Monday, January 29, 2007

Give me a Child Until..........

How will we ever get a critical mass of awareness and willingness to change and prepare for a post-peak, post-meltdown, post-apocalyptic world when we are all indoctrinated from cradle to grave into supporting and being part of the current industrial/economic/capitalist societal paradigm?

Where is the line between information, education, culturation and indoctrination? What someone views as indoctrination would seem to be any attempted or, particularly, successful dissemination of an ideology or philosophy that differs markedly from those ideologies and philosophies that person holds and follows. Generally the person levelling the accusation of indoctrination seems not to understand that the ideology they adhere to was also acquired through indoctrination. Bertrand Russell, in The Impact of Science on Society, said, "....the populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated .. education should aim at destroying free will...." [(33)]

In an article titled, American Indoctrination -- The harsh reality of public school, in Liberty Forum it is summed up this way; "Indoctrination. Forced conformity. Government worship. A blending of Christianity with "patriotism." The wholesale assembly-line production of jingoistic, unquestioning drones, assaulted at their most impressionable time in life." [(14)] In Are Lady Liberty's Books for Education or Indoctrination? Guy T. Sturino states, "Probably most, by that time, have adopted the political party and social attitude of their parents or peers without a second thought. The result is that the majority of the working class does not have sufficient foundational education to even be concerned about what is happening around them – or to them." [(15)] In The Central Fallacy of Public Schooling, Daniel Hager states, "When parents send a child to a tax-funded school, they sacrifice their autonomy to alien interests. The state has goals of its own that are distinct from those of parents. The price of tax-funded schooling is that parents give up their children to become instruments of the state." [(16)] Such statements simply reinforce for me my belief that it is impossible to separate education, even at the most basic level, from indoctrination.

How can we expect or assume that students entering high school and university or, afterward, adult life, are prepared for critical assessment and constructive dissent and debate, reasoned thought and assessment, or independent thinking, when they have spent the first eight years or more of their education in an environment which neither fosters nor tolerates dissent, disagreement, questioning or debate, or independence of thought? In High School Indoctrination, Sol Stern claims, "The younger the students are, of course, the less likely are they able to withstand – or even detect – attempts at social and political thought control in the classroom." [(18)]

The K-8 public school system teaches and trains children by the strict rote of the school curriculum in which daily repetition and environmental manipulation reinforce in those children a belief that authority is right, that authority must be obeyed, that authorities decide what you will learn and when and how, that the student must respect, obey and rely and be dependent on that very authority. Many behavioral scientist favoring the "nurture" theory of character development "believe that people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so." [(30)] American psychologist John Watson said, "Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select...regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors." [(30)] The old Jesuit saying, "Give me a child..... until he is seven, and I will give you the man" [(6)], displays a clear recognition that the earlier you can gain access to a child's mind the stronger control you have over the formation of that child's character and beliefs. Could any person, after eight years of even the level of "brainwashing" and indoctrination in our public schools emerge from that process without being affected and without their character being molded to that desired by the system from which they are "graduating"? "After pupils have left school," Bertrand Russell adds in The Impact of Science on Society, "they will be incapable .. of thinking or acting otherwise than their schoolmasters would have wished." [(33)] One of the most insidious student control tools being employed in recent decades, of course, is Ritalin and similar psychological control drugs. In 18 Ways Public Schools Can Hurt Children and Parents and many other sources we are told "Public schools pressure many parents who have bright, normal children to give their kids potentially dangerous mind-altering drugs like Ritalin to make the bored kids "behave" in class. Over four million normal but allegedly "unruly" school children take Ritalin every day. Methylphenidate (sold as Ritalin) and cocaine are both listed on "Schedule II" of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's Controlled Substances Act (CSA)." [(28)]

In recent decades, with the ever-increasing outflow of jobs from the industrialized world to the lower cost job markets of developing nations like China, India, Taiwan and Indonesia, there has been an increasing, though perhaps confused, belief that the school systems in our industrialized nations are not turning out workers that are competitive with those graduating from school in developing nations. Much of this belief, however, is being fostered by corporations who are actively and energetically campaigning for an ever-increasing role in our public schools, institutions which came into being for the purpose of, and are still focused on, turning out standardized workers for business and industry. In Government Can’t Run Schools Like Businesses, Thomas L. Johnson, professor emeritus of biological sciences at University of Mary Washington takes a decidedly pro-business and anti-government stance in stating, "If freedom is to survive in America, it will be necessary to eliminate the psychologically crippling and mentally debilitating authoritarian socialist public-school system that inevitably inflicts upon all of its students a long and thorough indoctrination in authoritarianism and convinces them that government force is a valid and necessary means to achieve virtually any desired ends." [(13)]. He would, instead, have corporations doing the indoctrination.

In Nightmare Awaits Under Globalization - effects on public school system in Canada, Rick Sawa states "Corporations want governments to get out of the way of business when it comes to education. They feel that decisions must be taken by a school system for good business reasons, with a minimum of public intervention." [(17)] In Smaller Learning Communities: Preparing Workers for a State Planned Economy, Edwatch states, "Goal 6 of Goals 2000 states in part, “Every major American business will be involved in strengthening the connection between education and work." It is a philosophy, and it is the focal point of the new restructuring of American society. It is a means for appointed bureaucratic central planners to link government-directed education with government-directed economic development and government directed workforce preparation systems. Children are, in practice, human resources for a centrally planned economy." [(12)] It was not meant to be this way, of course. As we are reminded in the article Indoctrination and filtering, "The founders of our country saw that a well educated citizenry is essential to preserving Liberty. Yet they also knew that education ought not be centrally controlled. For no matter who is in power, those persons will inevitably impose their particular propaganda onto the schools. For this reason, the federal government was forbidden (by the Tenth Amendment) from involving itself in education." The article goes on to remind us, like so many others, "Rather than teaching honest self-reliance, the system seduces our children into dependency." [(19)] In Echoes of corporate influence, Dorothy Shipps, assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University writes, "Corporate leaders have assumed the unrivalled moral authority to define the purposes and methods of public schooling in response to the new technology-driven global economy." [(4)] In Public Schools: Enforced Social Conversion & Parental Denial, tireless education and home schooling advocate, Nancy Levant, states, "Children all over the world are being converted to social compliancy and servitude. ..... No parent in the United States has any excuse, whatsoever, for ignoring the political-corporate take-over and manipulation of knowledge and learning." [(7)]

Such government and corporate manipulation of the education system is and will continue to be aimed at not just pushing corporate agendas on the school system but preventing opposing agendas from gaining a foothold in that same system. In Science a la Joe Camel Laurie David reports, "The producers of "An Inconvenient Truth," decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. Thanks but no thanks, they said. ..... Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp." [(1)] In Influencing future decision makers, Dr Sharon Beder states, "This strategy [of creating confusion by challenging scientific evidence] is now making its way into school science curricula as corporations supply "educational" materials that promote clear cutting of forests whilst casting doubt on phenomena such as global warming and ozone depletion. For example, Procter and Gamble argued in their package that disposable diapers are no worse for the environment than cloth diapers, a claim based on scientific studies funded by Procter and Gamble. The company just happens to be the world's largest manufacturer of disposable nappies although this wasn't mentioned in the package." [(3)]

But corporations, particularly large multinationals, have now seriously broadened their horizons. No longer content with having to push their agenda on a region by region, state by state, nation by nation basis, they have now set their sights on standardized global education. In an article titled United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in Edwatch, the broad brushstrokes of international corporate control of globalized education standards are revealed: "The international community now strongly believes that we need to foster — through education — the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future." [(10)] In a counter article entitled Education for Sustainable Tyranny: The United Nations Plan for Our Children, Michael J Chapman writes, "At the September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, so-called “representatives of the peoples of the world” adopted a document called, “Agenda 21,” the global roadmap for SD implementation. ..... The Chapter Titles of Agenda 21 reveal the extent of government control necessary to implement SD, including goals to: Change Consumption Patterns; Promote Sustainable Human Settlements; Plan & Manage All Land Resources, Ecosystems, Deserts, Forests, Mountains, Oceans, Fresh Water; Agriculture; Rural Development; Biotechnology; Ensuring Equity; an increased role for Non-Government Organizations (NGOs); and even defining the role of Business and Financial Resources. ..... The United States is pleased to return to UNESCO… There and here, we agree that we must make education a universal reality. Our governments have entrusted us with the responsibility of preparing our children to become citizens of the world." [(11)]

We who are involved in the peak oil movement have, as one of our greatest concerns, the apathetic lack of public awareness of the disasters that lie before us, not just peak oil but also human-induced global warming and a host of other potential or even probable catastrophes all the result of serious human overpopulation. We are all aboard a runaway train racing down the track toward a collapsed bridge, with the engineer and other staff on the train doing their damnedest to keep us ignorant of that reality. We are labeled as doomers because we insist on trying to push those future problems into the public consciousness. In reality, of course, we are trying to minimize the potential severity of those problems by raising public awareness and pushing society towards preparation. Is that ever likely to happen, however, with the current government and corporate control of our education system? We tend to focus our efforts on the adult population around us. But that adult population is a product of a school system that spent twelve years and more indoctrinating and brainwashing them into accepting and supporting the status quo. Only a small minority of the graduates of that system, I would suggest, are capable of breaking free of those years of mental programming.

Unless we can break the grip of senior governments and corporations on our school system neither the present generation of school students nor those yet to come will be able to break free and move away from the status quo and in a direction consistent with the needs for societal survivability in a post-peak, eventually post-energy, world. We know that our current resource-wasting society is not sustainable. We know that we are gradually but irrevocably destroying the earth's ability to support life, including our own species. And yet our children are spending their formative years in an education system that continues to reassure them that that is okay, that there will always be another technological solution, that it is okay for us to use up the last of the resources available because they are confident we will find other solutions when they have run out.

If we are ever to gain serious momentum toward ending our suicidal destruction of this planet - our home planet, the only one in the universe we know to support life - we must start with our children. We must stop allowing them to be brainwashed into supporting the societal norms that are responsible for our race to self-destruction. We must also reach our leaders and do what we can to get them to look ahead and realize that the bridge is out and get them to start leading in a different direction.

Is either likely to happen? Not likely, but we must keep trying. I think the long-term of our species is worth the effort.

For a more detailed review of the debate over the government and corporate indoctrination taking place in our public schools follow the links below.

1) Science a la Joe Camel - By Laurie David
2) Software business profits from influence, good timing,0,1461628.story?coll=bal-education-storyutil
3) influencing future decision makers by Dr Sharon Beder
4) Echoes of corporate influence
5) How Business Gained Influence over Chicago Public Schools
6) The Religious Policeman
8) Fifth Annual Report on Commercialism in Schools / The Corporate Branding of Our Schools
9) New Education Initiative: Public Education as Transnational Corporate Welfare
10) United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (January 2005 – December 2014)
11) Education for Sustainable Tyranny: The United Nations Plan for Our Children
12) Smaller Learning Communities: Preparing Workers for a State Planned Economy
13) Government Can’t Run Schools Like Businesses
14) American Indoctrination -- The harsh reality of public school
15) Are Lady Liberty's Books for Education or Indoctrination?
16) The Central Fallacy of Public Schooling By Daniel Hager
17) Nightmare Awaits Under Globalization - effects on public school system in Canada
18) High School Indoctrination
19) Indoctrination and filtering
20) Political indoctrination seeping into private schools
21) Political indoctrination in the curriculum during four periods of elementary school education in Taiwan.
22) FIRE Has Never Been ‘Sheepish’ on the Danger of Confusing Free Speech with Indoctrination
23) The Road to Democracy Starts at the Schoolhouse Door; Teaching our Children Beyond the "Three Rs"
24) Brainwashing and Thought Control in Scientology -- The Road to Rondroid
25) Throw Out Your TV- Mass Mind Control
26) Public Schools Warned: Requiring Ritalin Is Unlawful
27) How Public Schools Coerce Parents Into Giving Mind-Altering Drugs To Their Children
28) 18 Ways Public Schools Can Hurt Children and Parents
29) Just Say Yes to Ritalin!
30) Nature vs. Nurture: Are We Really Born That Way?
31) Freedom: Transcending Enculturation and Choosing for Ourselves
32) Avatar and the Restoration of Free will
34) Propaganda
35) Pulling kids out of government schools
36) Central High School
37) Education or Indoctrination?
38) Bill Gates and the Corporatization of American"Public" Schools
39) Schools With a Slant
40) A Citizens Guide to Adopting Commercial-Free School Board Policies In Your Community
41) Curbing the Commercialization of Public Space
42) Naming Rights Sold -- This Time, at High School Field

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mud pies and Dunce Caps - Part 2

What is the value of our current education system in preparing our children for a future that will be dominated by the impact of peak-oil, global warming and climate change, and other global disasters on the near-term horizon?

Our society tends to take for granted the availability of universal public education. We also tend to believe that the role of that public education system is to prepare and optimally develop our children for success in the world in which they will live their adult lives. It is a core part of the means by which we try to ensure that our children have the best possible chance of living the dream of having the most successful life possible in the wealthiest and most advanced society in the world. Few realize that universal public education is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. The first surviving system was developed in Prussia only in 1819 and the rise of public education system in America was modelled on that system and came later[(3)]. Historian Bernard Bailyn, twice the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, wrote in Education in the Forming of American Society: "The modern conception of public education, the very idea of a clean line of separation between “private” and “public,” was unknown before the end of the eighteenth century."[(2)]

More important, however, is the misinterpretation of the objectives of that public education system. The purpose of that system is not to achieve the optimum development of our children's abilities but rather to standardize their thinking patterns to socially accepted norms and to prepare them to be complient and authority-following workers in the industrial, business and financial institutions around which our society is oriented and in which the majority of our children will find employment after graduation [(2) (3) (5) (6)]. This role of public education was at the core of its development during the industrial revolution in Europe and America. It was meant to transform the flood of "undisciplined" agrarian masses flowing into industrializing cities into law-abiding and rule-following workers for the burgeoning industries and businesses [(4)]. That responsibility of the public education system to turn out cogs for the wheels of industry has been even further pursued in recent years with the advent and growth of globalization [(1) (7) (10)].

In a rapidly changing and developing society, however, an essentially reactive public school system is faced with pressures to adapt that the lethargic monolithic bureaucracy cannot possibly respond to[(8) (9)]. Our reactive public education system does not prepare students for the future but rather for a world already in the past. By the time anything new makes its way into the school curricula that new is already old. This is a hard lesson that school systems are learning in trying to incorporate technology training (computers) into the school curriculum. One high level educator complained that: "We get computers in here and before we know it they're outdated. The technological revolution is a money pit. You never have enough money to buy more hardware or software."[(8)]

Business and industry, indirectly through government departments and directly in many jurisdictions, are already partners in design, administration and running of public education systems and in curriculum development [(6) (7) (10)]. The corporation and the corporate logo are becoming ubiquitous in our schools, from the computer lab to the caffeteria [(6)]. However that does not seem to be enough to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the corporate world for controlling our lives. Throughout the world but most particularly in highly industrialized countries like the US, UK and Canada, corporations are seeking to take over the public schools [(1) (6) (7) (9)]. These "EMOs" (Education Management Organizations) are using and exagerating the weaknesses in the school system in the face of a rapidly changing world as the foundation of their pitch and argument, coercing teachers, students and parents alike. In the process they paint a picture of a school system much worse than reality. But they have good reason. Education is a half trillion dollar industry in the US alone. In the same way that HMOs stepped in to save the health system, EMOs are putting themselves forward as the saviors of the beleaguered education system.

What has this to do with peak oil and preparing our children for an uncertain, possibly disaster-prone future? From the outset the public education system has been designed to turn out compliant workers for business and industry who have been partners in developing the curricula that schools will follow. Very little curriculum flexibility has ever been tolerated and then only when it fits within the tight boundaries of that role of serving business and industry. That education system, however, has never been proactive, nor can it be. It always lags slightly behind the current state of evolution of the society in which it operates. In a rapidly or dramatically chaging environment that system lags ever further behind the current societal reality. It gets locked into an ongoing battle just trying to keep pace. A system that can't even keep pace with the changes going on around it cannot possibly be expected to gear its efforts towards turning out students prepared for the realities that will exist twenty, thirty or fifty years in the future, especially when such preparation would be outside of the primary role of serving business and industry and turning out workers for them.

But that is exactly what is needed at this time. Peak oil is no longer debateable, even if the timing is. Global warming is no longer debateable, though the timing may be. Our children are going to have to cope with the dramatic impact of one or both of them, and a plethora of other global disasters waiting in the wings, during their lifetime. Yes, they need to be able to make their way in the current world until those realities begin to dominate their lives and world affairs. But for the public education system, whose role includes the development of the mindset and worldview of the students in its charge, to do nothing to prepare those students for these emerging realities simply continues to produce graduating classes trained to perpetuate the very unsustainable world that is about to fail. How can we ever produce a generation prepared to examine our place in this world, to question our destruction of the environment, to challenge our continued depletion of finite resources, if we continue to build in them the same societal mindset that has brought us to this sad and dangerous point in human history? How will we ever break away from our destructive interaction with this planet? We don't need periodic tweaks of the education system. And we certainly do not need to turn it over to the TLC of the corporate world. We need to take it in a whole new direction focused on stewardship and sustainability, on learning to live with the natural world that sustains us rather than destroying it.

1) A short angry history of American forced schooling
2) Puritanism: The Origin of Public Education
3) The "Real" School Is Not Free by Thom Hartmann
4) History of education England
5) Public Education: Remaking A Public
6) The Education Industry: The Corporate Takeover of Public Schools
7) Molding Human Resources for the Global Workforce
8) A retiring University educator looks at the state of education
9) Is American Education Obsolete
10) Towards the Interculturally Proactive School

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mud Pies and Dunce Caps

We are experiencing an epidemic rise in childhood diseases. What are the implications for their survival as we slide past peak oil and go into permanent energy decline?

Every parent wants to do the best they possibly can to prepare their children to deal with and overcome the obstacles and struggles they will face in adult life. That is the best they can do. They can't fight their battles for them. They can only ready them to fight their own then set them free to do so. The simple reality at this crucial point in human history, however, is that by preparing our children for the world in which we now live, for the struggles we have had to face in our own lives, we are in no way preparing them for the world in which they will live most of theirs.

It is our children who will bear the brunt of the devestating impact from the world we and the hydrocarbon generations before us have created. They will have to survive the fallout from peak oil, resource depletion, climate change and global warming, aquifer depletion, global pollution, species destruction, top soil loss, critical overpopulation, rampant globalization, the probability of economic and social collapse including a progressive decline in our health care system, the increasing possibility of resource wars using nuclear and biological weapons and more. The evolving world they will be thrust into in their adult lives will be as different from today as our world is, not from that of our parents but rather from that of our great-great-grandparents.

We must not fall into the easy trap of teaching our children or allowing them to be taught to become dependent on our current high-energy, resource-wasting lifestyle which is both unsustainable and will not be available to them possibly for the greater part of their lives. The insidiousness of advertising, among other factors, that targets our children and tries to lure them into that world means the battle to prepare them for a very different world will be doubly difficult. But it must be done. A chip off the old block otherwise will very likely end up as kindling for the fire of societal destruction.

Probably never in the course of human history has there been the possibility of such a tumultuous change in global society from one generation to the next. Another comparable dramatic shift resulted in the cargo cults when primitive, stone-age societies suddenly met the modern world and built crude idols of the flying machines that landed in their forest clearings and disgorged into their midst strangely clad white men with talking boxes and fire sticks. These are, of course, comparisons of opposites. The cargo cultists were suddenly thrust forward toward the modern world. Our children will be just as suddenly disenfranchised from it like Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.

So just how do we prepare our children? What if we prepare them for the wrong world? How will they fit in then? No one knows exactly how the future will unfold or when. We never do. Our children spend twelve to twenty years getting an education to help them make their way in the world. There are no guarantees that the education they receive will be suitable to the world as it exists when they graduate and take their first steps into the job market. I have met a lot of college and university graduates driving cabs and standing behind retail counters. There is even less guarantee that it will sustain them through a long life dominated by energy decline and global warming.

Iin a future that will be shaped by oil and energy decline and global warming, the greatest preparation that our children are going to need is good health. And that is an area where we are failing them badly. We are, sadly, experiencing an epidemic rise in childhood diseases over the past several decades despite massive increases in health care expenditures. Most of these conditions will have serious health implications as our children mature and age. It is almost guaranteed that as they progress through their adult lives deeper into the post-peak-oil/energy world the high-tech, high-energy health care system and various levels of social safety net that we take so much for granted will go into serious decline.

This is not restricted to one or two health conditions. Type 2 diabetes, formerly considered adult onset diabetes, is becoming increasingly prevalent among children as young as ten and even younger [(1) (2) (3) (4)]. Childhood obesity, an underlying condition to many other diseases and debilitating health conditions, is still increasing at epidemic rates [(6) (7)]. Childhood asthma has been increasing dramatically now for several decades [(5) (15) (16)]. Autism is reaching the level of a national emergency [(9)]. Pediatric MS (Multiple Sclerosis) has been termed a silent epidemic [(20) (21) (22)]. An icreasing incidence of birth defects has been linked to pesticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals [(11)]. There are arguments that our ubiquitous use of flouride, primarilly in our drinking water, is a contributor to an increasing incidence of Down's Syndrome [(10)]. These are some of the main culprits but by no means all.

Considered together, these represent a dramatic increase in the numbers of those who are going to have an increasing difficulty coping in a world changing dramatically
due to oil and energy decline and global warming. As the global economy falters and perhaps collapses during their lifetimes, the medical system on which they will most certainly continue to be dependent will also falter and may also collapse. In a society increasingly fighting a struggle for survival the desire to support the medically needy will probably be stressed to the limit.

This trend, however, can, in my opinion, be reversed. There are clear underpinnings to these dramatic increases in juvenile health problems. Corrective action can be taken for most of these underlying contributors. One of the primary contributors is the dramatic rise in childhood obesity [(6) (7)]. Much corrective action is already being undertaken but clearly much more needs to be done since this problem is still on the increase. In "The spread of childhood obesity epidemic" [(7)] the core of the concern is spelled out. "A major concern regarding childhood obesity is that obese children tend to become obese adults, facing an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic problems and many other chronic diseases."

Another primary contributor, unfortunately, has very few options that we can pursue as individual parents. That is pollution [(5) (10) (11)]. That does not mean that we should do nothing. Much of the contributing pollution is caused by our use of fossil fuels. That contribution will begin to decline when we reach peak oil and peak energy but clearly there are strong arguments for beginning to scale back our use of fossil fuels now. That burning of fossil fuels is also the primary contributor to human induced global warming so scaling back our use of fossil fuels can help reduce the potential impact of global warming for our children and grandchildren.

Our fixation on women's breasts as sex objects and the attendant reduction of breast feeding is also a serious contributor to this dramatic increase in childhood health problems [(12) (13) (14)]. The confered immunity made possible by colostrum has already been largely lost to several generations. Those generations thus far, however, have had the benefit of antibiotics and a very advanced medical system to keep them healthy. Our children and grandchildren will not be as fortunate.

Perhaps the most serious contributor, however, and potentially the most controversial, is our misguided attitude toward bacteria. We are sterilizing our children to death. We are seriously degrading the development of their immune systems through our attempts to protect them from germs and bacteria [(15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (23) (24)]. The bacteria that children encounter making mudpies in the back yard and rolling around in the dirt and playing on the floor at home are, in fact, major and often primary agents in developing our children's immune systems. When we use antibiotics, whether as medicine or in the form of cleaning agents, we kill far more good, beneficial bacteria than we do bad bacteria. And in striving for that sterile environment and our overuse of antibiotics we weaken the very immune response that antibiotics are intended to strengthen, leaving our children more vulnerable to the impact of pollution, chemical toxins and more.

We can undo much of the damage that we are doing to our children's health that is making them increasingly vulnerable in the face of the serious impact energy decline and global warming are going to have on our society. If we truly want to prepare them as best we can for their future it behooves us to start doing so now. Too many of these health problems will endure and possibly worsen in their adult lives seriously affecting their future survivability.



Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Adolescents
Type 2 diabetes increasing dramatically among kids
Asthma and Air Pollution
Childhood Obesity
The spread of the childhood obesity epidemic
Increasing Incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism 99: A National Emergency
Fluoridation & Down's Syndrome
Birth Defects Caused by Herbicides, Insecticides, and Industrial Chemicals that Disrupt the Endocrine System
What is colostrum? How does it benefit my baby?
Substances: Colostrum
What's colostrum?
Mimicking microbial 'education' of the immune system: a strategy to revert the epidemic trend of atopy and allergic asthma?
National Jewish Medical and Research Center Expert Says Bacteria By-Product Found in Household Dust May Protect Infants from Asthma Later in Life
Bacteria: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Good Bacteria Gone Bad
How 'good' bacteria could counter overuse of antibiotics
A 50-year follow-up of the incidence of multiple sclerosis in Hordaland County, Norway
Pediatric (Childhood) MS
Childhood MS: A silent epidemic?
Beyond Antibiotics
The Antibiotic Alternative

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Discussing Die-off Should not be Taboo: The weatherman syndrome

Is die-off the truth that cannot be discussed? To solve any problem you must first be prepared to admit there is a problem that needs solving. Die-off is a real and serious possibility that won't go away by ignoring it.

Okay, maybe the term "die-off" wasn't the best choice. How many people, after all, would buy more appropriately named "death insurance"? Over the years how many concepts, ideas, theses, theories and movements have failed to spark the public consciousness because of a poor choice of name or slogan? There seems to be an unfortunate human tendency to reject a book because of it's unacceptable cover, a message because of the way it is conveyed. Alvin Toffler (or his publisher) aptly explored this phenomenon by releasing his then controversial book "Future Shock" in multiple colours when it was came out in paperback. I assume, though I do not know, that they tracked sales by cover colour. The marketing and advertising industry, in fact, exists to ensure that the combination of words and images used for a product fit together in such a way as to maximize public acceptance of the product. The product and the messages used to sell it are even tailored to fit different markets and different consumer niches. This is particularly important when that product has no built-in aesthetic appeal. Think of all of the possible bad terminology choices that could be used to try to sell "bathroom tissue" or "sanitary pads" or "suppositories" or a host of other products designed around various bodilly functions. Advertising and marketing, in fact, do not sell products. They sell dreams. They do not satisfy needs. They create them. They do not appeal to our rational consciousness. They appeal to the deeper, often unexpressed or even unrecognized desires of our subconscious.

So let us, instead of talking about "die-off", discuss "carrying capacity enhancement" or "personal spatial optimization" or some such positive and socially acceptable interpretation of the population rationalization that will accompany our transition into the new energy-minimized society of the future. In this new world the individual worth and importance of each of us will be much enhanced. Each of us will have a much bigger piece of the global pie...........

A rose by any other name........... Regardless of what we call it, "die-off" is a distinct and serious possibility in the near-term future of the human race. We are facing a serious convergence of global disasters that collectively will represent the greatest challenge to our species that there has ever been. Overpopulation, as well as being one of them is also central to several others. The other global disasters before us include, peak oil, climate change, habitat destruction, accelerated species extinction, global pollution, global pandemics, top-soil loss, desertification, aquifer depletion, sea-level rise, and more.

There is significant though debated evidence that the human race has gone through multiple die-offs in the ancient past. On at least one of those occassions it appears that human numbers were reduced to a few tens of thousands putting our species precariously on the verge of extinction. The bell curve that we have all become familar with in the peak-oil movement thanks to the work of M. King Hubbert also seems to apply to the evolutionary history of species which have gone extinct. Such species, about midway through their history on earth, reached their apex and then began a long, slow decline toward eventual extinction.

This, of course, begs the question of whether we are currently sitting at the point of peak-homo-sapiens, peak-humanity. That, of course, depends on how soon the global disasters mentioned above befall us and whether they do so concurrently or serially. Since the likelihood of any of those disasters erupting with a force sufficient to have a measurable impact on human numbers over the next few years it is reasonable to assume that the human population will continue to increase in the immediate short term. It is also unlikely that multiple of the above disasters will occur with full severity at exactly the same time. So peak humanity, if that is what we are soon approaching, will unlikely be a sharp peak but a bumpy plateau that could last for some time, perhaps decades, possibly centuries. Considering the energy use per person that has allowed the population to rise from a billion at the beginning of the industrial revolution to 6.5 billion today, and the permanent decline in available energy per capita that will follow the global peak in oil and other fossil fuels, it is very unlikely that there can ever be in the future a peak in global human population greater than whatever level we top out at in the near future.

The question before us now is whether we can sustainably maintain the peak in human population, whether it be the current 6.5 billion or something higher. According to a 1994 paper entitled "Optimum Human Population Size" authored by Gretchen C. Daily University of California (Berkeley) Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich Stanford University, " energy use [1993] amounts to about 13 terawatts (TW = 1012 watts), about 70% of which is being used to support somewhat over a billion people in rich countries and 30% to support more than four billion people in developing countries." Since that time, however, world population has increased by over a billion, the global energy use has, according to recent reports, increased to 14.5 terawatts. The overall energy use (availability?) per capita, however, has declined by six percent. The energy use per capita in the rich developed nations has increased so the gap in energy use between rich and poor has also increased. In the above paper, Daily, Ehrlich and Ehrlich then suggested that a sustainable level of global energy use would be about 6 terawatts. That is about 41% of the energy use per capita than present usage even if the population stabilized at the current 6.5 billion. The authors of the above report, however, also suggest that the potentially sustainable human population at that energy level would be about two billion. This is a figure that is generally regarded in die-off discussions as the high-end of sustainability. Admittedly it is difficult to see how over five billion people in the third world could possibly decrease their miniscule use of energy by another 41 percent.

The energy availability on the other side of the global peak in fossil fuels, despite heroic efforts to maintain it with alternative energy options, will begin to decline. It is a long way down from the current 14.5 terawatts to the suggested sustainable energy level of 6 terawatts. It is even debatable now, considering that nothing has been done since that paper was written to curb our consumption of non-renewable energy resources, whether 6 terawatts of usage would be sustainable in the future. That also, therefore, puts in question the suggested sustainable population level of two billion, which is one of the reasons it is the high-end estimate in die-off discussions. It must also be noted that the two billion number in the above paper was based on somewhat optimistic assumptions that needed political action would take place. To date there are no indications that such is happening.

It is difficult to see how the transition from the current levels of global population and energy usage to those projected in the above paper and countless other studies and papers in the intervening years could be called anything but a die-off. It is equally or more difficult to see any possible way in an energy-deprived future how we could possibly maintain current population levels. Even today between twenty and forty thousand people die every day of starvation and other nutrition-related illness and disease. With the decline in global food production capability that will parallel the decline in global fossil fuels and the loss of the associated artificial carrying capacity (termed "ghost acres" in the above report), it is unreasonable to assume that there will not be a significant escalation of global deaths due to nutrition related diseases. The additional impact from fossil fuel decline on medicines and pharmaceuticals and a host of other areas (there are over 300,000 products in every day use derived from oil) very strongly suggests that there will also be increasingly measurable impact on human population in these areas as well.

The purpose of this essay is to provoke thought, not to supply answers. I will close it this way. Those who are prepared to look at, consider, discuss and write about the impact of peak oil, global climate change and other potential near-term disasters are collectively suffering from what I call "the weatherman syndrome". There is an unfortunate tendency to blame them for what they are presenting, to suggest that they somehow are relishing and looking forward to the problems they are discussing. The weatherman does not make the weather he reports. Catastrophists, as we are often called, are likewise not responsible for the disasters they see approaching. The weatherman is conveying information on which you can make decisions. So too are we.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wealth in the Post-Peak World

How will wealth be defined in the post-peak world? How can money retain its value in a perpetually declining economy? What will happen to the ever-expanding wealth gap between rich and poor?

What is wealth? The term wealth derives from the old English word "weal", which means "well-being" or "welfare" and originally was used as an adjective to describe the possession of such qualities. Over time, however, wealth has come to mean an abundance of items of economic value, primarilly money, real estate and personal property. It is interesting that skills are generally not considered among the resources of which one needs an abundance, despite the reality that professional athletes, artists, performers and more use only their skills to create wealth. Perhaps Adam Smith never considered that possibility when, in contrast, he saw "wealth creation as the combination of materials, labour, land, and technology in such a way as to capture a profit (excess above the cost of production)." ( Part of the problem, of course, lies in whether we are referring to "personal" wealth or "common" wealth. This, however, gets very muddied when considered in light of the corporation and capitalism as they have evolved.

It is arguable whether the concept of wealth is even limited to humans. There are certain other animal species where members of that species make tools, for example the use of a stick to dig termites out of a mound. They will normally abandon the tool (the stick) when it has served its purpose so one might argue that they attach no value to it, do not recognize it as wealth. If one accepts skills as means of wealth creation, however, then the individuals who know how to create the tools to get at food are, indeed, wealthy in their society, personally if they use the stick only to derive food for themselves or communally if they share that food or the tool with others. Likewise, among our ancient ancestors the man with a piece of flint was a wealthy man. With it he could create fire for warmth and for cooking food, either for himself alone or for the group, even trade his ability to make fire for other valuables possessed by those without flint. In both cases, the stick and the flint, the possessor of it could turn it to an improvement in their personal welfare and/or common welfare.

Are wealthy and rich the same thing? According to Wikipedia, "The opposite of wealth is scarcity, the opposite of richness is poverty." Wealth is, in large respect, the possession of resources capable of producing a surplus, today generally assumed to be a surplus of income or a surplus of goods through which to generate income. One can be rich in terms of resources but be unable to produce a surplus of income from them. I believe, in general, we all think we understand wealth in terms of our present global society. But do we?

All wealth, in fact, is relative. It is, in a general sense, one's possession of surplus-producing resources in comparison to others around you. This was clearly put forth by M. Turgot, Comptroller General of the Finances of France, In 1774-76. In his essay, Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth, he stated, "If the land was divided among all the inhabitants of a country, so that each of them possessed precisely the quantity necessary for his support, and nothing more; it is evident that all of them being equal, no one would work for another. Neither would any of them possess wherewith[all] to pay another for his labour, for each person having only such a quantity of land as was necessary to produce a subsistence, would consume all he should gather, and would not have any thing to give in exchange for the labour of others." {http://socserv2.} If everyone in a society had the same resources there would be no basis on which to declare one person wealthy and another not. It is the disparity of resources that defines wealth. It varies considerably, in fact, from society to society and even within different sections or regions within a society. If one owns a million dollar property in Botswana that represents considerably more "real" wealth potential than a million dollar apartment in central New York.

Financial economies are based on a very ephemeral and transient commodity; trust. (See my article, Why there will be a fast crash and not a slow decline at (also available in spanish at Today's economies are built on a foundation of debt because society largely has faith and trusts that the economy is strong. People and organizations willingly take on debt (spend tomorrow's income today) because they have trust that the economy will continue to be strong and that they will be able to earn enough surplus income or profit in that future to both survive and discharge the debt they are taking on today. Whenever economic growth stalls or, worse, reverses, as it did in the great depression of the 1930s, there is a general sorting out as those most heavilly over-committed struggle as the surplus income needed to maintain and discharge the debt disappears. Some will survive by disposing of assets to discharge the debt. Others will have debt in excess of their devaluing assets and be unable to maintain or discharge that debt.

Our current global economy is very heavilly dependent on both continuous growth and an abundance of cheap energy for its survival. Take away either and the economy falters. The reliance upon an abundance of cheap energy has become ever more critical in the process of globalization that has dominated the last half century. Without that the global distribution system begins to fall apart. In times past local societies were largely self-sufficient and self-reliant, satisfying all of their needs from local resources. Only rare third world or primitive societies can claim to be so today. Trade goods found in your local community today originate from every corner of the world. The food on your table generally has traveled an average of a couple thousand miles to get there. The table and other physical goods you possess will, on average, have travelled several times that distance. Without a viable and vigorous global distribution system driven by cheap and abundant energy the paradigm of locating the heavilly subsidized manufacturing of goods in cheap labour markets and distributing those goods globally starts to fall apart. The more developed nations of North America and Europe have outsourced so much of their product manufacturing that very little is, or any longer can be, produced locally. If the global distribution system begins to run into serious problems of fuel cost or availability the supply lines to your local retailer begin to dry up, with no local alternative to fill the gap.

The most insidious aspect of wealth, but the core of its definition, is the very fact that it relies on a disparity between different members of society. And under the current functioning of our society, whether locally or globally, that disparity continues to grow. The gap in wealth and lifestyle of G8 countries and poor, third-world nations continues to grow. But so does the gap between the rich and poor within our own national societies. According to an article entitled Study: Inequality in wealth, at "Between 1999 and 2005, the median net worth of families in the top fifth of the wealth distribution increased by 19%, while the net worth of their counterparts in the bottom fifth remained virtually unchanged. As a result, the top 20% of families held 75% of total household wealth in 2005, compared to 73% in 1999 and 69% in 1984." This trend is also the focus of the article The Great Wealth Transfer By Paul Krugman; November 30, 2006 - at in which he states, "how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago." (also see The wealth gap widens December 24, 2006 - David Crane - The Toronto Star The end result of the distribution of wealth under our current genre of capitalism is lamented in Work and Wealth: A Human Valuation at http://socserv. in which it is stated, "An injurious excess of income is possible for an individual, perhaps for a nation, and the national welfare which an increased volume of wealth seems capable of yielding might be more than cancelled by a distribution which bestowed upon a few an increased share of the larger wealth, or by an aggravation of the toil of the producers."

It is that disparity, that gap between wealth and poverty, between rich and poor, that one needs to be very conscious of as we approach peak oil and the energy downslope on the other side of the peak. The wealth of nations and the extraordinary wealth of a very small number of individuals is a clear bi-product of that reliable abundance of cheap energy. But it is also the foundation of the relative wealth of the middle class and even labour class in wealthy industrialized nations compared to the meagre existence and basic struggle for survival of the vast majority in third world nations. And yet, as we proceed along the energy downslope on the other side of peak oil the crucial component of that wealth disparity - cheap abundant energy - will begin to inexorably decline and, eventually, disappear. It will no longer be that old dream of raising the living standards of the poor but will become the harsh reality of the living standards of the wealthy tumbling into the abyss of scarcity and poverty. Gaps will still exist for they are not simply based on economic disparity. They are also based on power and control over the affairs of others. It is likely, in fact, that as the economic advantages of wealth are eroded away there will remain a tenacious clinging to the power and control that such wealth has afforded.

Today's successful economies are based on a simple concept of perpetual growth. That growth will come to a halt as we pass peak oil. The illusion of growth will continue for some time, as it has through a global mania of mergers and aquisitions and currency manipulation over these past several decades, but even that illusion will in time be stripped away as economies the world over begin to shrink and continue to shrink all the way down the energy downslope. It will be necessary, if it is not already, to redefine wealth, to redesign our economies around contracting markets, if those in control of wealth today are to continue to play a key role in the society of tomorrow. I am not optimistic that this will happen. History suggests that we will approach the coming trials as we have always done, with those in power clinging to it for as long as possible, and far too long.