Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All readings for 012809 – Short form

Discussion Setup for Stern Review: “climate change presents very serious global risks and demands an urgent global response”

From the outset, I’m thinking of the mantra of the environmental movement “Think Globally, Act Locally.” I connect this to the “butterfly effect” in dynamical systems – small actions can have big impacts over time. By acting today, even in small ways, we can influence tomorrow in not so small ways.

The heart of the Stern Review is in the convergence of economics and ecology (as is reiterated by Sachs in his lecture). Note that both stem from the same Greek root “oikos” = house. Nomos = managing, hence economy is “household management.” Logia = “study of”, thus it’s the “study of the house” – or interrelationship of organisms and their environment. One more, ecosystem (house-system) – consists of everything living in the house and the house itself – all interdependent on one another. Seeing the interconnectedness of our planet is essential – we’re all linked by dynamical systems of water and air like arteries in our bodies. Climate change can’t be localized. Thus, in order to care about either economics or ecology, we need to be concerned with both. By mitigating (taking strong action to reduce emissions) now, Stern says, we can prevent huge future costs – economically and ecologically. Again – think local/global/butterflies and consider treating a cut as a small cost that prevents infection (threat to the entire system) and expensive treatment (or perhaps no possible treatment) down the line. Echoing the Native American philosophy of the 7th generation, Stern writes, “Such a modeling framework has to take into account ethical judgments on the distribution of income and on how to treat future generations.” Turn then to social costs, the real cost of things: what is the real cost of a Styrofoam cup if we think about the resources it takes and the landfill space to get rid of it? If we start paying the real cost of what we use – perspectives shift and habits change. Such collective conceptual shifts are necessary, but drastic measures are called for, as Stern argues, “A shared global perspective on the urgency of the problem and on the long-term goals for climate change policy, and an international approach based on multilateral frameworks and coordinated action, are essential to respond to the scale of the challenge.” Perhaps then the mantra shifts to become “Think Globally, Act Globally.” And act now.

A quick look at the critics reveals: conservatives bash Stern for playing chicken little, while environmentalists say he hasn’t gone far enough. Overall the work seems balanced to me, and lays out the enormity of issues in a way that speaks to people’s hearts and their bottom line at the same time, for in his words, “Delay would be costly and dangerous.” Furthermore, as he puts it, even if the specifics are wrong, the risks are so great that, “Uncertainty is an argument for a more, not less, demanding goal, because of the size of the adverse climate-change impacts in the worst-case scenario.” One more thing, in a recent interview, James Lovelock – originator of the Gaia theory of the earth as organism – suggests we may already be too late to avoid catastrophe. That said, he seems unconcerned, as from the view of the earth as organism, less people isn’t a bad thing. Read it here if you’re interested: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126921.500-one-last-chance-to-save-mankind.html

A question: The U.S. has been acting globally in terms of fighting communism, spreading democracy, nation building, health issues, policing, and more over the years. Perhaps if we’re concerned about our health, our security, our economy, and our future, the most important thing we can do – and do now – is take action and be leaders on reducing emissions and addressing ecological concerns around the world. In the process, as Stern says, we work with others and as I started with – perhaps these little steps lead to other things…. What should this country’s role be? How much do we pressure our leaders to make these sorts of changes? (And acting locally) what can we do within our own lives?

The Bottom Billion

All of these essays point to how we’re all connected – in this essay a key thought is: the growing disparity of wealth between bottom and top 5 billion is not just their problem “it matters to us.” We’re all connected. Thus, it requires complex, multilevel solutions.

Author identifies the problem as one of traps: 1) the conflict trap 2) the natural resources trap 3) the trap of being landlocked with bad neighbors 4) the trap of bad governance in a small country.
This Bottom billion have been declining in growth since 1970s - >>It’s a picture of divergence – not development.

Arguments that we’ve beaten bigger things – like communism, fascism, and disease, and Cuba is a failure seem pretty weak and unsupported. However, identifies factors of lack of growth well. The wage gap cycle and so on.

Talking about loss of “best and brightest” from nations, loss of critical mass of educated people. This I see as true as coming from Detroit – those who can leave – do.
These Traps are difficult to escape – presents blueprint. Closes with: “we cannot rescue them” “only can be rescued from within.” Seems true. We can offer aid, ideas, but ultimately a people have to arrive at a place together to make it work – nation building from above never seems to yield much…

Jeffrey Sachs lecture on sustainable development:

As with Stern review, connects economics and ecology and “rarely do the two meet.” His talk combines the two, and advises to keep both in sight when working on problems – we can fight poverty and save the planet at the same time.

Interesting to think of Asia’s economic growth today, as truly only reflecting its historically large population – that only in relatively recent times was “behind” in development.

>>Brief talk about ecosystem stresses. (functioning of oceans, rivers, atmospheres.) Invasive species wreaking havoc in new environments – have seen this since ships could carry rats and disease…
Asks: “Can world get together” referencing Nicholas Stern Report.

**** The most important aspect is “empathy.” Need to learn to care, to see through others eyes, stand in their shoes, see another perspective. Helps break down us versus them. The threats we face are common to us all.
Solving these problems will take management and leadership skills – cooperation and coordination are vital….

Fear of Small Numbers – the geography of Anger

Where does culturally motivated violence come from in liberal-democratic societies?

The idea of the nation-state, and thus the “national ethos” is dangerous. A singular view of a nation’s people even when embracing the idea of togetherness – creates majority and minority. Arendt and others: the idea of a national people-hood is the Achilles’ heel of modern liberal society. Suggests direct path from national genius to a totalized cosmology of sacred nation eventually to ethnic purity than cleansing….

“Social uncertainty in social life” can lead to ethnic cleansing. Separating “We” from “they.” One kind of uncertainty – how many “theys” are there? How do we define they? Is some appear to be a we but is really a they? These uncertainties can lead to violence – to ensure certainty. Globalization exacerbates uncertainties. “Anxiety of incompleteness” – trouble with majority and minority… not a complete majority with those “Small numbers” as they remind majorities of small gap between an unsullied national whole, pure national ethos. “Narcissism of minor differences” dangerous than before as how easy it is to become other – creates more fear of loss of identity, power of majority….

Globalization exacerbates conditions of large scale violence because it produces a potential collision course between logics of uncertainty and incompleteness….
>>Curiously contrary to Maxine Greene’s ideas of uncertainty and incompleteness. Where she embraces them, societies sees them as a lack.

Powerful quote: Philip Gourevitch re: Rwanda: “Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community-building.”

Vertebrate vs. Cellular systems.
Vertebrate – nation-state, central order, set of norms, flags, stamps, airlines
Cellular – connected yet not vertically managed, coordinated yet remarkably independent, capable of replication without central messaging structures, hazy in central organizational features yet crystal clear in their cellular strategies and effects – aided by Internet, very much like capitalist world and corporations moving from multi-national to transnational to global.
Terror>>Epistemological assault on us all – destabilizes idea that peace is natural state of order and nation-state is guarantor of such order.

Need to look at minorities in nation-state and marginalization of nation-state by globalization….
>>Minorities are a recent social and demographic category and today they activate new worries about rights, citizenship, belonging, entitlement, etc. Become scapegoats, an in globalization era: “Minorities are the major site for displacing anxieties of many states about their own minority or marginality (real or imagined) … Minorities are metaphors, reminders of betrayal of classical national project – nation-states failure to preserve its promise – needs scapegoats – need to eliminate minorities….

Paradox: violence, especially at the national level, requires minorities… So: why kill the weak? An argument of we/they. Fear they’ll be turned into minority unless existing minority disappears first. (Anxiety of incompleteness.) Nazis and Jews – used political propaganda to incite this fear. Could then extend it to other minorities. To construct a German identity had to eliminate otherness – Jews…. Arendt: “banality of evil.” Reduce minorities to “others” – make it easier to hate…

“One” is the smallest important number for liberalism – one nation, undivided… Minorities break up this “oneness…” We allow for procedural dissent (temporary), but substantive dissent – permanent
>>The point here is that small numbers can unsettle big issues, especially in countries like India, where the rights of minorities are directly connected to larger arguments about the role of the state, etc.

>>“As abstractions produced by census techniques and liberal proceduralism, majorities can always be mobilized to think that they are in danger of becoming minor (culturally or numerically) and to fear that minorities, conversely, can easily become major (through brute accelerated reproduction or subtler legal or political means).”

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