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Archive for November, 2016

I generally abstain from political writing in this context, but as this past election has so many implications for scientific research, especially as it concerns ecological issues, I feel it is important to say a few things. This evening I wrote the following letter to the editor of the New York Times:

 

 

In recent days, the blame has already begun to circulate concerning the clownish travesty that is the election of a racist pervert to the highest office. Is James Comey to blame for his remarks regarding the Clinton email investigation, or perhaps the votes could have been found in some third party candidate’s tally (perhaps in the 11,000 that voted for a deceased gorilla). The truth is the DNC and Hillary herself bear most of the responsibility. The democrats, by running a lackluster candidate (see John Kerry in 2004), with a long list of past indiscretions, failed to present the type of vision that the Obama coalition so strongly responded to. In the end, her own ¬†disingenuous reputation and a Regan Democrat’s policy platform, ensured that only those who strongly feared four years of rabid nationalism would “hold their nose” for her. I only hope that this is a wake up call to the whole party going forward. We want genuine progressives.
The subtext to this letter may not immediately be apparent, and this seems an appropriate place to expound upon what was truly at stake, and how the Clinton campaign missed that.
I have, too many times to count, criticized secretary Clinton for not being a true progressive. Her support of foreign wars has led to neoconservative endorsements, something that should trouble anyone who, like me, came of age under George W. Bush. Her economic policies seemed too centrist, and even those policies may have been to the left of her actual stance (exhibited by her Wall Street speech leaked by wikileaks). However, none of these issues troubles me more about her, and the Democratic Party in general, so much as the failure to acknowledge the greatest challenge of our time… Ecological Overshoot.
The concept of ecological overshoot was first popularized by the Club of Rome’s book¬†Limits of Growth. This book, first published in 1972 and then updated every ten years since, used computer models to show how human population would continue to grow until it overshot the ecological carrying capacity of the earth. The models predicted a disastrous crash prior to the year 2100, which would, for perhaps a millennia, negatively impact the resources which are necessary for human survival. The book highlights three necessary conditions for overshoot: 1. Accelerating Growth, 2. Limit or Barrier to sustained growth (i.e. finite resources), and 3. Delayed Response to the impending crisis.
Overshoot is often perceived in economic crises, such as the housing bubble. Growth in the market continued past the point of sustainability. Loans were given to increasingly unqualified borrowers to artificially inflate demand, and this continued long after evidence of the problem was perceptible.
Recent developments in ecology should illustrate that we indeed have an impending problem. First, temperatures are rising from excessive CO2 consumption, causing climate disturbances such as large scale droughts, super storms, polar ice melt etc. Second, wildlife has shown signs of massive decline, on the scale of a mass extinction (30% of North American Birds are in Decline, the world’s wildlife populations have decline by 50% in 40 years). Third, pollution is causing ecosystem declines (see ocean acidification). Finally, we are experiencing shortages of water and food within the human economic system. These are all symptoms of the main problem… The mythology of sustained growth.
Certainly one candidate was worse than the other on these issues. The perverted clown that has inherited the privilege to serve as Commander in Chief has called Climate Change a hoax and expressed broad skepticism about environmental science. However, Clinton failed to significantly differentiate herself from his agenda, and failed abjectly to identify the problem. Hillary Clinton did as all politicians in America have done before her, she has called for economic growth to solve the problems of the world. This was the Regan answer, and the Democrats have come to embody that agenda, rather than present an opposing vision.
Climate Change, given the growth model our political system espouses as the treatment of economic ills, is the elephant in the room. No Democrat, Clinton especially, has succeeded in presenting a vision for sustainable economic development based on system equilibrium. It has become apparent that wild fluctuations are required in a growth model, while equilibrium models are more resilient to disturbances (see an old growth forest). That is not to say equilibrium are completely stable, they aren’t. They are dynamic, but as mentioned resilient. That resiliency is precisely what the nation needs. Wealth disparity is out of control, and when disturbances hit they effect those of us at the bottom harder and for a longer period of time. There are those still suffering nearly ten years after the start of the great recession and six years after it was declared over.
An economy should be able to recognize a stable state and seek to elongate it. Instead, our system seeks to outdo itself each year, quickening the pace of destruction and depletion at an exponential rate. However, if population stabilized, food systems could stabilize and resource consumption and pollution could stabilize. With growth you take the good with the bad, and we’ve been led to believe, erroneously, that that is preferable.
Clinton tried to stick to an old playbook, one that is obsolete, one that no longer brings millennial out to the voting booths. If the Democrats wish to perform better in the future, they will have to analyze the old laissez faire capitalism model, and start looking toward sustainability. They are dealing with a youth vote that is increasingly aware of their ecological impacts, and wish to make a real, positive change. If the Democratic Party wishes to go forward it will have to retire its bench candidates in favor of those with progressive visions. People no longer want to “hold their nose” for the “lesser of two evils.” The lesser evil is still evil.
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