Monthly Archives: November 2014

Against Productivity

From the pen of Ran Prieur

ran-prieur-favicon November 14. Against Productivity. The author writes about going to Puerto Rico with the plan of having lots of free time and being productive. Instead he did nothing useful, felt guilty and depressed — and yet looking back he can see that the experience made him a better person with better habits of viewing the world.

Most of the article is a social critique of productivity that’s less interesting than his personal story, because this has been written thousands of times over thousands of years, going all the way back to the Tao Te Ching, and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference. Here’s an article with a similar message, Top five regrets of the dying, and people are going to read it, agree completely, and then when they die they’ll have the same regrets.

This makes me wonder how much of my own writing is a waste of time (except where the writing itself is fun). Clearly the forces that make us work too hard exist on a level deeper than language. Telling people to be less busy is like shouting at a football game on TV. So what are these deeper forces? For most people they appear to be economic: the only way to be less busy is to be homeless. But even this economic arrangement is rooted in culture and politics. In his important essay on the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, David Graeber explains how much of our work is economically wasteful, and blames the elite who fear that massive free time would bring social changes. I’d be surprised if that issue is even on their radar. It’s more like some of the rich, and some of the poor, and most of the middle class, if they see people living comfortably on very little work, are full of rage covering their own grief at how much worse their lives are than they could have been.

Another way to look at it is that we feel the need for our lives to have meaning, and the customary source of meaning in the modern age is doing stuff for money. So if we get an unconditional basic income, and doing stuff is separated from money, then people will suddenly feel that their lives are meaningless, or they’ll have to change their whole idea of what makes life meaningful, and that’s really hard.

#178: Five Axioms of Sustainability

#178: Five Axioms of Sustainability
  1. (Tainter’s Axiom): Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse.
    Exception: A society can avoid collapse by finding replacement resources.
    Limit to the exception: In a finite world, the number of possible replacements is also finite.
  2. (Bartlett’s Axiom): Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.
  3. To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to the rate of natural replenishment.
  4. To be sustainable, the use of non-renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion.
    The rate of depletion is defined as the amount being extracted and used during a specified time interval (usually a year) as a percentage of the amount left to extract.
  5. Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the environment from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to biosphere functions.
    In cases where pollution from the extraction and consumption of non-renewable resources that has proceeded at expanding rates for some time threatens the viability of ecosystems, reduction in the rates of extraction and consumption of those resources may need to occur at a rate greater than the rate of depletion.

“Severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts”

From Resilience:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on November 2 – a 116-page Synthesis Report (pdf), summarizing the key findings in the three working group reports issued earlier in the year, and a 40-page Summary for Policy Makers, which summarizes the Synthesis report

Observed changes and their causes

  1. Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
  2. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.
  3. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  4. In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.
  5. Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.

Future climate changes, risks and impacts

  1. Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Projections of greenhouse gas emissions vary over a wide range, depending on both socio-economic development and climate policy.
  2. Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
  3. Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
  4. Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.
  5. Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.

This Changes Everything

Review: Naomi Klein‘s This Changes Everything


From the Beautiful Solutions section of the This Changes Everything website

“Resistance is essential, but it’s not enough. As we fight the injustice around us, we also have to imagine — and create — the world we want. We have to build real alternatives in the here and now — alternatives that are not only living proof that things can be done differently, but that actively challenge, and eventually supplant, the power of the status quo”.

From the comments below the review…

To me, changing the system from the bottom up, with living proof of how things can be different, is the only possible way to do what I think we will wind up doing anyway…going around the current. It was Bucky Fuller, I think, who counseled making a system obsolete. It seems this may be the only way out of this mess and it is not macro. The ‘suits’ want us to think we can’t do things differently…TINA…so it is in their interest to make us think we are just a diversion and of no consequence. How about we prove them wrong and get a critical mass of various changes that matter. That will affect the macro deal, I think.


Ennui Gnaws At Me

The Privilege of Existential Ennui

So many people feel empty.  Purposeless.  As if something unspoken had passed them by, or that the opportunity for greatness has eluded them — perhaps forever.

Perhaps the mark of maturity is in finally internalizing the knowledge that “I am not God” — to understand that our potential is not infinite, and that we simply will not have a name that lasts through the generations. We are ordinary people, despite our own self-importance, and embracing that ordinariness and making the best of it may well be the safest path to happiness.