The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: The Green Age After The Collapse

The Hard Problem of Leadership

We have lived under representative democracy for a long time now, and while it has had its victories and there have been good leaders, it’s fair to say that most of the leadership, most of the time, has been bad or even evil, and that representative democracy has failed its biggest test—managing climate change and environmental collapse.

This is a Green Age After the Collapse Article. You can read the others (this is the fourth), here.

The other forms of leadership we’ve tried since the invention of agriculture have all, likewise, been more bad than good or have failed to scale well enough to protect themselves. Kingship, rank societies, big man societies, feudalism, imperialism, direct democracy and so on. On the economic side, when it’s not identical to the political, we’ve also tended to choose bad leaders, whether they were merchant lords, corporate CEOs and boards, guild masters or slavers. Most systems work well for a few generations, then fall apart. Seven generations when you’re lucky, more commonly three, as with neoliberalism.

Just thinking back over my life, I can’t think of a President who wasn’t doing more evil than good. This even includes Carter, who was the neoliberal leader before neoliberalism. The case for every other President is clear: Obama, for example, ramped up drone assassinations and encouraged the banks to steal people’s homes without the necessary paperwork, while massively ramping up shale oil and gas production and bragging about it.

As for corporate leadership, the idea that Musk, Bezos, Gates, and the various banking CEOs and so far are good leader is ludicrous. They are, to be sure, successful, but the society they have created is heading towards catastrophe. Even when you look at a man many worship, like Steve Jobs, you find a mixed legacy at best. Jobs opus was the smartphone. And while it’s a marvelous piece of technology, when you look at the actual literature of the effect of smart phones, it’s that the more you use one, the less real friends you have and the more unhappy you are.

And the weird thing is that Jobs didn’t even invent the underlying breakthrough, which is to say the graphical GUI, any more than Gates invented the PC (Jobs has a better shot there). And the people who make the most money out of the internet and the world wide web didn’t invent either of those things—both were invented by government supported researchers.

What Jobs and co did is bring certain ideas to scale, which is necessary if the idea should be brought to scale. But there are many different ways that an idea can be scaled and it may not require the sort of psychopathy that is common to corporations; that is, indeed, part of their DNA.

Leadership is one of the few core problems: if we can’t get it right, we can’t get anything right, because almost everything is downstream from our decisions as a species, and our leaders, whoever they are, make the most important decisions.

We have to select leaders better, or we’ll never live in good societies for any length of time, and those of us who do luck out and live in one, will indeed, just be the recipients of luck.

I’m going to write about this more, soon. The next step will be talking about Plato and the book of his everyone loves to hate, The Republic.

Because Plato’s specific solution might be repulsive to almost everyone, but he was trying to answer the right question, and we need to understand why we hate his answer, and if we’re right to do so.

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Poverty, Wealth and Money In The New Green Age (Principles of the Green Age #1.1)

This is the second article in my “Principles of the New Green Age” Series. You can read the first, here.

The first principle was

Do as thou will, so long as you increase biodiversity and biomass, reduce pollution and heat, and replace any resources used.

In the real olden days of civilization, in the Fertile Crescent (which really was fertile before most of it was turned into desert) there was a dual currency system: there was grain and there was silver (and what amounted to certificates of deposit on both, along with usurious loans.)

This worked well because, to oversimplify slightly, grain was produced in Mesopotamia and silver wasn’t. If you wanted to buy something else produced in Mesopotamia, you bought with grain. But if you wanted to buy something imported, you paid in silver.

Since silver could only be gotten thru trade, this meant that import and export flows were more or less in order: there could be no massive trade deficits outside the fertile crescent, at least in principle.

Though they didn’t do it, even better would have been that certain things could only be bought with internally produced grain: property, for example. That way your country’s productive ability couldn’t be bought out from under you.

In Green Age ideology there will be more than one type of money, probably three. The first is money based on renewable resources: it will be usable only to buy and sell renewable resources. The second will be based on non-renewable resources and will be strictly controlled. There may also be as pollution based based money, or rather one based on cleaning up pollution, or people may be rewarded with the other two types of money for doing so.

Though we haven’t gotten there yet, one of the Green Age principles will have something to do with taking care of everyone, and part of that will be making sure everyone has food and shelter.

Since there is a societal effort in making renewables actually renew, part of every country’s surplus will be distributed as what amounts to basic income to individuals. That amount, in most countries, certainly all countries with a renewable food surplus, meaning they produce enough food and are not degrading the land to do so, will be sufficient to feed recipients for a year.

Likewise everyone will have a home: one that works out to be pollution neutral when taken in context of the supporting infrastructure. That home will either be given, purchased or leased, with strict controls, and probably mostly long leases, similar to how Singapore works) because it is possible to build houses with materials entirely domestically sources in many countries, though we’ll have to figure out how to electrical wiring sustainably or put it into the unsustainable bucket.

Society is made up of everyone and one of the principles must be that everyone benefits from society’s successes. Even the rich and powerful (who will be kept strictly under control, with the richest have a multiple, perhaps 4x, what the lowest have), must know that for them to do better, everyone must do better and that the environment must do better. This sort of genuine alignment of interests is necessary for any society to function well, and absolutely necessary in any purpose driven society, which Green Age societies will need to be.

So if you’re a member of a green age society created along these lines: the government will make sure you have a home and food. Either you’ll get enough renewable money to get them for yourselves, or there’ll be a non-market mechanism.

In effect, based on how many renewable resources the society produces, you’ll have an income relative to how well society is actually doing. Everyone will. This will pay for things like food, housing, water and anything the country can produce and renew. Since everyone gets this money, there will be strong incentives to create as much out of renewable resources as possible, similar to, but far more healthy than, the great middle class consumer production boom of the post-War period.

If, on the other hand, what you want requires non-renewable resources, well, you’ll need the second type of money, and that will be far harder to come by.

A Green Age society cannot afford the obscenely wealthy, because such people always tend to psychopathy and acting against the common good. It also cannot afford the poor, either, for the same reason: everyone needs to be connected to the successes and failures of society and have a stake in them.

This doesn’t mean a society where there’s no individual or group income. Limited liability companies will go, because people need to be liable for polluting and for not renewing, but there will be organizations and many of them will, at least somewhat, run on money. But somewhere between one-third and a half of your income should be based on how society as a whole is doing, and that income should be enough enough to keep you decently housed and fed, with access to medical care.

Sayings like “a rising tide lifts all boats” aren’t expressions of natural law when they come to social matters: we need to make them true.

If we want to clean up the environment and live in a sustainable society, we’ll have to make it happen, and part of that involves making sure no one can avoid either the positive or negative effects of their actions on the environment.

No obscene rich, no poor.


Principles Of The Green Age After The Collapse: #1

Do as thou will, so long as you increase biodiversity and biomass, reduce pollution and heat, and replace any resources used.

Want to live in the howling wilderness? OK. But only if you can increase the number and amount of lifeforms, and reduce pollution by being there. If you can’t do all three, you don’t get to live in the wilderness.

Freedom today is based on money. If you have enough money, you can do what you want, if you obey the law. The more money you have, the fewer laws apply to you: either they are laws which if violated are punished with fines, which you don’t care about, or they are laws which are effectively not enforced against the rich.

The Green Age, instead of having a zero tolerance policy for minor infractions, will have no tolerance for people who damage the ecosphere or the climate.

Likewise, you will need to replace the resources you’re using if you’re using them beyond any natural replacement rate. If you’re taking water from a river or an aquifer, you’ll have an amount you can use that is equal to natural replenishment. If you use any more, you’ll need to replace it. Chop trees, plant them, and since you also need to maintain biomass and biodiversity, that won’t mean tree farms and will require you to keep doing it and, most likely, to have done it in the past. (This will make clear-cutting very rare.)

This also means that you don’t get to do what you want if you use non-renewable resources. Mining and other forms of permanent extraction will be something that society has a strict limit on. Much will be assigned by government, and much will likely be divided and given to each member of society and when they buy something which uses a non-renewable resource, that account will be debited, with no credit except in life-saving emergencies.

The principle is simple: replace what you use if it can be replaced, make the ecology and the environment better because of your existence and use limited amounts of non-renewable resources. This is how we fix the environment and make an environment is healthier and far more enjoyable to live in. (Just as almost everyone wants to live on a street with lots of trees.)

Long term, if you want to use a lot of non-renewable resources, we will have to go into space, but taking masses from Earth will be verboeten.

These rules will apply to individuals and groups, including whatever replaces corporations as our primary private economic vehicle and to households. This will lead to the end of suburbs and exurbs as we know them. Most people will either be rural (working on food production and environmental projects) or will live in dense cities. If we want the privilege of living in low population density areas, we will have to earn it by figuring out how to do so in a way that doesn’t decrease biodiversity, biomass or renewable resources, and instead of those who make more money being allowed to do more, those who will be allowed to do more will be those who increase those environmental variables the most.

This is only the first of the Green Age articles, we’ll dive into the rest of the principles and some of the details of how such a society must be run as the series continues.

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Reasons For Hope In The Age of Collapse

We all know that civilization is in collapse due to climate change, environmental degradation and over-use of resources. The classic graph is this one.

Not pretty, and this blog tends to write about such topics a lot.

But it’s not all bad. Let’s run thru that.

Collapse will be unevenly distributed,  and that means some places and positions in society will be a lot better for a long time. The trick is figuring out where those will be. Obviously not lowlands, or places which are likely to run out of water, or places where heat will move over the wet-bulb point. I’d suggest water and stability and food are the main things to look for: so, for example, in North America around the great lakes, up by Great Bear Lake (not a nice place to live right now, though) and so on.

Some people always do well. Even in the Roman collapse, there were people living good lives. Of course, those were mostly the “masters of violence” but if you have key skills people need, including technological skills or if you’re liked by many people, that will help.

Note that in the Dark Ages the other group who did relatively well were the priests and monks. Expect a religious revival and an upsurge in real “intentional” communities: monasteries, nunneries and the like. If you’re a priest, you’ll benefit, if you’re a senior monk or nun you’ll do fine.

So, a relatively senior person in charge of violence or community, or someone with useful skills, or someone who liked by a lot of people.

Work will be hard, but meaningful. Right now we have, in David Graeber’s phasing, a lot of “bullshit jobs.” Those will mostly go away. Your work may suck, but you’ll know that it’s actually needed.

A restoration of the extended family. Leaving aside refugees, but even there only partially, the family household will be a thing again, as it is one of the most effective ways to deal with bad times, and as people won’t be leaving to find work that doesn’t exist. This is a good/bad thing, the extended family, generally patriarchal, has a lot of downsides, but people in religious communities and extended families are happier and healthier in general and have a buffer against bad times. This is pretty robust in the literature.

More local autonomy. International trade and expeditions half way around the world to beat up other people up will decrease significantly, we won’t have the resources for them. Because of this local agriculture and production will come back, and with that will come an end to a universal “Americanized/European/Han” culture. Areas will be able to make their own choices, for good or bad, and will not be overwhelmed by power and economy of scale from far away.

The consumer lifestyle will end but appropriate tech will take its place. We do know a lot more than when the Romans went into the Dark Ages, and there are lot of solutions for our problems. Green houses with shutters, non-panel solar power. Water resevoirs attached to homes, and far more. You’ll live local, you’ll be more independent as a household (if you belong to one), and you’ll spend a lot less time working for other people and much more working for yourself and your family. Again, this is a mixed bag, but there are upsides.

The Possibility of the New. What happens will break all existing ruling ideologies: capitalism, representative democracy, the CCP (China will break up at some point, my guess centers around the 70s) and so on. If your ideology was in charge, it’s going to take a huge hit. Of course much of what will happen is a reversion to household patriarchy and religion, but there is the real possibility of new forms of organization, ideology and politics.

This is why it is important, now, to win the storytelling wars. Why this world collapsed and what a good world should look like. When everything goes to Hell people will use the ideas on the ground. If they’re good ones, great. If not, Hell. In a lesser way look at the Great Depression: Germany gets Hitler, the US lucks out and gets FDR. But the times coming will be much worse than the Great Depression and the possibility of change likewise greater.

The end of something old is always the chance to create something new and that new thing may be better. In fact, I’m sure it will be, in some places, just as in many places it will be something much worse.

Hope isn’t optimism. It’s a realistic way of saying “there are possibilities and we can reach for the better ones.”

Let it be so.

(We’ll talk more specifics in future articles. There’s a category “The Green Age After the Collapse.” It will see more use.

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What’s The Good Future Look Like In Environmental Collapse?

There are a few possible answers to this question, but one comes out of a conversation I just had with a friend. He observed that replies suggest westerners don’t like the idea of arcologies:

My answer? “No. Well, it doesn’t really matter. Soon enough it will be “Arcologies, bitches, or you all die.”

A bit of exaggeration for effect, but what people don’t get about climate change is that the real problem isn’t “it’s getting hotter” but ecological collapse and that these numbers are looking closer and closer than the standard models suggested. (Which regular readers will know is what I’ve said for years.)

It’s all about tipping points and self-reinforcing “doom-loops”.

So, there will be war, revolution, lots of violence, massive famines, huge refugee crises and so on. This will all happen sooner than people really expect.

Any solution set is going to require a lot of re-wilding. And that means, at the least, the end of suburbs and exurbs and probably the end of most farms as we know them. We are going to have to figure out how to make very high density farming work, whether that’s highly curated food forests and regenerative agriculture, or its vertical farms and massive vertical greenhouses, or it’s underwater farms (high pressure atmospheres leads to extremely fast growth). Or, more realistically all of these and more.

As for humans, a lucky few, maybe one or two percent will get to live in the new wilderness in exchange for taking care of it and everyone else is going to get crammed into high density. Well, that or we reduce the population to about a billion people, a process which will involve a lot of blood.

If people want out of the high density, they will simply have to prove that they increase biodiversity. If they make there be more animals and plants and bugs and microbes and so on with their presence, they can be wherever that is true. If not, arcologies or very high density urban.

There’s a bunch of other stuff, like the end to planned obsolesence. Creating something that is meant to break and isn’t biodegradable and made from actual renewable resources will have to be treated like we do serial killers today, minus the romanticization.

But basically, you can’t live with nature if you don’t strengthen the ecology. Otherwise, into the arcology.

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