You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The UNHCR recently reported that 65.3 million people were displaced around the world in 2015, or 24 people per minute. All indications suggest a higher figure for 2016. Civilization is a thin veneer, and when it rubs too thin, people move to a thicker location.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because he’s worried about immigration from the south. The British voted to leave the European Union partly because of fears over immigration and refuges. Yet many of these same fearful people refuse to believe climate change. Now that might seem like an abrupt change of subject, but it’s not. The major consequence of climate change is mass-migrations. Just look at the University of Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN). It ranks countries based on projected impact of climate change.

You can see the full ranking of 180+ countries here. Sooner or later, all the top ranked countries will want to build walls to keep refuges from the bottom rankings moving in. The United Kingdom is ranked #4, which makes it a prime destination for most folks fleeing collapsing civilization. The USA is #11. (Maybe England needs to worry about their American cousins moving back home.) Living in a top ranked country might seem lucky because you’ll avoid the worst of climate disasters, but it also means your country will be seen as a lifeboat to those who are drowning.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers are only pretending not know the truth. Just look at ND-GAIN’s map.

Climate Change Vulnerability Map

Most people in trouble will be moving north. I think wall building is either a conscious acceptance of climate change, or an unconscious awareness. It’s reality is starting to sink in.

Notice that most of the refuges the wall builders fear are coming from countries ND-GAIN are listing as vulnerable to climate change. Have climate change migrations already begun? Many countries in the southern hemisphere are suffering from economic collapse, and countries in the middle east are experiencing political, economic and social collapse. All of those locations also suffer from poor weather and limited natural resources. To solve climate change and mass migrations means solving wealth inequality. That’s a very liberal solution, which probably explains why so many conservatives refuse to accept climate change.

Will walls protect the haves from the have-nots? And why haven’t wall builders proposed programs to create stability in countries that are coming undone? Wouldn’t that be more realistic than building Maginot lines on our borders? Instead they want to tear up international trade agreements, which will only make things worse, and thus accelerate mass migrations. If they’d put the money they’d spend on a US-Mexico wall into the Mexican economy, wouldn’t that be more helpful? Wouldn’t a thriving Mexican economy become more effective than a wall?

Venezuela is #107 on the ND-GAIN list. Just read some of the news stories about Venezuela’s economic collapse. Will they become the new Syrian refuges? Brazil isn’t doing well either. How many wealthy South Americans are currently flying over where Trump wants to build his wall? Isn’t it in America’s best interests to make sure South America doesn’t collapse? If the goal of wall building is to stop refuges, isn’t it more practical to stop the creation of refuges than build walls to keep them out?

Rich people have always built walls to protect themselves from poor people. Whether it was walled cities in ancient times, castle walls in medieval times, or gated community walls in modern times, the solution is always the same – protect what I’ve got and to hell with everybody else. And if past walls are indicators, walls only work when the poor aren’t desperate. When wealth inequality gets too extreme, walls fail. And besides, do rich Americans really want to live like Israelis on the West Bank, or Rhodesians in Zimbabwe? (By the way, aren’t the sales of AR-15s a kind of economic indicator? Who are buying more assault rifles, the rich or the poor? And how many of the 99% think they will be walled in with the 1%?)

Donald Trump and all his wall building followers might do well to get into the wealth redistribution business like Bernie Sanders. I highly recommend they read the following books:

These books show us the future. We can solve our problems, or hide behind walls (for a little while).

Building walls are a last-stand tactic. Think how well walls work with zombies. Which makes me wonder if zombies aren’t modern metaphors for poor people, revealing everyone’s underlying fear of being overrun by world poverty. If you don’t want millions of people moving to America, fight climate change and wealth inequality.

What we want is a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly. Capitalism, as it currently exists, is a Ponzi scheme that’s transferring wealth from the many to the few, with the huge side-effect of creating climate change. It will collapse if we don’t fix it. And we can’t fix climate change without fixing capitalism. If we don’t change things, the 1% will try to wall off us 99%. Trump’s wall is just the first of many that will fail. Denying climate change is merely sticking your head in the sand. Building Trump’s wall is acceptance of climate change, but no actual protection. Trump’s wall is no more practical than The Tower of Babel.

Update:

After writing this I began to wonder how often people and society change. Are we condemned to always follow the same behaviors? That made me think of When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. After I had read that book I realized our society had changed more because of women’s rights than the introduction of computers and smartphones. We’re constantly adapting. And that’s hopeful to realize.

JWH

How To Save The Planet–Without Detailed Instructions

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Humans are destroying the biosphere of planet Earth. Homo sapiens have overpopulated the planet, crowding out all the other species, and has initiated a self-destruct countdown. To solve this crisis requires creating a sustainable way of life, one that will ethically accommodate 13 billion people, allow other species to thrive, create a stable weather system, and not poison the biosphere with pollution. This is an immense challenge. There are countless books, studies, organizations, documentaries and pundits claiming they have solutions, but few people agree on anything. (I use the number 13 billion because most people today will see the Earth’s population grow to that number before it starts to shrink.)

The real responsibility falls on us individually. We each have to decide how to live and justify that lifestyle’s sustainability. In other words, any rational for survival you choose must be judged by what impact that lifestyle would have if 13 billion people also followed it. The Lifeboat Earth metaphor applies here. Ethically, we all have a justification to claim one thirteenth billionth of the planet’s resources, excluding the ethical share we first deem is due to all the other species. Our current philosophy is “everyone for themselves” – grab all you can get, and fuck all other humans and all the animals. It is this philosophy that will lead us to self-destruction, and why there is so much hate, violence and stress in the world.

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Finding an ethical way of living that is equitable to our fellow humans and to all the animals is hard. You will have to do a lot of research, read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, and listen to countless thousands of talking heads argue and argue. One recent documentary I feel is very persuasive is Cowspiracy, a film by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. I shall use it as an example. At it’s core, the film is trying to do what I’m talking about regarding sustainability. However, I don’t trust it’s numbers, and I’m guessing it’s motivations aren’t entirely honest and straight forward. But understanding these problems I have with the film are exactly the skills we need in evaluating any solution to save the planet.

There is no reason to want or expect us all to decided on the same path. We can each develop our own consumption plan so long as it integrates into the whole, and we each use only our fair share. Before we can begin inventing our individual solutions we need to understand what is our fair share of consumables and pollution. The mathematics of such an undertaking is way beyond my ability. So I never trust other people who claim to have that ability.

I find documentaries that use lots of facts, figures and infographics to be more persuasive than documentaries that don’t. The watchers of these film must deal with is whether or not the film’s figures are accurate. Even cheap, crudely made films can have great impact, such as Cowspiracy. I was far more moved by Cowspiracy than I was the more famous and better made, An Inconvenient Truth. Both appear to be about climate change and environmentalism, but I suspect the underlying motivation by Cowspiracy is animal rights. Andersen and Kuhn contend that raising farm animals has more impact on the environment than all burdens the various transportation industries place on the planet.

Do their numbers add up? Is their basic assumption correct? They are offering a reasonable solution to save the planet. Are they right? They offer a very simplistic path to solving the sustainability problem. First, watch the film Cowspiracy (free on Netflix streaming, $4.95 digital download, $19.95 DVD). Their solution, stop eating meat, poultry, fish and dairy. We must evaluate their plan. Would choosing a plant based diet make a sustainable lifestyle? Cowspiracy defines the sustainability issue properly, but I doubt their numbers justifying their solution, even though I’m personally pursing a vegan lifestyle and I’m for animal rights. I’m willing to consider that there might be ethical ways to eat meat that is sustainable.

Whether or not to eat meat, and whether or not raising food animals has a massive impact on the environment are a highly contentious issues. You can can find people on both sides of the argument claiming they know the truth and throwing out tons of facts and figures. I wish to set the ethical issues of killing animals aside for a moment, and just consider Andersen and Kuhn’s assertion that raising animals for food has a greater impact on the environment than all of the transportation industries combined. Does giving up meat help the environment significantly? More than going to mass transit and switching to a renewable energy based economy?

My guess is we could greatly improve meat and dairy production to make it sustainable, but it might require that people eat a lot less animal products than they do now. And even then, we’d still have to bring back the issue of animal cruelty. Andersen and Kuhn do define many of the issues we have to consider in creating a personal sustainable lifestyle.

  • We all have a fair share of fresh water this is sustainable, but will vary by location.
  • That a sustainable lifestyle will impact specific area of land.
  • That land set aside for humans should leave plenty of natural areas for animals.
  • That the impact of our land requirements not impact the weather, pollution or the biosphere.
  • That our personal energy use must be sustainable.
  • That we shouldn’t let people starve while we feed animals to produce meat.
  • Can we raise animals so they have quality lives before we kill them?
  • Are there humane ways to kill animals?
  • Is it ethical to kill animals?
  • Should you eat any animal that you didn’t personal kill?
  • Should we give land to food animals when wild animals have so little?
  • That factory animal raising is not sustainable.
  • That free range animal raising is less sustainable than factory animal raising.
  • That industrial fishing isn’t sustainable.

I’ve been a vegetarian since the 1960s, and in the last couple years I’ve been veering towards veganism to reduced the clogs in my arteries, so Andersen’s and Kuhn’s solution would be no sacrifice for me. It would demand a tremendous change for most people, and a drastic transformation of society. Can you imagine if all restaurants were vegan and all grocery stores health food stores? I’m going to assume Cowspiracy plays fast and loose with its numbers simply because the film is on the amateur side. On the other hand, I’m going to assume they might be right and explore their solution.

We often admire members of The Greatest Generation because they survived The Depression and WWII. We admire their determination and sacrifice. We admire first responders and soldiers for their dedication and heroism. Often I meet people who wished they had done more good in their lives, or even lament they hadn’t done something extraordinary like their heroes. Some even feel their life has been without meaning. I don’t believe you need to be Pope Francis or Martin Luther King to help other people and make a great sacrifice. Just being decent, law abiding and nonviolent adds a lot to our society. Choosing not to act like an asshole and controlling your temper goes a long way toward bringing peace on Earth. Of course, I think many folks reading this will say they’d prefer to work inside burning buildings or go to war in Afghanistan than give up eating meat. However, from now on out, the best thing we can do for our fellow humans and our descendants is live a sustainable lifestyle. Are we willing to make that sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to meeting the challenge?

You need to see the film to be convinced that animal farming is having a greater impact on the Earth than all forms of transportation combined. Cowspiracy asks why all the major environmental groups are not focusing on the biggest problem the planet faces. If Andersen and Kuhn are right, then the single quickest way to fight climate change, the current mass extinction of animals, the destruction of the oceans, the collapse of civilization and create a sustainable society is to give up eating animals. The documentary points out that a plant based diet is sustainable, and it’s healthy. My own research into healthy diets is uncovering more and more doctors advocating a plant based diet. Giving up meat is better for the planet and better for you, and gives us hope for our descendants. However, I don’t know if Andersen and Kuhn’s numbers are anywhere near accurate.

Will people give up eating meat? I doubt it. Republicans are taking the brunt the responsibility for not doing anything about climate change because they refuse to give up fossil fuels. What if giving up meat could actually solve climate change without waiting on new renewable energy technologies? I doubt even liberals would embrace that solution. Why are bacon and eggs, milk and cheese, beef, chicken, pork and fish so important to us? What if the facts and figures in Cowspiracy are right?

Are there any sustainable sources of animals products? If people raised chickens and rabbits in their backyards, feeding them with yard grown food, would that be sustainable? What about hunters culling deer populations every year, or other animals that could live abundantly in the woods without human support? What if all fishing was from hook and lines? Andersen and Kuhn make it obvious that neither factory animal farms, or free range animal farming are sustainable. But what if everyone hunted their own meat? What if you really wanted to eat meat and were willing to hunt down an animal, kill it and butcher it, you could eat it and be sustainability justified? Andersen and Kuhn assumes all the land that went into grazing or raising food for livestock would be returned to the wild. Would that be true?

We all ignore the fact that we’re consuming more than the Earth can give. Humans are increasing in numbers while everything else is decreasing. We’ve been laughing at The Limits of Growth for forty years because the book hasn’t come true. We always assumed science and technology would continually solve the problems of exponential growth. The Club of Rome didn’t anticipate disruptive technology, but their basic premises were still correct. The Earth’s resources are finite and consumption can’t increase forever.

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San Francisco-The Shining Example of Wealth Inequality

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, October 10, 2015

HBO is showing a new documentary, San Francisco 2.0 by Alexandra Pelosi, the youngest daughter of Nancy Pelosi, that reveals how the successes of giant IT companies are changing a legendary city. Like most documentaries, I have to assume it overstates its case, but then I read, “Seattle, in Midst of Tech Boom, Tries to Keep Its Soul” from The New York Times. Other cities hoping to cash in on the tech boom and lure big IT companies to their part of the country, are also fearing what’s happening in San Francisco.

This documentary doesn’t claim to be specifically about wealth inequality, but it’s a shining example. Pelosi laments the changes to her beloved city, worrying about what’s happening to all the people who are middleclass and below, because she feels it’s those people who have always given San Francisco its character. Pelosi fears the Geeks have inherited the Earth, or at least her city, and are pushing out all the colorful bohemians. Read “San Francisco is Losing Its Artists.” To counter that, couldn’t we say computer programmers are the new artists of the 21st century?

san-francisco

San Francisco is a special case because it is bordered on three sides by water, making it very easy for the wealthy to buy up all the limited land, forcing the not so wealthy to move elsewhere, or live on the streets. Hordes of wealthy IT immigrants from several dozen famous companies are making other residents feel like they are taking over the city. Silicon Valley is near San Francisco, which helped draw workers to those companies. As rewards, IT companies would bus their workers into San Francisco to enjoy the city. The trouble began when they started to stay. Then the IT companies followed.

To be fair to the rich, does the counter-culture poor that Pelosi wants to preserve have any claim on the city? Isn’t she being a liberal wanting to conserve the past, making her a new generation of conservative? We people who want to fight wealth inequality are really wanting to preserve a time in America when there was a large middle class. Donald Trump campaigns on the promise to Make America Great Again. Well, we were great when there was a huge middle class, unions were strong, and taxes were high. What conservatives really want is for the wealthier to get wealthier, and to ignore that everyone else is getting poorer, which is what’s happening in San Francisco. Now is the time to ask all Americans if what they want is for whole cities to become gated communities of the rich? There’s more to diversity than just ethnic heritage. We need diversity in all its dimensions.

Can we make a choice, or is the path we’re on inevitable? We have perfected an economy that concentrates wealth with the few. We’ve done this by making everything cheap, and lowering the average real earnings. This has deflated the middle class, moving more people towards the minimum wage. Even if we raise the minimum wage, we’re creating a society were most people can afford to live in Tupelo, Mississippi, while an elite few get to live in San Francisco, California. Personally, I’d prefer Tupelo, because the rich make me nervous, but do we really want to stratify society where most people shop at Walmart, ruled by a minority who shop for their Gulfstreams and yachts at stores most people can’t even name?

Start reading about wealth inequality. There’s lots being written. I consider Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty a great place to start. Wealth inequality is Bernier Sanders’ major political focus. In fact, some conservatives are now taking an interest in this socialist because of this very problem. Wealth inequality should be a major issue for 2016. If you don’t like to read, watch Inequality for All, a documentary focusing on Robert Reich and his riveting assessment of the problem. Because changes have been gradual for the last forty years, most Americans haven’t noticed that the middle class is shrinking. Films like San Francisco 2.0 are like canaries in the coal mine.

JWH – #972