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Nature Does Not Grade on a Curve

2017 May 13
by Ian Welsh

Globe on FireOne of the problems with how we are educated and how we work is that almost all of it is “grading on a curve.” What matters is what our teacher thinks of us; what our boss thinks of us. Except when it comes to sickness, nothing else matters even nearly as much.

It’s all “on a curve,” it’s all social bullshit. If you can convince your boss or teacher to pass you, you pass, and there’s no objective level required in most cases: The difficulty is set by a person.

Nature does not grade on a curve.

If a bear is chasing you, and you can’t run fast enough, you’re probably dead.

If your capitalist democratic system can’t handle climate change, a problem predicted decades ago (and in plenty of time to fix it), billions of people will die.

It doesn’t matter whether there are “reasons” why we couldn’t handle it, not to the dead.

It also doesn’t matter if there are “reasons” why we can’t come up with a better way of running the world than capitalism with a side of democracy or autocracy, depending on the country.

People are always nattering on about how capitalism is the bestest system ever. (Although what has really produced the changes they like is mostly industrialization, not capitalism, though that’s a different article.)

It’s nice that we can’t come up with something better than capitalism (er, ok, not nice), but capitalism has failed. That it hasn’t blown up yet is irrelevant to this. If my brakes and steering fail at 90 miles an hour as I’m heading towards a mountain cliff, well, no catastrophe actually happens until I not only go off the cliff, but hit the ground, but the future is set.

That’s where we are; the future is essentially set. We aren’t going to stop climate change, it’s doubtful we even can (it would, even theoretically, take massive geo-engineering at this point), so capitalism, and the political systems attached to it, like democracy and Chinese one-party autocratic rule, have failed.

It is that simple. And nature does not give a fuck if capitalism is the “bestest bestest system that we ever came up with” or if, qua Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

They have failed.

And what people are not getting through their heads is that they will be seen to have failed by those who have to suffer the consequences of our monstrous abnegation of responsibility.

They will be loathed; even as we who live in this era and especially those who were adults in the 80s and 90s, will not just be loathed, but treated as lepers, similiar to how we consider Nazis. (Yeah, I went there, deal.)

One of the problems with de-naturing (with living in almost entirely human made systems, and with pushing those bits we don’t control off into ghettos as we would illness), is that it means most people almost never experience a benchmark that isn’t set by other human beings. They feel, in their guts, that if only other people are convinced, any problem can be fixed or finangled.

No.

The bear doesn’t care that you can’t run fast enough because TV is funner than going for a jog, and nature doesn’t care that shareholders needed value and that oil barons didn’t want to be a little poorer (or whatever).

And neither will those who suffer from climate changes due to our ethical monstrosity and sheer incapability.

Capitalism is a shit system in a number of ways. It can be made to work, by people who stay right on top of it, as between the 30s and 70 or so, but it is prone to going off the rails. If all that meant was that the poor suffer what they must and the powerful do as they will, well, so be it, but it isn’t.

We must come up with better ways to run our societies. We are creating existential threats by failing to do so, and our infatuation with capitalism risks taking democracy down with it.

Worse worlds are always possible. So are better ones, and no system is ever “the best.”

And nature doesn’t grade on a curve.


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63 Responses
  1. May 13, 2017

    There is one and only one solution for averting the worst of climate change and for adapting to the level of crisis already locked in:

    1. Greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    2. Stop destroying carbon and nitrogen sinks.

    3. Rebuild sinks on a mass scale.

    That’s a fact, and everything else is a lie.

    Especially, any version of “we can meet the horrors of capitalism only by doubling down on it”, like advocacy of the infinite evil of geoengineering, is not just a lie but part of the campaign of destruction.

    We see how a “progressive” blog like this offers no alternative, no way forward, nothing but doubling down on every lie and mistake.

  2. Dean Flemming permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Your incisive essay admits no rebuttal. Human nature is not equal to the laws of nature. It saddens me how even this generation of young adults after the decades of cumulative environmental education in our societies has almost no consideration for the environment whenever it is called on to make the smallest personal sacrifice. Consumption, disposable fashion and convenience are the governing principles no less than in the days of Mad Men.

  3. V. Arnold permalink
    May 13, 2017

    The view from the Hermitage; our fate was sealed decades ago.
    We didn’t listen, or rather, we didn’t act.
    I just can’t wrap my mind around us destroying the environment, and life, on the single most beautiful planet known to exist.
    If that picture of earth rising, taken from the moon, had no effect; then nothing will…
    And yes, nature doesn’t grade on a curve; thank the gods…

  4. May 13, 2017

    Hopefully whatever sub-terrestrial bacteria remain after all multi-cellular terrestrial life has died will re-evolve again into sentient beings before the planet is turned into a burned cinder by a dying sun.

    I find it comforting to remember that the universe cannot exist without something living to observe it, even if it just floating bacteria.

  5. Stirling Newberry permalink
    May 13, 2017

    We do not have capitalism – the rich do not want it. Capitalism says if you fail, you lose money. That did happen after 2007-2008.

  6. Stirling Newberry permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Grading on a curve is sometime OK, but Ian is right – not always. Grading on the curve is if you want to know who is the ablest person available – after all, you learn a great deal of the job – on the job. But if you want to know whether a person can meet a set of standards – then grading on the curve is useless.

  7. Tom permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Well unless the Priest-Kings come in and institute Gorean City-State system till such time we culturally/socially/psychologically understand that making death bets is fundamentally stupid and people doing so must be killed to purge that evil from the tribe, we simply have to go through the die off.

    Enjoy your hobbies while you can. Make your “I warned you assholes” statements, but above all enjoy life now.

  8. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 13, 2017

    She and her husband are such Plutocrat Ass-Sucking Scumbags. The worst of hypocrites. Worst than Trump. In fact, Trump isn’t a hypocrite. He’s a Serial Liar, but he’s a fairly Open Book — he’s easy to read. You look at him and listen to him and you say to yourself, “this guy is fucking nuts.” But Barack & Michelle know how to work it. They’re great pretenders like the Clintons.

    She is so full of shit in the following video. I can attest to it. The school lunches under her watch got worse, not better. Kids don’t eat at all now and instead bring snacks as their meals. My son won’t eat the cafeteria food any longer. It wasn’t great before her changes, but kids would eat it. With her changes, kids won’t touch it. That’s because most kids affected by her project don’t get organic sushi likes her daughters who attend, or attended, the prestigious Sidwell Friends School. Her changes quite literally had a deleterious effect on the quality of the food under the banner of healthy. This is their schtick. They did the same thing with the ACA. They wrapped that legislation in the banner of improved health outcomes when it’s actually the opposite and now the Conservatives want to take that and make it even worse, if that’s possible and apparently it is.

    Michelle Obama: “Think about why someone is OK with your kids eating crap … if somebody is doing that, they don’t care about your kid.”

  9. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Grading will always be arbitrary, therefore, no grades is the best option. Equal pay and no grades.

    Replace extrinsic rewards with intrinsic rewards. You do it for the love of it.

    The extrinsic rewarding is coercing. Intrinsic is purely voluntary. With intrinsic, you’re internally motivated to achieve, whether it be learning in an academic setting or truly creating & innovating in a career.

    We need to become creators again and own the development of something from start to finish rather than being hidden in a cube somewhere unsure as to how we’re contributing to the overall cause whatever that overall cause is.

    We’re too disconnected despite our electronic hyperconnectivity. It’s a paradox. The more hyperconnected we are electronically, the less connected we are in the physical world.

    If there is any creation or innovation, it increasingly takes place in the virtual world. If this is evolution in our midst, then our future is looking more and more like a dystopian nightmare, but, we’ll never know it because that ability to have context will have been evolved out of us. Our future existence will appear as perfectly normal and not a nightmare at all.

  10. Synoia permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Grading on a curve: Very N America centric.

    I believe the UK system does not grade on a curve.

    Climate Change, Sea Level Rise.

    I’d call Florida the canary in that coal mine. At some point sewage plans will fail, and are in my opinion the critical infrastructure, becaue they are very hard to relocate, and when the fail multiply the number of uninhabitable home by hundreds of thousands.

    Find out where your sewage plant is located, and if by the coast or a coastal river, MOVE NOW.

    Here’s my advice, MOVE NOW, before the rush.

    And I believe N America especially unfriendly, because it mostly has a bad climate.

    Above 3,000 ft in the tropics is the most benign climate. Good luck with the locals.

  11. Cold Mountain permalink
    May 13, 2017

    There is something better than capitalism, we left it long, long ago. It is called anarchism. Not the political kind, but the natural state. Anarchism is not something we can create, it just “is”.

    You can live in anarchism right now; it is a place of total acceptance and action-without-action.

    There is no need to wait for the world to change.

  12. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 13, 2017

    The Southeast is already beginning the process of Desertification. Forest Fires are becoming as prevalent as they are in California. The Southeast is on fire right now. By mid to late Summer and into the Fall, the Mountains will burn again. Part of Gatlinburg burned to the ground this past year and Dollywood was almost destroyed. Can you imagine that? Dollywood destroyed!! The Horror!! The Horror!!

    This Is Your Future If You Live In The Southeast United States And Yet People Continue To Relocate To It In Droves

  13. nihil obstet permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Now we have neither capitalism nor democracy, only the fables of both as bedtime stories. Unfortunately, there IS a monster under the bed. Sweet dreams, all.

  14. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Unfortunately, there IS a monster under the bed. Sweet dreams, all.

    Indeed. You Better Put Your Lights On & Leave Them On. I Know I Am. Trump is The Demogorgon. He’s Saul Alinskying Malevolent Autocracy In America.

  15. SnarkyShark permalink
    May 13, 2017

    I listen to Guy McPherson who predicts human extinction by 2030. I think he is an optimist. We have three unrestrained nuclear core meltdowns spewing radiation at “unimaginable” levels. If you look at the videos of the explosions you can clearly see the spent fuel pool being blasted quit high into the air as its contents are atomized. There are learned engineers who call BS on the Hydrogen explosion and say it was a criticallity event They did manage to video one pile of corium (melted fuel rods and such) before it killed the camera. It was white hot and truly looked like the gates of hell.
    Sometimes what is not in the news is what is truly important. Why is this not the lead in every story out there? This could be an event where we at least bring the best and the brightest together and make a half-assed attempt to save humanity.
    But we are being denied that because those who make mad cash off this industry like all the other polluters don’t want to give an inch. If we all have to die, well at least they didn’t have to share their toys with the like of us.

  16. john c. halasz permalink
    May 13, 2017

    “abnegation of responsibility”- This is odd usage. “Abnegation” means self-denial or renunciation. It’s the lack of such, self-indulgence, that is being bemoaned.

  17. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Speaking of the merger of politics, news & entertainment, this move would coronate the finality of it. Russia Today would be better, imo, and more appropriate. If he made it RT versus Fox, Liberals will finally have to be institutionalized.

    Obama helped set this all up. He embraced The Media & Holllywood like no other POTUS before him. He greased the skids for this Unholy Alliance and now Trump will make it complete in the image he prefers.

    These pillars should be separated just as banking & investing should be separated just as church & state should be separated.

    Once upon a time, but no longer because they just won’t listen to reason, I warned my wife’s family that by not respecting the importance of the separation of church and state and its true & proper intent and instead supporting the evisceration of that barrier, you bring about your own demise. I told them, it may be Christianity now, but what if in 20 to 30 years Islam becomes the majority and then, because you eliminated the separation of church & state, you have Sharia Law as The Law of the land.

    Same holds for the merger of news, politics and entertainment. Now we have the political/news/entertainment version of Sharia Law — Trump.

    God help us all. I don’t know if I can stand 4 to 8 more years of this. I may have to go back to making money again. The Horror! The Horror!

    Frustrated With Sean Spicer’s Press Office, Trump Considering Bringing In Fox News Producers

  18. jawbone permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Two meanings of …

    ab·ne·ga·tion

    noun
    the act of renouncing or rejecting something.
    “abnegation of political lawmaking power”
    synonyms: renunciation, rejection, refusal, abandonment, abdication, surrender, relinquishment, repudiation, denial; formalabjuration
    “a serious abnegation of their responsibilities”

    self-denial.
    synonyms: self-denial, self-sacrifice, abstinence, temperance, continence, asceticism, austerity, abstemiousness
    “people capable of abnegation and unselfishness”

  19. Codesria permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Ian,

    One thing I’d be careful of is using electoral parliamentarianism as equivalent to democracy.

    Democracy is fragile and is more often combined combined with oligarchy or autocracy as civil elements in society vie for power and shares of wealth.

    Electoral Republicanism as equal to democracy is a common misunderstanding perpetuated by the oligarchy to retain power against the populist masses. Democracy is equal submission of all to a certain order where there is equal opportunity to implement (and change) the rules which apply to all citizens equally. The rules of a civilization, or rules of interacting ( hopefully peacefully) with other civilizations are developed scientifically and democratically.

    A combination of sortition and rotation would be an alternative, however would likely lead to civil war in many locations, as once capitalist wealth is obtained ( through whatever means) the use of violence to retain it increases.

    See:

    Guaranteed Rotation in Office: A ‘New’ Model Of Democracy, Chiara Lepora
    Against Elections: The Case for Democracy, David Van Reybrouck
    Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day, Terrell Bouricius

    https://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/ober/090704.pdf

  20. jawbone permalink
    May 13, 2017

    I continually ask myself how we of any of the current generations, and those who could have done something earlier , will be thought of. St. Ronnie will be in some kind of ecological circle of hell, be there any such thing as hell or an afterlife, which I doubt. But he certainly did get his good life while alive, including whatever pleasure removing the solar panels on the White House gave him. All the presidents since him will most likely be in the same hell.

    We will be hated and loathed, despised and derided, as people who had no thoughts for the future, no care for the planet, took no responsibility for the well-being of those coming after them. The names of those well known, in control enough to possibly have done things are those who will be castigated, but all of us alive will be tarred with the same brush.

    We should print out things, writings such as Ian’s, in the best ink and paper possible, so that some future archeologists can see what those crying out in the wilderness were trying to warn us of.

    Maybe Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, should be required reading for anyone seeking political office and positions of leadership. Societies whose leaders fail to recognize problems and try to deal with them inevitably fail. We probably are beyond saving most of the people of this planet, but…maybe…we could, with wise and courageous leadership, save more than we’re on course to destroy.

    Maybe.

    You nailed it, Ian.

  21. jawbone permalink
    May 13, 2017

    I do not know how to make our leaders pay any attention to us and our concerns. Letters, calls, emails seem to do little. So, now, I’m not only feeling tired but depressed.

    Do most people think that there will some major miraculous new technology? Or just that they’ll have enough to make it into some bubble domes with breathable air and clean water? Or think nothing beyond the immediate future?

    Only too glad to be bamboozled by the likes of Trump and that ilk?

  22. StewartM permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Capitalism is a shit system in a number of ways. It can be made to work, by people who stay right on top of it, as between the 30s and 70 or so, but it is prone to going off the rails.

    That’s why I am in favor of killing it. We gave the “tame it and make it work for us” effort the good college try, but the beast will not stay caged, but will sooner or later escape to wreak havoc. Worse, this uncaging does not require that people who are dead-set against keeping the beast caged gain power–it only requires that people who don’t fully understand or appreciate why certain safeguards were put in place get in. Our current problems, I believe, started in 1964 when Kennedy/LBJ, who otherwise believed in FDR’s system, lowered the top tax rate from c. 90 % (with an effective rate of c. 75 %) down to 70 %. Well before its full-scale dismantling by convinced neoliberals took place, FDR’s system was already suffering from a thousand small “reasonable”cuts, enacted by people who otherwise agreed with its overall intent. Long before Clinton deregulated Wall Street, Carter deregulated the airlines (which was initially widely hailed as a success, and only decades later did the downsides become obvious).

    The economic system that must follow capitalism must equitably share wealth, can be translated into political power. Such a system must recognize that a recognition of the true individual difference in human talents fall on a scale of multiples, not orders of magnitudes (go to any athletic event that allows both amateurs and pros to compete, like a 10k or half marathon, and you’ll see even the world record setters are only finishing at most at 5x times faster than the ones finishing dead last, even not normalizing for age/training/handicaps). Such a system also should recognize the fact that every great discovery or invention was the result of the labor of many hands and minds, and that the legend of the sole isolated genius is completely false. Such a system should pay homage (as in secure retirement and such) to those who past efforts made these advances possible plus pay forward to make sure that future advances can be made.

    (And all this, children, make the devotees of Ayn Rand very sad–and believe me, the corporate leadership world is filled with devotees of this third-rate “philosopher”, which is one of the reasons why this has come to past).

  23. Stirling Newberry permalink
    May 13, 2017

    You can kill it, when you some better… the present system is worse.

  24. Frank Stain permalink
    May 13, 2017

    I can well understand the urge to kill the beast, but it looks quite likely to me that capitalism is doing a pretty good job dying on its own. Capitalism, at this point, has killed all its own undertakers. We are not going to get a social force rising up from the depths of poverty and exploitation to kill it. I suspect we are looking instead at a painfully slow death that proceeds by the gradual loss of function and capacity. The basic contradiction between the parasitic demands of capital owners on the social product and the competing demands of citizens for social protection is going to continue to bring impoverishment through the dismantling of social protection and the slow decay of basic infrastructure. Many communities in the richest nation in the world are already struggling to secure access to clean water. A system that cannot survive without slowly killing and impoverishing the very creatures who make it profitable is obviously not in a healthy state. But capitalism has also killed the consciousness of social class, and has found manifold ways to make sure resentments find targets that don’t threaten the system itself. So we seem to be faced with a situation of inevitable slow decay and degeneration of national capacity and infrastructure, without any counter force rising to stop it. Each of us, if we survive that long, are going to have to learn to live with new forms of insecurity and new forms of risk that will make the present situation look like a very peaceful time.
    This was all foreseen by Karl Polanyi. A capitalist society simply cannot satisfy the demands of capitalists for profit without cannibalizing its own society, culture, and citizens. This is precisely what has happened in the last four decades as the public wealth of the nation has been thoroughly consumed for the sake of keeping a dying system sputtering away on shitty 2% growth. But it isn’t the low growth that is the problem. The problem is a system that cannot get anywhere near satisfying its inhabitants without massive economic growth. It’s the need for strong economic growth for basic social peace in capitalism that is the problem, and the source of its present decay.

  25. Willy permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Back in the cave clan days, the bear was declared an asshole and got his ass evicted. Then the incompetent chief was declared an asshole and got his ass evicted (after a few scapegoated spirit men were evicted but the clan eventually realized the chief was just blowing smoke to buy time). Then Jesus arrived and was declared an asshole by Romans and Hebrews looking for a scapegoat, but Jesus’ followers said that God intentionally wanted him declared the asshole because everybody is an asshole.

    This may have confused things a bit. Maybe we need to go back to knowing who the real assholes are.

  26. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Fornicate it, maybe Ian is right–but who knows? The boffins have pulled so many rabbits out of the hat before…

    A problem Ian did not mention is Apocalyptic Terror Fatigue.

    I complete my 54th solar orbit today.

    I once thought not only I, but all of civilization, maybe all of humanity, would perish before I could complete 30 solar orbits.

    54 solar orbits, and the world and I are still here, if a bit the worse for wear.

    I’ve been hearing predictions of doom ever since I was a fledgling Woodpecker.

    Of course, the prophets of doom need only be right once to be vindicated.

    But after one spends 54 years watching the doom never come, one can become skeptical of apocalyptic predictions.

    The Apocalyptic Terror circuits wear out from too many false alarms, and it matters not one whit that every false alarm was sincerely called in, that every one of these boys (and girls, and humans of non-standard gender identity) who cried “Wolf!” truly, madly, deeply thought there really was a wolf nearby.

    I don’t doubt the sincerity of Ian and the other doomsayers here.

    As for their accuracy, heat of the moment only time will tell.

    Meanwhile, no one lives forever.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CZCKP-H4C8

  27. Stirling Newberry permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Capitalism kills itself over and over… that one of its strong points.

    Deciding what to grade on the curve does not grade on the curve, that’s the gag.

  28. Peter permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Happy BD, IBW and your comment on climate hysteria is welcomed. I doubt the real powers behind this malaise will cease because it is a source of power and a road to wealth. The effects of this conditioning on young minds don’t seem to bother the Warmer leaders so long as it produces masses of unquestioning followers.

  29. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Oh, I think AGW is real, and that many people are going to suffer, who could have been spared that suffering by wiser action from The Powers That Be.

    I merely doubt it will end the human species, or even its technological civilization.

  30. drfrank permalink
    May 13, 2017

    The chosen solution to climate change, one could say the natural one, is depopulation. A lot fewer people, a lot less pollution, and nature will heal itself. The capitalist classes’ solution is to amass enough money so that their heirs will be among the survivors of whatever catastrophe is going to wipe out the masses of people whose existence in the coming age of robotic and virtual everything cannot be supported. The quantity of transfer payments and entitlements needed to provide for them will never be tolerated. If natural calamities do not kill off enough people, why then there is always war, probably nuclear for efficiency, war being the usual capitalist solution to excess productive capacity, in this case human not just industrial. Does anyone doubt that this is the way we are heading?

  31. StewartM permalink
    May 13, 2017

    @IBW

    But after one spends 54 years watching the doom never come, one can become skeptical of apocalyptic predictions.

    I note here that the Limits of Growth base prediction that leads to collapse and a mass “die-off” are right on track, some 40 years later:

    https://makewealthhistory.org/2014/09/15/the-limits-to-growth-report-still-on-track/

    Ian’s car metaphor is apt–even when the car is speeding toward the cliff, at that moment everything is “fine” even though anyone who bothers to look can see that you’re heading towards a very bad end. While Limits to Growth doesn’t predict the eradication of humans, it does predict that by 2100 there were be 50 % fewer humans on the planet, who may be poorer than today (just like in previous collapses) and while “civilization” may not end, a lot may be lost.

    Me, I wondered if US would survive Ronald Reagan’s election back in 1980, and the more I have seen, the more I fear I was right.

  32. May 13, 2017

    @drfrank

    Is it coincidence that the “Roaring 20s” were followed by b) the Crash of 1929, and b) WWII?

    That the “Gilded Age” was followed by a) the Panic of 1914 and b) WWI?

    Or even that the US Civil War was preceded by the Panic of 1857?

    Your points are good ones; the question I’m asking is: When it’s clear that the party’s over and the crash is inevitable, is the next logical step to “decrease the surplus population?”

  33. Ivory Bill Woodpecker permalink
    May 13, 2017

    Waitaminnit–Peter and I agree on something?

    Holy Ascended Madoka, the world is coming to an end! 😛

  34. Hugh permalink
    May 13, 2017

    I am reminded again of SomeGuy’s statement that societies fail when they are unable to come together to do obvious things. Climate change, kleptocracy, and overpopulation are obvious. Yet we can not come together to do anything about them. We barely even discuss them. And there will always be the flat-earthers who will simply deny that there is any problem, or if there is a problem, it is serious, or if it is serious, there is anything to be done about it.

    I have said many times that we have until 2030 to have comprehensive programs up and running leading to a sustainable society, economy, and population level. That is only 13 years away and would require us to make radical changes to our current society, design the programs we need, and implement them. Nahgonnahappn. Each of these steps takes years to do, meanwhile we are lost in the swamp that is Trump and the American political system. And the clock is ticking.

  35. Peter permalink
    May 13, 2017

    @IBW

    You must realize that to get to the Apocalyptic Terror we are seeing the A must be the predominant cause of AGW. Without it there are no dirty pipeline capitalists or evil oil barons to target only poor Mother Earth.

    Over twenty years of hearing dire predictions and seeing few actual predicted effects while CO2 concentrations passed 400ppm makes the connection with GW seem weak. This is good news because many climate scientists claimed we had lost the war when we passed 350ppm and were doomed to experience extreme irreversible temperature increases.

  36. Tomonthebeach permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Has capitalism and democracy failed the poor? Or, have the poor failed capitalism and democracy?

    The abnegation of which Ian speaks seems flatly distributed throughout our society. One must concede that the deck is stacked, life ain’t fair, and white makes might. Yet, there a people of all ethnicities, races, and genders who overcome all that crap and achieve amazing things in their lives while their peers satisfice or turn to larcenous shortcuts.

    Why is it that when we look at economic disparity, we are so ready to exculpate those not benefiting from our social systems? Even a cursory investigation reflects a widespread pattern of serial bad choices in life. Those who fail to complete high school always cluster in the bottom 30% economically. Those who reproduce early likewise fare badly. Too many smoke and/or drink up as much as a third of their income that might have been invested in education or equities. There are slackers in the world. Is that fact attributable to democracy or capitalism? If it is, what system might ensure that everybody tries to make that system work?

  37. different clue permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Sometimes nature grades on a pass-fail basis, where “pass” means survive till the next pass-fail test, and “fail” means die. Sometimes for individuals or families or communities at whatever scale or entire species. One never knows which future set of tests is one’s Darwin Finals.

    If one feels confident that present and future further warming is already irreversible, how does one decide how far one wishes to believe it will go? If one believes the earth will keep heatering up for a while, how does one justify believing that the Big Heat Rising will stop short of Condition Venus? Clearly it is just a matter of hope and taste.

    For those who choose to hope that Canada will warm up to tropical/subtropical but not keep warming up any more than that, there are perhaps some subjects that future-preparation Canadians might want to learn about.

    Since the Candian Rockies are big enough to generate their own local mountain climate in a greater tropical setting, just as the Andes do now; perhaps certain Canadian learners-for-the-future should begin learning and practicing various legacy and renewing Andean Indian methods of horticulture for growing food in the future Andes of the North.

    In that spirit, here is a cluster of sub-articles about Inca Terrace Farming.
    http://imgarcade.com/inca-terrace-farming-diagram.html
    And here is another, with other links in other directions as well.
    https://anthrome.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/article-the-character-of-incan-and-andean-agriculture/

    I have also read that there are two fairly big but very shallow lakes in Northwest Canada . . . Great Bear and Great Slave. If global warming makes Northwest Canada tropical/subtropical, perhaps an agro-system the Aztecs invented for living in their cluster of lakes might allow Canadians to grow food in Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes . . . at least around the edges. And that technique is . . . chinampa. Here is a set of “chimampa images” with an URL showing where each image was lifted from. Some of the URLs are just photograph grab-bags, but others link to specific sites with specific articles about chinampa. Here is the link to that whole bunch of lookable URLable images.
    https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A0LEVyX38xdZKCAAhXhXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTExZzQ0YmY1BGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDVUlDMV8xBHNlYwNzYw–?p=chinampa&fr=sfp

    The Internet should be up for a few to quite-a-few more years before it suffers brownouts and blackouts on the way to going dark permanently as a declining ecosystem forces social collapse to go-dark the many grids which keep the Internet alive. Why not use the few remaining years to find and learn interesting future-survival information on the Internet now?
    Canada might also want to send apprentices to Incastan and Chinampastan and other such survival zones of solar-human-powered horticulture to learn it for real and bring it back to Canada for other Canadians to learn when the tropicalization of Canada’s climate convinces them that they are good and ready to learn it now? If that makes sense to Canadian future-preservationists, they might want to pick and send apprentices fairly soon while travel and return is still possible.

  38. different clue permalink
    May 14, 2017

    (Well . . . in my comment above I referred to Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes as “shallow”. A shoulda-dunnit-first perusal of Wikipedia shows them to be rather deep. Still, some chinampafication may be possible around the edges. And in other smaller shallower lakes and ponds as well, if Canada goes hot-tropical).

  39. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 14, 2017

    There are slackers in the world. Is that fact attributable to democracy or capitalism?

    The label doesn’t matter, what matters is this System, whatever you want to call it, evinces that. However, an interesting phenomenon, and I think credit expansion has a lot to do with this, is that clever slackers like Donald Trump have managed to become filthy rich by getting others to do everything for them. Somehow. Miraculously. These glorified slackers like Donald Trump are robbing America blind and they’re celebrated as successes when actually they are the worst of losers.

    Pay attention to this wording, people. Tom is talking Jim Crow Alt-Right Clap Trap. Remember, in the Deep South after the Civil War, Whites partially took back the Confederacy by enacting laws that basically made it illegal to be Black. Vagrancy Laws, for example. If you didn’t have a job, you were a criminal. You were sent to prison and forced to provide your label for free while incarcerated. You were a slave, once again. Tom’s language is in the very same sentiment as the Jim Crow Laws.

    Donald Trump, Kleptocrat/Slacker In Chief, is engaging in a Class War using the Fascist Autocratic Power of the Executive Branch, and this Class War he’s waging will disproportionately affect Black people. And Obama and his ilk set this up. Once again, Trump was not possible if not for Obama. He has his part in this. I said at least six years ago, maybe more, that Obama was setting Black people up for a huuuge fall. That he was going to make Black people the modern day equivalent of The Jews and now we see Trump is going to make that come to fruition.

    This is going to end BADLY. Really bad. There is no other way. Trump will have to be physically removed from office. The Mainstream Media is trying its best to contain this madness and play it as politics as usual. Trump, imo, has Crossed the Rubicon. He needs to be locked up and so too do his henchmen including Sessions and many others. The Mainstream Media is trying its best to cover this necessity over, but let’s face it, at this point it really is a necessity.

    Are there no Sophie Scholls out there?

    The Rediscovery Of Sophie Scholl

  40. filafreshcrew permalink
    May 14, 2017

    @tomonthebeach

    holy christ, you’re a dick. your argument is the typical, it’s poor people’s fault that they are poor, while ignoring that it is the rich who have suppressed wages, and crushed labor.

  41. May 14, 2017

    Go to web site to see visuals/diagrams.

    https://makewealthhistory.org/2014/09/15/the-limits-to-growth-report-still-on-track/

    THE LIMITS TO GROWTH REPORT – STILL ON TRACK
    Even among environmentalists, it’s standard to insert the words ‘now discredited’ in front of any mention of the Limits to Growth report of 1972. The criticisms tend to be drawn from a hatful of recurring objections, most of which would never be made by anyone who’s ever actually read the book.

    Among the most common is that the authors predicted global collapse by the end of the century, and lo, we are still here. But even the most casual glimpse at the report’s graphs shows that to be an ill-informed comment. The graphs run to 2100, not 2000. That objection is 85 years too early, and yet it’s notable how often it comes up. If you see it, you know the author is either too lazy to read the book or is deliberately misrepresenting it.

    The actual projections in the book – and they are projections, not predictions – so far bear up pretty well. There have been a number of studies tracking them against the real world data as they come in, some of them from the updates to the report itself, others done independently. The latest came out last week. It’s from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, and it points out that in the Limits to Growth report, industrial society basically peaks around 2015.

    So with a year to go, is that peak likely? Are we at the beginning of the end?

    Well, so far the model has proved pretty accurate, the data tracking the ‘business as usual’ projections fairly closely in many instances, though not all.

    ltg-scenarios

    What’s interesting is not just the straightforward projections, but the interplay between them. This is the bit that’s harder to predict, and that reveals how smart the model actually is. And here are there are worryingly accurate signs too. For example, the model attempted to show the connection between the economy and declining resources. At the beginning of the scenario, in the 1970s, around 5% of capital would be allocated to the resource sector. As the easy to reach resources were used up, and the overall stock declined, it would take more capital to acquire resources.

    Specifically, the Limits to Growth model suggested that capital would start to drain into resources once the resource stocks reached the halfway point. We’ve done that on oil – as detailed in Jeremy Leggett’s book Half Gone. And as projected, an increasing slice of capital investment is now going to resource extraction. As I wrote about last week, 20% of US investment is going to fossil fuels. Even during the Second World War, when fossil fuels were a major national priority, they never commanded that kind of share of capital.

    That represents an opportunity cost too. If it’s taking more capital to keep resources flowing, that leaves less for other things, such as maintaining existing facilities and infrastructure. This is what drives the peak and decline in industrial production per capita, which the LTG report puts around 2015. Services per capita go into decline in similar fashion, while the pollution from industry (including CO2) leads on to falls in food production in due course. This begins to affect the death rate from around 2020, with a fall in global population beginning around 2030.

    As always, and this counters another common and unfounded objection, this isn’t about ‘running out’ of resources. It’s about the cost of extracting them, about the energy return on energy invested.

    Of course, you can only see a peak in the rear view mirror, so we’re not going to know whether 2015 is the peak of industrial society until well afterwards. But after 40 years of ignoring the warnings, are we sure we still want to leave it to chance?

  42. realitychecker permalink
    May 14, 2017

    @ IBW

    “I’ve been hearing predictions of doom ever since I was a fledgling Woodpecker.

    Of course, the prophets of doom need only be right once to be vindicated.

    But after one spends 54 years watching the doom never come, one can become skeptical of apocalyptic predictions.”

    It is in the nature of ends that they only occur one time, even if that makes waiting for them seem boring to you. Your approach perhaps comforts your mind, but also definitely perpetuates the pattern of ignoring future risks. You get that, don’t you?

    In any event, Happy Birthday, ‘Pecker. 🙂

  43. StewartM permalink
    May 14, 2017

    @TomontheBeach:

    Or, have the poor failed capitalism and democracy?

    Do you also ask why the poor failed that wonderful Roman Empire too? Or say, the Dacians, Etruscans, Ptolemaic Egypt, Hittites, Myceaneans, Mayan, Toltec, Ingapircans, or Khmer?
    Heck, I’ll bet given your blame-the-poor tirade you don’t point any fingers at ordinary citizens of the former Soviet Union for failing their wonderful system.

    There are reason that social scientists consider that the intrinsic ‘moral character’ (for lack of any better word) of any population is constant (they admit that certain conditions may favor certain *behaviors*, seen as good or bad, but assume that people everywhere at any time start from the same mixture of good and bad, wise and foolish, in all of us). That’s because if you don’t, you end up with “just so” stories that explain nothing and predict nothing (i.e. Rome was great when it was “moral”–killing a million people in Gaul, a rapine economy, and gladiator games and having women and children fight each other to death for spectacle apparently doesn’t make one ‘immoral’) but fell apart when became “immoral” (the people who make this Cecile B. DeMille argument apparently don’t seem to realize that Rome was not only *Christian* when it collapsed, but that no other religions were tolerated). Assume human beings are the same everywhere at any time, and then look for reasons why and now they are motivated to act either destructively or constructively.

    In non-state societies, like Native American groups, you might be able to “blame” ordinary people as their leadership’s power to coerce behavior was very weak. Although “blame” is a harsh word–like everyone, their self-destructive choices were just doing what seemed to make sense in the short term, but which had disastrous consequences in the long term (like us, today, with climate change!). Overhunting for the deerskin and beaverskin trade with Europeans, for just one example, depleted their environments so that it ended up making some of the Southeastern tribes eventually *dependent* on the Europeans for food! Similarly, getting paid (by the English, in particular) to capture (Indian) slaves greatly exacerbated warfare between the tribes which essentially wiped out whole tribes (including virtually all the indigenous peoples of Florida). Such actions–which made sense to the participants at the time–left the surviving Native Americans more dependent on their European “friends” and also without potential allies when their former friends turned foe.

    In state-level societies, all the behaviors you see (and decry) are essentially being driven by decisions made at the top. I worked many low-pay jobs in college and when I was young, and they taught me that all workplace behaviors are the result of management incentives. This includes all the behaviors that management laments; although the management was too stupid to see it, management was those behaviors too. It’s the same in all the cases you cite. What, you’re telling me that people spending a large fraction of their incomes is NOT being encouraged mightily to do just that by the tobacco and alcohol multi-million dollar industries? Spending money one doesn’t have for things (like IPhones) one doesn’t need isn’t also being massively encouraged by multi-million dollar ad campaigns? As for dropping out of high school, as people who graduate *college* finds it only saddles them with huge debts with no better job prospects that’s hardly much worse a choice, and 16-year old girls who have sex wouldn’t be a problem if we had widespread contraception and abortion services available and weren’t being indoctrinated to believe that having an abortion was akin to murder. Both those last points are directly the consequences of decisions made at the very top of our social hierarchy.

  44. jackiebass permalink
    May 14, 2017

    I don’t recall who is responsible for the quote but they said democracy and capitalism can’t exist together. To me this is obviously true. Just look at how democratic countries are really run. Not for the good of all but the good of a few. The number of people allowed to be part of the few varies but never includes all or in fact a majority. The majority is ruled and controlled by the minority.

  45. J.Fever permalink
    May 14, 2017

    I’m going to agree with “filafreshcrew”, “tomonthebeach” is the worst part of all the problems society has. False narratives of history, propaganda of the worst kind.
    When the corporations decided to stop negotiating with their work force, and delegitimize the power of many standing as one, the race to inequality was inevitable.

  46. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    May 14, 2017

    StewartM, I took you for a liberal – surprised to see you hoisting the black flag. But in your revolutionist’s call to destroy the system, you offer only a few platitudes in its place, that few if any of its current masters would disagree with. What exactly are you calling for?

  47. c1ue permalink
    May 14, 2017

    An interesting viewpoint, but one which I can’t say makes much sense.
    Nature grades on survival.
    That’s the ultimate curve.
    Live and reproduce – no matter how – and you pass.
    There’s no such thing as a “A” vs. “D” in Nature – both are “survived and reproduced”.

  48. StewartM permalink
    May 14, 2017

    @Blizzard

    But in your revolutionist’s call to destroy the system, you offer only a few platitudes in its place, that few if any of its current masters would disagree with.

    There our disagreements probably begin. Who do you think are the current masters of the world?

    As for myself and the ‘liberal’ label, I am certainly not an Obamacrat or Clintonista ‘liberal’ and even with many Berniacs I’m on their ‘left’ on many (though not all) issues. Even as a native white Southerner born and bred, I find the US of today so terribly conservative compared to the US of my youth in the late 60s and 70s on almost every issue (even on social issues) and today’s “liberals” so terribly milquetoast.

    I’m definitely anti-capitalist as I define capitalism (“capitalism” = the ownership, direction, and control of an economy by people who have liquid capital to lend, i.e., financiers and bankers). Capitalism isn’t synonymous with ‘free markets’ or ‘entrepreneurs’ or any such happy shit, and certainly not ‘freedom’, that its propagandists pretend it is; in fact, the goal of any good capitalist is to destroy any free market so that he/she can charge monopoly prices and often to crush any entrepreneurs before they can become threats. Capitalism isn’t about innovation and invention; quite the opposite, because the people in charge of the whole system know nothing about any of those ‘mere details’ and can’t be bothered to look beyond next quarter’s profit margin. Capitalism, because of the insecurity it brings to most people (which its advocates pretend is a good thing) focuses on short-term rewards and ignores long-term consequences. That is a direct consequence of said insecurity, to plan for next week or next month or next year you have to be confident that tomorrow you’ll be Ok; insecurity leads you to eat next year’s seed corn.

    It is madness to pretend that a system that only plans for next quarter will lead to good results in the next generation (again, look at my example of what happened to the Native Americans in the Southeast, making decisions in the short term that ended up disastrous in the long term). Capitalism can only ‘work’ for a society only under strict government supervision and regulation, but history teaches that will not stick.

    I have a soft spot for anarchism, though I doubt it working in practice. I would be for something close to ‘libertarian socialism’ though. I’m also for more open borders, which I know is another sticking point for you–for people, mind you, not capital. People should be free to go live where they want, but large amounts of capital (wealth that represents the collective efforts of many people) should not be free to move. That being said I’m a ‘primitivist’ (in at least in regards to agrarian primitivism) not only because we’d need a massive die-off for that lifestyle to be sustainable, but also because I believe that our social behaviors are the result of infrastructure pressures—ergo, if you live like the Amish, like the ex-hippies on The Farm in Tennessee did, you’ll end up with social mores like the Amish. And that’s pretty much what happened with them.

  49. The Stephen Miller Band permalink
    May 14, 2017

    You know, many many people ask me what I would do if I could turn back time. The answer always depends. For example, my answer five years ago is different than it is now.

    My answer now is, if I could turn back time or go back in time and change one thing, what would it be. Easy. I would travel back to early 1945 and secretly place the birth control implant Nexplanon in Mary Anne MacLeod Trump so Donald Trump would never be conceived.

    What would you do?

    Like Mother, Like Son

    Donald Trump’s life is akin to a satirical version of The Omen starring Gregory Peck. He’s Damian all grown up. Somebody check for The Mark of the Beast on his scalp beneath the yet to be identified furry pelt he calls his hair.

  50. Hugh permalink
    May 14, 2017

    The Limits to Growth was groundbreaking and prescient in its time, but when it got into predictions, it got kind of fuzzy. My memory is that it was guardedly optimistic and felt that things would all sort themselves out but it was extremely vague on how this was to happen.

  51. May 14, 2017

    >An interesting viewpoint, but one which I can’t say makes much sense.

    D, for not reaching correct answers – and imagining you are a teacher, when you not.

  52. bruce wilder permalink
    May 14, 2017

    If a school tests to determine competency thresholds or to see if the students are learning, grading on a curve would never come up. Grading on the curve is a way for those in power to put off responsibility for performance onto people with no power.

    Grading on the curve is evidence of serious dysfunction in the design of an educational institution. It puts all kinds of wrong pressures on students to compete when they shouldn’t, can penalize errors severely when learning essentially is the correction of errors, leads students to slack, leads teachers to slack, and so on.

    It seems to me that the original post is making a point similar to that made in the classic science fiction story, The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin. To wit, that parents and parental substitutes create virtual realities in which “actions have consequences” but the consequences are just made up by the parents, and thereby we train our progeny to think about problems as being primarily about social negotiation.

    Grading on the curve is a good example of parental substitutes in the form of schools defaulting on their obligations to perform on behalf of the young. And, making the young think performance is about individual virtues or qualities, when, really, performance is something we should be expecting from institutions and social organization.

  53. Willy permalink
    May 14, 2017

    @StewartM,

    Did Rome fall because the variable of integrity, culture-wide, was at a low ebb? In other words, is it when corruption is accepted as a cultural norm (it’s not what you know, but who you know) that empires are most likely to fall? Yes, integrity is just one of many variables, but I’d think a critical one which most often trickles down from top leadership.

  54. Jonathan permalink
    May 14, 2017

    It is by no means clear that liberalism is not merely a rationalization for aristocracy. At the core of liberalism there is a primordial debt, to be paid in the currency of striving for perfection well past the point of diminishing returns. One vital component of liberal aristocracy is a class of “wayward” to materially and psychically exploit under color of “morally perfecting” them. Curve grading serves to limit the supply of superiors while maintaining a steady supply of desperate, pliant inferiors. In other words, a form of artificial scarcity which creates the very conditions from which it presumes to deliver the (deserving) people.

    The sooner we can dispense with liberalism entirely, rebuild mutual respect on more solid ground, and start creating favorable material conditions rather than playing pretend, the fewer boulders the exploding car are likely to knock loose onto the townspeople below.

  55. Tomonthebeach permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Dumping capitalism and/or democracy is as unlikely to make things better as it is to happen at all. My comments were meant to highlight that economic and social systems do no account for individual character. In so doing, I got some ad hominems and stale lectures on slavery, Jim Crow, and a lot of other ancient history linked to poverty in the past.

    Because those evils persist is not proof that they are causing modern wage stagnation, globalization, robotization, and other factors that have dampened individual and national economic wellbeing. So, here is my suggestion. We might begin trying to fix our corrupt governance and economic wellbeing by reinventing corporations.

    Corporations are a pervasive and corrupting force in our society, our economy, and our governance. In addition to generating wealth for shareholders, they also generate lobbyists who promote legislation that disadvantages society but enriches shareholders and campaign coffers. The invention of modern corporations has unleashed ruthless, too-big-to-fail monsters, that futurists predict will eventually supplant all states and governments.

    Corporations are equal opportunity exploiters who, thanks to our courts, share the same rights as human beings, but lack social awareness and concern for mankind (unless, of course, they are stock holders). A privileged few sitting on corporate boards rationalize rampant wage slavery by hiding in the deep woods of corporate entities that assert their duty to maximize shareholder ROIs. Even our own government (via the Federal Reserve) has supported such notions as have large segments of our elected officials in Congress and the WH.

    Governments cannot change the character of corporations any more than they can change the character of individual people. However, they can constrain the undesirable behaviors of both. Reinvent US corporations, bust their trusts (again), and strip them of their court-assigned civil rights. Corporations are not people. It was a moral lapse to stipulate otherwise.

  56. Willy permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Citizens United supercharged things somewhat, but it was also the result of unchecked corruption. Without it the unchecked corruption would still influence national politics. Lobbying itself needs to be severely limited. Theoretically, money/influence could still exchange hands but one would hope that those found breaking laws would be publicly shamed and ostracized. Also theoretically, leaders compelled to actually represent their constituents would replace the corrupt who’d only been there for the money/influence.

  57. Hugh permalink
    May 14, 2017

    jackiebass, “I don’t recall who is responsible for the quote but they said democracy and capitalism can’t exist together.”

    Doing a little googling, I think it was said most recently by Yanis Varoufakis. But one should always take Varoufakis with several grains of salt. He tends to be elitist and his idea of reform is often a better functioning Establishment.

    More likely, you may have been thinking of Noam Chomsky’s “Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?” subtitled “Capitalism as it exists today is radically incompatible with democracy” from March 5, 2013 at alternet. I am not a big fan of Chomsky although I do agree with the subtitle.

    http://www.alternet.org/noam-chomsky-can-civilization-survive-capitalism

  58. Charlie permalink
    May 14, 2017

    I believe this is the quote a few are looking for. Louis Brandeis- “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
    http://www.brandeis.edu/legacyfund/bio.html

  59. tagio permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Lawrence Rupp,
    What is the source of your claim that about 20% of investment is now being used for fossil fuels?

  60. Tom W Harris permalink
    May 15, 2017

    The other day a Shell gas pump TV screen showed a couple Kim and Kanye news bits and then announced, “You are now watching Gas Station TV.”

    Proof positive that the US of A RRRRRRAWWWWXXXXXXXX!!!!!!!!!

  61. tony permalink
    May 15, 2017

    Except that you don’t need to outrun the bear, only enough people that the bear satisfies his blood before he gets to you.

    Smash capitalism and death to America, sure I agree, but even then the coming disasters will kill countless and we will socially decide who gets to take one for the team. Even in a disaster conditions, social reality tends to be more real and significant than the physical one.

  62. Ché Pasa permalink
    May 15, 2017

    You understand that Our Betters long ago figured this out and have been taking precautions ever since to protect themselves and their spawn come what may. They intend to survive no matter what, and they don’t give a shit what happens to the rest of us. Not a bit.

    That’s a big reason why “nothing has been done” about climate change and such. Actually quite a lot has been done to protect and defend them, not us.And so when the final elbow comes, however it comes, assuming it comes, they will be set to rule over the ruins just as before (at least in their imaginations) except the teeming masses won’t be quite such a bother, and if things work out the way they hope, most of the teeming masses will be… gone.

    Capitalism doesn’t deal particularly kindly with the quote/unquote ‘losers’ in the game, does it? But it treats the quote/unquote ‘winners’ wonderfully well indeed.

    And so, here we are.

  63. different clue permalink
    May 17, 2017

    Another thought occurs to me . . . as the global warms, winter snowpack in Canada will become as unreliable as winter snowpack is becoming in America. Buncha snow may fall in winter, then all get melted and run away at once in a late winter/ pre-spring flash flood flash thaw.

    So . . . how might Canadians retain more water diffusely spread around all over the landscape? Reflood every marshland and swampland which was ever drained for agricultural purposes. Every marshland and swampland is a bunch of water-in-place, slowly recharging the groundwater reserves under it.

    Then also too, encourage the return of millions of beavers with their millions of beaver dams. Plant beaver trees along every little stream, creek, brook in Canada; most especially along every little stream etc. downstream from the mountain snowfall zones. That way, some of the water released all at once by the winter snowfields melting all at once every spring will be trapped further downstream by the millions of beaver dams . . . allowing for some water storage in place for people to make a local survival living from.

    Just some thoughts.

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