Monday, April 28, 2008

Sensing the Census, Circa 2050

6.7 to 9.2. Billion. The difference between these two numbers is the projected global population increase between now and 2050. I’ve seen these same figures (or close approximations) mindlessly repeated on a plethora of popular blogs and Web sites, but no one seems to be questioning the validity of this false premise.

Sure, in theory the global population could increase by roughly 45-50% over 40 years, providing that all the conditions that support the theory are at optimum levels. The only problem with the “everything’s perfect” scenario is that everything’s not. When all of the negatives are factored into the equation the theory doesn’t hold up.

Take the current population, for instance. As it approaches 7 billion people, it’s already exceeded sustainable numbers by 4‒5 billion. If the world cannot sustain the people that are already here, how can it possibly accommodate 2‒3 billion more?

The short answer is that it can’t, for reasons that are—or will soon become—obvious.

As a growing global population increases the demand for energy, timber, food, water and other resources, it sets into motion a series of causes and effects that produce some interesting but altogether predictable results.

For example, increased energy use fuels the rise of energy prices and contributes to global climate changes and higher costs for food production, processing, packaging, transportation, and storage; global climate changes affect the abundance and availability of potable water, alter growing seasons, and redefine the boundaries between arable and non-arable land.

When timber is removed from forest lands to clear the way for agriculture or to supply the housing market with building materials or with buildable land, the loss of potential for carbon sequestration introduces positive feedback loops that exacerbate global climate change. Vicious circles, ‘round and ‘round they go.

Growing demand for energy, food, and other vital resources increases the likelihood of wars between nations to obtain these resources. The potential loss of human life due to war, disease, famine, and a laundry list of pending environmental and climate disasters means that the global population in the year 2050 is far more likely to be under 3 billion people than it is to be over 7 billion people. No way will it ever exceed 9 billion people.

Face it! We’ve been cursed. We do, indeed, live in interesting times, and the times are about to get even more interesting. We’ve taunted the piper into playing, now pay the piper we must.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Out, Damned Incumbent!

Tuesday night’s televised debate between the three leading Democratic candidates for Oregon’s contested US. Senate seat was both highly informative and surprisingly civil. The candidates, Candy Neville, Steve Novick, and Jeff Merkley, comported themselves well, were uniformly polite, articulate, well informed, and passionate about changing the status quo on a number of issues important to Oregonians.

Standing out in stark contrast to ABC’s Presidential debate, which aired Wednesday night on Channel 2, the Channel 8 affair provided prospective voters with useful information about where the respective candidates stand on various important issues—the occupation of Iraq, the economy, health care, affordable housing, and immigration among them. While there was the usual amount of political posturing going on, the ad hominem attacks and pointless rhetorical questions that have come to characterize typical political campaigns were noticeably absent.

Although I’ve been leaning toward Novick since the beginning of his campaign (and I saw nothing on Tuesday night to change my mind about this), I won’t be too disappointed if he fails to make the cut; I’ll cheerfully vote for whichever of these fine candidates ends up on the ballot. Ron Wyden needs someone to compliment his votes in the Senate, not someone who consistently cancels them out.

To paraphrase a line from Shakespeare: Out, damned incumbent! Gordon Smith has been an obstacle to progress long enough.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stuck on Stupid?

KATU News broke the story last week; evidently, Oregon DHS is at it again. Having failed in their half-witted attempt to deport Gabriel Allred, they’re now trying to deport 2-year-old Faith Cephus to Mexico, to live with people she doesn’t know and who are not related to her. Well, that’s only partly true. Faith would be living with a couple of half-siblings. It’s the people who would be adopting her that she’s not related to.

What’s up with that, anyway? Is this just more DHS business-as-usual, or is there something of a more nefarious nature going on? I don’t know if legal precedent for deporting U.S. citizens has already been established, or whether DHS’s recent efforts are meant to establish legal precedence, but in any case I think it’s bad policy.

DHS should concern itself more with preventing injustices than it does in perpetrating more of them. Are the DHS honchos stuck on stupid, or have they nothing better to do?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Starve the Bitch

This just in from confirms what many of us suspected from the very beginning of Bush’s Folly—that those who perpetrated this insane invasion and potentially endless occupation of Iraq haven’t a clue as to what they’re talking about. Nor do they seem to know what they’re doing.

Warmongers lied their way (and the rest of us) into a U.S. war against Iraq; every few months they regurgitate the same disingenuous rhetoric to plead their case before Congress for funds to keep the insanity alive. They put us into a no-win situation and covered up that fact using selectively biased reporting and gross distortions of the truth to camouflage their malfeasance.

The time for Congress to put an end to the disastrous travesty that has become the Iraq occupation is long past due. Congress must reject Bush’s request for additional funds to keep the occupation going (starve the bitch), approve only the funding necessary to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. Military personnel and equipment from Iraq. More than 60% of Americans and more than 70% of Iraqis want the U.S. occupation of Iraq to end, so end it should; neither nation can long tolerate a continuation of the status quo.

At the same time, Congress must also begin impeachment proceedings against Bush, Cheney, Condi Rice, et al; hold those responsible for the Iraq debacle accountable for their actions.

Finally, Congress must draw up plans for making reparations payments to Iraq for damages inflicted, and put those plans into action a.s.a.p.

There are more important problems than Iraq that demand our immediate attention, but until we get beyond Iraq, all else is on hold.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Allred Update

Okay, now it’s official. Gabriel Justice Brandt, formerly known as Gabriel Allred, whom I wrote about in December of last year, is now the legally adopted son of Steve and Angela Brandt. While that in itself is good news, even better news is that young Gabe won’t be setting any precedents as the first U.S. citizen to be deported to a foreign country by overreaching DHS staffers.

As a condition of the adoption, Gabriel must learn to speak Spanish in addition to his native English. It’s not a particularly onerous condition, and mastery of a second language can only work in Gabe’s favor. In fact, I think it would behoove every U.S. citizen to learn a second language of their choice. There are, after all, advantages in knowing what other people are talking about.

In the spirit of being true to the idea of practicing what one preaches, I’m now fully engaged in learning a second language. Due to time constraints and the difficulty of teaching an old dog new tricks, as a strictly practical matter I chose a foreign language that would be the least challenging to learn.

I’m happy to report that my Canadian as Second Language (CSL) studies are progressing nicely, and that I’ve already achieved higher levels of proficiency and fluency than I initially expected. Not bad, eh?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wake Up, People!

“The Judds worship money. They make it a stand-in for all the other qualities of life. If you can be nice, or have money, take the money. If you can be brave, or have money, take the money. If you can have friends or have money, take the money. They’re like that. They don’t even hide it. Take the money.” —Excerpted from Dark of the Moon, by John Sandford

There’s something inherently wrong with a system that trades real wealth for the illusion of wealth. That so many people subscribe to the illusion only compounds the problem.

Monetary wealth, as most people know, never trickles downward. Instead, it works its way upward, pulling poverty along behind it. This kind of wealth redistribution is acceptable to the privileged and powerful. The kind of wealth redistribution that’s not acceptable to them is the kind they fear the most, the kind that takes money out of their pockets and into the hands of the lower classes.

The wealthy class does whatever it takes to protect its wealth and accumulate more; lie, cheat, steal—even kill when it’s expedient. The dominant mindset of the fabulously wealthy is that no amount of excess is excessive, no amount of greed inexcusable, and that too much is never enough.

We live in a broken world, a world that humans broke by using a symbiotic combination of unbridled capitalism and rampant greed. With global rainforests in decline, ocean ecosystems in disarray and on the brink of imminent collapse, and agricultural land threatened by encroaching population growth and the attendant pollution and resource exploitation that inevitably leads to desertification— all for the sake of personal and corporate profits—we’re quickly reaching a point beyond which the damage is irrevocable and our chances of recovery nil.

As currently practiced, capitalism is nothing more than a high-stakes Monopoly game in which the more one acquires the more one is able to acquire. Money begets money begets power begets more of each, ad infinitum.

It’s precisely this kind of wealth accumulation that disenfranchises a huge majority of the population, that allows public infrastructure to crumble, the quality of education to decline, the number of living wage jobs to plummet; it fuels inflation, stifles economic competition, drives housing costs into unaffordable territory for many, and puts health care out of reach for many more.

One of the major flaws of capitalism is that it overvalues money and undervalues or refuses to recognize other forms of wealth; healthy ecosystems, unpolluted air and water, pristine environments, biological diversity, food and water security, and sustainability are prime examples of various forms of wealth that are given short shrift in capitalism’s marketplace.

But capitalism has other flaws, too, some of them fatal. Although you’ll never get hardcore capitalists to admit it, capitalism’s primary fatal flaw is that it eventually consumes all of its capital, including material resources capital, environmental capital, and human capital. For the capitalist economic model to succeed, it must rely on an endless supply of resources and increasing numbers of consumers, neither of which are possible on a finite world.

Capitalism works just fine as long as there are plentiful resources and a small population with room to expand, but when resource scarcity becomes widespread and population numbers reach the limits of sustainability, it quickly falls apart. When an economic system excludes or disenfranchises large numbers of citizens while simultaneously heaping unearned or undeserved rewards on a much smaller privileged class of citizens, it sets itself up for an avalanche of unintended consequences, including poverty, homelessness, increasing crime rates, infrastructure breakdown, and periods of recession, inflation, and stagflation that eventually end in economic depression.

Tension between a relatively small class of over-privileged rich people and a huge class of marginalized poor people is building. At some point a clash between these two diverse groups is bound to result.

In one scenario of such a conflict, the rich eliminate the threat posed to their wealth simply by disposing of the poor and large segments of the middle class—in other words, the mass extermination of as many as 5.5 billion people worldwide. In another scenario, the poor eat the rich.

There are other ways this can play out, but for peaceful resolutions to the problems presented by wealth disparity to come about, people on both sides of the issue must first come to their senses. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.