Tag Archives: economics

Why making a more efficient car does not work

Let’s say the oil company has 100m tonnes of fuel in reserve, and at present levels that 1m cars on the roads, for example, each use 100 tonnes of fuel. The car companies make a new “eco” car which only uses 80 tonnes of fuel instead. The government replaces all the cars with these new “clean cars. Now the cars only altogether 80m tonnes of fuel.

But the oil company is not complaining. Knowing that the car companies see the opportunity to sell more cars, they wait patiently. Lowering the price point is but still making a better profit they sell 1.25m of these “eco” cars instead.

Now, we are still using 100m tonnes of fuel and the roads get more crowded also. A bit of a #wtf moment.

EPA used to stand for compassion

This morning I opened the newspaper and saw “EPA” on the front page headlines. “Oh, great!” I thought … until I read it stood for economic partnership agreement.

It used to stand for Environmental Protection Agency.

How times have changed … or regressed.

Shrinkflation

We are such masters at deception and self-delusion.

Until now there wasn’t a word for this trick – shrinkflation – of making things smaller while selling it to you at the same price as before. We knew about it as manufacturers (they all do it). And as consumers we notice it but forget about it seconds later.

This is why I dislike economics because it is dishonest in its methods.

I’ve said similar things about money and value before. It is easy to pull wool over the consumers eyes with visual trickery.

Three books environmentally aware parents should read with their children

The movie based on Dr Seuss’s The Lorax is coming out soon.

It’s a shame we are moving towards a world which spends more time “watching” books than reading them.

Here are a few more titles which I like a lot – Farewell to Shady Glade and The Little House. Both stories are tales of the encroaching human world upon the nature we depend upon for survival. But sadly both books seems to be saying the only solution is to find another place to live, far from humans. What happens when the world becomes too crowded (like it is now) and we have no more places to run to, to take refuge in?

The world economy only works if there are IMFs

Hasn’t anyone figured out that the world’s economies only ever seem to work with bailouts. Something is very wrong here.

Population growth, governments and the media

After a two week break, a computer breakdown and the start of a new university term I am finally back online. I apologize for the long absence.

Every second, five people are born and two people die, for a net gain of three people each second. That means that 12 people were added to the worlds population in the time it took you to read the previous sentence. The world is adding about 78 million more people every year: the population of France, Greece and Sweden combined, or a city the size of San Francisco every three days. (from “The Environment” by Simon Ross and Joseph Kerski, 2005)

These are absolutely phenomenal numbers. I am ashamed to say that in my youth I had thought, “Great for human beings. It shows our strength as a species”. But today I know better than to think population growth has anything to do with a people or nation’s greatness. It is only culture, nationhood and species-hood that makes us think this way.

So you have to wonder why people think population growth is such a great thing. Headlines like “An Egyptian is born every 23 seconds“, the way in which the US Census Bureau keeps counting, or the panic Japan feels because the opposite is happening are all indications of an attitude which is egotistical and defies logic.

So how to understand population growth? Any population is regulated or controlled by its finite resource-based habitat. And human population does not stand outside this model. So looking at how population regulation and control occurs is useful. There are three ways (according to the Ross-Kerski book) in which population regulation can viewed.

Density dependent and independent
One is to see the density-dependent vs. density-independent mechanisms. An example of a density-independent mechanism is a flash flood which devastates an area. An ant colony within this area may lose ten members of its population or ten million. Therefore the flash flood is a density-independent. In layman’s terms it is all about chance. And a density-dependent mechanism is one where a population peaks because its supply of food (example: the predators’ prey) is finite. So due to this food shortage and certain number of the population die out. Density-independent events are unpredictable while density-dependent occurrences – to some degree – are. And the true model is is probably a mixture of both.

Intrinsic and extrinsic regulation
Growth and regulation can also be seen through the idea of intrinsic or extrinsic. An example of intrinsic regulation is spacing. Some animals prefer a certain area to be their own territory this inherent need to for space. This in-built characteristic means the density of an area is regulated by this animal’s need. Extrinsic regulation of this same animal will come from, for example, predation or fire. The distinction between the two at times can be difficult, since the need for space drives the animal to go beyond its normal boundaries in which it may perish due to accident. But this accident may not have occurred if the intrinsic mechanism did not push it beyond this limit. Therefore the death, though extrinsic, is a caused by an intrinsic incident.

Birth and death rate regulation
Crude birth and death rate, and population density is the third way in which we can look at population. As population increases beyond the means of an area to support it success of survival (death rate) decreases therefore regulating the population size. Birth rates are regulated also if the living population see the area and its density to population ratio as potentially not conducive of rearing.

How should we see global human population?
For the entire planet model looking at crude birth and death rate is the most common way to view population since we do not have increase from immigration or decrease by emigration. And the intrinsic-extrinsic model is seen as not applicable to the human species since he has all but “eliminated” his extrinsic influence. This I will argue because we may have rid themselves of predation, but in fact we are predators. This is why the density-dependent/independent model is a more accurate way of seeing population.

In the end the human species still depends on his environment for survival. We have reached a point we are using more than the planet can provide and no amount of technology can help. Producing more food per area of land may seem logical but really that can only happen by doing so need to bring in more resources from the outside to sustain such a model. Agricultural land simply becomes exhausted from the taxing methods we impose upon them.

So the reality is there will be a time when we will have food shortage. And when that happens the relative peacefulness the better half of the planet will use their power to secure their survival and the still poor will suffer for their actions.

We must change our view of population now. This also entails that we change our attitude from one that is economic-based to one that is non-economic. Money may seem to make the world go around, but in the end, whether there a single person on Earth to spend that money or not the planet still spins. It has done so for four billion years and it will do so for another four.

Technology isn’t the answer

If you have been following this blog then you would know I dislike technology. You may be saying, “Well, if you dislike it so much then why are you using the internet?” A good question and one I will have to answer.

For me technology and science are not the same thing. You might be here thinking I am stating the obvious but I am not. Technology and science, of course, has a lot to do with each other. Many, if not all, of the great scientific discoveries have gone on to change our lives. But changing our lives can be done in many ways. A scientific discovery may help our understanding of our world. But there is a definite push, today, towards applying what we have learned and know to manipulate the world.

A while back I had read an excellent biography on Isaac Newton (of that title) by James Gleick. The feeling I get from this biography about the man (and the period) was that our concerns were – largely – about the knowledge and understanding of the nature of the world. While, of course, Newton was worried about credit due to him (he was a very secretive person) it was the knowledge that was important.

But this all seemed to have changed with the Industrial Revolution. Today in our concerns are on “how we can make the most everything”. Whether it is the money in our pockets, the time on our hands (or sometimes even the love that we receive). The word we use is efficiency. But our usage of it is misleading. We used to use the word to indicate little wastage. But before we can understand what we had meant by efficiency we will have to look at this word, waste, because this word also has metamorphosed over time.

It seems waste once had meant not using more than we need to. While we still use it in this sense we apply it to different values. The question is what? Not really that hard. I do not need to do an Z-score corpus analysis of the word to guess that “waste” these days collocates with “time”, “money” and “energy” (as in “a waste of time”). Otherwise it collocates with adjectives like “toxic”, disposal” and “radioactive” (as in “radioactive waste”). This second usage is interesting because it is now a product, a noun, and cannot be made into a verb. It no longer is an action but a thing.

I am just amused that no one actually has come out and say something like “All this waste is a waste”.

But coming back to efficiency. Waste and efficiency are not the same thing, though they are seen confusingly as such. Efficiency is about getting the most out of use. Waste (as a verb) is about using less of what is there. The philosophy is like the “half empty or half full” glass question. And the assumption with efficiency is that what is there is for us to use. And this way of thinking has rubbed off onto waste also. We can only see waste as mostly being about one’s time, money or energy.

No, the world around us is not there to be used indiscriminately by us. It may seem that way. But that is what the old fashioned capitalists, neo-liberalists and cultural imperialists want you to believe. Because it is about the money and the power to make the money.

I’ve strayed from the topic here a little.

If we use science to learn and understand the world we live in and how we should relate to it then we are on a safe and wise path. But we turn science into technology for profit and manipulation then we are losing our grip on the reality and respect for our home. The more I think about it the more that it is for money. The ability to manipulate the inanimate and animate world is for money.

Yes, with what I say, the livelihood of millions are at stake here. No, technology is not the answer. It is not even the real cause of all our woes (though it is the direct physical cause of the environmental problems). The origin is in the philosophy of technology which is manipulated by the philosophy of economics. This in turn has to do with our attitude. The story is complex and beyond a one thousand word post.

But let’s take a quick look at one recent article on technology and the environment. I found this in last week’s Daily Yomiuri – recordings of endangered species to use as cell phone ring tones to spread awareness. The creators of the ring tones, Center for Biological Diversity, believes that if people hear more of these sounds they will be inspired to do something about the environment.

But no, this isn’t the answer either. There are enough people out there, including me, who are getting people to notice. I wouldn’t say the message is falling on deaf ears. But rather we have dug ourselves so deep into this rely-on-technology hole that we cannot get out of it even if we want to.

That we have done without the mobile phones for a million years until now of human history, I think we can go without it for at least a day. And I certainly do not need a ring tone to know that the planet is in trouble.

So coming back to the internet. What am I doing online if I am so against it? Again, I am not against the internet as such but its indiscriminate use. I choose to use it not for entertainment but for learning and teaching (I can see the abuses coming in from this post now). Every person has a choice. I choose not to waste the tremendous energy required to run the internet for wasteful games, cheap laughs or loveless porn (no, there is no such thing as porn with love).

I choose to use it for the environment.