Saturday, August 20, 2011

An uncomfortable realization

Ethics or basic moral precepts are a kind of natural law (THE natural law) of social interaction.

Just as we MUST respect other natural laws to survive, we MUST respect basic moral precepts. (If we walk along a narrow path on the face of a cliff, we must respect the law of gravity or we will die.)

Since we have no moral authority to initiate force or coercion against another peaceful person, we cannot delegate such authority to a government entity. Therefore, we MUST NOT, as a matter of moral principle, vote for a politician or support a policy that would do such a thing.

If we disregard this basic moral precept, our civilization will collapse. The time-lag between the error and the consequences may be greater than what we see in the case of other kinds of lapses of due regard for natural law, but the consequences are every bit as real. The consequences for a large-scale society take a longer amount of time to work themselves out. Larger entities in the cosmos generally change according to a longer time-frame, whether they be pendulums, organisms, societies, etc.

Since we have a right to share in deciding what limits to put on amounts of pollution or rates of taking of natural resources, we MUST use our political system to effectively define these limits. To fail to do so would be to relegate the assertion that we have this collective right to the bin of “What we give lip-service to without follow-through with effective action”. If we fail to use our instrument for collectively defining (limiting) our action to do that which we have a collective right (and duty) to do, then we are violating natural law. It is one thing to violate this law out of ignorance, (as has been the case during previous instances of civilization collapse, but it is entirely another to violate this law after we've become aware of its workings in the cosmos.

I see a moral imperative to seek out or create a marriage of libertarian and green. Whether this means voting Libertarian and Green, or it means communicating with candidates who identify as Democrat and Republican to influence their ideas, policies and orientation is, I think, merely incidental.

The moral imperative is baked into the way the cosmos works. Our civilization is well down the path toward collapse. I see no moral alternative for myself. I feel that I must take drastic action to communicate the urgency of the situation. My attempts to communicate in what could be called a normal way have thus far been an utter failure.

I have learned that sharing good ideas is enough to get people to say, “That's a good idea”, but it is not enough to make them want to share them with others. It is still the case that, after six years and more than 30 posts to the blog, it still gets zero or one or maybe two hits in a day, except when I actively share it on the internet somewhere other than here on fb. Then it might get five or ten or 15 hits in a day. That's not sufficient. I happen to think still that it is a profoundly important proposal. (People here may or may not have looked at it, but having seen the link a few times, it looks like nothing new, I suppose.)

In all those years, those 30 or so articles have received a total of about a dozen comments. One every six months or so. So the very few people who have visited, seeing zero or maybe one comment on whatever article they are reading, may easily conclude that this is something that not many people are interested in. This proposal is being allowed to languish. I don't understand why that should be so.

Are you aware of ANY other proposal for how we might end extreme poverty AND limit humans' impact on the environment so that levels of pollution and rates of taking of natural resources could be kept within limits that most people would agree are acceptable?

If this is the ONLY such proposal that you are aware of, is it not also a proposal that merits some kind of response? I just can't get past the question, “Why should this be allowed to languish?”

Well, it shouldn't be allowed to languish, but it is. Now what? Well, I know what, but it will not do to say it. If I want people to sit up and take notice, I have to perform the most drastic symbolic act possible. Words are not enough.

Or tell me where I am wrong.

Natural Law and the Golden Rule

Monday, June 20, 2011

Not a promising dialogue

A link to a Fox News story was offered by a friend, with this comment:

If the facts don't support your agenda...make something up.

-- Changing Tides: Research Center Under Fire for 'Adjusted' Sea-Level Data ... The University of Colorados Sea Level Research Group decided in May to add 0.3mm every year to its actual measurements of sea levels, sparking criticism from experts who called it an attempt to exaggerate the effects of global warming. --

I think it's Fox News and the Heartland Institute that are pushing an agenda. (What is your point in posting this? Do you really doubt that the earth is warming and SL is rising?)

The graph I just looked at shows just over a one inch increase from about 1994 to about 2004. That's about ten times the amount of this refinement of their measurements of .3 mm per year. The 'expert' that Fox is quoting is a lawyer with Heartland, not a climate scientist, BTW. In that story, this lawyer, James M. Taylor, is quoted: 'We’ve seen only 7 inches of sea level rise in the past century and it hasn’t sped up this century', but earlier in the same story, this same lawyer says: 'Gatekeepers of our sea level data are manufacturing a fictitious sea level rise that is not occurring'. So you can't get a clear idea from this Fox News 'expert' whether SL rise is occurring or not.

Help me understand. Why do people want to rely on Fox as a source of news? Is it not obvious that they have an agenda that colors how they report?

What exactly do you think Colorado University is making up?

A cure for what ails the planet - (make the big problems MUCH smaller) - a sustainable and more just civilization:

Why are liberals do Fearful of FOX News?

Is it not obvious that FOX has an agenda that colors how they report?

What exactly do you think Colorado University is making up?

So... Is global warming occurring on Mars?

Why do you ask?

Is it happening on Mars?

I don't know. But since my actions have no bearing on whether Mars' climate might be changing, it seems a meaningless question, (Meaningless in the sense that it makes no difference in how I should choose to live my life. What does it mean? = what difference does it make?)

What it means is that it's all about politics and power- not "saving" the Earth.

Through our collective actions (mostly habits of convenience and choice among the more affluent on the planet) we are inducing a rather abrupt change in climate. Plants and animals living at higher altitudes and latitudes may soon be unable to survive. This matters if we believe that a more diverse community of life embodies more beauty and goodness. It matters if we believe that other forms of life on Earth exist for their own sake and not merely as means to our ends.

How did man create Global warming on Mars?

There is a way to end extreme poverty in the world AND limit our impacts on the environment in an efficient and fair way that is consistent with democratic principles...

... and you choose to ask nonsense questions ... as a kind of distraction I might guess. But you can speak to your motives as to why you do what you do better than I can.

You can't answer because you realize it undermines the very foundation of your argument on global warming. Typical liberal tactics: if you cant win, then attack, smear, or denigrate the opponent personally.

And yes there is a way to end extreme poverty in the world within the framework of a Democratic Republic. It is called Economic Opportunity through Capitalism.

Well, I find this whole exchange rather disturbing. My friend and I used to have debates about creationism vs. evolution. (I haven't actually seen him in about 30 years.) I don't think either of us was swayed in our views, although I did learn a lot of biology as a result of my being challenged to defend a theory. Here I use the word 'theory' as meaning something more weighty and significant and predictive than a 'fact'. My friend would use the word in the sense of a conjecture, guess or hunch.

Ignorance is dangerous. We may not succeed in solving the challenges we face if we fail to understand the world we live in sufficiently well.

One thing I can say for my friend: He is a kind person. He has a good heart.

Natural law requires respect of public AND private property rights

Al Gore - Climate of Denial - Rolling Stone A very good article by Gore discussing the current effects of climate disruption, the political situation and challenges. Sadly, he makes no mention of economic externalities as such, equal ownership of natural resources or the ecological benefit of moving to a plant-based diet (relevant to the 'What to do?' question).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Remedy for Urban Blight

from Texas Public Radio letters - Mine was on December 23rd, 2010.

What was not mentioned at the Homelessness Town Hall Meeting:

If we start talking about externalities [the hidden costs of economic activity] and start charging fees to those who produce adverse impacts on the environment, we may come to reflect on the fact that a property owner who allows vacant, disused, neglected structures to exist on his/her property is causing a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

If there is a general view that there is too high a prevalence of derelict properties, to the detriment of the community at large, then a fee could be attached to property owners who hold those vacant and neglected properties.

This would give property owners incentive to improve derelict properties and make them available for rent or sale, which would increase the housing supply, thus reducing the cost of housing.

The existing housing stock would be utilized more efficiently.

The wealth of a society is subjectively experienced in relation to how efficiently it utilizes resources.

To have widespread homelessness amidst vast numbers of vacant properties is a sign of a malignancy in a society. It is nonsensical, and reflects underlying injustice.

The fee on neglected properties might be quite modest yet effective, or it may in fact be unnecessary. There could be a general fee on impervious land cover (such as asphalt and buildings) as a way to minimize the adverse impact of this kind of land use. (Impervious land cover is a detriment to community well-being because it means that rain showers are no longer a blessing to humans and the larger community of life but are instead a hazard to the community. Rather than soaking into the ground, rainfall washes off rapidly, contributing to flash flood risks downstream.) A fee on impervious cover would give all property owners incentive to ensure that all properties are maintained in usable condition and able to produce income.

A general fee on impervious cover would also tend to bring down the cost of housing AND keep neglected properties to a minimum.

These facts do not spontaneously emerge in the absence of a general discussion of economic externalities and ownership of natural resources.

Why is the topic of economic externalities not discussed on the public airwaves? I have asked my local NPR station and NPR's ombudsman many times but have received no reply.

Still wondering,...

On Tue, Mar 8, 2011, Greg wrote:
John, a few thoughts about the vacant property problem from my perspective:

The property owner normally pays substantial property taxes whether the property is vacant or not, so there is a logical consequence (penalty) for not making the property productive, though not necessarily in the proportion you mentioned.

[The public policy question is, 'Is the incentive sufficient so that, in the view of most people, the consequences in the world match what the people want? Does the current tax regime result in a sufficiently low incidence of neglected properties?'.

If there is sufficient incentive so that there is not a higher prevalence of abandoned properties than what a random sample shows is consistent with the will of the people, (if the reality matches what the people want to see in this regard), then the existing incentive is adequate. If the reality does not match (if there are more neglected properties than what most people would want to see), then that is a sign that the incentives to upgrade ought to be strengthened.]

Same with landlords who don't offer good or acceptable properties for rent at a fair price--they don't find renters and are generally economically penalized in proportion to their neglect or unfair pricing.

If the owner does not pay required taxes (or mortgage) for long enough, then normally the lender or county forecloses on the property and eventually sells it to someone more committed and able to make the property productive.

[There is less transparency in our society than there might be. We don't know at a glance which properties are held privately and which are held by banks, and which are held by the county. (Maybe something like Google Maps could help change this.) Counties and banks would feel this incentive to make the properties they hold productive, too, if we were to adopt this alternative paradigm, so the question of whether an individual piece of property is held by private owner, bank or county is apparently not relevant to the question of whether this paradigm would produce a better society than what we have now.]

However, properties reach a stage when they are no longer economically worth rehabilitating and should be demolished (with usable elements recycled). But as you know, the process often doesn't work, leading to urban blight and decay.

[I'm offering a proposal that would reduce the problem of urban blight and decay, in case anyone is interested.]

There are many programs that have and are being implemented with various success.

[I think we should aim for (and this proposal would result in) the level of success that is in accord with the will of the people at large.]

Some even involves strategic downsizing of an entire city, like Detroit is doing, and clearing some former blighted properties and making more community green space, parks, gardens, semi-rural farmland, playgrounds, etc.

It's a complicated and highly debatable matter to propose extra fees based on a largely subjective sentiments of other residents concerning ...

[How much light pollution is too much is a debatable question, too, and highly subjective. That is no reason to not limit the level of light pollution to levels that most people would say are not excessive. So, although you make a true observation (that the question of how much blight is too much is a subjective question), I fail to see how exactly does it pertain to the question of whether we ought to adopt this alternative paradigm.]

. Municipalities can and often do step in through their Code Compliance depts. to hire contractors to remedy the most egregious safety and health related violations and correctly place liens against violaters' properties.

[Rather inefficient instruments, those, since the government agencies cannot and do not exercise this power except in the most extreme cases. I think it is 'sometimes', not 'often'.]

From: John Champagne
To: Greg
Sent: Tue, March 8, 2011 8:53:27 AM
Subject: ps: something you do well would be done by more people

If people who hold vacant property that is an eyesore and a perceived detriment to the community were made to pay a fee in proportion to how strongly the community wanted to decrease the prevalence of derelict and abandoned properties, more property owners would have incentive to rehabilitate properties to make them marketable. If fee proceeds go to the people at large, more people have money in their pockets, so they are more able to pay rent.

This policy of charging a fee to those who cause environmental impact, and sharing the proceeds with the people, would mean that people who don't currently have housing could find it (because they would have some money and rents would be lower, with the increased supply), and our neighborhoods would look better.

This is just one way how this proposal would make the world better. (That would be better, wouldn't it?)


Gaia Brain blog
What do we need to know that news media and universities are not telling us?
Quantum mechanics of gaia brain

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Diet choice is a moral choice

I went to a meeting of people who want to fight hunger here and throughout the world.

I want to see our religious communities--and all of us who strive to be moral beings--consider the moral arguments relating to what we eat. If we come together to address the problem of hunger, it seems fair to raise the point that a much more efficient use of natural resources will mean fewer hungry people. The limited amount of natural resources, (land surface, aquifer water and fossil fuel), available for planting, watering and fertilizing crops can feed more people when we eat the grains and other plants directly rather than process them through the bodies of animals such as cows, pigs, various kinds of birds, etc.

If we want to feed more people and we are coming up against limits on natural resources involved in food production, then we must be interested in finding the more efficient sources of nutrition.

In the large group I saw that night, no one said that they knew of a moral argument related to what we eat. I think that this question of whether we use our precious life-sustaining resources efficiently, (so that fewer or no people are left wanting basic nourishment, and so that wildlife and biodiversity are not needlessly destroyed), is a moral question. We should choose a more environmentally friendly diet-style over a less environmentally friendly diet-style. Our times demand it. The fact is ecosystems can support large populations of plant-eaters, but only small populations of animal-eaters. We need to respond intelligently and morally to the reality of our situation.

Another moral argument related to what we eat would be that we exploit beings as things when we mechanize animal agriculture and intensify confinement systems: more crowding, more abuse, more fetid, miserable conditions, more pollution. We've demoted beings to the status of commodities. Treating a being as a thing is tantamount to slavery. It is wrong.

Do we want a culture of tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence? We can bring ourselves closer to creating this reality by developing a deeper respect for one another's person and psyche. We must recognize others as individuals who are not objects but who are subjects of their own lives. They are not means to our ends. They are ends in themselves.

We sometimes come to know members of other species as individuals. We see their unique personalities. We feel a concern for their interests and well-being. But at the same time, we prefer not to consider the fact that there are creatures held captive on our behalf in stifling, fetid, miserable, oppressive conditions that we do not want to know about. These animals are themselves unique individuals; subjects of their own lives--not objects to be used by us as means to our ends. We take their lives, after oppressing them interminably from the first day of their conscious existence … all so we can use the flesh of their bodies to trigger certain taste and texture sensations on our palate.

Where is the sense of outrage?

A cure for what ails the planet: How to promote justice and ensure a sustainable society

We have to respect moral principles to make society work. Neurons in a network seem to recognize this, too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letter to my local NPR station

Dear Ms. Grojean,

I have asked your news director and your program director why there should be no reporting on economic externalities. I received no answer.

It seems that the hidden costs of economic activity ought to be made visible. Economic externalities distort our economy and society so that more harm is produced by our economy than what would be the case if all costs, (including environmenntal impact costs), were to be reflected in prices.

We must be apprised of the situation, made aware of the existence of this systemic defect called externalities, and its consequences, so that we will be able and willing to remedy it.

The lack of any political will to start taking account of externalities can be explained by the absence of any public discourse on the topic. If we talked about the various ways of taking account of externalities and compared them—which are more efficient, which are more fair, and which combine efficient and fair—we would be empowered to choose the more efficient and fair option.

Serious problems in the world would be solved.

If you know why this topic should not be discussed on the broadcast outlets that proclaim a determination to provide the people with vital information, please tell me.

I know that, if I can get more people to join me in asking this question, your station management will be more interested in answering it, or in challenging the premise by questioning whether this topic really should be omitted from the public discourse and news reporting.

If I can get your major funders to join in asking this question, then all the more likely that you will respond in some fashion. I hesitate in asking your funders to join in asking the question, though, because of the law of unintended consequences. Some of your funders may decide that it is because they are funders that they are being bothered by my solicitation of their involvement. To reduce complications in their life or business, they may choose to stop funding the station rather than start writing letters to you or start explaining to members of the public why we should think of their support of a neglectful news agency as a benefit to the community. That would be an unintended and I think unfortunate consequence of this approach.

My hope would be that you would reflect on whether neglect of this topic has in fact been a disservice to the community up to now, and on what you might do as a public service entity to remedy the situation, and that you would then take action to effect the remedy.

I can't imagine a clear and intelligible answer to this question of why economic externalities should not be mentioned or discussed in most of (rather than none of) the stories where their consequences are discussed, but if you have one and if you will share it with me, (or if you will start remedying this systematic neglect), I will certainly renew my membership.


John Champagne


Links to my latest comments to NPR news stories and blogs

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