Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education

07.11 7,000+ Colleges and Universities Declare Climate Emergency and Unveil Three-Point Plan to Combat It [Fox News and Betsy DeVos never talk about this stuff so it must be Bull Shit, right?]

Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

07.16 US aid cuts to UN agency will hurt vulnerable women and children, critics say

07.16 Trump abortion restrictions in effect for taxpayer-funded clinics

07.15 The response to DRC’s Ebola crisis isn’t working. Here’s what we need to do

07.15 Extinction Rebellion protests block traffic in five UK cities [Non-corporate human animals make their annoying bleating sounds...]

07.14 A Glacier the Size of Florida Is Becoming Unstable. It Has Dire Implications for Global Sea Levels [The willfully ignorant needn't read more, Trump]

07.13 'Climate Despair' Is Making People Give Up on Life [Willfully ignorant governments—having fired many of their best scientists—have made themselves too stupid to despair]

07.13 Trump administration to approve pesticide that may harm bees [The worst government money can buy!]

07.12 These solar panels don’t just generate power—they produce drinking water

07.12 David Attenborough: polluting planet may become as reviled as slavery [1:34 video]

07.10 Plastic Has A Big Carbon Footprint — But That Isn't The Whole Story [Fixing our world begins by educating your consciousness with the best truth from trustworthy news sources—so you'll then insist truly bad things will get fixed. But if instead you are educated by untrustworthy news sources—then your consciousness could be warped to where you are hating and fighting with your best friends. Clue: untrustworthy news sources never seriously report news about the world's most critical emergency—Global warming.]

07.10 Molly Scott Cato: ‘It’s the wealthy who are causing climate change’

07.09 Judge reinstates Madrid's low emissions zone [Yeh!]

07.07 How Solar Panels Work (And Why They're Taking Over the World) [Hope they leave space between panels for wild flowers to grow so birds and butterflies can flourish!]

07.05 Tree planting 'has mind-blowing potential' to tackle climate crisis

07.04 On reflection: how the 'albedo effect' is melting the Antarctic

07.04 US produces far more waste and recycles far less of it than other developed countries [As expected—and made worse by Trump—the U.S. is best at being the worst]07.03 Booming LNG industry could be as bad for climate as coal, experts warn

07.03 Deep-sea mining to turn oceans into ‘new industrial frontier’

07.03 Caravan of Americans battling diabetes heads to Canada for affordable insulin [3:36 video; Like Central Americans flee for their lives from criminal drug gangs, Americans flee for their lives for affordable pharmaceutical drugs]

07.02 American Medical Association sues North Dakota over abortion laws

07.02 'Committed' CO2 emissions jeopardize international climate goals, study finds

07.01 New Solar + Battery Price Crushes Fossil Fuels, Buries Nuclear

07.01 Freak summer hailstorm buries cars in Mexico's Guadalajara [0:50 video]

07.01 Climate Change is Devastating India With Heat Waves and Water Shortages [13:48 video]

06.30 American farmers can't afford this administration's climate apathy

06.30 The US military is a bigger polluter than more than 140 countries combined [Could a world-wide moratorium of military activity dramatically slow the climate crises?]

News Media Matters

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

07.16 Describing 'Future We Want to Live In' Scores of Groups Unveil New Blueprint for Reproductive Rights

07.16 'Do not take the bait': congresswomen denounce racist Trump attack [3:50 video]

07.16 Money Laundering Scandal Forces Puerto Rico’s Governor to Cut His Vacation Short — Just in Time for Another Scandal

07.16 Turnstile teaching [The problem is NOT the color of students skin, as our fake President reflexively thinks. The problem is the lax attitude and deficient funding by government to always do a much better job for a better future.]

07.15 Finding the Future in Radical Rural America

07.15 Sanders Accuses Biden of Parroting Pharma and Insurance Industry Script With Attacks on Medicare for All [Like Trump, Biden explains why he's unelectable every day.]

07.15 If there is an 'immigrant' who has failed to integrate in America, it's Donald Trump

07.15 Trump tells Ocasio-Cortez and other female progressives to 'go back' to 'original' countries

07.15 Trump Takes Pelosi's Side Against AOC and The Squad as Intraparty Fight Over Immigration Continues [Its about much more than immigration, its about the Corporate Dominance—by many of the same companies, even—over both major Political Parties. With too few exceptions, neither party has represented The Public since Nixon generously raised the minimum wage (Part D Medicare and ACA both became Frankenstein legislation due to excessive corporate price-fixing influence), and that has to change!]

07.14 Trump: People like Paul Ryan almost killed the Republican Party [Then it's too bad he didn't stay to finish the job!]

07.13 Trump's POS Labor Secretary, Acosta, Out. POS Number 2, Linked to Abramoff, to Fill Role [A willingness to perform criminal behavior seems the only competency required...]

Justice Matters

07.15 Australia 'deeply concerned' about China's treatment of Uighur people [What are the reasons, exactly, that justify harsh imprisonment of a million people?]

07.15 Zuma tells South Africa corruption inquiry he is victim of foreign plot [Unaccountable corrupt governments are so in fashion these days...]

07.14 Warren vows to probe U.S. crimes on immigrants if elected [Can you imagine living in a nation with a working Justice System? How far we've fallen!]

High Crimes
Economics & Corrupt Capitalism

07.15 China’s Economic Growth Hits 27-Year Low as Trade War Stings

International & Futurism

07.16 Trump’s race fantasy is clear: the US as home for whites fleeing Europe [1:09 video]

07.15 India’s Terrifying Water Crisis

07.15 Australia now has the highest minimum wage in the world [From 1960 to 2018 – the U.S. has fallen from 1st place to below the tenth place and off the chart]

07.14 Kasich: The chilling effect of British ambassador's leaked memos

07.14 'Just a matter of when': the $20bn plan to power Singapore with Australian solar

07.14 At least 24 Yellow Vests lost eyes in violent protests. Now they're more determined than ever [Protests of all kinds will continue until systemic inequality loses political dominance]

07.13 New Zealand Begins Gun Buyback Prompted by Mosque Attacks

07.13 After a Police Shooting, Ethiopian Israelis Seek a ‘Black Lives Matter’ Reckoning [Since so-called modern humans evolved there have been 10,000 generations of people. It is extremely far-fetched to think anyone is racially pure. SO ALL THIS HATE IS INCREDIBLY STUPID.]

07.13 After a Police Shooting, Ethiopian Israelis Seek a ‘Black Lives Matter’ Reckoning

07.13 Brazil’s President May Appoint Son, Friend to the Trumps, as Ambassador to U.S. [Friend of the Trumps, so we know they're all brain-dead except about near-term profits. They are clear-cutting the Amazon Rain Forest to feed-then-butcher millions of methane farting cows, over and over. Yep, that's there business plan. So therefore the rest of the world will hopefully plant billions of trees elsewhere to sequester CO2 to offset what the Bolsonaro family and investors are destroying. What's wrong with this picture?]

07.13 Trump’s Cruelty and Mexico’s Duty [Our president is immoral to his core and reacts to things like a child, not understanding that his actions are often crueler than they should be. And that cruelty will never completely be excused or forgotten—the people's hatred of Trump is growing, like the Texan's hatred when President General Santa Anna laid seige to the Alamo, which was Mexico's territory at the time...]

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  Too Big to Fail
Newspaper logo

COMMENTARY:

Too Big to Fail

Ecological Ignorance and Economic Collapse

by Chip Ward
April 20, 2009
If "recovery" from economic meltdown is just another word for a return to business as usual, we will be squandering a crucial chance to begin to build an economy that could be viable over the long run, without overloading the Earth's carrying capacity and courting catastrophe.
"Too big to fail." It's been the mantra of our economic meltdown. Although meant to emphasize the overwhelming importance of this bank or that corporation, the phrase also unwittingly expresses a shared delusion that may be at the root of our current crises -- both economic and ecological.

In nature, nothing is too big to fail. In fact, big is bound to fail. To understand why that's so means stepping away from a prevailing set of beliefs that holds us in its sway, especially the deep conviction that we operate apart from nature's limits and rules.

Here's the heart of the matter: We are ecologically illiterate -- not just unfamiliar with the necessary scientific vocabulary and concepts, but spectacularly, catastrophically, tragically dumb. Oh yes, some of us now understand that draining those wetlands, clear-cutting the rainforests, and pumping all that CO2 into the atmosphere are self-destructively idiotic behaviors. But when it comes down to how nature itself behaves, we remain remarkably clueless.

The Adaptive Cycle from Google to GM

Science tells us that complex adaptive systems, like economies or ecosystems, tend to go through basic phases, however varied they may be. In the adaptive cycle, first comes a growth phase characterized by open opportunity. The system is weaving itself together and so there are all sorts of niches to be filled, paths to take, partnerships to be made, all involving seemingly endless possibilities and potential. Think of Google.

As niches are filled and the system sorts out, establishing strong interdependent relationships, the various players become less diverse and are bound together in ways that are ever more constricting. This is the consolidation phase that follows growth. As the system matures, it may look ever bigger and more indestructible, but it is actually growing ever more vulnerable. Think of General Motors.

The hidden weakness that underlies big systems is inherent in the consolidation phase. When every player gets woven ever more tightly into every other, a seemingly small change in a remote corner of the system can cascade catastrophically through the whole of it. Think of a lighted match at the edge of a dry forest. Think of Bear Stearns.

As global capitalism is melting down around us, we are experiencing just how, in an overly mature system, disruptions that start small can grow exponentially. So, for example, unemployment goes up another percent or two, just enough to make those of us with jobs save our cash, fearing we might be next. As we buy less, stocks pile up, production lags, more people are fired, more fear spreads, and consumption contracts further.

The above scenario, as familiar as can be, also provides an example of how easy it is to cross thresholds -- even just that slim percent or two can do the trick -- and fall into self-reinforcing feedback loops. Big consolidated systems are particularly vulnerable to such runaway scenarios. Think of the domino effect within the densely connected global economy that led to Bear Stearns, then Lehman, Merrill Lynch, AIG...

The third phase in the typical adaptive cycle is collapse. If you want to know what that's like, turn on the TV, look out your window, or knock on your neighbor's door, assuming that you still have a window or your neighbor still has a door. Since everything's connected, when an overgrown system spirals out of control, collapse tends to feel like an avalanche rather than erosion.

It may be hard to notice during the turmoil and confusion, but enormous amounts of energy are released in the collapse phase of an adaptive cycle and that leads to the final phase: regeneration. After seeds are cracked open by a forest fire, seedlings bloom in the nutrient-rich ashes of the former forest. They soak up newly available sunlight where the forest canopy has been opened. Then, as those open spaces start to fill, the growth phase begins anew. Hopefully, in our world, those empty auto-making factories will soon house a blooming business in wind turbines and mass transit.

It is important, however, to recognize that sometimes the collapse phase leads to renewal and sometimes to an entirely different and unwanted regime. Fire, for example, can renew a forest by clearing debris, opening niche space, and resetting the successional clock, or, if combined with a prolonged drought, it can set the stage for desertification. In human systems, we can influence whether the outcome is positive or negative by setting goals, providing incentives, and creating policies designed to reach them.

Building an Economy in Thin Air

Once you tune in to the phases of an adaptive cycle, you see them unfolding all around you. They may seem overwhelmingly complex, especially when compared to the neater, more linear models that shape our conventional ways of seeing the world, but ignoring that cycle as you build an economy is akin to denying gravity as you build a skyscraper.

Bigness is a warning signal that tells us to take a second look and consider whether the seemingly solid thing in front of us is far closer to collapse than it looks and, if so, to ask what can be done about it. If we were ecologically savvy, the conventional wisdom would be: If it ain't broke but it sure is big, then fix it. We do that by breaking it up and creating space for new niches and for the more dynamic diversity that naturally flows into such a system.

It's easy to attribute the creative fervor of the growth phase to an absence of regulation, rather than seeing it as the natural process of niche-filling in a system with lots of available space. As is now plain, freeing an already big corporate system of almost all regulation so that it can grow even bigger does not, in fact, encourage creativity; it just hastens the consolidation phase. So, to offer but one example, letting GM off the hook on fuel efficiency during the Bush era didn't make the company more creative. It only added to its long-term vulnerability.

It was surely no coincidence that, after the mammoth AT&T monopoly was broken up in the 1980's, cell phone technology emerged explosively starting in the 1990's. In a sense, cell phones were the technological equivalent of a new species emerging after the collapse and regeneration phases of an ecosystem. In the same way, it wasn't giant IBM which generated the revolutionary development of personal computers and the Internet. The next breakthrough in solar technology may be more likely to start in your neighbor's garage than in Chevron's lab.

Driving Off Cliffs

Our ignorance of the adaptive cycle is just one example of our ecological illiteracy. We are similarly inept at reading all sorts of natural signs. Take, for example, thresholds, those critical points where seemingly minor changes can tip an economy into recession or a climate into a new regime of monster storms and epic droughts.

Thresholds are like the doors between the phases in the adaptive cycle, except that they are often one-way -- once you stumble through them, you can't get back to the other side -- so it is crucially important to understand where they are. Although we recognize that there are such things as "tipping points" and we recognize, belatedly, that we have already crossed too many of them, we're lousy at seeing, let alone avoiding, thresholds before we reach them.

Understanding exactly where a threshold is located may be difficult, but we can at least look for such boundaries, and deliberately try not to cross them when the unintended consequences of doing so can be dire. There are, after all, usually warnings: the reservoir level is lower every year; the colors in the coral reef are fading away; mercury levels in the lake increase; you are more dependent than ever on imported oil...

Once you have driven off a cliff, it does you little good to realize that you are falling. The time to practice water conservation is before your well runs dry. Our culture's ability to deal with thresholds has proven only slightly better than my dog's ability to solve algebra problems.

Regeneration, Not Recovery

Still, if we really were attentive to the natural cycles unfolding around us, we wouldn't be attracted to growth like moths to a flame. We wouldn't equate bigness with success, but with risk, with enervation awaiting collapse. We certainly wouldn't be aiming today to rebuild yesterday's busted economy so that, tomorrow, we can resume our unlimited looting of nature's storehouse.

Believing that we are unbounded by nature's limits or rules, we built an economy where faster, cheaper, bigger, and more added up to the winning hand. Then -- until the recent global meltdown at least -- we acted as if our eventual triumph over anything from resource scarcity to those melting icebergs was a foregone conclusion. Facing problems (or thresholds) where the red lights were visibly blinking, we simply told ourselves that we'd figure out how to tweak the engineering a bit, and make room for a few more passengers.

We got it wrong. A capitalist economy based on constant, unlimited growth is a reckless fantasy because ecosystems are not limitless -- there are just so many pollinators, so many aquifers, so much fertile soil. In nature, unchecked rapid growth is the ideology of the invasive species and the cancer cell. Growth as an end in itself is ultimately self-destructive. A (globally warming) rising sea may lift all boats, as capitalists like to point out, but it may also inundate the coastline and drown the people living there.

If "recovery" from economic meltdown is just another word for a return to business as usual, we will be squandering a crucial chance to begin to build an economy that could be viable over the long run, without overloading the Earth's carrying capacity and courting catastrophe. We don't have to go big.

Remember that regeneration phase of the adaptive cycle? Here's where that comes in. Yes, collapse is a nightmare, but it also presents opportunities. If we were more aware of the thresholds we've already crossed, we might think differently about the next iteration of the economy. We could always cross a threshold of our own making and decide to live differently. Unrestrained growth, after all, was never a prerequisite for health, happiness, and justice. It's not written into the Constitution.

What would an end to separation from nature and from each other feel like? How might it be expressed day to day? The regeneration phase that is now upon us begs us to answer those questions.

This much is clear. If we want to avoid endless darkness and hardship, we have to become ecologically literate -- deeply so. The future is, you might say, too big to fail.


Chip Ward is a political activist and author of Canaries on the Rim (Verso) and Hope's Horizon (Island Press). He writes from Torrey, Utah, a small village that refuses to go big.

Copyright 2009 Chip Ward

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission. Additional edifying comments and links can be found here on the Tom Dispatch site.



Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on April 20, 2009.

 



Public Service Ads:
Verifiable Voting in Maryland