farther
> out so you can buy a bigger house and a bigger SUV equipped with the
> latest gadgets for you to enjoy on your longer commute on the new
> highway we built, while another kid in Mumbai dies from malnutrition,
> while thousands of kids in our own region live in poverty.
> I realize I'm being unduly glass-half-emptyish (one book on my reading
> list is Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist," which I hope might
> provide some reasons to be less negative), but I'm trying to make the
> point that I don't think regarding the solution as needing to increase
> and expand capacity is going to get the developing world where you want
> it to go.  In and of itself, it's a worthy goal and a noble pursuit.  I
> just haven't seen any indication that until people (like my cousin, for
> example) wake up to the global -- and, for that matter, local --
> consequences of their choices, it will make the kind of difference you
> think it will make.  So discussions between conservatives and liberals
> or libertarians and environmentalists or amongst Linux users about
> whether nuclear or solar or hydro or geothermal and so on are feasible,
> sufficient, safe, affordable, destructive, dangerous, yada yada yada,
> usually leave me wondering whether anyone is taking a good hard look at
> their own habits.
> > Regards continued growth, as much as I care for my fellow
> > USAers, they are only 4 percent of the people I want to
> > help today, and 3 in a million of all the people who live
> > in the next megayear - noise in the long term process.
> > "We" desperately need to "expand", but almost all of that
> > expansion will happen elsewhere and elsewhen.
> >
> > So, as the old cliche goes, think globally, act locally.
> >
> > To that add "think eternally".  The world will continue
> > to change, that is the only constant.
> Here's another old chestnut (translated):  the more things change, the
> more they stay the same.
> Michael
> [1] Subramanyam MA, Kawachi I, Berkman LF, Subramanian SV (2011) Is
> Economic Growth Associated with Reduction in Child Undernutrition in
> India? PLoS Med 8(3): e1000424. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000424
> _______________________________________________

I recently saw a film "The Economics of Happiness".

It makes a strong case for local communities being a solution.  If you can
find a viewing I would be interested in your reaction.

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