Eternal Growth

If you divide land area in the UK by population you discover that each person is entitled to approximately 4000sqm. Assuming 25% of the land is uninhabitable then this means that on a plot of land 60x50m each person must live, work, play and grow all their food and material needs to lead a sustainable existence. This is a sobering thought. To accommodate growth we have instead had to stack people vertically in cities and create intensive farming systems fuelled by the discovery of oil. Property and the State provide a system that enables the chaos of housing millions of humans to be ordered while providing a safety net for those in society that might be better suited to living off the land but who can’t. Can this system sustain eternal growth?

Growth is a driving force for civilisation and provides purpose and direction to the human species but isn’t sustainable because it requires ever greater resource consumption. Also our focus on GDP growth hasn’t helped solve problems of extreme poverty but has strengthened the divide between rich and poor. This is shown in Prosperity without Growth by Tim Jackson who also suggests that our personal happiness doesn’t increase beyond a certain level of wealth. He suggests that many people could afford to work less and enjoy more leisure time providing employment opportunities for others and a redistribution of wealth. An alternative viewpoint is the Infinity Loop model which suggests companies have a responsibility to the whole human species and that once the happiness of our own community has reached a tipping point we should be looking to help others who are suffering. Growth is not a bad thing but, just as humans stop growing physically in their 20’s and instead grow intellectually, there needs to be a balanced assessment of what society needs to grow and when rather than an obsessive fixation on forever growing GDP at any cost.

GDP growth is a journey of cyclical dilution. Wealth accumulates to a peak and then an event causes a crash and financial gridlock. Quantative easing can be used to get money flowing again, generally leading to a dilution of capital, but it doesn’t solve the problem of increasing resource consumption. Replacing the focus on GDP with carbon and social factors could help shift society’s focus away from the desire for pure wealth accumulation. Each person could be given a carbon allowance. If they used above the allowance they would be taxed and if below they could trade the credit. This shift in thinking would make people more aware of other intangible commodities such as community, identity, creativity and the important value they bring to society’s well-being. It is a shame we need to impose yet another restriction on life to draw attention to our unsustainable lifestyles but as populations grow some sort of rationing that doesn’t hurt the bottom of society seems necessary.

Economic risk also needs rebalancing. The splitting of high street banks from investment divisions will help reduce excessive risk but the term investment needs to be better defined. Investment should not be about pure gambling but about investing in the future of a positive company to benefit the planet. Allowing short selling, derivatives, etc is not investment but a form of linear thinking which exaggerates problems rather than balancing them. Intangible assets such as risk (loans) and peace of mind (insurance) are an important part of civilisation but a significant proportion of tangible capital must be owned to counter any defaults. This creates an inherent paradox as capital is accumulated for the sake of leverage which even ideas such as Islamic Finance don’t seem to solve. Risk is a fundamental part of life but when you start to look into the economics of a country it is amazing how complicated finance has been allowed to become. This occurred because it was believed that the complexity of a free market would inherently resolve itself and lead to perfect stability. This probably would happen eventually but at what cost to humanity?

Society is questioning how countries have failed to balance their books, something that most citizens have to achieve day to day. Why didn’t economists see this problem coming despite history, as shown in the graph below, predicting a bust was due? Game Theory, which has been used to predict evolutionary stable systems in nature, may help society factor  ‘moral sentiment’ into deciding how best to balance the ‘invisible hand’ of the future. What do you think?

Gdp_growth_1923-2009

US GDP growth 1923-2009. Boom and bust at what cost?

 

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Distributed Networks

Over the last few years we have witnessed the collapse of global banks and the failure of centralised governments to spend sustainably. Part of this is due to linear thinking where, for example, toxic derivatives have been repackaged and resold without the circular consequences being considered. With linear thinking you will eventually reach the end of the line and in this case it was the credit crunch and a global realisation that the banks didn’t really know how much toxic debt they actually held. It was believed that the ‘Market’ would solve this problem. It didn’t and instead the world entered into recession as trade froze while our leaders tried to work out how to unlock the stalemate and get the economy moving again. This out of sight, out of mind approach to finance can also be seen in trade and politics where centralised systems make the cause and effect consequences unfelt until it is too late. A centralised government makes strategic decisions for a piece of land which is so big it cannot see the consequence of its actions until billions of pounds have been spent. Why does this arbitrary boundary that defines our country determine how the land is managed? How can centralised governance comprehend the complexities of society on the scale they are expected to work without making nonspecific generalisations that impact on local culture and identity? The arrival of the internet, one of the greatest inventions of our recent past, has nearly completely networked the planet. Could this technology provide a distribution of information and awareness for humanity which leads to a global Distributed Network?

 

The current political system is a relatively new invention. A quick history lesson shows that before 1066 England was ruled by a monarch. The feudal system introduced a debate team of tenants-in-chief from which William of Normandy would seek advice before making laws. In 1215 the tenants-in-chief secured Magna Carta from King John which established the monarch would not levy taxes without the consent of his royal council, which gradually developed into a parliament. Over time parliament limited the power of the monarch to the extent that all laws are now made by parliament and you could say that the monarch acts as an advisor to the prime minister. Realising the evolution of England’s governance is important in understanding that what exists today is not necessarily the best model to secure our future success.

 

Let me ask you a question. Tell me the top five policies of the three major parties in England and explain the changes to society and directly to you that having either one in power would produce? There are very few people that can answer this question. Unfortunately our hard fought democratic right to vote has become a misleading smoke-screen which has resulted in the whimsical change of government where an opposition party not only debates new laws but actively blocks good ideas to gain personal and political leverage. Does this sound constructive? Yet if we look at large companies such as Apple, that has only existed for 35years, they now have more money than the USA to spend! Is there something in the model of corporations that could be translated to the governance of countries to aid their evolution? Does society need a national voting system to relieve its frustrations or would localised share holding empower citizens to make positive changes to their communities? By making counties into corporations would people realise the pointlessness in accumulating wealth to the detriment of the community?

 

The Distributed Network is a proposal to devolve the structures of national governance and allow each state or county to independently manage their own finances and affairs. Each county will be managed by a CEO chosen by a board of directors and everybody within the county will be a shareholder with the power to change the board should it fail to deliver. By focusing management by county it will be easier to comprehend the complexity of the systems at work than the current system of parliament is able to achieve. It would also attract a new generation of social CEO’s who are uninspired by politics and would now have the opportunity to make a positive difference to their area. New ideas could be tested in small parts of the country and if successful would naturally spread. This would prevent the arbitrary staking of countries against one another and encourage partnerships to be formed both nationally and internationally between counties. Success could be measured by carbon usage and contentment levels rather than GDP which encourages unsustainable growth for growths sake. Each CEO has the ultimate power to make decisions for the county but the county cannot expand its boundaries nor restrict immigration. Each county would then have to chose between becoming completely self-sufficient or trading with others to find a balance. This process would also encourage cultural identity to be enhanced as each county competed with its neighbours to be the most sustainable and harmonious. The aim of the Distributed Network is to reach a sustainable balance where all systems across the globe are circular and are networked to the benefit of the county, the human species and the planet.

 

Winston Churchill famously said : “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried…” Maybe there is an alternative? What do you think?

 

Centralisation

The Distributed Network

Carbon Community

Science shows that our growing carbon output is causing climate change which will have significant environmental consequences for our species. If we look at this challenge from the context of the Social Equation we could say Nature is going to provide the Fear component as sea levels rise, ice caps melt and natural disasters occur with greater frequency. To compensate this growing Fear society will want some Hope. With the power of religion eroded people will want a scientific explanation and this is where the carbon community vision has value. Hope is provided by the idea that if we reduce our carbon footprint we can help reduce global warming. Rather than relying on faith and prayer for Hope we are now providing humans with a positive activity they can partake in so their Hope isn’t passive. The Greed component is fullfilled by commodifying carbon which has the potential benefit of focusing attention away from GDP and profit towards carbon reduction and carbon credit systems. Finally the Love component is provided by a focus on the benefits of community and family who each need to support making our environment better.

 

The Social Equation (Carbon Community):   Civilisation = (Carbon reduction + Carbon communities) / (Nature + Carbon commodification)

 

History has shown that the structure of civilisation is fragile with many examples perishing through time. History has also shown the importance that civilisations evolve perhaps to accomodate the expansion of population or maybe just to provide a relative sense of purpose to society. Either way we often forget that beyond our own lifespan the structure of society was quite different to what we live in today and so it will be looking into the future. The Social Equation provides a simple model to show how a carbon community can rebalance human emotion and structure civilisation in the absense of a strong religious framework.

 

The carbon community, like religion itself, is not a perfect model for at some point the world will be zero carbon and what will drive society then? There are also questions over the commodification of a gas which leaves one less element to privatise before we touch oxygen or life itself. It would be great to think everybody will all wake up one day, reject the concept of Greed and live a completely sustainable existence. Unfortunately revolution is rare and the survival skills are not available to make this a sustainable proposition. Therefore we have to evolve the existing model twisting the component of Greed for money to Greed for carbon. By manipulating the Greed component of the Social Equation it is important that the opportunity isn’t lost on illogical money making ideas such as some carbon capture schemes but instead acts as a tipping point in sustainable thinking and living.

 

A carbon economy may sound strange but then so is the idea of money, a formatted document which won’t itself keep you warm or feed you! Assuming society does avert a global warming disaster and the carbon market saves civilisation then future generations will need to formulate a new model to balance the Social Equation. Maybe ideas such as the Infinty Loop and Carbon Community will negate the need for external regulation and further commodification. The ‘Market’, by which I mean you, me and future generations, will form a communal moral conscience without the need for religious or legal frameworks to guide them. Ideas of how to structure society have always come from the top and been enforced by law without the general population necessarily understanding their significance. Has science and education changed this model to the extent that any significant change will now need a full explaination for general acceptance? What do you think?

 

World_ecology

A Helping Hand?

Cult of the Individual

In the Social Equation post we discussed how one could see the construction of civilisation as equalling the balance of human emotions. As societies grew in density so formal frameworks were established to help order the chaos and provide balance. Until relatively recently religion was an important component in providing meaning to human emotion and existence. For thousands of years this model existed to provide a violent balance to our civilisation. As the time spent on searching for food and daily survival has decreased and been replaced by the ‘intellectual hunt’ so science has brought into question the literal interpretation of religious stories.

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution which fundamentally conflicted with the Christian teachings, that Man is descended from Adam and Eve, and proposed a logical answer to one of the great unknown questions. For those looking for answers to the meaning of life it seemed that science now had more relevance than books such as the Bible and so the strength of religion as a framework within society declined. Science only describes the physical and neglects intangible ideas such as morality and spirituality that can’t be measured but which form an important part of the balance of human emotion.

Modern society has quickly looked to fill the void left by religion with the cult of the individual where we replace our belief in God with a guiding belief in ourselves. Now we Love ourselves and money, we Hope and aspire to more material possessions, we Fear growing old/fat/ugly and not matching the images portrayed in the media and our Hate has maybe been channelled into computer games but appears less prominent as an emotion at present. It is as if Greed has now replaced Hate as the opposite driving emotion to Love within the Social Equation. There are still issues of racism, religious and political intolerance but what few wars we have are driven by greed for oil and money rather than hatred of an ideal or group of people. Even the London 2011 riots were fuelled by greed for new trainers and televisions rather than any social, political or racial hatred. Without religious stories to guide us morally we rely on the media of art, music and film which has worked hard to promote the cult of the individual and the positive nature of financial greed.

The Social Equation (cult of the individual):          Civilisation = (Hope + Love) / (Fear +Greed)

Maybe we should congratulate ourselves that we have managed to replace Hate with Greed in the Social Equation but this has itself created new challenges. The physical embodiment of Hate was war and this acted as a consumption mechanism to justify society’s need to work to pay for armaments and maintain national security. The armaments were then destroyed in war along with hundreds of thousands of people and the process of growth began again. Society’s need to work has now been replaced with Greed and its physical incarnation consumerism but this has created unsustainable levels of material consumption. Where war levelled society and highlighted the insignificance of material possessions and the importance of Hope and Love, Greed hasn’t created a shock which enables society to rebalance its priorities and emotions. The Credit Crunch is the alternative to war but unfortunately it has failed to nudge people into consuming less resources or reassessing their values. We have a serious challenge to fill the void left by religion with a convincing new framework.

In the next post we will look at how a Carbon Community could provide an alternative framework for the balance of human emotion but will ask the question are there any better solutions?

The_black_rose_emblem

Greed is the Root of all Evil?

 

The Social Equation

The term civilisation refers to complex human cultures that are generally urbanised. This post will propose that stable civilisations require human emotion to be balanced and that various frameworks exist to ensure this equilibrium. In the next post we will look at how scientific thinking has altered the balance of emotions within society and in the third post of this series we will discuss what alternatives exist for the future.

 

Having looked at various systems around the world we began to notice that many laws, religions and beliefs exist to balance human emotion and provide meaning to life. For instance a religious framework, such as Christianity provides balance through Love of ‘God’, Hope for a better life in Heaven and redemption from sin, Fear of Hell and damnation and Hate for other religions that drove the Crusades in the 11, 12 and 13th centuries. For thousands of years this model has existed to provide a violent balance to our civilisation. Over time other frameworks and ideologies have approached the structure of civilisation from different viewpoints but all have the same goal of creating social balance.

 

The Social Equation is a simple mechanism to help think about the balance of emotion in society and will hopefully lead to some debate from our readers as to how this can evolve?

            

The Social Equation:        Civilisation  =  (Hope + Love) / (Fear + Hate)

 

The Social equation takes four primal emotions which in a dense urban environment must be kept in balance with no extreme examples causing significant harm to other humans. The choice of emotions is up for debate as they are not based on the list produced by Parrot in 2001 (love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, fear) but on common English parlance where we talk of hopes and fears as well as love and hate as general opposites. Humans are biologically programmed to enjoy Love because it is this emotion that binds families together that provide the support system for the next generation. Hope is the optimistic component of human emotion, a driving belief that things will improve and therefore life is worth living. Hope can also blind society to its problems which is why emotions of Fear exist to provide a balance and inspire action. Hate is the emotion which has led to many wars and acts as a social leveller and driver but which in the next post we will argue has been replaced in the equation due to the inhumanity of its results.

 

Each emotion used in the Social Equation has positive qualities in moderation and its mere existence acts as a foil to its opposite providing the ability to compare the benefits of being in one emotional state against another. Put simply you cannot know what Love is without Hate as an opposing emotion for comparison. We will question this idea in the next post but for the moment let’s look at each emotion in turn and how its extreme can be dangerous to social balance. Hope is the believe in a positive outcome. Taken to extremes false hope occurs where the person bases their belief around fantasy or an extremely unlikely outcome which then leads to ineffective stagnation. For example Britain could have hoped Hitler wouldn’t have tried to attack but blind hope would have indeed led to an invasion. In contrast the opposing emotion of Fear can also be paralysing in the extreme where it resigns the human to their anticipated fate. Love as they say can be blind or blinding, leading the obsessed to carry out acts that are not rational to their own well being. Up until 1970 French law still recognised a crime of passion as a valid defence where love had led to murder. In contrast we have the emotion of Hate which in extremes leads to murder or war. Those with a greater historical knowledge will probably be able to suggest other relevant events?

 

Extremes of emotion cause instability and society puts in place frameworks such as law and religion to help find an equilibrium. One could also argue that Love and Hope are emotions that lead to contentment and inactivity while emotions such as Fear and Hate generally provoke a response that drives us to action. It is the push and pull of these emotions that keeps society in balance whilst also evolving slowly in response to the environment.

 

In the next post we will look at how science has changed the power of our balancing frameworks and how the cult of the individual has modified the Social Equation. As always please feel free to comment and add further examples.

 

Leviathan

 The balance of emotional power

Circular Thinking

One of the main challenges of our civilisation is that we have failed to think circularly. Our linear thought processes have led to unsustainable levels of waste which is harming our planet and our species. A perfect example of linear thinking is the drive to recycle which has had whole countries using large quantities of energy to turn waste glass bottles into mountains of recycled glass. We now have the problem of inventing new products, that involve large quantities of energy, to turn this recycled glass into insulation, kitchen worktops, etc. This is an example of linear thinking where society has been led to believe that they have been acting sustainably when in fact it was just creating a new energy intensive problem further down the line. If the bottles could be reused, or the recycled glass used to make new low energy bottles then we would have a circular process but unfortunately this isn’t the case because the quality of the recycled glass isn’t deemed pure enough. To justify the input of energy you have to produce products from the recycled material which have a higher value than the original product and this is where the problem lies. Meanwhile we all carry on as normal consuming huge quantities of glass and paper warm in the knowledge that it is being recycled!

 

A good example of circular thinking will be the solar revolution that will not only solve a growing energy crisis but will mark a shift in public thinking as people realise the sustainable benefits of taking responsibility for their own energy generation and so creating a circular process. We are at a tipping point where investment will enhance the panel efficiencies and developments in organic solar materials will make their production more sustainable. Researchers are even finding ways to generate energy from the growth of plants as they photosynthesis! Photovoltaics will mark a step change away from an out of sight, out of mind centralised processes and begin a more sustainable path to circular thinking.

 

Other circular thinking ideas include whole life costing, products that are sold as services to be returned to the manufacturer at the end of their life, Living Machine wastewater treatment systems and even business models such as the Infinity Loop which can be read about here. The idea behind the free market is that if everybody has enough linear thoughts than an interconnected web will form which is inherently stable. Not only has the economic crisis proven this theory wrong but more importantly it is a way of thinking that does not encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. Why worry about environmental and social issues when the ‘Market’ will solve all these inconvenient problems for you?! Linear thinking has forced the need for further bureaucratic regulation which is obviously in conflict with free market ideals. Maybe a free market of circular processes is a sustainable possibility where people take responsibility for their investments? A world where success is measured by factors other than GDP?

 

Isolated examples of circular thinking won’t create a sustainable society on their own but the more we can chain these loops together and create a network of interlinked circular processes the more we can prevent our linear path to the sixth extinction and stop our consumption spiralling out of control.

 

Mandala_diffraction

Mandala Diffraction