Environment & the World

Friday, June 29, 2007

National Review LTE

Filed under: Climate Change, Media — Cathy @ 12:51 pm

A response to the National Review’s Cover Story on global warming.  

Dear Editor

I disagree with the conclusions of Jim Manzi’s recent cover article on global warming (“Game plan: what conservatives should do about global warming”), in which he argues that the economic costs of dealing with climate change do not justify the United States taking action to limit emissions.

Mr. Manzi rightly points out that estimates of climate sensitivity – how much the temperature will increase if we double atmospheric carbon dioxide levels – is uncertain; according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is likely 2-4.5C, with a best estimate of 3C.  Contrary to what Mr. Manzi suggests, it is very unlikely to be less than 1.5C.  At the global level, economic studies, including the one cited in the article, generally show net benefits to avoiding a warming above 2-3 C, relative to not taking action.

Mr. Manzi notes that the economic model discussed in his article predicts “large negative impacts in poorer areas closer to the equator,” but he then dismisses this problem because the economic impacts to the U.S. are roughly break-even.  Impacts to the developing world include increased water stress and reduced food security that is projected to impact 75-250 million people in Africa by 2020 and decreased freshwater availability in Asia that could affect a billion
people by the 2050s.  U.S. national security efforts will not be made easier by a do-nothing climate policy that effectively promotes global inequality and resource conflicts.

Mr. Manzi also dismisses the threat of abrupt climate change, arguing that the probability of such an event occurring is too slim to justify worrying about it.  He puts abrupt climate change in the same category with other low-probability potential disasters, such as nuclear war in Central Asia or a global disease pandemic.  But the key difference between abrupt climate change and these other disasters is that we know with certainty how to reduce the risk of abrupt climate change, i.e. reduce emissions.  Moreover, science provides rough estimates of how much the risk of abrupt climate change increases with higher emissions levels.  Yes, there are a number of unlikely risks which we cannot prepare for, but why does this mean we should not mitigate the risks which are at least partially under our control?

Because science gives us a guide for deciding the socially acceptable level of climate risk, it makes sense to implement some sort of cap or tax to prevent exceeding that threshold.  As Mr. Manzi states, “global warming is a manageable risk, not an existential crisis.”  We already have the technology we need to put us on a path to stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at levels that pose far less risk to world society than our present path.

Sincerely,
Cathy Kunkel

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hubbert’s Peak and Oil

Filed under: Books, Energy, Geology, Oil, Politics — amirj @ 10:10 pm

I recently read the book Out of Gas by David Goodstein, which reflects upon energy use especially in light of the coming oil shortage. One thing this book got me thinking about was Hubbert’s Peak and when we really might start to feel the pain of declining oil supplies. Goodstein makes the point that Hubbert’s Peak followers and the major oil companies (using BP’s data as representative) essentially agree that we only have about 40 years of oil supply left at current consumption rates.

If I understand correctly, Goodstein argues that the major oil corporations and the Hubbert followers disagree on the point of crisis. According to Hubbert’s peak, societies will start to spiral into an energy crisis once we pass peak oil production. Passing the peak would be the turning point when supply can no longer keep up with our energy needs–leading to higher prices and shortages. In contrast, the energy corporations seem to argue that we can rest assured about our oil supplies until we’ve pretty much pumped out everything we can.

In thinking about this issue, there are at least three points that deserve further discussion and analysis.
1. Is Hubbert’s view correct that oil supplies will start to fall short of demand once we pass the peak?
2. How much proven reserves of oil are there?
3. What are our contingency plans in the face of an oil shortage?

Hubbert’s view has credibility to it. He correctly predicted that U.S. oil production in the lower 48 states would peak around 1970, which is exactly what happened. Furthermore, the Hubbert curve also adequately characterizes the production curve of individual oil wells. The general trend of oil production appears to follow a rising curve which tops out once half of the oil has been extracted. After that peak, production declines. It therefore doesn’t require a big stretch of the imagination to assume that global oil production would follow the same pattern.

Another way of looking at this point would be to ask whether it is plausible that we can keep raising production to meet increasing demand until we’ve exhausted our oil supplies. It might be; but it also might not be very realistic. Declining oil reserves necessarily mean that certain oil fields will dry up or will start to yield less. Increasing our production in tandem with a growing global thirst for oil means that new oil fields will have to be brought on-line faster than existing ones dry up. The challenge, however, is that new oil fields lie in remote regions and pumping more oil from existing regions would require costly new technologies as the oil becomes harder to extract. The large capital investment in technology, discovering new fields, and bringing them on-line imply that oil-reliant economies might already experience more pressure (at least in terms of cost) well before we’ve extracted the last drop.

The second point is also contentious because the limited time frame in which our oil-thirsty economy can survive depends on the amount of proven reserves. The OPEC 2005 Bulletin estimated that there are 1.15 trillion barrels of proven reserves left in the world (pdf, p.45). The U.S. Energy Information Administartion estimated world oil reserves in 2006 at 1.29 trillion barrels of oil (pdf, p.28). At current global consumption (excel spreadsheet) rates of about 84 million barrels of oil per day this means we have 42 years of oil left in the earth.

The problem with the above calculation is that it assumes that global consumption of oil will remain at present levels in the future and that the proven reserves of oil will also remain the same. In reality, both of these numbers are dynamic. A look at global demand statistics for oil reveals that they rise every year. EIA estimates show that by 2025 global oil consumption could be at about 115 million barrels per day (p.26).

On the other hand, the size of proven reserves could increase for a while (pending new discoveries). The same EIA document estimates that by 2025 we will have 2.96 tillion barrels worth of proven oil reserves in the world (p.29), however it is not clear whether that number takes into account the additional amount we will have consumed by then. In Sept. 2006, an official at Aramco (the Saudi oil company) stated that 4.7 trillion barrels of oil remain. As the Wall Street Journal points out, though, “3.5 trillion of the roughly 4.7 trillion barrels of oil Mr. Jum’ah is counting on will depend on the development of new technologies… He also factored in 1.5 trillion barrels from nonconventional sources, such as Canadian tar sands.”

Estimating future reserves is quite a hotly contested matter, nor is it straightforward. An increase in proven reserves does not translate into prolonged bliss for the oil economy. Advanced extraction techniques and nonconventional sources would most likely be more costly and energy-intensive, so prices could rise and we’d be getting less net energy per barrel produced. Furthermore, some people have taken a more cynical view of proven reserve statistics. High jumps in reported oil reserves have led some to suspect certain countries have over-reported the size of their reserves for political/economic gain.

All this begs the question, what is our backup plan? What happens if oil fields dry up faster than expected, or if we face another oil embargo? Or even, what’s our plan once oil runs out? The U.S. has built a transportation infrastructure that relies almost entirely on oil products, and it’s just not clear at this point what would happen when gas prices spike even higher and when the shortages begin. How will millions of people commute to work? What sacrifices will we be forced to make when gasoline costs rise even more? What about airfare? Road trips? Our three-car garage lifestyle? Higher transportation costs will also affect the prices for products we buy, most of which are shipped 10 to 1000 miles to reach our store shelves.

No matter what view you take on peak oil, it’s clear that our way of life as we know it will no longer be possible if we continue to build economies and lifestyles dependent on ever rising appetites for oil. Oil consumption does not need to grind to an instantaneous screeching halt, however we need Plan Bs and Cs and we need to develop alternative energy sources that will make our economy more resilient in the face of oil supply shocks. After all this fretting, I haven’t even made mention of the climate change angle, an issue intimately connected to, and one that will only be exacerbated by, ever more voracious oil consumption. In a scathing dose of reality, James Howard Kunstler describes our attitude towards the oil dilemma as sleepwalking into the future. Indeed, it is time to wake up.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Mining Tibet

Filed under: China, Development, Environmental Justice — Cathy @ 1:11 pm

Last weekend I had a conversation with a Chinese friend of mine in which we wondered what long-term impact of the new Tibetan railway (completed in 2006) would have on Tibetan lifestyle and culture. We were both concerned that the closer link between Lhasa (the capital of Tibet) and the central government would lead to increased pressure for Tibet to develop along Western lines, possibly at the expense of their environment and cultural traditions.

An article in yesterday’s Time Magazine suggests that our fears are not unfounded. The article reports on a recent announcement by the Chinese government of the discovery of large mineral deposits, including 1 billion tons of iron ore, 40 million tons of copper, and 40 million tons of lead. The findings represent a doubling of China’s copper, zinc, and lead reserves. Unfortunately, “the potential reserves, with an estimated value of $128 billion, are spread over more than 600 sites on the Tibetan plateau.” The article goes on to say that, without the Tibetan Railway, it would not be affordable to transport the minerals back east.

The Tibetan government-in-exile and environmental groups are opposed to mining, which would be very damaging to the fragile alpine environment. The Tibetan government further fears that the profits from mining would all go east with the minerals, leaving little benefit to the Tibetan people.

It appears that the Chinese government is now facing its first major test of its professed commitment to sustainable development in Tibet. In previous posts I have touched on the increasing friendship and trade between China and Africa, which sometimes comes at the expense of human rights and true development assistance. Let’s see if the Chinese government can do any better within its own country.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Solar Boom?

Filed under: Economics, Energy, Oil — amirj @ 2:47 pm

Did you know that we’re in the middle of a solar economic boom of sorts? Even though this is a story that ought to interest and tickle environmentalists, it seems that the environmental community hasn’t accorded the topic nearly as much attention as the business community has. Indeed, this has been a business story with a heavy financial market angle, but is that all it should be?

So, what’s been happening? In the last two years numerous solar companies have begun to trade publicly on Wall Street, with a burst of solar initial public offerings in the past three months alone. If their growing market presence is notable, though, their market performance is even more so. Many of these solar companies’ stocks have soared. A look at a comparative chart of some of these stocks shows that their value has jumped up anywhere from 20% to 100% in the last three months alone. To get an idea of how impressive that is, compare those percentage gains to the single-digit interest rate that you earn in your savings account and then imagine what would have happened to your money had it been invested in those solar stocks. Furthermore, a look at the three major U.S. market index stocks (the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P500) shows overall market gains of 2% – 4% over that same three month period, indicating that the solar stocks have truly been on fire.

Of course, this solar story is not without blemishes. There are some companies involved in the solar industry whose stocks have not done that well in the same period. A look at this chart reveals three such examples. Nevertheless, the number of solar stocks surging seems to outnumber the number of sluggish ones thus suggesting that a boom might be more of the rule and the sideways action or decline more of an exception. The other impressive angle to this story is that this recent boom took place when oil prices have been trading at relatively low prices compared to the summer highs near 80$/barrel. My impression has been that market leaders tend to favor alternative energy stocks when the price of oil spikes and brush it aside when the price of oil slides down to more tolerable levels–though that shortsighted trend might be decoupling.

What all this makes me wonder, then, is what should this story mean to the environmental community? To the environmental movement? The environmental community has focused on the dangers of climate change and with regard to energy, the need for governments to pass stronger pollution regulations and do much more to support alternative energy initiatives. The environmental community has, at times, also been willing to give pats on the back to corporations that show some kind of leadership in improving their energy efficiency and in supporting alternative energy. What the environmental community seems to shy away from is blatant attention to and support for the private sector companies that have made it their business to develop and sell the technologies that environmentalists want to see adopted on a larger scale.

It’s tough to pin-point the exact reason why the environmental community keeps its distance from the business sector. There are probably many reasons, some deeply ideological and value-based, others more plain. The thought of environmental non-profits cozying up to for-profit businesses seems like an unnatural fit, and perhaps might even be limited by tax laws(?). The lack of attention to industry trends might also have to do with the fact that environmentalists might feel let down by a corporate-dominated landscape which built a U.S. economy so heavily reliant on fossil fuels and so averse to environmental protection.

Times have changed, though. Green is more chic than it used to be and companies have started to discover that “going green” can pay off. To bring us back full circle, my question, then, is now that the  market seems to be sending us the right signals about solar power, what can we do to make sure that the market won’t let us down again? 

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Natural Capitalism, Ch. 5

Filed under: Development, Reading Group — Cathy @ 12:42 pm

This chapter is all about green buildings.  Again H&L emphasize a recurring theme in this book – that the whole is different from just the sum of its parts.  A design framework in which each engineer or architect individually optimizes his own component of the building doesn’t necessarily result in the optimum building.  This is one of the greatest challenges of good green design.  If it were merely about putting the right technologies together in the right way, that would be a fairly simple task; the real challenge is to implement a new framework with which to approach building design.  H&L emphasize the need to “have the architects, engineers, landscapers, hydrologists, artists, builders, commissioners (specialists who get the building working properly between construction and occupancy), occupants, maintenance staff, and others who have a stake in a particular building all design the building together.”

H&L emphasize that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, green buildings, if done right, can have lower capital costs than traditional construction – largely by saving on infrastructure and by using passive heating and cooling techniques.  Companies can also get surprisingly large returns from increased worker productivity.  But these savings for green buildings don’t just apply to commercial buildings – green homes can also be much more efficient at no net additional cost.  In their most impressive example, H&L write:

“A Pacific Gas and Electric Company experiment eliminated cooling equipment in two normal-looking tract houses. The first, in Davis, California, where peak temperatures can reach 113°F, was a mid-range ($249,500), 1,656-square-foot speculative home, completed in 1993. During three-day, 104°-plus heat storms, the indoor temperature didn’t top 82°, and the neighbors came into the house with no air conditioner to take refuge from their own inefficient houses, whose big air conditioners couldn’t cope. Yet if routinely built, rather than as a one-off experiment, the Davis house would cost about $1,800 less to build, and $1,600 less to maintain over its life than a comparable but normally inefficient home, because it had no heating or cooling equipment to buy or maintain.” 

In addition to energy savings, natural resource savings can be achieved by retrofitting existing buildings or reusing materials from prior structures.  H&L note that internet markets are appearing for trading construction materials / waste. 

H&L also discuss the need to correct the incentive structure that governs building design.  That is, the contractors and designers can get away with installing cheap and inefficient equipment because they’re not the ones paying the electricity and heating bills.  (Also, at least in some countries, the way the building is initially designed and the way it is finally built are not necessarily the same, as contractors try to cut costs.  A recent report by the Chinese Ministry of Construction found that in 2005, 75% of new buildings in Beijing were designed to follow the energy efficiency code … but only 5% were actually built that way!)  For example, designers and contractors who design a more efficiency building could be allowed to recoup a portion of the yearly savings.  Leases could stipulate a sharing of the energy efficiency savings between landlords and tenants to encourage both to be more efficient, both in purchasing and using the appliances.

H&L conclude the chapter by discussing the larger context – building green buildings in mixed-use, non-sprawling developments.  They note that these “new urbanist” models are often more popular than traditional suburban developments: “the opportunities they create for ‘negacars’ and ‘negatrips’, for convivial communities, and for safer and better places to raise children can be welcome … to developers’ bottom lines.”

Monday, February 5, 2007

President Hu’s African tour

Filed under: China, Development, Politics — Cathy @ 12:13 pm

Chinese President Hu Jintao is currently in Sudan, as part of an 8-nation tour of Africa.  Hu’s visit to Africa follows quickly on the heels of November’s China-Africa Summit in Beijing, emphasizing China’s growing role in the region.

China, which purchases 60% of Sudan’s oil exports, has a huge influence in the region and has been widely criticized for blocking the UN Security Council from taking a more active role against the Sudanese government actions in Darfur.  For the last several months, it has been unclear whether Sudan will be willing to allow 20,000 UN peacekeepers into Darfur.  It is too soon to say what will come of Hu’s visit to Sudan this weekend, but some are optimistic that the Chinese will use their influence to promote an end to the violence and closer cooperation with the UN (largely due to increasing international pressure on China).  Hu reportedly urged the Sudanese president to bring more rebels into the peace process (http://www.wilmingtonstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070203/NEWS/702030347/-1/State).  However, Hu made no reference to Darfur in the statement he released after meeting with Sudan’s president.  (http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/26864.html)

Before Sudan, President Hu visited Zambia where, according to the Chinese newspaper The People’s Daily, he announced an aid package that includes some debt relief, increasing the number of zero-tariff Zambian exports to China, and money for a stadium, hospital, and two schools (http://english.people.com.cn/200702/04/eng20070204_347422.html).  However, western papers are quick to point out that not all Zambians are appreciative of this aid.  According to the Economist, African governments like China because China’s aid money (which Hu has promised to double over the next 3 years) comes without any “political conditions”, i.e. insistence on reducing corruption or improving human rights improvements.  But the Economist further points out that anti-Chinese sentiment is rising among the general populace:

“In Zambia, where China has big copper-mining interests, a candidate in last year’s presidential election promised, if elected, to chase out Chinese investors after lethal riots at a Chinese-controlled mine. In Nigeria, Chinese oil workers and engineers have joined Western counterparts in being kidnapped and ransomed by insurgents in the country’s Niger Delta region. And there have been protests in South Africa and Zimbabwe against cheap clothing imported from China.” (http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8649776)

Indeed, Zambia’s chief opposition party was prevented from attending any events associated with President Hu’s visit; the party has made no secret of its displeasure at increasing Chinese involvement in Zambia (http://somalinet.com/news/world/Africa/7201). 

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Natural Capitalism, Ch. 4

Filed under: Corporate Sustainability, Reading Group, Waste — amirj @ 7:31 pm

Reading this chapter didn’t spark off any strong reactions or deep thoughts for me. In fact, very few–if any–of the ideas in this chapter (as with others) were new to me, and I wonder if that would have been the case had I read the book closer to its publication date. Either way, I’m curious to hear what your reactions were. The basic premise of this chapter revolved around the notion that we can drastically reduce natural resource extraction and waste production by implementing smart processes that will keep the same materials circulating in the economy.

H&L expand the typical call of “reduce-reuse-recycle” to include repair, upgrading and remanufacturing to improve the efficiency of material flow and use. In their typical style, H&L accompany these ideas with concrete examples: design away scrap, reduce the number of parts, improve quality, and on and on. The jist seems to be that “innovations turn trash into cash” (80).

If this innovation thing plays out according to plan, H&L argue that we will move towards an economy that mimicks a mature “type 3” ecosystem (73). Such an economy will be characterized by heavy recycling of materials, little new material inputs, diversity and many niches. I thought this ecosystem comparison was instructive, and it plays into a larger theme of the book–to emulate efficient natural systems and processes when possible.

One other interesting idea they mentioned was the “take-back” laws in Europe and Japan.
These discussions of materials efficiency and waste have a tendency to focus on the role of industry and corporate leadership, so it was encouraging also to see a fruitful and benevolent role that government can fill. In this case, government does not directly lay down hefty fines and taxes. Instead, it simply transfers the burden of product disposal into the hands of the producers rather than onto public lands and waste collection services. True to the capitalist spirit, this sort of policy has spawned innovation in production, design, materials use, etc. and “the market” then rewarded the companies who best responded to the call. The U.S. already has such a policy in place for certain items like car batteries, perhaps it’s time to expand its scope..?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

State of the Union ’07 & Energy

Filed under: Climate Change, Energy, Oil, Politics, Transportation — amirj @ 2:21 pm

I thought it would be worth discussing the President’s take on energy and the environment in his State of the Union speech. Here’s the relevant portion of his speech:

“Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America’s economy running and America’s environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists — who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.

“It’s in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply — the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol — (applause) — using everything from wood chips to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

“We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we’ve done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

“To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 — and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks — and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

“Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it’s not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. (Applause.) And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Applause.)

“America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.)”

Watching the live delivery and generous applause during this section of the speech was more exciting than processing it and reading all the reactions.

Notable:
-Recognizing “global climate change” and the need to confront it.
-Reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
-Reducing gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.
-Strengthening fuel economy standards.
-Supporting more ethanol, hybrid technology, wind and solar power.

Sticky:
-Clean coal, clean diesel
-Nuclear power
-Doubling capacity of Strategic Petroleum Reserve
-“Alternative fuels” (coal to gas?)
-Not enough decisive action

Some reactions:
The Sierra Club is unimpressed.

 The Union of Concerned Scientists supports the fuel economy proposals, but remains cautious and says more needs to be done to address global warming.

Steven Mufson at the Washington Post and Dave Roberts at Grist examine the energy proposals from the State of the Union ’07 point by point leaving us with little for which to cheer.

With the President increasingly supporting some political action on energy issues and a Democratic majority in Congress there is still a possibility for some positive developments. With the Democrats largely eager to push for progressive energy policies they might meet the President half way this year and finally get something done.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tracking water polluters in China

Filed under: China, Water — Cathy @ 6:44 pm

The Beijing Review (http://www.bjreview.com.cn/nation/txt/2007-01/10/content_53158.htm) ran an interesting article today about Ma Jun, a leading Chinese environmental activist and recently named China’s “Green Person of the Year.”  Ma’s work is primarily related to water pollution and his 1999 book “China’s Water Crisis” has been compared to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” for the impact it has had on the Chinese environmental movement and government policy.  His decision to write the book was based on a trip to the Yellow River:

“During one of Ma’s field trips to the Yellow River, the second longest river in China, in the mid-1990s, he found to his surprise that the river, which went dry seasonally in its lower reaches for the first time in 1972, ran dry for stretches of up to 700 km for a record breaking 226 days in 1997, due to increased demands on the river for irrigation use.

Even more shocking for Ma was the comments of experts on such a phenomenon. “I heard some mainstream water experts rejoicing over this tragedy, saying that not only was the river no longer overflowing its banks, but not a single drop of the river water is wasted in the sea, ” said Ma. He made the decision to write his book after finding out that the Yellow River irrigation model, regarded as a success, would be copied on other major rivers.”

Now Ma’s work focuses on mapping water pollution levels and the locations of companies who are discharging illegal levels of water pollution.  Already the database contains over 3000 companies – including 33 multinational companies and 5 Fortune 500 companies.  In Ma’s words, “They have repeatedly stressed their commitment to environmental protection and good corporate citizenship to Chinese consumers. It is regrettable that they even failed to meet the environmental standards of the local government even if they have the capacity, capital and techniques to do so.” Indeed, not only have these companies failed to live up to Chinese water pollution laws, but they have even tried to pressure Ma to withdraw their names from his map; thus far, he has refused to do so.

According to http://www.probeinternational.org/tgp/index.cfm?DSP=content&ContentID=16545, the Fortune 500 companies include “a subsidiary of Panasonic, Changchun Pepsico, and Nestle Sources Shanghai.”

Natural Capitalism, Chp. 3: Karen’s comments

Filed under: Reading Group, Waste — kwolfgan @ 1:36 am

I am the designated discussion leader for this week’s chapter, and as it turns out, that’s a harder job than I expected. I am writing this on a Saturday night while simultaneously making sure a sleeping nine-month-old doesn’t roll of bed. She’s done it once before, and in doing so quite effectively caused her babysitters’ paranoia level to skyrocket. She knows I am here and keeps checking to make sure I’m not going anywhere…so I won’t. At least not while writing.

I am still a mom-of-the-somewhat-distant-future, thank goodness, and so I have time to compare and contrast models of baby care and see what works and what most certainly doesn’t. At this point, I am putting the pieces together from several wise aunties and grandmas and unrelated advisors, all of whom have something to say about the social-emotional upbringing of their niece/granddaughter/cherished little person. Little or no attention is given (in this baby’s circle, at least, and I have reason to believe that on this dimension she’s representative of a larger trend) to environmental impact or sustainability—to making sure this representative of the next generation at least has something in which to swaddle her own children.

And that’s where baby and Natural Capitalism, Chapter Three intersect. Ours is one of those kids that equals ten other kids—you know, because American moms and dads are consume resources at an astounding rate, making sure their little ones are taken care of. Carseats and cribs and diaper bags (not to mention diapers), oh my! And really, who can blame them? I would do anything to make sure this baby is happy, up to and including sitting here in the dark instead of putting her in her crib, where she would probably cry for an hour. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, per se, that the next generation in this country is unbelievably spoiled (at least materially); I wish they all received the level of attention our little one gets. But our collective focus is on other things.

H & the Ls don’t say anything I haven’t heard (such seems to be the trend lately, and perhaps I will write on that later), but do provide some food for thought in this chapter, “Waste Not.” For instance, they point out that environmental feedback is constantly occurring in nature, but not in our social institutions: for instance, when’s the last time you heard a parent say “oh, dear, the diapers my baby shat in last week are not decomposing, and I am concerned.” Moms don’t say those things, because along with everything else disposable, diapers get put out on the curb for collection each week—it’s one of the many miracles of modern life. (To be honest, garbage collection never ceases to amaze me; neither does the mail, for what that’s worth.)

The point of this chapter is one that I could explore further, though: the connection between wasting resources and wasting people. What does it mean that the U.S. is the largest penal colony on earth (54) and whatever we’re teaching our children isn’t working (55)? Whatever happened to wrapping the baby up and carrying her on your back while you did whatever you were going to do and then, when she became mobile enough, having her follow you around and showing (not telling) her the essential skills for survival? Why do we farm out that experience? And what change will be effected by the ameliorative measures being taken in (alternative) education these days, when even the best moms and dads don’t consider what the baby’s stroller is made out of, or where it’s made, or who made it?

I’m not interested in bleak statistics or dire warnings or predictions at this point. I am interested in what is compelling about the model of babyhood (and childhood and adolescence and adulthood, for that matter) that we currently work from. Something obviously is, and I can’t condemn folks for being compelled by it. I don’t know the way to fix what’s broken, but I know we’re broken and there has got to be a better way. Pressure’s on to figure something out, though: kids today are depending on us.

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