The Idea of a Local Economy | Wendell Berry

11 02 2009

Not sure if you’ve read this one before, but Sarah passed this on to our 502 group:

… I am assuming that there is a valid line of thought leading from the idea of the total economy to the idea of a local economy. I assume that the first thought may be a recognition of one’s ignorance and vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer, one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where, exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied certain significant choices. In such a state of economic ignorance it is not possible to choose products that were produced locally or with reasonable kindness toward people and toward nature. Nor is it possible for such consumers to influence production for the better. Consumers who feel a prompting toward land stewardship find that in this economy they can have no stewardly practice. To be a consumer in the total economy, one must agree to be totally ignorant, totally passive, and totally dependent on distant supplies and self-interested suppliers …

You can read the rest here.


Worth a look

8 02 2009

Some interesting blogs some or all of us may find helpful:

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science

Dot Earth
of the NYT

Environmental Valuation and Cost-Benefit News

And especially:

Resilience Science

Darwin’s unfinished revolution

8 02 2009

Via Halewistan

Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway-Morris has interesting ideas about the tendency of evolution to follow certain overarching pathways. In a recent talk while visiting here on campus, he went on to make some oblique, but fascinating, conjectures about the immanence of phenomena such as complexity and intelligence. The Economist discusses him here:

… Simon Conway-Morris, a palaeontologist at Cambridge University, in England, is the champion of a new interpretation of evolution—one that challenges the view that it is largely governed by the accident of circumstances. Unlike Gould, he thinks that if evolution were replayed from the beginning, a lot of things would turn out the same.

Dr Conway-Morris has arrived at this view from a detailed study of what is known as convergent evolution. Darwin himself was intrigued by this phenomenon, in which different groups of organisms independently evolve similar solutions to similar problems, whether these solutions are teeth, eyes, brains, ecosystems or societies. Where other biologists have noted such convergences as “remarkable”, Dr Conway-Morris believes they actually tell a broader story.

His argument is that, given the nature of physics and chemistry, there may be only a limited number of ways in which things can work. Evolution will be channelled into these successful paths, and thus does have trends. Two of these, he thinks, are towards complexity and intelligence. He adds that things “don’t just happen in chemistry”. They happen because of pre-existing causes. Whether it is the molecules of crystallin that are used to build an eye or the haemoglobin that makes blood carry oxygen, the nature of molecules themselves means that evolution is more likely to follow a path determined by their basic structure. Evolution is a mechanism, and it works within rules.

Dr Conway-Morris’s view of the world may or may not turn out to be correct. If it is, it may prove more palatable to some people than the current interpretation of the biological world as ultimately materialist and purposeless.

Darwin himself was deeply troubled by his materialist thoughts and what they meant. He considered how thoughts and emotions were simply secretions of the brain. From his correspondence it seems his religious beliefs never reached a fixed position, but he was sensitive to the extent to which his ideas could upset others. He even devised a diplomatic answer that avoided challenging the existence of God. When asked about the origins of emotions, instincts and degrees of talent, he noted, “say only they are so because brain of child resembles parent’s stock”.

via Charles Darwin’s revolution is unfinished | Unfinished business | The Economist.

And in audio, here.

Garfield is Funnier

30 01 2009

An insane story about invasive species, and invasive species removal.

Just read it and shake your head.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

29 01 2009

This video on the ‘island’ of garbage in the middle of the Pacific is an unglamorous look at the harm we have caused without even realizing it. How do you fix the problem of billions (trillions? more?) of bits of plastic floating debris? The answer: You cant.
Sometimes preventing harm is the only choice or risk having our prayers for miraculous technology to solve the world’s problems unanswered.

A tradeoff between principles and safety

28 01 2009

While you don’t have to agree with everything Christopher Hitchens says (I don’t always), you can always count on him giving a thoughtful, well-spoken (and often crass) argument.

Sustainable Prosperity

21 01 2009

It seems like what we keep reaching for and aiming for is sustainable prosperity.

If that’s the case, I think we need a re-definition of prosperity.

Also, do you think that we’re mostly divided into two camps? The conservationists and the preservationists, each with a different set of ethics?

Or is there another camp – those who can’t afford to care – where obtaining life’s basic needs are the obvious and only priority.