Sunday, October 20, 2019

Taking a short break - no post this week

I'm taking a short break from posting this week. I expect to post again on Sunday, October 27.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

California wildfires, electricity shutoffs and our troubled energy future

Most of the news surrounding the electricity shutoffs in California—done to avert the ignition of additional wildfires by aging electrical infrastructure—has focused on two things: climate change and the greedy, incompetent management of Pacific Gas & Electric.

Missing in this discussion is the broad neglect of the complex infrastructure of the United States and possibly other wealthy nations. The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) most recent "Infrastructure Report Card" gave the United States an overall grade of D+. (Those readers unfamiliar with the American system for grading schoolwork should note that "E" is a failing grade.)

While some will point out that the ASCE's assessment is self-interested—civil engineers will, of course, benefit from an uptick in infrastructure spending—the organization hasn't always been this negative about American infrastructure. The 1988 report card wasn't flattering, but it wasn't nearly as dire as the most recent one.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

'Factfulness' may calm you down, but won't change our ecocidal trajectory

Here and there people have been referring to author Hans Rosling's idea of "factfulness" as an antidote to gloomy thinking about the trajectory of the human enterprise. Rosling writes:

[T]he vast majority of the world’s population live somewhere in the middle of the income scale. Perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated. Perhaps not on every single measure, or every single year, but step by step, year by year, the world is improving. In the past two centuries, life expectancy has more than doubled. Although the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress.

"Factfulness," it seems, relies on nothing more than drawing attention to a narrow set of facts. Yes, we have made tremendous progress for humans taken alone. The problem with such assessments is that they leave out how that progress was purchased. While Rosling does not deny climate change, profligate resource consumption or toxic pollution, he does not see that they are the pillars upon which the so-called "progress" we've achieved rests and not mere side-effects.

I agree with Rosling that the daily flow of news does not provide an accurate picture of our true trajectory. While the media may overplay the negative news about human well-being or at least give the wrong impression, it vastly underplays the damage that human dominance has inflicted on the biosphere. And, it reliably ignores the relationship between continual growth in consumption and population and that damage.